Crawling Up a Mountain

Sometimes learning Tai Chi is like trying to crawl up a mountain; a slow tedious, strength draining process. Every inch gained challenges one’s patience and endurance.

Many months later I am still working with my student on just Beginning Posture and Grasp Sparrow’s Tail. This is unprecedented. Most students would have moved on. However, she is a perfectionist and for the umpteenth time we are going over the same ground; advancing a wee bit more each time but at times sliding back and again we fix the problem areas to try to move forward.

Grasp Sparrow’s Tail – most students would just raise up the right arm, turn and move on to step 2. Since she wanted it perfect I then have to turn my critical eye on her posture. Turn not enough I said, pointing out an anomaly. This problem was traced back to an poorly performed spiral chain.

So we retraced the step and hop back to the first step. The mind had to give the command, visualize the intention and the body obeying it. Simple …… not. But there was no shortcut to mastering this. The beginning of the spiral motion must be correct, turning smoothly, winding its way along the arm, body, triggering the proper waist turn before finding its way to the ground, ending with an adequate turning of the body, balance nicely kept, arms poised in the right position. Remember turning nicely must fit in with the combat application.

We go over this again and again and again. Fixed one problem only to have another one surface. And again another problem but each fixing took us closer to the sweet spot. The problem might at times looked insignificant but a test of posture, check of application easily revealed the reasons why the problem must be solved if one wants to master the principles.

Good, fixed part of a posture. Moved to the next part of the posture, plucking hand has lost its control, a symptom of lack of intent. Fixed this. The third act is going to be tricky.

Act III, Part 1 – intention, intention. Visualized it. Moved the intercepting hand. Slowly, distance, distance, timing, timing. Connect. Check position. No, no, fingers wrong. Adjusted. Check response – good; the arm was relaxed and able to adhere and follow with a non-attached mind. I spoke too soon, a repeat and same mistake. Correct problem again. How should one self-check? A short mental checklist was offered.

Part 2 – 3-Count, 3-Count!!! One must actually do it, not just think of doing it but not doing it. Part 2, right arm 3-Count process; closing the guard, no flying elbow, check defensive lines. Check relative arms position. Remember the balance.

Part 3 – relax, sink, 3-Count; gradual turn and up to the position on the left wrist. Avoid contact – why? A demo on how the mind can become attached, causing the body to become tensed if the posture is done wrongly. Move, move, right arm arrived in place. Check position, no, too much to the side – bad for defense and attack. What’s the root cause here? Ah, the cause was due to Part 2. So do Part 2 correctly and Part 3 will be automatically sort itself out. Balance, balance.

Part 4 – now the 5-Count is used. Move, move, move; wait, too fast, bring back the balance. Another thing, turn too much, balance should not be adjusted again. Explanation and showing of why this was detrimental to proper application. So why did we have this problem – the answer was obvious – forgot the balance in Part 3! Go back to Part 3, remember the balance, remember the balance – step out; pause, check posture, 5-Count on the ready, go. Movement completed, check posture, test power. Good! Wait, guarding hand too forward, exposing an opening for a side strike; quick demo here, adjust back the arm. Repeat movement.

Ward-off – hands in the correct position in Grasp Sparrow’s Tail. Let the tension go, turn body, harmonize the arms, rotate them using vertical spiral. Test power, firmness of posture.

Rollback – first have the emptiness created before moving. No, no, movements not distinguished and not separated clearly allowing the attack to come through because door was wide opened. Tried again, remember 5-Count process. Applied intention, mentally aligned the path, began the 5-Count process. Timing, timing, not too fast, pace out, pace out. Tested the correctness of movement.

Press – too fast, too fast, wait, slow down, pause, don’t rush; each arm moved using different circles. Checked alignment. Implemented the unbalancing strategy, applied pressure and seal, gathered the mass, moved forward, issued power. Checked balance.

Push – and so on, and so forth.

Isn’t it tedious to just read my description of trying to teach my student properly? Striving for correctness is not easy; it is an uphill battle for many. It is like two hands clapping – the instructor must teach properly and the student must keep practicing, never giving up, like crawling up a mountain, this is an example of a learning path to Master Tai Chi Today.


Want to learn Tai Chi in Singapore? At Singapore Tai Chi Yang Style (TaijiKinesis) lessons covering forms, weaponry, push hands, fajing and applications are offered. Lessons are conducted in English. Send enquiry today

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