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.
The key topic we worked on today is the body mechanics in 6-Blocks.
An outcome of learning the body mechanics in 6-Blocks is that you are able to move your body using smaller movements. This is particularly useful if for example you are learning how to do Wing Chun Biu Jee or Tai Chi Fast Form.
In this week’s SKD I delved into the principle of axe chopping to deliver a strike.
Interestingly, in a non-mainstream Wing Chun that I learned we have a punch called Tup Chui which is literally Hammering Punch in which the punch is not straight out but delivered in a downward curving manner. My final Wing Chun teacher also punched in this manner and he is able to punch really fast and powerfully using this process.
I had also encountered this way of punching in the Biu Jee form of the Ip Man style when my senior taught me this version from one of Ip Man’s lesser known disciple. This punch is performed at the end of every section.
The video below is an introduction :-
Here is where I mentioned the axe chopping in relation to Xingyi’s Pi Quan :-
In SKD this is how we use arm swinging to develop the chopping power :-
To be able to apply the chopping strike we use Tai Chi principles to learn how to relax and control our arm and body acting in concert to deliver the strike.
The arm-whole body movement is my adaptation of Grandmaster Wei Shuren’s Step Back Repulse Monkey from his 22-form. The arm rolling into backfist movement is the final movement in Repulse Monkey.
When we swing our arms as part of a strike there is a method behind the madness.
You don’t anyhow swing your arms because you risk hitting yourself if you swing it wrongly as Paul did when he hit himself in the groin.
We have a way to prevent accidental hits to the groin as explained in Clip 15. That’s why its important to pay attention to the basic processes of each strike so that we don’t hit ourselves especially when the hands are swinging fast.