How Long Does It Take to Learn Tai Chi? – The 2 Factors for Success


how long is a tai chi session

Our class undertakes short challenges to make tai chi practice something that happens consistently so students continue to make progress. This works really well when we are trying to get a new group over the hump from just learning a series of movements to experiencing the benefits. It also works really well for people who find tai chi “weird” at first and are outside their comfort zone or the skeptical who need buy-in for a period they are willing to accept. When people are asking: “How long does it take to learn tai chi?” I think what they are asking is, this is very different, I am not sure of the benefits, is it worth my time and money?

On average, it takes 3-12 months to learn tai chi. The length of time depends on whether you are learning a short or long form, the number of weekly tai chi sessions, and length of each session. Most people attend weekly classes and practice in between until they have the basic movements memorized.

In our challenge last year, it was CLEAR that some people made bigger gains than others. For instance, we did a standing meditation challenge and some students were still standing for 3 minutes a day since January of LAST YEAR!  What made the difference?   When I asked them, they just “sort-a kept doing it.” They experienced some benefits, but then later felt weird if they skipped the standing meditation. 

“I may skip a few days,” one shared, “but I begin to miss it.”

When I dug a bit deeper, everyone who not only learned the entire form or meditation but also practiced continually, had two things in common:

1) Consistency and 2) Habit Formation are the two key ingredients needed to learn the tai chi form and practice often enough to reap the health and mental wellness benefits.

How Long Does It Take to Learn Tai Chi? – Your Consistency Will Determine It

Consistency has gotten a bad reputation so I want to clear some things up here. People that are consistent are not better than you. They do not have more willpower. They do not have more discipline. They just act different in one unique way:

Consistency depends on 100% compliance of the smallest amount you are willing to do, without fail. You are building consistency like a muscle, not doing the activity or practice itself consistently.

Here’s how a person fails at consistency: when they are motivated and excited, they commit to doing something without taking their schedule and life into consideration. They over commit. Then when life happens and they “miss a day” they beat themselves up. Think about this, you are trying to improve your life and are then getting mad or down on yourself.

Here’s how a person is successful at consistency: they ask “what is the smallest amount I can do to continue to make progress but never miss?” They are building consistency as a muscle. If they want to do more or commit to doing more after they have learned the tai chi form, it is extra.

In order for this to happen you have to know yourself really well and have to ask the right questions.

How many moves are in the form?

How long to learn tai chi is really just a math equation. If you are learning 26 or even 108 moves and are taught 3 moves each week… You get the picture. But what if you skip a week? What if you didn’t practice between classes and have to relearn the same three moves? You see that consistent practice is the key regardless of the situation. It’s simple math and you will be successful if you know on the front end approximately how long it will take so you don’t give up.

How long is a tai chi class?

Typical tai chi classes range from 1 to 3 hours. Classes during the week are shorter with weekend classes and workshops being much longer. If you are an instructor and are wondering how long should a tai chi session last, more is not necessarily better. Students should warm-up, work on tai chi principles, and leave with at least three new moves or new concepts to practice.

How many times a week should you do tai chi?

Here is where the honesty about yourself comes in. Imagine that I have two new students with health concerns, both asking me about how long it takes to learn tai chi. One is recently retired and the other has newborn twins and just started a new job, What number of tai chi sessions can you commit to? The answer is: what ever amount they are able to commit too, to continue to make progress across time. If your consistency needs some work we wrote more specifically on consistency.

Tips to Get the Most Out of Your Tai Chi Lessons

I have a student that learned all open hand forms and weapons forms in record time and I want to share his strategy because it has helped so many other students.

  • Only try to learn three or less moves at a time.
  • Practice what you learned in class immediately after class on your own.
  • Practice those three moves again quickly the next morning.
  • Try to work in at least one more 3-move practice before getting back to class.

Using this strategy, he was consistently able to add three moves a week and always had the best questions which helped him progress even faster.

If you are a teacher, I really suggest trying it with something short, simple, and daily.  Provide accountability logs for individuals to track their own progress and create a way in which people can share their experiences.  Facebook, email, or 5 minutes during class work well.  For us, we typically undertake 3 minutes of standing meditation for 21 days in the month of January.  We then pepper challenges throughout the year depending on what we are working on.

how long it takes to learn tai chi depends on consistency

How Long Does It Take to Learn Tai Chi? – Do You Know How to Build A Habit?

