The COVID-19 pandemic began in December 2019. It basically threw a spanner into Tai Chi training which involves close proximity and requires hands-on contact.
The pandemic is not completely over but life is picking up. And so Tai Chi training began again last week.
2. IMPORTANCE OF BASICS
Since I could not teach during the pandemic I turned to learning instead. I took the opportunity to learn something that I had always been interested in but could never find the right teacher or the right learning material.
And recently, I took up the learning of another subject matter. This new topic is fascinating when I watched the demonstrations of experts do their stuff. I could foresee that this would be an uphill battle but no frustration, no gain. I am still struggling with the subject but yes, it is fun even as it is difficult as least for an old man. But hey, if many people (read – youngsters) can do it then I can do it too. It is just a matter of time.
One common thread that emerged from learning these two subject matters is the importance of basics. As much as I want to rush the learning I could not do so, not without securing a firm grasp of the basics.
And last week as I started teaching a new student seeing him struggle with the basics brought home this message yet again.
3. SOURCE OF SKILL
Basics are the source of Tai Chi skills or any subject of learning for that matter.
You do not know the basics until you really know, understand and can apply the basics. If you want to master Tai Chi the best thing you can do for yourself is to thoroughly master the basics.
4. WHY BASICS
The basics teach us to move properly. And the basics teach us how to generate power. Finally, the basics underlie our ability to apply the techniques.
You may want to move to advanced material as soon as you can but in my book the advanced skills are just basics refined and applied skillfully. As such, it pays dividends to dive deep into the basics.
5. IMPORTANCE OF BASICS
Learning Tai Chi is to learn the basics, relearn them and learn them all over again.
Sure, there is secret knowledge in Tai Chi or in any other style. But many of these secrets are built on solid basics which when you practiced long enough will yield interesting insights (OK, I lied; aside from practicing you also have to research and dissect what you have learned and make tons of learning mistakes). Love them or hate them you just cannot run away from basics.
6. NATURE OF BASICS
Basics can look simple, feel simple and be underappreciated.
Do not underestimate the basics. There is a surface level of learning to the basics and there is an indepth level to what you think you know.
If you do know go beyond the surface level you will never glimpse what is underneath. This underlying level is the intermediate and advanced parts of the basics.
For example, I taught a sequence of hand-arm movements in SKD that I call 6-Blocks. OK, admittedly this is not an inspiring name, a name that uppity internal stylists would hate cause “blocks” just ain’t cool. As an internal stylist you are supposed to neutralize, not do a block. But I am too lazy to give it a long uppity politically, internally correct name. I just want to call it by a name I can remember without effort. So 6-Blocks it is.
As a basic learning 6-Blocks is about blocking. Actually, no. If teaching how to block is the lesson here then the topic would be called “Blocks” and not 6-Blocks. The sequence of movements that make up 6-Blocks is to teach the core principle of how to change between blocks whilst using the hinge elbow principle.
If you keep working on 6-Blocks you would realize that you are also learning how to control a space, a rounded space if you will, something more than just controlling a centreline. When you can remember the sequence well you will be able to flow, an attribute that is useful when doing push hands or even sticking hands if you are also into Wing Chun.
The snobby internal guy might think “borrrrrrrringgggg……” cause he is only interested in fajing, fajing and more fajing. None of these low class blocks for him. This is where the snob is staring so hard at the finger that he missed the moon that the finger is pointing too for embedded within the 6-Blocks is the first two power generation methods trained in the Single Whip technique of Grandmaster Wei Shuren’s Tai Chi.
Yes, I concealed the practice of the first two of four fajing of the Single Whip inside 6-Blocks because the movements of these particular two blocks is basically the same in nature as the first two movements in the Single Whip arm movement except in 6-Blocks we do a much bigger movement, making it easier to learn whereas in Single Whip the two movements are really subtle and compact, not exactly easy to pick up or apply. Putting this Easter Egg into 6-Blocks is a way to filter out the lazy from the diligent, the blindly practice from the thoughtful practice practitioner.
Thus, the study of 6-Blocks is a study is a number of key basics and not just a study of blocks. I put together 6-Blocks as a shortcut way of learning and picking up a skill in a shorter time frame. It is also easier to see the relevance of 6-Blocks in the context of how to apply the hand-arm movements.
7. A SMALL STEP
When learning the basics take one step at a time. Learn each basic well and practice each one over and over.
Scrutinize your learning, criticize your learning and analyze your learning for this is how you learn the basics really well.
If there is one thing I have learned it is that I should focus on what the beginner needs to learn rather than what I want to teach. I have too to teach so I frequently offer too much information. For a change in this revamped blog I will focus on giving the minimum number of lines of instruction. Three lines of instruction would be ideal but not more than five lines.
I am a believer in using forms to learn Tai Chi but again from experience beginners and even those who have spent a decade practicing can stumble over information that is too detailed. They may be willing to listen and learn but the body may not be willing to adapt and change to new requirements. Familiarity is comfort but can be stumbling block to learning.
Each block of learning will constitute a piece of the puzzle. At the end of it the different blocks can be put together to be practiced through a form if you find keeping track of each block of learning tedious (this is why I like to learn a form over drills). I will have a Basics page that lists down the exercises by category of learning for easy reference.
Learn them well and thoroughly if you want to master Tai Chi.