The Man Who Did His Tai Chi Form 19,100 Times

I got an email the other day that was a little bit different than the usual requests for lessons. It read:

“I learned the Short Form at Brookline Tai Chi under the tutelage of Bill Ryan back about 1996-1997. For seven years, I continued to do the short form three times every morning. Then for the past eight years or so, I have done the short form four times every morning.

I keep a log of my centering practices, and have documentation that over the past 15 years, I have only missed doing my tai chi on three days, two when I was strapped down in hospital beds and unable to get up, and one day when I simply forgot to practice. (I practiced twice the next day.)

Thus, I have done the short form now over 17,800 times.”

There were so many things that fascinated me about getting this email.

First of all, it reinforced my belief that there’s no such thing as a “former student”. As a teacher, this was a powerful reminder that you don’t know the full extent of what you are giving your students and just how far they will take what they learn.

Then, consider this:

  • He practices tai chi every day.
  • He practices several repetitions of the short form every time.
  • He logs his practice every day.

As you know from reading this blog, I’m a little obsessed with the idea of “practice.” Clearly this man knew something about cultivating a practice. I wanted to know more about what motivated him to practice daily and record it with such diligence. So I asked him, but I wasn’t ready for the depth and thoughtfulness of his answer.

Sandy Davis runs Resilience WorksIt turns out, I was talking to “The Resilience Guy.”

Sandy Davis runs a company called ResilienceWorks, dedicated to teaching people how to become more resilient, or as he puts it:

 The more you invest wisely in your own vitality,
The more resilient you become, and
The easier it is to thrive.

Many of us come to movement arts like tai chi or qigong because of an innate desire to thrive, but Sandy has gone into great depth explaining the structures that make this process possible.

He advocates for “Seven Simple Self-Care Structures” that make this possible:

  1. Keep all your agreements.
  2. Eat well.
  3. Sleep well.
  4. Have a daily centering practice.
  5. Exercise aerobically on a regular basis.
  6. Have a daily creative practice.
  7. Log your self-care results every day.

Now, when we talk about “practice” here, we often talk about 3 or 4 of these structures (mainly centering, exercise, and sleep). We often imply that a lot of what grabs you about something like tai chi is the creative expression you derive from continually refining it.

And certainly we talk about tracking your practice — although I haven’t yet met anyone else who has taken this habit to quite the same degree as Sandy — he’s missed three days of practice in the last 14 years, and he can prove it!

So what is it about “keeping all your agreements” that adds to your store of energy? When I heard Sandy describe this particular structure, it broadened my sense of “what builds your energy” and “what uses up your energy” in a way I had never considered.

In The Resilience Manual , Sandy’s guide to developing these structures, he writes:

There is much satisfaction to be had in knowing that you are someone who can be relied upon to keep your word. By consistently walking your talk, you can acquire a deep-seated self-confidence in your ability to successfully follow through on whatever you agree to undertake. This includes faithfully attending to your own foundational self-care habits, as well as to faithfully doing your chosen daily self-care practices.

Alternatively, there is much disappointment to be had in knowing that you are someone who routinely fails to follow through on your commitments. Whenever you fail to keep your word, whenever you fail to do what you promised, whenever you do 95% of what you said you would do and leave the last 5% unfinished, in all these instances, you experience a loss of self-respect. Each of these failures, whether obvious and public, or miniscule and private, generates a measure of personal disappointment and/or discouragement. Such breakdowns cost you valuable energy. They undermine your self-confidence. And they get in the way of deepening your resilience-readiness.

What I’ve highlighted in bold above should be familiar language when you think about your movement practice. You are either moving in a way that builds and integrates your coordination and your energy, or in a way that saps both and leads to dis-integration.

Many of us have a gut feeling that how we cultivate a movement practice spills over into other dimensions of life, but I think Sandy has clearly articulated exactly how that works in the above passage. The lesson is that doing your movement practice won’t make you a better person, but it is a template for how to move toward more wholeness in other areas of your life. In Sandy’s language, both structures feed your resilience-readiness and the store of resilience that you naturally draw energy from, no matter what situation you are facing.

The linchpin to all of this, from Sandy’s point of view, is the seventh structure, or the meta-structure of logging the results of the other six structures on a daily basis. In The Resilience Manual, he makes several compelling arguments for keeping a daily practice log both to gain perspective and to sustain accountability to yourself. For me, the most compelling reason is the deep satisfaction this seventh structure generates.

A week or so after our lesson, Sandy e-mailed me to make a correction to the number of times he has done the short form (hence the title of this post):

FYI, I re-checked the numbers, and it turns out that I have actually done the short form more than 19,100 times. It will be a treat to pass the 20,000 mark. At my current rate of four times each day, that will take me another seven-plus months. But who’s counting?

Think about how great that must feel to realize that you’re actually a little closer to 20,000? And not because you can brag about a number, but because you know you’ve made a serious ongoing investment in your own well-being.

Big thanks to Sandy for sharing his method with so much clarity and simplicity! His website has more information, including some useful free resources and more in-depth explanations of the daily self-care structures. Check them out here: ResilienceWorks.com

Oh, and we also agreed that Sandy should come in for a tune-up every 3,000 forms, not every 10,000 or 15,000!

 

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