Time is a scarce commodity. There never seems to be enough of it in a day. Wake up, go to work, come home and at the end of the day just a few hours left in the day to do other things unless I go to bed way after the witching hour.
I miss those days where I have the time to go to class from 6.30 to 7.30 am, then have breakfast with the Tai Chi class gang and Master Leong until after 8 am, rush home and go to work by 9 am.
Then back home at 5 pm or even earlier on some days. The evenings would see me in the Old Town section at Tailor Cheong’s shop, hanging there for a few hours with Senior Ah Leong and Wanton Noodle Seller Ah Choo; both masters of Ngok Gar Kuen, learning this little known art.
Those were the bygone era when the days and nights were long. A time of little distractions with no internet, no smartphone. Today there’s too much information, too many things to do, too many books to read, videos to watch, simply too many distractions. If you want to develop a skill you need the time to train, study and reflect.
2. WORK TIME
The biggest chunk of time today is taken up by work which in a modern, always plugged-in society rarely means 9-to-5. That email, text message popping up is a distraction, demanding instant attention. And when you deal with the western countries as well their morning is our evening.
That’s why I don’t always switch on the data line. When I do training I just do training. I don’t want that message notification distracting me. You can try to ignore it but the more you ignore the notification the more you will end up wondering about it, wondering if its something important
So the best thing to do is put the smartphone far away if you can. Or flip it over, have the screen facing down. Know that the data line is off and you can check for message once you have put in a certain number of reps or training time. Until then put 100% of your focus on the training. Be in the now!
3. LEARNING CHALLENGE
Learn. Practice. Reflect. Study. Refine.
Do it. Do it again. Then do it again and again.
The 22-form is short but demanding to practice. Learning it can be challenging if you are not used to remembering a ton of verbal instructions. Yes, it can give you a headache in the beginning and you will keep forgetting the instructions. It is just a matter of working at it until you can remember the information.
4. PRACTICE CHALLENGE
My teacher said the 22-form is easy to learn, difficult to practice. What he meant is that the challenge lies in reconciling what you thought you know about the verbal instructions and what they actually mean in practice and application.
For example, you think you know what relax (sung, 松) means because you feel that you are soft in form practice and in pushing hands. However, in the context of GM Wei’s art sung carries with it a more precise definition, what we call in economics the necessary and sufficient conditions for something to be true.
In the context of our Tai Chi to be soft (rou, 柔) means we must be sung as a necessary condition. The sufficient condition for relax is disperse (san, 散). Thus, to be soft the necessary and sufficient conditions for being soft to occur is Sung and San (松散) which we typically denote as Sung-San.
In this sense when we do our Tai Chi we do not just be Sung. Instead, we must be Sung and San at the same time. This is because the causation for the condition of Sung to occur is San.
5. LEARNING EXAMPLE
We first learn Sung and San in the Beginning Posture (起式). In fact, the Beginning Posture introduces us to the 13 key attributes of our Tai Chi (refer Insight 4.2 – Basics). Running through them is the requirement for Sung-San.
For instance, it is necessary to have the Bell Body (身如鐘) because you cannot create this body structure without Sung-San. As such, we pay close attention to the process of how to perform and achieve Sung-San. Then and only then can the attributes truly be achieved.
In the beginning we learn about Sung-San as a theory. Why is Sung-San so important? How does it work? How does it differentiate our approach to Tai Chi as compared to other fellow Yang styles? What is the underlying principle governing Sung-San? How does Sung-San relate to the ability to apply Fajin? These are examples of how we learn about Sung-San.
6. FROM THEORY TO PRACTICAL
Knowing about the theory is one thing. The more important consideration is how to bridge the gap between theory and practical. This is the part that makes the learning interesting.
This is also the part where the not serious students will start to drop out once they begin the learning and realized that they have bitten more than they can chew. This is also where if you are in a hurry to master Tai Chi then you would reevaluate your choice of interest.
If you stay then you are in for a fantastic learning journey, the likes of which I have not encountered in the other Yang styles that I have learned before. You learn the instructions on how to use the intent to trigger the physical movements. You learn what is meant to be internal, why we need to have a separation between mind and body. Then off you go, taking a leap into the rabbit hole.
You must practice the 22-form as if it is a lifelong obsession, an obsession to discover the implications of the principles governing the art.
This obsession is not just a 5 minutes practice a day or every few days. An obsession is where you spend a lot of time practicing the art, thinking about your practice, challenging what you thought you have learned versus what you have actually grasped.
The ideal is to train for 8 hours a day. If you cannot do so then at least 2 hours in the morning, an hour in the afternoon and 3-4 hours in the evening. Or worse come to worse try to do 2-3 hours in the evening.
I understand that for many this is difficult. So you do the best that you can. When you cannot afford big blocks of time then you steal a moment here and there to practice. This is where I like the Beginning Posture because to us Beginning Posture is not just about raising and lowering the hands.
Instead, Beginning Posture teaches the formulation of the key attributes. So if you are at the bus stop waiting for the next bus you can practice Beginning Posture mentally because the entire chunk of instructions is about how to visualize. Part of Beginning Posture involves moving the hands (the part where the 3-Chi Rings (三道氣圈) are formed) but you can practice this part without moving your hands; just visualize your hands moving instead of actually moving them.
If you are sitting in the bus you can also practice Beginning Posture sitting down. Or if the seats are full then practice Beginning Posture mentally while standing up. If you are driving and need to pay attention to the traffic you can focus on doing Sung-San. There are so many ways you can practice anytime, anywhere. Don’t be afraid to try different ways of practicing.
Using your intention takes practice. If you visualize well then qualia will follow. Feel the sensations. They will help you to progress.
Tai Chi as a physical exercise does not require lifelong learning. However, Tai Chi as a mental and physical exercise is a lifelong journey. The more you venture along this path the more you will discover.
Tai Chi is not a team sport. It is a lonely journey that few can last the distance because it is demanding of your time. My teacher said the true cost of learning Tai Chi is not the amount of fees paid but the time put into it (economists can put a dollar value on it by treating it as an opportunity cost).
My teacher also said that to master Tai Chi you must focus on doing it and nothing but it. It does not mean you cannot learn other arts. It just means that if you do not focus you will never get the essence, forever not understanding it properly.
If you want to do other arts by all means do so but do it after you have grasped the art and mastered it. The advantage of this is that you will be able to use your foundation to help you to learn other arts.
For example, training how to move in a minimal, precise manner will help you to acquire a quiet eye. With a quiet eye you will have better observation skills, seeing things with better clarity, enabling you to focus on the non-obvious but more critical parts of a technique. This will help you to learn something new faster.
With the passage of time your devotion to attention honed from training anytime, anywhere will pay dividends. You will be able to do every attribute all at once. Then you will be able to use the techniques fast.