It has been commented upon by many that my books are quite uncompromising with regards to timescales. The feedback I get is that I am overly brutal with regards to how long you have to practice before you manage to attain a certain stage in your development. I am not sure that this is entirely true.
In ancient texts it is normal to talk in terms of decades when studying something. Classical teachings often say that ten years is the minimum amount required before achieving even the simplest internal skill. By the time you add up all of the decades required according to ancient teachings it will take you at least 300-400 years to ever get good at an art such as Taijiquan or Qi Gong! Then we have the modern version of timescales where many teachers will talk in hours or weekends to achieve something. ‘Come on my weekend course and by the end of it I will certificate you to say that you have achieved this special circulation of Qi. After this course you are eligible to join my next weekend course on merging Kan and Li!’ Timescales of decades have been shrunk down to a brief workshop due to the teacher having a special, secret way to teach you quickly. I recently became aware of a Qi Gong practitioner who complained that she could not manage some of my internal exercises after trying for a whole twenty minutes!
To be honest, the old guidelines of decades are more metaphorical in my opinion. Decades is what it will take to achieve expertise in an entire system, not just one small part of it. On the other end of the scale, the modern one-weekend version of skill development, is also complete nonsense and I would argue that it borders on fraud.
I think that my timescales are quite reasonable really and sit somewhere between these two. I believe that once the correct groundwork has been built into the body, timescales should be talked of as being in the realms of months or a few years at most. I believe that three years of diligent training is enough to understand the core principles in any style or system. After this it can take the rest of a decade to really get to grips with the finer points of a system. A further decade is then required to really absorb the system into your very being so that it becomes you. This means that around twenty years of hard work is required to really become an expert in a system such as Taijiquan or Qi Gong. Anything beyond this timescale is working towards mastery (whatever that may be). Each internal stage within an art such as Nei Gong can be achieved in terms of a few months if you train hard; this would mean stages such as waking up the Dan Tien or clearing the key meridians etc. It is realistic to expect this to take a few months of daily training rather than a few hours as your body is slow on the uptake when you are trying to teach it something; the only things slower than Qi in learning what to do is the human mind!
Another question asked is ‘how many hours should I practice each day?’ For me this is quite simple. It depends upon how good you wish to get and how deep you wish to go into your chosen system. If you practice for one hour each day you will maintain your health at the level it is at and gradually improve your health through your practice providing that you are practicing correctly. This is enough for most people. If you practice for two hours per day you will improve your health as well as maintaining the skill level that you have achieved through your classes with your teacher as well as slowly creeping forward with your ability. Three hours per day is required in order to improve to any great amount. Two hours per day will mean that the corrections you are given will stay with you whilst three hours per day will enable your body to intuitively change within the framework of your chosen system and evolve into an art-form which is uniquely suited to you. This, on top of regular teaching, will lead you towards expertise over the kind of timescales discussed above.
Those who wish to develop as much as they can and go deep into their system should expect to be able to train for at least four hours per day and be heading towards full-time practice if they really want to attain what I tentatively call mastery. Any less than full-time training and you cannot expect to hit the highest levels in your art.
This may sound harsh but is it really? Would you really expect an athlete to win gold medals in the top competitions without being in training full-time? They may rest periodically throughout their day but they are basically devoting their entire life towards their goal of being as good as they can. The same applies to an internal system. This may mean that many will not attain the highest level but this does not matter. People should aim for what they can do. Training must be balanced with family life, work etc.
I do not believe that many people cannot find an hour per day. I would also be surprised that people could not find two hours per day if they wanted to find them. Am I going too far to think that, actually, a great many people could also find three hours per day if they really wanted to? How much TV do people watch in a day? How much time is wasted by people who complain that they have no time? I think it is possible to train early in the mornings before starting the day for many people and then again in the evening. Those who cannot manage three hours could still manage two and all could definitely manage one.
You need to ask yourself how deep you want to go when organizing your life and looking at what time you have to put into your art.
Obviously there are some days where things happen, people are sick or some emergency comes up and they cannot train. For me, my biggest issue here is long fights. I have a flight coming up next week which will take the entire day. This will mean a day with no training for me. These are unavoidable but time must be made up for this the day after or else my skill level will start to slip backwards and as a teacher this is unacceptable.
My expectation is that assistant instructors or those helping with teaching beginners should be practicing at least an hour or two each day. If they are not doing this every day then they should not be teaching (emergencies aside). Teachers who run schools or who purport to be teaching more than just the basics should be practicing each and every day for at least three hours or they have no right to teach. Those who run organisations and teach on a professional basis (like myself) need to dedicate their entire life to teaching and training. These aspects have to come first. This is our responsibility as many people are coming to us for guidance and instruction. If we are not using the free time which this kind of lifestyle gives us then we are little more than frauds. A person should never be above practicing. For myself, I am either training or working upon the theory of teaching and training when I am resting. My mind and body are 100% consumed with these arts and all of my energy goes into them. At higher levels in Nei Gong practice you actually study sleep-practices which turn your sleep into alchemical practice. Now there is no rest time at all since sleep becomes a part of your daily regime.
My basic logic for this is that in ancient times many of these practices were carried out in mountains far from society. Full-time practice was expected. In martial circles they often harp on about the good old days when standards were higher and martial artists achieved almost super-human levels of skill. Well, of course they did compared to modern people. They trained full-time with few distractions! The adage of ‘you get out what you put in’ applies to everything in life including our arts and I find it odd that people expect them to be different in some way.
So when asked ‘how long should I train each day’ the answer is that it depends upon whether it is a hobby or a life choice. Either is fine but you must be realistic about what that will entail time wise..