Wash Dishes, Learn Kung Fu

I read an interesting quote in Life section of The Sunday Times of 12 Aug 2018.

The quote from Ms Aeron Choo who is the chef and owner of a Japanese restaurant is as follows :-

If you wash dishes for an entire year, you see how the plates and bowls change with the seasons.

Most people would see washing dishes as a low paying, menial job that they would rather not do except as a matter of survival. However, Chef Aeron took the opportunity to learn something from it.

In Tai Chi our equivalent of washing of dishes is practicing the form. We do it day in, day out, year in, year out and you can learn a lot from repetitive practice of the form. Disclaimer – you should be practicing a form that is not just about waving your hands.

If you don’t know your form well, then any advanced learning will go over your head. You can listen, you can watch, you can try to do it but your body will refuse to bend to your mental instructions.

This week my student was sick but came to lesson. Instead of doing our usual rigorous stuff I took it as an opportunity to go over the basics but at a more difficult level. The focus was on how to fulfill the principle of starting movements from the ground. In order to do this we must be able to perform the movements in a paradoxical manner, for example, we go backwards even as we are going forwards.

This sounds impossible or at least difficult to do but if your basics are good it is actually quite easy to do. The trick is to first get one part correct so all you have to do now is to get the other part correct. However, if you are still struggling to get the first part correct then the whole learning will fall flat.

This is also the time when any non-compliance that will interfere with the acquirement of better skills will surface. For example, every step we take is a deliberate step-by-step process to ensure that the principles are rigorously met. When we do Push we have a procedure of move the arms, add in the body, broken down into more precise steps. You can see a demo of Push from 1:15 to 1:25 below :-

Once you get the sequence correct, timing, feeling, nuance and all the power will manifest nicely. I did a demo on a stack of chairs to show my student. I did not tape it this time. I then asked him to do it.

The difference was that his force lacked the requisite crest and crash feeling because his step-by-step procedure was not met properly. When the crest and crash characteristic is there you can hear it in the way the stack of chairs sounded when it moved after the palms made contact.

We worked on fixing it but it is an uphill battle because he has not reached the point of being able to feel crystal clear how his body is moving. Our basic procedure requires the fulfillment of a few principles, Tai Chi or otherwise such as :-

i) How to set up the arms to act likes springs

ii) How to use the lower body to impart power to the arms

iii) How to allow the power to move through the arms to the target

The more advanced learning is already in the basic movements. We are not so much learning them as bringing them out by being more mindful of what we are doing, being more aware, more refined and subtle in our timing and our movements. More frequently than not a higher level of learning is simply :-

i) How to tune your arms to get the right amount of tension and relaxation

ii) How to move your lower body to maximize momentum

iii) How to bring the power out of your arms

If you read carefully you would realize that the three intermediate learning are but extension of the three basic learning. And to go further and deeper we just add another three extensions :-

i) How to use your hands to shape the power

ii) How to form the legs bow

iii) Where to put your intent to make the power penetrate the target

So yeah, learning form is like washing dishes. No one wants to do it. Its terribly un-sexy but its a necessity. So learn to enjoy it because it will pay dividends down the road.

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