Update on Quantity vs. Quality and the Struggle for Perfect Practice

A few months ago we talked about the signs of progress in your qigong practice. For so many of us, the issue of “progress” is central to qigong or Tai Chi practice, since we are driven by the desire to get it right, to solve a problem like a health issue, or to reach an amorphous and elusive spiritual goal.

But what if we completely abandoned the idea of outcomes and perfection in practice? Instead, what if you started each day with a “doing” mindset in your qigong practice?

Take this example of a ceramics teacher from Art and Fear by David Bayles and Ted Orland. In his review of the book, Kevin Kelly pulls this and many more excellent excerpts:

The ceramics teacher announced on opening day that he was dividing the class into two groups. All those on the left side of the studio, he said, would be graded solely on the quantity of work they produced, all those on the right solely on its quality. His procedure was simple: on the final day of class he would bring in his bathroom scales and weigh the work of the “quantity” group: fifty pound of pots rated an “A”, forty pounds a “B”, and so on. Those being graded on “quality”, however, needed to produce only one pot -albeit a perfect one – to get an “A”. Well, came grading time and a curious fact emerged: the works of highest quality were all produced by the group being graded for quantity. It seems that while the “quantity” group was busily churning out piles of work – and learning from their mistakes – the “quality” group had sat theorizing about perfection, and in the end had little more to show for their efforts than grandiose theories and a pile of dead clay.

What does your Tai Chi practice look like if you focus on building quantity? One of my favorite examples is from Chinese Wrestling expert John Wang. In this short documentary, he demonstrates Tree Hanging for building martial power (and maybe other important attributes?):

Of course Master Wang discusses technique and gives his student pointers, but when asked when the practice gets easier, he says, “second year.” That’s a quantity mindset, to measure the progress of a daily practice by  year-over-year changes!

Now, you don’t need to go out and tear the flesh from your arm for a full year to build a foundation for your practice (and he doesn’t think many people will do it anymore anyway), but is there an element of your practice that can be measured in quantity, not quality?

At the end of whatever “semester” you are currently in, what component of your practice would you place on the bathroom scale? Where can you focus your time and effort to amass some serious practice skill?

And finally, what high quality fruits will you be surprised with at the end of a quantity-driven period of practice?

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