Saturday 27 August 2011

The Winning Mind!

Often when students train with the great masters they are suddenly overwhelmed by the enormity of what it actually takes to reach a high level of Taijiquan skill. Different students deal with this in different ways -some just leave, others revise their expectations downwards and are happy just to be the student of a successful teacher, others look for a short cuts...  I've been reading The Winning Mind by Sebastion Coe, Olympic gold medallist and one of Britain's greatest ever athletes. The following two quotes, carrying on from our theme in the previous post, are motivational, realistic and equally applicable to Taijiquan players seriously trying to progress: 

"Throughout my athletics career, the overall goal was always to be a better athlete than I was at that moment - whether next week, next month or next year. The object was always to improve - gradually, steadily, sustainably - and in achievable stages. The improvement was the goal. The medal was simply the ultimate reward for achieving that goal.

"...steady progress results from maintaining a consistent approach, trial and error, going back to "first principles", hard graft, examining form and process and taking care to assess and correct any mistakes along the way".

Wednesday 3 August 2011

You can't force the fruit to ripen!

A saying that is often repeated in Chenjiagou is that "you can't force the fruit to ripen". There are no shortcuts and wishful thinking is just that. The students I like the best are the ones who quietly show up week after week, year after year and just get on with it. No hurry, no impatiance to get on to the next thing. Just consistent honest effort... What we are trying to achieve in Taijiquan is much more than just learning a few sets of movements  or a few push hands tricks. Instead what is asked for is the development of complete physical and energetic coordination. But what does that mean in real terms? It means striving to follow a set of rules that have been passed down for many generations. Chen Zhaopi said that without striving for beauty in your Taijiquan you could never hope to achieve high skill. Today people often mistake this as a license for their own individuality. However, to those of Chen Zhaopi's generation beauty was synonymous with conforming to nature - to following the rules! 

L-R Jan Silberstorff, Davidine Sim, David Gaffney
All those instructions handed down in Taijiquan lead the seriously interested on a path back to their innate physical and psychological nature. This is achieved through consistency, not unsustainable short bursts of enthusiasm. In his excellent book Chen:  Living Taijiquan in the Classical Style, German Chen Taijiquan teacher Jan Silberstorff amusingly likens this to boiling an egg. "After I've heated the stove and placed a pot on it, brought the water to boil and added an egg, I still have to wait four or five minutes until the egg is boiled and ready. Just like the egg is being boiled slowly, the body and mind will slowly develop  by continuous training".  

A guy I met in Chenjiagou disputed the stories handed down about Chen Fake practicing an almost inhuman amount of repetitions per day. The truth [he said] was that Chen Fake did not miss a day's practice in over thirty years and it was this consistency and persistance that gave him his great skill!

Clive Howells & Tim Drummond: Two of the old-timers!
 I like the following parable by the Daoist  Chuang Tzu:  "Chi Hsing Tzu was a trainer of fighting cocks for King Hsuan.  He was training a fine bird.  The King kept asking him if the bird were ready for combat.  “Not yet”, said the trainer.  “He is full of fire.  He is ready to pick a fight with every other bird.  He is vain and confident of his own strength”.  After ten days, he answered again: “Not yet.  He flares up when he hears another bird crow”.  After ten more days: “Not yet.  He still gets that angry look and ruffles his feathers”.  Again ten days:  The trainer said, “Now he is nearly ready.  When another bird crows, his eye does not even flicker.  He stands immobile like a cock of wood.  He is a mature fighter.  Other birds will take one look at him and run”.

Get rid of bad habits before “souping-up” the engine...

The traditional way is to first put the building blocks in place – a strong unmovable base, co-ordinated movement, agile footwork.  Cultivat...