Do you keep a training diary?
I haven’t, until today. That’s over eight years of experience with no reliable record – only the neurones of my brain as an unreliable witness. How much have I learned and forgotten, and how many questions have I come across that I no longer recall?
In my experience, practising Tai Chi is a series of personal revelations. No progress is made, sometimes for months, and then WHAM – the pieces fall into place and my understanding takes a tiny step forward. The progress comes not through answers, but by finding the questions. When you find the right questions, the answers don’t provide the information – they simply show you what you’ve already come to understand.
For example, take one of the most basic hand movements in Tai Chi – cross hands. For the first eight years of my training, all the questions (from myself, and from fellow students) were about “what is it for?” or “how does it work?” They’re important questions; the student needs to know that cross hands is used to block kicks and punches, and they need to know how the timing and distancing works. If the student is more interested in health than martial, then the answers need to be couched in those terms instead.
But I no longer think that they’re the right questions, not with the outlook on the question as progress. The right question is “why is it that so-and-so arm is on the outside?” The answer to that ensures that form and function falls into place as a result.
In our form (Ng Family Yang Style Tai Chi Chuan), it is always the arm attached to the leading shoulder that sits on the outside of cross hands. We move left, and it is the left arm on the outside. We move right, and it is the right arm on the outside. Every time. Without fail. We’re always looking to move into a block, and we’re always looking to snag an arm or a leg and take it with us.
We’re always in continuous motion (one of the ten important principles from Yang Chen’fu), and cross hands appears deliberately designed to ensure that the move maximises the benefits of being in motion.
It also gives me new questions (well, new to me anyway!) about the old saying of the needle in the cotton, which I’ll look at next time.