Monday, 3 February 2014

The importance of marginal gains...

Taijiquan training develops every aspect - "hands, eyes, body & footwork"
Taijiquan training looks to develop the total capacities of an individual. This is reflected in the saying that one must train " shou yan shenfa bu" (hands, eyes, body and footwork).  There are strict rules for every part of the body and on how to train until the whole body moves as a cohesive unit. These rules can seem impossibly pedantic to many students, who may wander off to do something more immediately gratifying. Or discard aspects of training that they deem unimportant to progress.  But it is important that we don't lose confidence and underestimate the power of small positive changes. 

It is interesting to see some leading modern sports coaches adopting a similar "total" approach in developing their charges to levels of achievement recently thought impossible. For instance, Dave Brailsforth, performance director of British Cycling and mastermind behind Team GB, who took 7 of the 10 gold medals available at the London Olympics. His philosophy has come to be known as "marginal gains theory".  Put simply... Brailsforth showed that small improvements in a number of different aspects of what you do can have a huge impact on the overall performance of an individual. He explained: "The whole principle came from the idea that if you broke down everything you could think of that goes into riding a bike, and then improved it by 1 percent, you will get a significant increase when you put them together ...there's fitness and conditioning of course, but there are other things that might seem on the periphery, like sleeping in the right position...many tiny things but if you clump them together it makes a big difference".

Small changes give big results - if you persevere!
His concept of marginal gains is strikingly similar to that of England's 2003 Rugby World Cup winning coach Sir Clive Woodward: "Winning the Rugby World Cup was not about doing 1 thing 100 percent better, but about doing 100 things 1 percent better. Woodward famously went as far as employing a visual awareness coach to improve the peripheral vision of his players. 

Just because you cannot see or understand the importance or relevance of some requirement or other, be careful not to discard aspects of a training methodology that have been tried and tested and evolved over nearly four centuries. Tiny incremental changes add up and, given time, can make a large impact.

This slow deep cultivation is what real Taijiquan training is all about.

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