I was just telling my student that the findings of the new science of expertise on how to learn a subject successfully confirms what practitioners in traditional martial arts have known all along which is study the basics properly, crack the application code of the forms, develop the principles that characterize the art and master them.
The finding is encouraging for those who are struggling to master Tai Chi and find that at times the ability to perform or apply certain movements elusive. However, with consistent correct practice mastery will come somewhere down the road. To accelerate learning it is helpful to micro-analyze how a movement should be performed to comply with the principles of the Tai Chi Classics and physics.
The pulling motion which is part of the transition from Push to Single Whip (see below) is not easy to grasp particularly when attempting to generate power using the 5-Count model. The procedures involved are simple enough but it is the quality of the movement, the precise timing and control required which makes it difficult for students to catch it easily.
The use of 5-Count can actually simplify the application never mind the initial hurdle in catching it. But for some reason students today somehow have a hard time putting their finger on it. I would say this is because they did not spend enough quality practice on the intricacies of doing the 5-Count.
Sticking to the old ways of teaching is not always good for students because if they fail to master the art then the art cannot be carried forward. Moreover, the shortage of practice time in today’s fast paced society will only worsen the success rate for mastery.
To address this situation we can take a leaf from the findings discovered by researches in the science of expertise to improve how Tai Chi can be taught so that we can improve on the mastery rate and reduce the time required to acquire practical skills.
Coming back to the transition pulling movement – the key difficulty encountered by students in executing this movement is largely due to the inability to define the Rollback path clearly, differentiating full and empty in the arms and mixing up the timing of each arm. By do doing, the typical mistake is to try to pull the training partner off balance using strength wrongly.
By tweaking the sequence to incorporate on additional movement to mobilize the body backwards the student has an easier time to move the body as an integrated unit. However, this advantage can be nullified if the arms are not controlled to act in concert with the body. A typical mistake is to use arm strength to attempt to pull the training partner off his base. This will only cause the training partner to resist back.
This tendency to use strength in the wrong manner can be fixed by imagining the arms to be a yoke that enables you to connect to the training partner. You use the 3-Count device to fix the arms in the manner of a yoke before applying the backwards body mobilizing movement. If both the additional movements are used properly you will be able to get the training partner off balance into your sphere of rotation from which you can then pull him forward into your empty space before discharging him sideways.
Note – despite making it easier to learn this movement without having to do the 5-Count properly we must not forget to continue working on the 5-Count. The reason is because when the movement is applied with a less than accurate 5-Count the change from Yang to Yin is not as clearly differentiated thus allowing the training partner an opportunity to escape.