I once read a book called Steal My Art which was on the Tai Chi Chuan master T.T. Liang. The title came to mind again when I was explaining Step-Up, Parry, Punch to my student last night.
After years of practicing the technique and seeing me show it periodically he suddenly broke free of his visual illusion when he said that the reason why he could never do it the way I do it is because he was thinking of doing it some other way whereas I was actually doing something else.
Ironically, I have been telling him over time not to think too hard in the beginning about how to do a movement. It is the duty of the teacher to open up the way for the student by teaching him how to do the technique. With the passing of time and practice the student then learns to actualize the principles using the standard way of moving.
At a certain stage the teacher will introduce variations to help induce insights that will aid mastery. Thus, ultimately the same technique can be performed in different ways without departing from the core principles.
A problem with making the student learn a standard way is that over time he is so comfortable that he refuses to change. Yet, if variations are introduced too early the student ends up being confused.
Still, to master the art the student must not resist change. If one refuses to be moulded then how can he shape his movements in accordance to the dictates of the principles.
But once the principles are mastered and refined they are no longer visible and the skill belongs to the student. No one can steal the art from him because you can’t steal what cannot be seen. This is why my student was confounded because I seem to be doing the same movement with either huge variations or minute, hard-to-pin down variations. However, once I explained the logic of form following function yet again he understood it better.
Form following function is an important part of why the art is the way it is. For example I brought up the example of stress and impact on the striking hand when hitting a body particularly the fact that the way many people strike they will end up hurting their wrist.
So we need to understand a topic such as strength of body structure so that we can minimize the risk of injury to our wrist when striking. You can try to strengthen your wrists by doing push-ups etc as one way to solve this problem but this will bring up other areas of concern.
To maximize the force landing on opponent, minimize the risk of injury to your striking hand, optimize your chances of getting your strikes in and so forth is what we study in the form first, then test it out later with a partner.
Steal my art sounds very romantic but I doubt its that simple. To master something will require lots of practice, research and investigation plus a good dose of insight to make the breakthrough.