I’m not sure that the train is the best place to write a blog post, but here goes 🙂
The thing with the door from last week worked, I’m pleased to say. The guys took quite a bit of convincing to actually try it for themselves (very understandable; when was the last time you played parts of your form in a doorway?), but it did get across the reason why the arms stay close to the body all the time.
Although we don’t teach it as a martial art (we’re teaching through the local authority’s Lifelong Learning programme), we do place equal emphasis on both Tai Chi for health and Tai Chi as a martial art. As part of that training, we encourage students to imagine themselves playing the form against an imaginary opponent of equal height. Asking them to imagine themselves playing the form in a confined space like a doorway is another aspect of the same mental exercise. The day they first manage to visualise their opponent in front of them is one of those ‘ah ha’ moments that takes their form to a new level.To help with this – just like with the doorway – we have to start in the physical world, by standing in front of the student and providing them with a real target for them to aim at.
They have to be able to practice the move and feel what works and what doesn’t for themselves. The physical experience creates what I call the Frame of Reference – the common understanding that allows the intellectual work to follow. Without it, we can speak the words, but we’re not passing on the knowledge – just the information.
No matter how successful we are in our own visualisation, and in all the other intellectual work that we must take on as part of our practice, we must never allow our Tai Chi to become purely a mental exercise. We must never lose sight that our Tai Chi is there for our health, and that it is there as a martial art too. We must return to the physical, to ensure that our practice continues to benefit our physical health, and that it can still be successfully applied against a real opponent.
Because anything else is just naval gazing, and contributes to the decline of our art.