You can learn a lot as well as generate insights that can improve your skill by learning to see outside the box. However, you may fail to take advantage of this learning tool if your mind is not allowed to open up to things that are new or unfamiliar to you.
I love the comfort of things familiar and old. Who doesn’t? Many people do not like new things because the unfamiliar can make us uncomfortable by the very fact that they show up the shallowness of our knowledge and challenge the foundations of our beliefs. Because of this our natural inclination may be to shut our mind off when we come into contact with things new.
Other factors that can prevent seeing outside the box are the interactive dynamics, beliefs and biasedness of a closed group. Often such groups are dominated by a leader with strong beliefs that do not tolerate alternative or dissenting views. What the leader says is often held to be the gospel truth, enforced by eager followers who act to ridicule, isolate and drive out those inside who do not agree with them.
2. DON’T KNOW IT ALL
I don’t know it all. Do you?
There’s a lot of knowledge out there whether new or ancient. What I am seeing is but a tiny fraction of the larger pool of total knowledge that is available to the public. There may be a lot more knowledge that is kept away from public access.
The diversity of knowledge is such that it is impossible for us to know it all. Yes, the human body being a human body with its attendant restrictions means that there are only so many ways to move. But even then there are still many ways to move depending on the person’s strength, flexibility, intelligence, ability to form combinations out of different body movements, and the strategy that is believed to provide the winning hand.
3. THE UNIQUE YOU
You are uniquely you. Some things you can do I cannot do and vice versa. However, as far as normal motions go most of us should have no problem with them. In GM Wei’s Tai Chi we deal with normal range of motions so I would say that everybody can do the movements.
Sure, some of us have quirks in the way we move, the way we perceive things and these ingrained characteristics will color what we do. However, as long as you conform closely to the requirements of the attributes you can master this unique branch of Yang style Tai Chi.
4. POSITIVE ATTITUDE
The biggest obstacle to mastering Tai Chi is your attitude. It is very common to observe students watching a fantastic demo, marvel at it and in the next second shake their head negatively saying that they can never be as good as the teacher.
I get it, no one is, at least not yet, not without practice be as good as the teacher in the present. If this is how you view it you will not make meaningful progress. You must want it, you must be positive that you can not only master the art but you will be better than your teacher. This is how an art becomes better over time, with each generation becoming better than the previous generation.
5. OPEN YOUR MIND
If you want to learn something then open your mind to learning. Listen to what the teacher tells you. Listen carefully, listen with an open mind. Then sincerely put in the practice. You will fail, again and again, but with each failure you will move closer to the correct way as long as you make genuinely attempts to correct your movements based on the teacher’s critique.
Many times a student wants to improve. He says he will practice but he never really practices. He does not invest enough time to practice, he does not chalk up the repetitions. In Filipino martial arts my teacher said to do 10,000 repetitions for every technique we learn.
The first time I heard 10,000 repetitions I went WOW! then I filed it away. I didn’t want to do it. The way I learned Chinese martial arts is by practice purposefully, with analysis and corrections over a period of time. But I didn’t want to take forever to master Kali. I am not getting younger. I needed to push myself. I needed to try the 10,000 repetitions. The mind is willing but the flesh is weak.
And then in a class a challenge was presented to practice a technique 10,000 times. I pushed myself to do it. We could take a week, a month, two months, three months or however long we needed to complete it. I did it in less than a week. I knew that if I didn’t quickly finish with it then chances are I will not complete the target repetitions, I would fall by the wayside and I noticed that the others that took the challenge didn’t really post the videos showing them completing the challenge.
By opening my mind to the challenge I now know I can do 10,000 repetitions if I have to. By opening my mind I learned about the nature of learning by doing a lot of repetitions. I still don’t like to do that many repetitions over a short period of time. I find that doing 10,000 repetitions is only useful for the beginning phase of the learning for the purpose of becoming familiar with a movement really fast. After that I went back to purposeful learning. I practiced but I don’t keep track of the repetitions, I just do the movements with an eye to constantly improving them.
6. SEE DIFFERENTLY
If you can open up your mind to doing things that you have not tried before, disagree with or cannot see yourself doing then learning to see differently would be much easier. A person’s biasedness is a huge obstacle to learning because it means that we automatically view a different suggestion, recommendation, perspective negatively.
For example, in many Tai Chi styles they would teach the student to move the waist to lead the hand. This way of learning is one of the means to an end and is what a beginner should be learning. I knew a lady who after ten years of learning was still stuck on doing Tai Chi this way. When I pushed hands with her I could tell that her body can move but it wasn’t moving strategically and the hands were not moving with a plan.
So I didn’t want to push hands with her because it would be pointless. Later I found out that she was learning three Tai Chi styles so the pointlessness would have been compounded if we had continued along this path. Instead, I focused on getting her to do Kali instead to get her to improve. In one of the basic movements she had to do an overhead block (google Arnis umbrella block). I illustrated this by presenting a strike to her head so that she can raise the stick up to intercept my strike.
Imagine my surprise when she moved her waist first to move the arm up to do the block instead of getting the block up when I launched the strike. Maybe she didn’t understand what the issue was so I did the strike again, but faster. Again, she moved her waist and if I had continued with the strike it would have hit her head because her block came up too slowly.
