Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Taking Pleasure in Small Steps

What does it take to be a master of Taijiquan (or anything else for that matter!)? The ex-Soviet Union, in their Process of Achieving Sports Mastery, reserved the title of "master" for individuals (regardless of what disciple they were pursuing) who had either achieved a world record or won a world level championship. That is, individuals who had achieved an extraordinarily high level of performance. Compare this to the endless list of Taiji “masters” in any major city listing. Perhaps it is easy to master Taijiquan? Hardly!!

We live in a culture at odds with the proper understanding of mastery. Movies, commercials and popular culture, present life as an uninterrupted series of successful peaks, without little thought for the effort, pauses, and setbacks that all winning individuals inevitably encounter on the road to success.  Today individuals are programmed to expect a certain level of excitement and interest in any experience, or we become quickly bored. Students leave Taijiquan classes in droves when they do not match up to the effortless and fragrant images from coffee table magazines. Everywhere we are encouraged to adopt a quick-fix and bottom-line mentality. In our work life and even at home, we are told to set goals, to measure our advances, and to expect continuous progress towards our goals. And even happiness itself is defined in terms of reaching those goals - "Get a six pack in six easy weeks"...

George Leonard's classic book, "Mastery: The Keys to Success and Long-Term Fullfillment", explains mastery ultimately as a person’s commitment to a process. In his words:


· "...mastery is not about perfection. It's about a process, a journey. The master is one who stays on the path day after day, year after year. The master is the one who is willing to try and fail, and try again, for as long as he or she lives" 

·"Almost without exception, those we know as masters are dedicated to the fundamentals of their calling. They are zealots of their practice, connoisseurs of the small incremental step...".
Leonard characterised the practice of these masters as "involving a certain steadfastness, an ability to take pleasure in the endless repetition of ordinary acts". 

The real road to mastery in Taijiquan (and anything else) is the path of patient, dedicated effort without attachment to immediate results. Great success in any physical endeavor, including Taijiquan is built upon consistency and patience. We must be prepared to pay the price both in time and energy. In the words of Chen Fake, one of Chen Taijiquan’s most celebrated practitioners, “beginners should practice slowly, so that the movements are correct. Practice makes perfect, so after a LONG TIME movements can naturally be fast and steady”. 

The Essence of Taijiquan (see the link above right) is now available for download on iPad & iPhone  

Friday, 4 November 2011

Notes on Wushu Exercises

I've just returned from Chenjiagou with a group of students from our school, who spent a couple of weeks training with Chen Xiaoxing. Anyone who has trained with him will be aware of his penchant for simple, repetitive and excrutiating emphasis upon basic training. There is no truck paid to entertaining students. He offers what works and then it is up to you whether you stick to it. In a previous blog I mentioned his statement - "you know the law, now follow the law"! Simple, but not easy. Our group trained for 5 hours a day, divided into 2 2.5 hour sessions. Every session was the same. First standing for half an hour in the challenging position he put everyone into. Then 30-40 minutes unbroken training on a single reeling silk exercise. For the rest of the session training a short section of the form. I was in Chenjiagou earlier in the year training alongside a small group of Chinese students of Chen Xiaoxing, the programme was the same. One of them was still in the school during our latest visit. He said he had been there for 4 years following this same routine everyday.

We have been travelling to train Chen Xiaoxing since 2003 and leave the programme to him to decide. A common mistake is to go to the teacher and then say I want to do this, this and this.  Who would go to their maths teacher and say I'd like to do some algebra for 3 days and then some calculus for 2 days?   I've got a week - I'd like to do sword, spear and the erlu!!!

On the flight back to the UK I read a book - Chinese Kungfu: Masters, Schools and Combat by Wang Guangxi who died in 2008 shortly before the book was published. Wang was an academic and lifelong Chinese martial arts enthusiast. Throughout the book his love for Chinese martial arts, in their many diverse forms, was obvious. At the end he included some advice or "notes on wushu exercises" regardless of style.
These included among others:

1. Take it step by step. Rome wasn't built in a day
2. Never tire of it. The more often you clean the net, the more fish you will get.
3. Concentrate on the martial arts of one school. Do not always look to the grass on the other side of the hill.
4. Be good at the basic techniques, especially footwork and waist techniques.
5. Great importance should be given to position training, but avoid excessive training at the beginning.
6. Equal attention should be given to simple movements...
7. Do not seek highly difficult or impossible moves right away.
8. Concentrate, focus and pay close attention to learning every detal during practice.
9. Do not argue with superiors
10. Stay modest at all times and do not despise anyone at any time.
11. Do not practice martial arts when exhausted and do not practice internal martial arts when the mood      cannot remain calm from great sorrow, rage or joy.
And finally -
12. Assure enough sleep, increase nutrition and use hot water to wash your feet!!!