I read about the importance of belief recently and how it can affects one’s learning habits.
So happened a week ago I was telling my student that if he had not believed what I told him about doing Tai Chi using intention he would not be able to do fajing now. He is still not as refined as I like him to be but he has the flavor of the force correct.
Its common that when you tell someone to relax and give up their excess strength to do the movements in a certain way they tend to resist doing so because their logical mind tells them its not possible.
However, Tai Chi is about paradoxes. So if you are overly logical in your approach you will never get it. Luckily quite a number of the things that we want to learn in Tai Chi can be easily explained using physics and better still tried out with a partner. Thus, right away you can see and feel the point of the why of doing for yourself.
I just started with a student. As usual, the first thing I taught was how to stand and relax, then get the balance correct before attempting to move anything else.
After this we moved on to parting the leg. Simple enough. But it was an uphill struggle for the student. He couldn’t keep his mind focused and thus he was unable to control his balance the way I wanted it.
Then when we moved on to turning the body and shifting the weight on one leg the transfer was not clean. He ended up grinding his heel against the ground.
You might think what’s wrong with this?
Well, for one this type of movement is not useful in push hands much less combat applications. It is reminiscent of the mantis trying to stand up to the cart coming its way and getting run over.
A good clean transfer of weight leads to a precise turning of the body out of the way of the opponent such that the opponent is unable to pull back and thus will lose his balance with little help from you. By not using too much strength to overcome the opponent you still have a lot left over for other follow up. Also, if you use too much strength you fail to abide by the principle of using 4 catties to overcome a 1000 pounds.
It takes some belief to abandon that which is familiar and of comfort to us to jump into the sea of Tai Chi. But for those who dare to wet their toes a pot of gold may await at the end.
In retrospect its a funny comment. One day we were discussing applications and my student Z mentioned he didn’t know how to follow up after countering an attack.
However, months before this comment I had taught him an entire sequence made up of linked strikes. I even explained how to practice the footwork component by using a short portion of the sequence.
If Z had put in consistent practice even if I do not explain further to him his hands would automatically react to put out the strikes if he had been practicing regularly. That his hands are still wooden means he did not practice at all or not enough. If he had put in the practice he would have questions but he never asked. So it means he understood; he did not know what to ask; he knows enough and so no need to ask or he still is not interested in investigating the sequence of strikes further.
This is what I call teaching a person to fish but if the person is not interested to fish there is nothing much we can do.
On the other hand, another student X has taken the time to practice. He stopped when I saw him practicing but I wanted him to continue. This is because if he does not show me the practice I would not be able to offer corrections unless he was not interested to improve on the movements.
At this point I should point out that students can improve their learning if they read the book The Invisible Gorilla.
Moving on, when I saw how X moved it was obvious what he was doing wrong. So I set to correct what was wrong and emphasized the importance of certain elements and why they were vital keys to using the art.
For example a missing movement in the leg meant that power cannot be projected out as strongly rendering the strike much less penetrating. Also the same tweak to the leg would also improve the ability to move and kick with power.
These corrected principles can also improve form performance and provide a different understanding to how a movement can be used. Thus, a movement that seems to be a run-of-the-mill defensive move suddenly becomes one that emphasizes penetrating, sharp strikes at weak points of the anatomy.
When the mind is open to learning it is possible to improve one’s skill. The danger to learning is that of the “smart” mind, the student who thinks he knows what is going on when he does not. This is the illusion of knowledge that is written about in The Invisible Gorilla.
It is only when the mind is receptive that knowledge can be transmitted. Transmission does not guarantee mastery but it is the first step to take for those who want to master an art.
Single Whip is a well known Tai Chi posture. For the beginning student without the necessary play of looseness and tension in the body its difficult to teach them how to generate the whipping force that can be learned from Single Whip.
On page 105 in TaijiKinesis Vol 2 there is a conceptual model of how whipping force is generated. When the body can be controlled at the intermediate stage through the use of the 5-Count then learning how to generate whipping force is really easy.
However, just having the ability to generate whipping force is not particularly useful. Its when the whipping force is combined with the use of body postures that is learned through the 5-Count that this particular force is of value.
When the intermediate level is reached one of the first things to learn is how to transform big frame motions into small frame motions. To be able to use Tai Chi as a combat art one must be swift, direct and fierce in response. At the advanced level when one has more subtle skills then one goes to the other end of the spectrum when counterattacking.
To be able to move swiftly the student must not waste movements. He has to be able to mobilize quickly when required to. To be direct means to deal with attacks in the shortest manner possible. However, being swift and direct will fail if not backed by fierce and powerful counters. Hence, understanding how to harness the principles of Single Whip will boost our skills up another notch.
Using the principles of Single Whip can result in techniques that are not an exact replica of the movements that make up the posture of Single Whip. The technique of Single Whip requires contact to use and not as useful when going against an opponent that is fast and gives you little opportunity to make contact.
However, when you use the principles of Single Whip you don’t have to rely on making contact with the opponent’s bridge. Instead, you can respond differently with responses derived from understanding Single Whip broadly instead of narrowly. At this stage you can see that Tai Chi can be a very simple and direct method of combat.
My student asked why after training for a long time he cannot figure out those things I am teaching him.
I said the reason is simple. Many of such teachings are kept within the style so unless one happens to be selected to be given the info one will never get it. In addition, if the info is not transmitted in written but verbal transmission then all the more reason why most people will never hear of it much less read about it.
I pointed out that our 5-Count is simple in theory yet is difficult to master. If one simple force method is so confounding yet how does one master the super many types of force methods that is described in certain books on Tai Chi?
Our Tai Chi method revolves around key basics. Our core force method is but one. Any additional expressions of force are but different ways of applying the core force method. In this manner our art is at its heart extremely simple in approach. Yet once the variations kick in the art can be complex.
Understanding how the principles are practiced through the form and then applied in the manner they are practiced is a key function of the transmissions. These principles are consistent with principles of physics.
They are not the stuff of hocus pocus. If you research Tai Chi along certain lines of thought you will probably arrive at similar conclusions. The problem is most practitioners think in a narrow manner hence they can’t, nay refuse to see the light.
Many arts are the results of careful research, thinking and enlightenment based on learning and experiences. Hence, every art is valid and useful as long as one adheres to what which makes the art work well in the way it was designed.