Seemingly meaningless tasks are not always what they seem to be. The following insightful passage appeared in “The Meaning of Rice : A Culinary Tour of Japan” by Michael Booth.
This passage describes the apprenticeship of a sushi chef :-
For the first two years they didn’t even let me touch a knife. I only did washing up and ran errands. But you do this to study the tableware, which is very important in Japanese food. I did the cleaning which is also a learning experience: when you vacuum a room you understand the space. Towards the end of that I began to sharpen knives. During the third year I did basic things like skinning squid, and waiting on tables to understand the communication with the customers.
How many students practice the Tai Chi form to the point where they gain insights that are not obvious; to the point where practice gives way to skill and eventually becomes a part of life? Most cannot enter the skill level and even lesser assimilate the skills to the point where there is no separation between martial art and everyday movement.
Many times the desire is there but the mind is weak. Too many distractions, too many excuses not to practice. Everything that we learn teaches us something. But we must practice to gain the insight. Knowing the form is just knowing the form.
The insights only come when you practice, ponder, practice some more, get corrections and keep practicing. Recently, I pointed out to a student the relationship between the pole form that I taught him and the techniques we were practicing.
At first glance the connection may not be obvious. However, once I explained it the relationship is obvious. This is the reason why I teach forms in a particular sequence. However, if students don’t practice the weapons they will miss out on an important part of the learning.
This is why my student failed to make the connection between the empty hand and weaponry. This is why his empty hand techniques still lack something. This is why his empty hand movements cannot coordinate closely.
True learning is learning in-depth and learning widely. Don’t just see one side of the picture. Instead, see from the other side as well. Learn to assimilate within and without.
When your mind is mentally prepared your body will obey. At that point there is no you, there is no me. Then your push hands skill will improve and your techniques will seem simple yet magical.