The length of each of your training sessions and their frequency in your schedule are dependent on a number of variables: your own level of interest, physical ability, time constraints, and so on. It is certainly true that few modern teachers, much less their students, practise with the intensity that the old masters are reputed to have brought to their training. When reading about the master who would routinely practise walking the circle and forms under a large table so that he was forced to use and maintain very low stances, it is hard to believe that anyone today is capable of such intensity.
Few adults with families or occupations can match such training regimes. But it remains true that regular practice is essential to making progress, especially if your interest goes beyond doing this discipline as more than a set of physical movements. I find it difficult to be patient with the modern practitioners who obviously believe that doing a modern wu-shu variation of the Circular Form once a day somehow makes them superior in every way to someone who trains regularly and intensively in one of the external martial arts.
Modern research has shown that the traditionalists were on the right track about the morning and evening being the best times to practise. People are more inclined to skip scheduled exercise in the mid to late afternoon because of fatigue or busy schedules. However, high-intensity activity, like fast or fast/slow forms that require short bursts of energy are best done late in the day. You will feel stronger, perform more skilfully and get more out of your workout. For slower or steadier exercise, you will reap the same benefits whether you practise early or late in the day.
The self-healing and defence skills of baguazhang are gained gradually through moderate and balanced training. An internal martial art is difficult to cultivate through either obsessive or lackadaisical training.
In this way, the obsessive younger student may quickly develop martial skills but destroy his emotional and spiritual sense of balance; the older obsessive student may train too hard initially and burn himself out on a physical or emotional level. Conversely, the lackadaisical student trains only when the mood takes him or her and then overinflates the value of such training. It is very difficult for average students to learn the interactive side unless they come to a group or private class two to three times per week for several years.
The martial skills cannot be gained from training on an irregular basis unless you are already a very experienced martial artist or have a great deal of aptitude. Few fall in this happy category!
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