Thursday, November 15, 2007

wow, I'm that student now

We had a very fun taiji class last night. We started off with the "kicks" form, which is the more difficult tai chi form Sit likes us to use in competition, then did some hand-to-hand, then did some Chen style form and a little more hand-to-hand. Sit taught us a new way to practice 'receiving' an attack, then he slapped us around the room a bit. Of course we were giddy and giggling and enjoying ourselves, which just got him wound up and we got out of there way late... again.

I should mention that I've been having an upswing of interest in tai chi the last month or so. Although I groused and groaned about having the Wookie in class, in part because Sit started over teaching the first form to him, there is definitely merit in re-learning the basics when you're at a more advanced level. It's like picking up a book you've read many times, and getting something new out of it.

As a result of this reviewing, I've been conscientiously "tightening up my form" as my Sparring Parter puts it. For the last two years I've been unhappy with the way I "walk" through my form: appearing to fall into stances instead of shifting with control from one foot to the other. Under Sit's correction, and with the luxury of knowing the sequence already, which allows me to pay attention to details, I have made some serious adjustments to my footwork. Part of it is just planning ahead, knowing what the next move will be, but in order to be prepared, I had to widen my stances slightly, and fully commit the weight-shift from one foot to the other. These two changes together provide more stability and control, but to do them safely and comfortably I found I had to drop my hip and flex the knee, which--coincidentally enough--is one of things Sit has been repeating ad nauseum for the last six years.

Tony noticed the change. "Your horse stance is looking a lot better," he said to me a couple weeks ago. "I noticed while we were in kung fu class, you were the only one without your butt sticking out."

This is high praise indeed.

Furthermore, a few days ago I was working on fan form (the second form I ever learned, and full of deeply-embedded bad habits) in the living room, and he remarked that my back stance was also improved, for the same reason. In all these stances, the joints are supposed to act as shock absorbers, and they cannot perform that function if they are locked and stiff. It takes a very long time for most students to lose that hip tension. Especially if they don't practice much.

Sit's been keen on "discipline" the last couple weeks. He read Chuck Norris' autobiography, and I guess ol' Chuck had some impressive dedication to his training during his salad days. "The secret is to go with your B-plan," Sit said last night. "You make up a list, say, 'I'm going to do an hour everyday.' But that's too extreme, so you fail. So you say you going to do half an hour everyday. That much you can do. So you stick with it."

My plans are even more modest than that, but I think I can do them. For a while I was quite good at practicing, if not daily, then at least 45 minutes, three days a week when not in class. I think now I want to strive for two forms a day--any of the six forms I'm likely to do for competition, done twice a day, at a slow, focused pace, with good structure--plus 30 minutes of meditation in the evening. Meditation is good stuff. You feel great after you do it, but for me it's like writing: I can find every excuse not to start on it until it's too late to do it.

Last Saturday, one of the new students, a guy who's been coming to us about nine months, who teaches Yoga on the side, asked me and Tony what our practice schedule was like. "Uh... one of us says to the other, 'you wanna practice?' And the other one goes, 'nuuhhhh, I'm reading this,' and the first one picks on them until they get up and fight back," I told him. Meanwhile Tony had caught my arms above my head and was dragging me around in circles, dusting the floor with the butt of my sweatpants.

Yoga-boy laughed. "So how many forms are there? How many do you guys know?"

That took some counting on fingers. We tallied up about fifteen forms that Sit teaches, that we know; there are others we've seen but he hasn't taught them during our tenure. Some he has compiled himself, from traditional sources. Some were handed down to him. Tony knows a couple more than I do. A couple that I know, like the Six Elbows Internal form and the traditional tai chi sword form, I only know the first half of, because they are very long forms and Sit wants me to polish up the beginning segments to fit in the 3.5 minute time-limit of competition.

Yoga-boy looked impressed. And I was impressed, too, because I remembered asking those same questions of Zack and Tim back when I was fairly new, and I realized that my Sparring Partner and I have become Those Students--the ones that the newbies look up to. I've complained before about how they slow the class down, and I don't get to learn more form because Sit's time is taken up with them, but the simple truth of it is, I've probably improved more this year than I would've otherwise, because I've been forced to retread familiar ground, cleaning and polishing, and because Sit keeps telling me to stand in front during lessons so the new kids can follow my movements. It makes me a lot more aware of what I'm doing, and I pay more attention to the way he teaches, so if I have to lead exercises I know what he just showed them and can duplicate it. Also, watching their awkwardness in the stances makes me understand my own posture more; kind of like critting other people's stories helped me consolidate my understanding of how to put a plot together.

Of course it's true that you learn the most while teaching others. I just hadn't had anybody new to teach in a while.

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