How do you know that the Tai Chi you are learning is the best that you can learn?
In the book on algorithms there is a discussion on an algorithm known as Hill Climbing that is useful to us in this regard. The takeaway lessons for me are these :-
a) To know whether you are learning the best that you can you first need to establish a baseline for comparison purposes. This means for better or worse you learn what you can in your present style. The highest that you can learn here is your maximum best. Since you do not know if indeed it is the best you can consider it as a local maximum
b) After knowing clearly what your baseline is in your local maximum you can then look around and compare notes. If you found another style that looks worthy of study after comparing it with your baseline you then proceed to learn the best that you can here and develop a second baseline. Or perhaps we should consider this a revised baseline
c) After setting the revised baseline you can then move on to seek another style whether it offers a better learning or something that you currently do not know. Overtime your learning may look something like this graph taken from the book. With luck you would have reached a global maximum i.e. learning the best that you can
Even though I was not consciously following the workings of the Hill Climbing algorithm nevertheless this is how my learning of Tai Chi has turned out to be. I still do my research, checking to see if there is another local maximum that is higher than my last local maximum (which is currently my global maximum) but so far I tend to see stuff that is more of breath than of depth.
For example, for Rollback – the previous ways I was taught to do this was nowhere as good as the 5-Count method that I learned in the Dong style. At a certain point in time this local maximum was my global maximum.
Eventually, as I moved on to GM Wei’s method the teaching of the 9-crooked pearls replaced the 5-Count as my global maximum. However, after years of doing the 9-crooked pearls I have reverted to using the 5-Count because it is still a robust method that can be applied quickly when required in the face of resistance.
For higher level skill development the 9-crooked pearls is still the principle to aspire to as it has certain advantages to it particularly if you are crossing hands with an advanced practitioner.
So for the purposes of Master Tai Chi Today we should understand where we stand with our skills by using the idea of the Hill Climbing algorithm.
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