Wednesday

THE TOPS OF the mountains beyond the lake were in dark, heavy clouds, but the shores of the lake were in the sun. It was early spring, and the sun wasn't warm. The trees were still bare, their branches naked against the blue sky; but they were beautiful in their nakedness. They could wait with patience and certainty, for the sun was upon them, and in a few weeks more they would be covered with tender green leaves. A little path by the lake turned off through the woods, which were mostly evergreens; they extended for miles, and if you went far enough along that path you came to an open meadow, with trees all around it. It was a beautiful spot, secluded and far away. A few cows were sometimes grazing in the meadow, but the tinkling of their bells never seemed to disturb the solitude or take away the feeling of distance, of loneliness and familiar seclusion. A thousand people might come to that enchanted place, and when they had left, with their noise and litter, it would have remained unspoiled, alone and friendly. That afternoon the sun was on the meadow, and on the tall, dark trees that stood around it, carved in green, stately, without movement. With your preoccupations and inward chatter, with your mind and eyes all over the place, restlessly wondering if the rain would catch you on your way back, you felt as though you were trespassing, not wanted there; but soon you were part of it, part of that enchanted solitude. There were no birds of any kind; the air was completely still, and the tops of the trees were motionless against the blue sky. The lush green meadow was the centre of this world, and as you sat on a rock, you were part of that centre. It wasn't imagination; imagination is silly. It wasn't that you were trying to identify yourself with what was so splendidly open and beautiful; identification is vanity. It wasn't that you were trying to forget or abnegate yourself in this unspoiled solitude of nature; all self-forgetful abnegation is arrogance. It wasn't the shock or the compulsion of so much purity; all compulsion is a denial of the true. You could do nothing to make yourself, or help yourself to be, part of that wholeness. But you were part of it, part of the green meadow, the hard rock, the blue sky and the stately trees. It was so. You might remember it, but then you would not be of it; and if you went back to it, you would never find it.

(Krishnamurti)
Another reason to move slowly and gently is to allow yourself time to approach movement in an exploratory and curious manner, and to put a great deal of attention on the subtle details of the movement. Becoming more coordinated is essentially a matter of rewiring the neural circuits that control movement, which is an example of a very fashionable process called “neuroplasticity.” Neuroplasticity simply means the brain’s ability to change. According to Michael Merzenich and other prominent neuroscientists, attention and awareness are major preconditions for neuroplasticity to occur. In other words, your brain is much more likely to get better at a certain activity if you are paying close attention while doing it. Slow movement can help your ability to pay attention to exactly what you are doing when you are doing it.

 (Todd Hargrove)

Sunday

Motor learning

For many people, their fitness regime does not take into account 'motor learning'.
Motor learning is about the process of using the body, rather than simply exercising the body.

Agilitymobility, relaxed spontaneous movement, balance, structure, alignment, biomechanics, efficiency, ambidextrous body use, joint health, coordinationskillemotional wellbeing or psychological flexibility.
The balanced approach is to combine exercise with motor learning.

Saturday

There are several excellent reasons to use slow and gentle movement as a means to develop coordination. Probably the most interesting reason (I'll start with that one) is based on an obscure principle called the Weber Fechner rule. The Weber Fechner rule describes the relationship between the magnitude of a particular stimulus and the brain's ability to sense differences in the amount of the stimulus. The basic rule is that as you increase the stimulus, the ability to tell a difference in the amount of the stimulus decreases. This is a very common sense idea. Imagine you are in a dark room with only one candle lit. It will be very easy to sense the difference when one additional candle is lit. But if you are in a room with two hundred candles, you will have no idea when an extra candle comes on.

 This rule works for all varieties of sensory perception, including sensations of muscular effort. So, imagine you are holding a one pound potato in your hand while blindfolded. If a fly landed on the weight you would not know the difference, but if a little bird landed you would know. Now imagine holding a fifty pound potato. You wouldn't be able to feel the little bird landing. It would have to be an eagle. The point is that when you increase the weight from one pound to fifty pounds, you become about fifty times less sensitive to changes in the amount of muscular force you are using to lift the weight.


