1. Not knowing your purpose; not knowing why and what you are training.
I've learned that purpose defines what is and is not "in scope" and helps clarify what questions get asked, like, "So how exactly does this exercise help develop the feeling of internal strength?" and my all time favorite, "How do you know?"2. Not knowing the "connectedness" feeling of internal strength.
Tip: Know what you want and why you are training what you are training.
When I didn't know the feeling of internal strength, I didn't know what it was I wanted to develop. I believed whatever I was told it was. Some teachers teach mechanics and technique and call this "internal strength" but it is not.3. Believing that practicing forms for years will lead to internal strength.
Tip: Do your research. Get a sense of the feeling before committing to a training program.
I discovered that forms are too complex to figure out the subtle feelings that are only revealed while standing still or while practicing simple, repetitious patterns like side-to-side.4. Choosing a teacher based on a well known and respected lineage.
Tip: Stop practicing forms and only practice zhan zhuang and simple, repetitious patterns like side-to-side.
In my experience, the lineage of a teacher is not evidence in and of itself that that teacher actually has any internal strength skills.5. Thinking that a Tai-chi, Ba-gua, Xing-yi, Yi-chuan teacher has internal strength skills just because the teacher looks and sounds Chinese.
Tip: Touch hands with the teacher's students and feel if anyone has skill. Sometimes the "rogue" teacher without a lineage may also have internal skills.
I've come to learn that a teacher's "Chinese-ness" is no guarantee of possessing internal skills and a teacher lacking "Chinese-ness" should not be dismissed as not having internal skills.6. Not validating my skill with others outside my school or training program.
Tip: Don't judge a book by its cover.
I used to think that I was making progress when in fact I wasn't, and I didn't even know that I wasn't.7. Believing I need to train in China to get quality internal skills training.
Tip: Find someone outside your school to validate or verify your experience. I don't mean challenges or competitions. A minute of simple, static point-to-point "push hands" is sufficient to get valuable feedback.
I think this was more true thirty years ago than it is today. There are now more quality teachers available outside of China than ever before.8. Believing that I need to learn Chinese language, culture and philosophy, Chinese Traditional Medicine, the Tai-chi Classics, Qi-gong or any other "energy" or "spiritual" or "Taoist" practice to develop internal strength.
Tip: The grass is not always greener on the other side. Discover who is in or traveling to your area or country.
I learned so much of this stuff over the years and NONE OF IT contributed to my developing internal strength.9. Thinking that there is only one "style" of zhan zhuang.
Tip: A good teacher should be able to show you with several quick postural adjustments how to elicit "the feeling" in your own body as well as discern "the feeling" in others. If your teacher can't guide you using your local vernacular (in "plain English" for my U.S. readers), then look for another teacher.
The more I practice Wujifa zhan zhuang and the more I view (on-line) how others teach and practice (and see their results), the more I see and understand that practicing zhan zhuang in and of itself may not necessarily lead to internal strength.10. Believing that internal strength is a physical skill (like learning basketball) that I could add onto my existing structure or way without fundamentally changing who I am.
Tip: Either find a teacher who has internal skills who can guide your zhan zhuang practice and/or seek out true masters from whom you can receive guidance.
It's taken me a long time to experience that developing internal strength is about changing my body, body-mind, soma-psychology, neural pathways or whatever you call it, by inviting me to "let go of" and not "add on to".
Tip: Sorry, no tips on this one. I too struggle with letting go of deeper ingrained habitual holding patterns that I'm afraid to let go of.
I'd like to hear from you. What's on your Top Ten List of Internal Martial Arts Training Mistakes? Have you made any of these mistakes in your pursuit of internal strength? From your experience, have you reached the same conclusions or a different conclusion?