Questions & Improvement

Did you know that a fast way to make improvement in your own learning of Tai Chi or any other arts is by asking the right question at the right time.

It is my experience that students do not take the opportunity to ask questions or have many questions. In the old days it is difficult to ask a teacher a question because some teachers are not approachable and some will give you painful physical answers.

Today such teachers are rare. So if you don’t ask questions then you are basically telling the teacher that :-

a) You didn’t really practice so you have no questions

b) You did practice but you are the type of “monkey see, monkey do” learner so if the teacher does not tell you then you will not ask

c) You don’t need to ask because you already got it

Below is a clip of Jordan Rudess, the keyboardist in Dream Theater. I listen to DT but never really appreciate Rudess until I watched this clip. What struck me is Rudess’ enquiring mind.

In fact, in asking questions whether of his teachers or of himself he has discovered and learned new skills. Just by watching this clip I learned something that I could teach my SKD students.

I had previously mentioned one way to do the 6-Blocks but not seeing anyone demonstrate the flavor that comes from understanding this tells me that either they did not practice or they did but can’t get it and did not pursue it. Plus if no one asked this could also mean that they are not interested to improve their 6-Blocks.

So on top of the way I had brought up in one lesson what Rudess talked about from 4:04 – 5:00 can be used to improve our arm movement. In fact, if I add in one more teaching from an old Wing Chun style then any student who really practice the 6-Blocks will be able to develop soft, willow-like flavor in the way they move their arm.

Not asking questions for starters is a great learning tragedy. I used to have a list of questions for my Tai Chi teacher. He expected me to ask questions. He would teach and then ask if I have questions. But it was not just questions about what he just taught. He was also interested to know if I have questions from my practice of what he taught previously.

This was an indicator of whether I had practiced, thus demonstrating that I was a serious learner and worthy to be taught more. In case you are thinking of just asking questions for the sake of showing that you have practiced, don’t do it. A teacher can tell from your questions whether you are just putting on a show or got the questions from your own practice. Practice sincerely and ask the questions that come from it is the way you should do it.

Certain things in Tai Chi can only be taught to you if you are ready to receive it. Otherwise, you will find yourself in over your head. In SKD I arranged the training sequence such that the most important fundamentals come first. So if you didn’t practice you will not be able to understand even the most basic of CMA principles especially those from the internal arts.

I can explain until my mouth is dry but it wouldn’t make a difference to the person hearining it. Its just a lot of words, a lot of noise. To those who practice a single word or line of explanation can be like a drop of water to the thirsty person in the desert.

For example, I see clips that my fellow students in Kali put up for feedback. Asking for comments indicates that they don’t have any idea of where their own problem area might be. So while they do get feedback which hopefully can lead to improvement, in general I don’t see as much improvement as I know they potentially could make.

If I have any advice to give them it would be to not ask for general advice but just pick two areas that they think they have a problem with and ask how to fix what they think is the problem. Then evaluate all the comments, try them out and come back to show that they have tried. If there are improvements then good and they are on the way to better skill. If not, then ask why for help.

Many times the learning road map is very clear but not knowing how to read the map or understanding what the map is telling them is the obstacle. I know that sometimes too many details can be a problem to a person starting out. So no more than three suggestions should be the norm.

If let’s say a student has a problem executing Entry 4 with power a suggestion for improvement would be for each practice session to :-

a) Practice Broken Strike in stationary position for at least 50 times

b) Next practice Fluid-Reverse for 50 reps

c) Put the above two together and practice Broken-Fluid-Reverse for 50 reps

d) Now try Entry 4; you should see and feel a visible improvement

I had a look at the clips of five students before I wrote this. I could post my comments there but they may not necessarily believe what I say so I decided to write here for a wider audience. I gave my friend Paul the same advice and this is his performance of Broken-Fluid-Reverse on our 14th Zoom lesson :-

Before that this is Paul doing Entry 4 on the 6th lesson :-

By the 11th lesson Paul has improved so that his strike at least looks like it could hit with some force :-

In summary, to progress in your training remember to practice a lot and ask the questions.

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