If you did not see something happening did it mean that it did not occur?
I guess it depends on whose perspective you are looking at the issue from.
Learning how to do the Tai Chi form requires a lot of patience because of the subtleties involved in performing the movements properly to conform to the requirements of the principles of the Tai Chi Classics.
Anders Ericsson who pioneered research into the new science of expertise that spawned the well known 10,000 hours learning rule mentioned in his book “Peak : Secrets from the New Science of Expertise” pointed out that fixing the weaknesses in your performance involves getting the subtle things correct. More frequently than not, this requires you to get the corrections from a good teacher.
It goes without saying that after finding a good teacher you need to have faith, or at least enough doses of it, to believe that what you are being told is correct. Only then will you attempt to do the movements as you are told to, even upon first hearing it sounds, feels and looks impossible to do. Anyone who has ever learned Tai Chi at this level would have some experience.
As a student you should always remember that the level of performance of a trainer is always much better than you. And in the case of a high level of performance from those who have broken through the understanding and able to actualize the principles of the Tai Chi Classics the movements will be lot more subtle, internal-like if you will, in the sense you cannot readily see or perceive what is happening, at least without getting an explanation, or better still a feel of what is going on.
A movement like White Crane Spreads Wings is not just about waving the arms gracefully and turning the body as you do so. To do a bad imitation of the movement is easy. To do it properly, to learn functional skills, not so easy. However, it is not impossible also. It just takes two hands to clap, a teacher to show you and a student willing to learn.
Posing with the arms spread out is not the movement of White Crane Spreads Wings. This is the end of the movement. The movement starts from the end of Raise Hands. Along the way you have to move in a way that enables you to cultivate health, internal power and martial skills. The latter is where you work on how to control your balance, control your movements by keeping them coordinated, constantly aligned, getting the momentum moving, applying the leverage, how to move your intent etc.
Controlling the intent is the more difficult part of the learning because you need a heightened level of awareness on different things, sometimes at the same time and on other occasions at different timing. This is the part where you need to invest in the time to gain this control, bit by bit, week by week, month by month, year by year.
You cannot rush it because your mind takes time to adjust to this level of learning. In our kind of learning we have a stringent level of tolerance for deviation, to borrow engineering-speak, something like 1%. From what I observed in many schools the level of tolerance is easily 15% or more. But as my teacher said we need to be in the top 1% or the way I interpret it to have deviation of 1% or less in order to achieve that kind of quality.
Without having a quality level in mind, it is easy, tempting even to cheat when we perform the movement of White Crane Spreads Wings. I see to many instances of this, even among so-called master-level practitioners. They end up placing undue stress on the joints, violate essential requirements, not to mention end up with structurally unsound posture that cannot stand up to the pressures of applications.
The use of pressure or stress test is helpful to help flush out the holes in one’s performance. Sometimes even a slight turning of the hand can affect your balance, your power. On the one hand when you turn your hand it seems like your power is stronger. However, an experienced trainer can help you understand with the use of pressure where your understanding is deficient in this respect.
I recently taught a student White Crane Spreads Wings. I told her to lean but need to take care not to exert stress on the knee that the body weight was on. It was to be expected when she leaned in the way a normal person would do, such that her balance was compromised in the forward direction and ended up with stress on the front knee.
The correct way involved the use of intent to govern one’s movement, to unify the body in motion, such that you do not lean in a compromised position (which is to your disadvantage in push hands), maintain the power and move into the end position while keeping the body unified strongly.
Tall order, perhaps. No, not really. It took a few attempts, more explanations, even more tries again but in the achievable. Of course, it looked like I was not doing what I just explained but I did but on a subtle level. So I had to exaggerate the movements to show that I did do it, just that with better control I can hide the movements such that unless one has a quiet eye it would be difficult to spot it. When the point sounded abstract then a demonstration of how the principles could be applied cleared up the confusion.
When you are in the learning phase there are many things you would need to pay attention to. These requirements can change over time as you work towards a higher level of quality in your movements, particularly from doing them externally to internalizing the requirements, such that they are no longer obvious, especially when the kinks have been smoothed out, using a seamless layered multi-movement that outwardly seems like a straightforward movement.
Making the transition from external to internal is not simply about getting the outer movements in the correct sequence. Instead, it is about qualia, the feeling of internal that is captured in the keywords of our style, first in your movements, then projecting it into your opponent during applications. For example, I have two students ask me about a scenario where the person they pushed hands with in the past would keep their arms very loose and soft, making it difficult to find a resisting point to apply their power against.
To solve this problem requires the application of Tai Chi principles, how to exchange Yin and Yang, such that the opponent would end up in a position to have to receive your force. To each student a different solution because each person has a different level of understanding. The general principle is the same but the method to apply the power is different because of the different resistance.
Ultimately, when you learn Tai Chi its not about style. Instead, it is about the principles, the fine details that make the art “internal” by the definition of using intent, not just go soft and calling it internal.