The 7-day cleanse. 21 days to perfect abs. The 30-day new habit challenge.  The quarterly journal.  Do you know how experts go about choosing the time frame they use to achieve their results?  No?  I don’t know either.  In researching habit formation, three things seem to influence their decisions:

Overwhelmingly, most plans are in calendar-related increments

This makes planning easier but unfortunately true results do not know about calendars.  Not getting “perfect abs” in 21 days may have happened for a variety of reasons.  Hyper-calendaring can have the reverse effect of making us feel like failures rather than acknowledging the progress we made.

Time frames “seem” doable

In their defense, there is some truth to the fact that if something (albeit beneficial) seems overwhelming, no one will begin. So saying something takes 7, 14, 21 days probably gets more people started. However, you can’t choose a random set of days unless you can show results.

Many extremely successful thought-leaders say it takes 21 days to form a new habit

One of the most pervasive myths around habit building, especially in the personal growth space, is the idea that it only takes 21 days to form a new habit. Why is this?  Digging back into their work they all credit much of their success to Maxwell Maltz and his personal growth classic Pscho-Cybernetics which was published in 1960.

Maxwell Maltz was a plastic surgeon in the 1950s.  When he would perform an operation, it would take the patient about 21 days to get used to the new changes.  Nose surgeries required 21 days for the person to get used to seeing their new faces.  Arm or a leg amputates reported sensing phantom limbs for about 21 days before adjusting to the new situation. Maltz wrote:

“These, and many other commonly observed phenomena tend to show that it requires a minimum of about 21 days for an old mental image to dissolve and a new one to gel.”

Maxwell Maltz

Maltz’s work was picked up by a burgeoning self-improvement industry and many dropped the “a minimum of about” portion.  Maltz’s work in not wrong.  Certainly tens-of-thousands of us have benefited from him pioneering new thinking in personal development.  But research has come about to answer the question more definitively.

how long does it take to learn tai chi chuan planner

How Long Does it Really Takes to Build a New Habit?

In a 2010 study published in the European Journal of Social Psychology, Health psychologist Phillippa Lally and her team at University College London set out to document just how long it actually takes to form a habit.

The study examined the habits of 96 people over a 12-week period. Each person chose one new habit such as drinking a bottle of water or running for 15 minutes daily and reported how easy it felt.

 “On average, it takes more than two months before a new behavior becomes automatic — 66 days to be exact.”

Phillippa Lally

Lally found that behavior, the person, and the circumstances dramatically affected the range of results (from 18 days to 254 days) with the average person taking 66 days.  So, with the right structure, attention, and focus, we are looking at about 2 months per goal, not 21 days.

66 Days – Make How Long It Takes to Learn Tai Chi the Shortest for You

Knowing this makes a lot of sense. Here are a few pointers to make sure that the habit is achievable:

  1. Make it small.  Our goal is to improve our consistency muscle, not add something new to our life.
  2. Make it daily.  By practicing or doing your new habit daily, you are embody the activity and it becomes part of you.  What does a writ-er do? She writes. What does a paint-er do, she paints.  What does a tai chi practition-er do?   He practices. We are not talking about the whole form here. When you tea is in the microwave, step through the new move from last night’s class.
  3. Shoot for perfection, but don’t beat yourself up.  Lally’s work showed that change was possible by being consistent MOST days.  Aren’t you tired of trying to improve yourself and feeling bad because it wasn’t perfect?  Plan to stick with it but if you slip, just get back up and continue.

Get Ahead – Make Daily, Incremental Changes and Your New Practice will become a New Habit.

Scott Prath

Scott has been practicing and teaching tai chi and qigong since 2000. He is a lead instructor for the Austin Chen Tai Chi Association. His interest in the internal martial arts began after traveling in India and Nepal, and he has since traveled to China to train. Scott has published over 100 articles on tai chi with a focus on research showing the benefits of practicing.

2 thoughts on “How Long Does It Take to Learn Tai Chi? – The 2 Factors for Success

  1. I worked as an exercise instructor in cardiac rehab for many years. MediCare used a 90 day program those clients that left rehab after 90 days a great percent stop exercising.
    Those that continued into the maintence program for another 90 days continue exercise.
    I now tell my Tai Chi Class six months to make Tai Chi like brushing teeth; where do not skip a day
    Respectfully
    Ed Hayes ACSMt

    1. That’s great. What size commitment were you asking them to do each day? Was it a certain number of reps or a specific time? Maybe the same amount of time needed to brush your teeth? Thanks for sharing.

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