 (Todd Hargrove)

Friday

Visit other classes

It is easy to assume that your martial art is 'the best' and to dismiss all other arts.
This is also naive.
Have you been to other classes?
What are they teaching? How are they teaching it? How skilled are the students? Is their technical knowledge advanced or simplistic?

Go find out for yourself.

Wednesday

We learn by doing. If you desire to master the principles you are studying, do something about them. Apply these rules at every opportunity. If you don't, you will forget them quickly. Only knowledge that is used sticks in your mind.

You are attempting to form new habits. You are attempting a new way of life. That will require time and persistence and daily application.

(Dale Carnegie)

Sunday

Physical understanding

Beyond reading and study there needs to be an immense commitment to productive, mindful daily practice.
Taijiquan is a physical art.
A well-cultivated mind is essential, but it must be complimented by an equally adept body.
Nothing beats informed practice; both solo and partnered.

Tuesday

Katz: How do you know all this stuff?

Bryson: Well, there's these things called books. They're like TV for smart people.
(A Walk in the Woods)

Saturday

Using a sword

If you chose to use a sword to defend yourself in the 21st Century, you will most likely go to prison.
This is a simple, unequivocal fact.
Yet, people spend hours training with swords, and many even practice cutting things with a sword, as though they may one day come to use the weapon in martial contest.
What is the point?
You could spend those same hours on some more relevant.
Training a sword may enhance your self defence skills in some vague, indirect fashion, but practicing shuai jiaochin na and jing with a partner would do so much more.

Thursday

Take an interest

Instead of just doing what your teacher tells you to do in class, invest in the Art.
Take a much deeper interest in how the human body operates, Asian history, culture, martial arts in general, biomechanics, fitness, strength, health, nutrition, meditation...
The list is endless.
Don't assume anything. Continually question what you know and find out more.
Every gesture is important. How we eat, how we put on our clothes, how we wash ourselves, how we go to the toilet, how we put things away, how we act with other people, family, wife, how we work - how we are: totally, in every single gesture. You must do not dream your life away. You must be, completely, in whatever you do.

 
(Taisen Deshimaru)

Yielding

Last nights 'yielding' workshop was terrific. Sifu Waller neatly illustrated the scope and value of understanding what yielding constitutes and applying it skilfully.

Everyone felt great.

The session also served to debunk the idea of 'pushing hands competitions' - as we discovered that the adequate degree of physical flexibility on the part of the defender made it impossible for the aggressor to actually push anyone. It was like pushing against water.

We ended with seeking to apply holds, locks and various attacks. All to no avail. Even when the attacker did their level best to mess you up and be non-cooperative and awkward.

Our only enemy proved to be our own physical tension.

Wednesday




Context

If you read an article about taijiquan but have no interest in taijiquan - and no foundation knowledge - then your ability to make sense of what you read would be limited.
Most likely you'd quickly lose interest and you wouldn't remember much.
In order to make sense of what you read, you need context.

Monday

Consider this: Most people live lives that are not particularly physically challenging. They sit at a desk, or if they move around, it's not a lot. They aren't performing manoeuvres that require tremendous balance and coordination. Thus they settle into a low level of physical capabilities - enough for day-to-day activities or maybe even hiking or biking or playing golf or tennis on the weekends, but far from the level of physical capabilities that a highly trained athlete possesses.

The reason that most people don't possess extraordinary physical capabilities isn't because they don't have the capacity for them, but rather because they're satisfied to live in the comfortable rut of homeostasis and never do the work that is required to get out of it. The same thing is true for all the mental activities we engage in. We learn enough to get by but once we reach that point we seldom push to go beyond.
(Anders Ericsson)

Thursday

Mental framework

Imagine a bookshelf in your mind filled with books, folders, resources and information about taijiquan...
The more densely filled your bookshelf is, the more relevant and useful new information will seem.
You will be able to cross-reference, discern, add to existing knowledge and challenge any preconceptions or misconceptions.
Ideally, your bookshelf wants to be filled with anything and everything that might conceivably have a bearing on taijiquan.

Saturday

Be honest

Ask yourself honestly why you want to train with a sword...
Because it looks cool?
You have some romantic notion of being a samurai?
You've watched a lot of Highlander, The Last Samurai, Braveheart or Gladiator?
Or are you preserving the heritage?