Sooner or later, new students to Classical Tai Chi may reveal their expectations about the learning path. Sooner or later, long time students in Classical Tai Chi who expect that they are on the right learning path may "become careless, neglecting some of the fundamentals in the form playing". This as Master Hwa describes in Forum 10, October 2004 is called "advancement followed by periods of stagnation, and even a turn for the worse." Whether beginner or advanced, our expectations will most often be the deciding factor in whether we are happy or sad over our study.
There are interpretations of the I Ching that point out the danger inherent in expectations which are too grandiose. The Tao te Ching advises us not to "fight" over issues that do not meet our expectations. This even applies to our own gumption in maintaining our practice; practicing when we don't feel like practicing for instance. There is no point in "beating ourselves up" because we expected that not only would the Tai Chi be easy, but that it would be correspondingly easy to get up in the morning and even practice. Various writers have described expectations to be a kind of prison. The many styles of what Master Hwa calls "ethereal Tai Chi" seem to encourage unrealistic expectations. Medical investigators compare Tai Chi with conventional aerobic exercise and qualitative analyses explore patient experience, belief systems and expectations. Participants in various studies are asked what their expectations are.
Psychologists who do Tai Chi warn against making mountains out of molehills, creating psychological barriers for ourselves in learning Tai Chi, which inevitably have to do with expectations. I notice that students who merely think they are going to be pushed back hard during push hands (not that we ever push anyone hard), react prematurely by exhibiting extreme muscle tension, this is because of expectation. A new student said "I expected more people in this class, aren't there going to be more".
People who begin or who have only been involved for a year or so question why they are not teaching or what criteria it takes to be a Master. In other words, they are expecting to receive the "treasure" for their work in Tai Chi. Notice I say "expecting" not "uncovering", there is a difference which as we have established as "expectations" in both attitude about standards of achievement in Tai Chi , even down to finer and finer distinctions. Master Hwa has said: " I am always amazed at the extenal martial arts schools that they can have such fine distinction between different color belts and different color strips on each belt".
I have happily discovered (uncovered) that there is both a tempo and a rhythm to Classical Tai Chi. It was only with my venture into "Internal", note the emphasis on "Internal" Discipline that I stopped demanding of both myself and my teachers that there be signposts for my progress. I also find that true understanding of internal means I can have classes of mixed levels because there are truly no tests of achievement when it comes to developing internal energy. I realize I do not have to "expect" The Treasure; I feel like I can breathe freely. I can enjoy allowing the Treasure to be Uncovered. Will this attitude allow consistent progress without having to compete with myself or others? The answer has been yes, but not through "pie in the sky" but through the little things.
The "little things": A student can reveal their expectations that the Tai Chi lacks quality if the classroom is not filled to the brim and in the process fail to see that the Tai Chi has made them feel better. A student can constantly complain that they lose balance when doing basic walking; "I expected Tai Chi was supposed to improve my balance" and miss the fact that they have gained strength, flexibility and body awareness. In any event, an expectation is making them unaware of what they do achieve and keeping them aware of what they "think" they should achieve. An expectation keeps them from making coherent reasoning in situations like this. Reason being, if one does not know or refuses to acknowledge where they are unbalanced, how can one expect to "improve" anything. As for me, I am happy as a teacher to work little by little toward never have any expectations and in that way, I will uncover the fact that I no longer get disappointed.