So I explained to her that the priority is to get the block up pronto to avoid getting hit. She didn’t agree with what I said. Her retort is that in Tai Chi we should move the waist first. I pointed out to her that may be the case but what use would that be if by moving the waist first she ended up getting hit and getting hit by a weapon is a lot more painful than getting hit by a fist. She still didn’t get it and I had to explain again. I even pointed out that in Tai Chi at the advanced stage we move the hand first instead of the waist. She didn’t make the connection between this and how fast I could move into a position to checkmate her when I pushed hands with her.
The Kali upper block (we normally call it an umbrella block) provides an important lesson in prioritizing what we should do when faced by a strike. It teaches us to not just block a strike but to move out of the way of the strike. The weight, sharpness and momentum of a weapon strike can seriously injure if the strike hits your body. Blocking the strike without moving out of the way is to risk getting hit even if we managed to block the strike. Learning how to do the umbrella strike has given me a better understanding of how the body should move in the face of a powerful strike. I had learned how to do this upper block when I learned the Tai Chi Broadsword but I had a different view of the movement process when I learned Kali.
7. THE PATH DIVERSE
My Kali teacher like to say that there are no bad techniques, only wrong explanations. The older I get, the more I see, the more I ponder, the more I try, the more I see the wisdom in what he said.
I practice a Chinese long pole. I think Chinese long pole methods are the best I have seen for this type of long weapon. The first time I saw the Japanese long pole method from a particular koryu (traditional Japanese battlefield martial arts), the Tenshin Shoden Katori Shinto Ryu (the oldest style of koryu today), I have to say I was unimpressed and remained so for a long time.
However, in recent years I revised my opinion of it. The reason is because I finally made a connection between what I read of the famed Musashi’s two-sword technique to trap the long pole used by Musō Gonnosuke in their first duel. Musō Gonnosuke’s loss led him to create the style of Jojutsu after a period of pondering and training in the mountain. He fought a second duel with Musashi and this time he won using hs newly created method.
From what I read in the first duel Musō Gonnosuke was unable to pull his pole back after Musashi’s two-sword technique trapped it. By changing the length of the long pole to one that is slightly longer than a katana, as well as incorporating techniques from the long sword and spear, Musō Gonnosuke was able to prevent Musashi from using his two swords (long sword and short sword) to trap his pole and keep Musashi at a range that was favorable to him (Musō Gonnosuke) in the second duel.
One day I suddenly wondered if the method of pulling back the long pole all the way to the rear to strike in Tenshin Shoden Katori Shinto Ryu is partly to prevent entrapment by two-sword X-blocking method if the pole is always kept forward like what we typically do in Chinese long pole. After all, if the pole is not there then the opponent will not be able to trap it. And suddenly withdrawing the pole to the rear would take away a sudden attempt by the opponent to exploit this opportunity.
If this was the case then the different approach in using the long pole would make sense. Thus, what makes sense in one context would not in another unless we understand the context under which the Japanese long pole would have been used in ancient times. Ergo, there are no wrong techniques, only bad (or lack of / missing context) explanations.
Seeing outside the box can lift your understanding of your current Tai Chi knowledge. In the case of GM Wei’s Tai Chi it was more like seeing from outer space cause it is like no other Tai Chi I had seen until that point in my journey or since then. One reason why we do not like to explain our Tai Chi too clearly is so that practitioners outside our style cannot copy nor steal our knowledge and skills to claim as their own.
It is not unusual for styles to do this regardless of their ethnicity or nationality. One of my Wing Chun teachers told me how his grandmaster did not want to allow their style to become popular riding on the back of Bruce Lee’s fame so that the inevitable money politics will not poison and destroy the relationship between fellow students. The old master even put in a safeguard to prevent outsiders from joining for a short time to appropriate as much information as they could. My teacher pointed out that the late Master Sum Nung was one of those who had learned our Wing Chun style and elements of it could be seen in the YKS style that he created. Yet, Master Sum kept mum about his connection to our style.
The well known Master Leung Ting of the Wing Tsun style is another person who has partake of the knowledge yet he thought nothing of bashing and ridiculing a source from which he drank in one of his book. My teacher thought it is to conceal his connection to the style so as to prevent his students from picking up the knowledge of this style that can elevate their knowledge by seeing outside the confines of their own style, possibly resulting in loss of future earnings from the leaving student. I can understand this from a business viewpoint because after I learned this style I have not found another Wing Chun method that has the comprehensive information within it that enables me to analyze and understand another Wing Chun approach.
There are too many unusual aspects that characterize GM Wei’s Tai Chi style, that sets is far, far apart from other Tai Chi styles. I have seen some styles copying our method and some who did not learn it properly try to put their own spin on it to allow them to rise above the masses. If you have learned the method properly you would spot right away the flaws in the arguments and teachings.
GM Wei’s approach can be copied superficially in the manner of monkey see, monkey do. To gain entry to an in-depth understanding requires the passing of the knowledge via personalized verbal and hands-on corrections from someone who has walked the path. We can tell if someone is doing the movements superficially because there are ways to tell. It is like how a tennis professional can tell where a ball that a beginner opponent has hit will likely to end up because the pro knows where to look and how to interpret the tells that he has seen.
You need to be dedicated, focused and diligent to reach the point at which your ordinary movements take on a layer of depth that is imperceptible to outsiders including even masters of other styles. I have seen at least one very famous master of the internal arts visit my teacher to ask questions on our Tai Chi and on the book about the 22-form.