Crash Course

Teaching a crash course in Tai Chi can be a challenge.

First, there is the student challenge – how fast can the student learn bearing in mind the constraint of how many hours and days the student is prepared to spend learning.

Second, the teacher challenge – how much to teach and whether the student can handle the knowledge or get lost in the knowledge jungle.

My current crash course student hit the nail on the head when she said she has to get rid of old habits even as she is struggling to remember new learning, not to mention try to pick up new habits.

Despite learning the same movement, OK, the apparently same movements, everything is not really the same. Outwardly, same name, same arrangement, somewhat same movements but when it comes down to the nitty gritty details totally not the same. And this was just the first layer of the basics.

The third challenge confronting the student is that learning a form now is not just about learning how to move the hands, turn waist and step. Instead, she has to deal with the applications. My reason is that if the application is not there then the timing can be off, the position can be wrong and one will be none the wiser. In short, the applications keep the form alive and relevant, the body structure true and strong.

Challenge number four would be to get the details in each movement. Yes. Details. In. Each. Movement. Flying elbows. Out. Eyes looking in the wrong direction. Out. Unrelated coordinated movements. Out. Overly bent wrist. Out. Why put the hand here? Why not here? Why step this way? Why not this way? Many technical considerations.

Yes, I am a detail Nazi when it comes to playing the form properly. Even reading this won’t give the sense of how it really is. Its during the actual learning that I sometimes wonder if the student is already regretting learning cause its not the wavy, feel good, Chi-Chi type of Tai Chi. Nothing moves for no reason. Nothing. If there is an effect there is a cause. A beginning, a middle and an end.

Perhaps the most difficult part, the fifth challenge is how to teach the student to use intention. OK, I am under no illusion that its extremely difficult to teach the way we normally use intention in playing the form. But no harm trying first the traditional way. Or if it does work to use a simpler way; it matters not what as long as the message gets through and of course, the mind can be engaged.

Intention is important because it develops awareness. Awareness is important because it develops the sense of not moving excessively, not moving when one should not be moving, moving when really required – no more, no less. It is difficult to restrain oneself from over-moving. It is too easy to move without even being aware of it. But to move just enough, just right, aye, that is the key. Teaching awareness is the sixth challenge because awareness requires one to be constantly mindful of a thousand and one things. It is too easy for the mind to slip, to momentarily lose focus, to let a hand over-move, losing the alignment, the position.

Stopping the cliches is the seventh challenge. Tons of teachers love to say relax, let the Chi flow. I don’t like to say that. OK, maybe sometimes I do. But mostly I don’t because I think these phrases are really meaningless to the student. Relaxing is a feeling, an intangible, something difficult to put a handle on. Using cliches just made Tai Chi more difficult to master even though it probably made the student feel good; yeah man, I am relaxing, the Chi is flowing, so on Cloud Nine now, wheeeeeee…..

But one test of structure and the house of Chi comes tumbling down. Throw out the cliches. Procedures. That should be the way. The science of expertise have found that old established bodies of knowledge have tangible procedures. Why not Tai Chi? So if you ever wonder why your mastery is not coming along here’s a prime suspect.

The eighth and last challenge is to open your eyes wide when learning something, anything. Don’t believe what I tell you. This is why we need to know the applications because if you do a nonsensical movement you will see the knuckle sandwich eyeing you. Get the movements right, one little movement by one little movement, one tiny step at a time and the intricacies that underlie the movements, the principles of the Tai Chi Classics will reveal itself.

In our style there is no monkey see, monkey do. Students who learn this way cannot last because they won’t see the results they desire. No one said its easy. If one is not prepared to change then one will never get the chance to experience the possibilities. Just last week I explained an intention model to make the body heavy and resist unbalancing attempts during push hands. Barely five minutes had passed and my student’s arms were tired and sweating a lot more than normal after we had a go at it going fast and strong.

Its a simple model – this is what it is, the rationale, how to instantly be able to apply it (yeah, use the intention) – and your opponent can feel like he just tried to carry a sack of bricks. Why? Why? Why? Learn by asking, learn by testing. Learn slow, learn fast; crash course learning, long term learning matters not. Its getting there that matters.

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