Right Question, Right Answer

In my opinion a lot of Tai Chi students ask the wrong question. When you ask the wrong question you get the wrong answer and you end up getting nowhere.

The problem is that few teachers teach you how to learn, how to analyze the issues and ask the right question.

The typical student comes in with his head of full of internal this, internal that, full of assumptions, presumptions, basically GIGO (garbage in, garbage out) information. When this is the case the prior knowledge taints and stunts the learning ability.

Basically, you can’t learn until you open your mind to possibilities. If what you know is valid why are you not making progress? What is it you do not know that you do not know?

Existing information can cause you to ask the wrong question. Careful analysis of the issue can lead you towards asking the right question. When a student asks about fajing I say that’s the wrong question. Why?

Its easy to do fajing against empty air. Try it against a moving, resisting opponent and right away a lot of issues are thrown up. When you confront these issues then you will begin to understand what you are missing out, why your learning should never start from trying to learn fajing, why fajing is but one component of learning.

Have you seen how people try to fajing by winding up their body and then releasing the power by shaking and jerking violently? Looks impressive, right?

Now, have you ever seen any of these practitioners replicate the same fajing in sparring? How about we make it simpler, during push hands against even a mildly resisting opponent? Why?

So the right question is not how to fajing only but how to fajing against a resisting opponent. How you move your body changes when your opponent is resisting you. Shall I add on the variable that your opponent is also trying to hit you back? This will complicate matter but its part and parcel of a free exchange.

You want to fajing a resisting opponent. He is going to resist you, try to take away the opportunities for you to hit him, while he is trying to hit you back. In this scenario there is no picture perfect conditions allowing you to wind up, pause to breath in, look fierce, and then release your power. Try doing that and you are likely to eat a punch.

So now you have to find a way to hit the opponent fast, hit him before he hits you. But if you are slow to deliver the strike then you have two options – hit faster or find a way to allow you to hit at your existing speed.

Hitting faster is easy except if you are older you might still not be able to match the speed of a younger opponent.

Using your natural speed is a better longer term solution but it calls for you to master certain skills. This is where you have to analyse what are the issues involved in using your existing speed and then directing your efforts towards mastering these factors.

Fortunately for all of us non geniuses the traditional arts have the answers. We just have to find the right person (or persons) to direct us, lead us, explain to us what the right direction is.

For example, when we play push hands often we have a split second to issue power. But if you spiral your body you end up telegraphing. In this scenario being internal is to your disadvantage.

We want to have our cake and eat it too. We have to find a way to move quickly without telegraphing yet deliver power. The issue becomes how not to telegraph a strike, how to move quickly and how to deliver power. All three factors must work together and not nullify each other else you will be back to square one.

Some of my students are strong and fast but they have a tendency to telegraph their power generation process. No matter how fast they move I always seem to beat them to the punch.

I can do it because the long years of doing form training has taught me the value of being empty, of being efficient in movement, of eliminating excess and deficiency, finding out how to move just right to fulfill the objective of “opponent moves first, I arrive first”.

In this way I don’t have to be faster. However, when I need to move then I need to move swiftly and efficiently to where I need to be. This requires me to feel carefully what is happening, to interpret the movement data correctly by drawing on the database of movements cultivated from forms training, such that I know intuitively what the right response will be.

This is why forms training is important. To build a database of knowledge of how the body, your body, moves. This is because you are the one constant in the changing landscape of combat. If you do not know yourself then you will always lose.

At the end of it, the learning is straightforward. It is our greed to want to fajing that caused us to box ourselves into a learning corner, obstructing other learning topics. Ultimately, we pay the price of our enforced learning blindness.

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