A Gnaw A Day

In the end I suppose its the little things that matters, that gnaws at one’s being until out of frustration it became a vote for the opposition and a mighty party tumbled. I am of course referring to the just concluded Malaysia 14th general election in which the party which has run the country for the longest time just got their ass handed to them by disenchanted voters.

In nature a mighty tree can withstand the vagaries of weather and environmental changes over time. But once beetles attack the tree, a bite at a time, over time then sooner or later the tree is no more.

Never underestimate the power of the little things. In Zen there is a popular story of learning :-

A martial arts student went to his teacher and said earnestly, “I am devoted to studying your martial system. How long will it take me to master it.”

The teacher’s reply was casual, “Ten years.”

Impatiently, the student answered, “But I want to master it faster than that. I will work very hard. I will practice everyday, ten or more hours a day if I have to. How long will it take then?”

The teacher thought for a moment, “20 years.”

When learning a combat system never over-estimate your learning capability. You may think you are God’s gift to the system but rare is the person who is actually one. Most masters have to slog and practice for a long time.

Yes, I know this is not glamorous. Today we want results like yesterday. However, there is a trade-off. Get faster results but risk injuring yourself and your ability to continue training at some time in the future (this has happened to some famous MMA teachers) or go slower but have a long life training into old age.

The way to get good results faster is by going slower. Pay attention to the small details. No details should be too small to matter. When you get there you will understand this point. In one of my learning groups online I see a student trying to go faster and faster though it was obvious that going faster ended up with more mistakes. But such is the yearning that one cannot slow down the desire to get there faster.

My Tai Chi teacher said that mastery should never be the objective of learning. Instead, daily practice should be the objective. Thus, in wanting to get there one never really gets there. If you meet the minimum standards does that mean you have already mastered the art? How do you know?

This is why the concept of a reference standard is important. It tells us when we really get there, not just think we got there because we passed a test and awarded a belt. Some practitioners pay too much credence to a belt. A belt just means you passed a test. It does not mean you have mastered the art.

Even at a master level there are many more little things to work on. The mastery of one level is the beginning of learning of another level. In this sense a true master is a perpetual beginner. If you consider that you are a master this means you are locked into a dogma which may turn out to be a trap to limit you ability to go higher.

Of course, I understand that some people enjoy the trappings and ego that comes with being a declared master. For some wearing a uniform, the more decals the better, perhaps even a red belt or gold belt, would somehow elevate their standing. I know it will fill their bank account cause as PT Barnum astutely pointed out a sucker is born every minute.

For those who are serious students of the way keeping working, keep gnawing at the little, little mysteries of your art. Never give up. Some things seem obvious but in hindsight may not be so. Like in my previous post here I mentioned about how my student has learned the Peng Quan the wrong way.

It is not politically correct to criticize what he previously learned. But we are on the path of learning so constructive analysis and criticism is on par for the course. For example, the way he held his fist was in my non-mastery opinion wrong. For one it didn’t gel with the story of Xingyi originating from the art of the spear.

Secondly, the way he held his fist made for a shaky alignment and when he struck the post this was obvious from the sound of the strike. I was tempted to video him to show him but I didn’t.

Thirdly, the power mechanics was not optimized. The story of Xingyi being related to how a spear is used does have something to it, at least to my analysis of how to use the Peng Quan. I forgot to mention to him that he should try doing Lan, Na, Zha for a few months and this would be obvious.

However, I did mention about doing research into projectiles which changed the way I looked at how the Peng Quan could work. It didn’t hurt to have a working knowledge of Grandmaster Wei Shuren’s intention models as they are extremely useful in understanding the Yi in Xingyi even if it be from Tai Chi’s perspective.

Yeah, so this was me gnawing at a research problem. I work on many little research problems. Some people, scholars particularly, like to go off on history, lineage, historical greatness and so on. I think this is interesting to know but at the end of the day I am only interested to know how this would help me master Tai Chi. If it does not, then I file this under “Nice to Know, But Let’s Not Waste Time On It”.

Since my student does not learn Pok Khek it would not be beneficial to tell him about how the 5 Elements Fist in Xingyi are similar to some of the techniques in Pok Khek Kuen. Outwardly-wise they do look somewhat similar, as far as movement of the arm goes but the lower body movement is different. Can we say that the energy utilized is different. Maybe yes, maybe no. Ultimately, this could be a question of how many ways we can move the body to issue power versus what is the optimal way to issue power.


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