Monday, December 29, 2014

Taiji: Unsynchronizing the Arms

A few months back, while refining my Taiji form at TToPA,  I noticed a difference between what I was doing and what the instructor was doing during the transition from 'Serpent Slides Back' to 'Crossing Wrists' (at the end of each section of the Slow Form). In my case, the transition was somewhat symmetric, with the left hand and the right hand forming the same arc at the same time and concluding in the posture at the same time. By contrast, my instructor's left hand followed a much shorter (more natural) arc that was at a slower speed than the right hand, with both hands converging in the posture at the same time.

In TToPA, we are taught from the beginning that the arms often move at different rates even in seemingly symmetric movements (e.g. 'Conquer Tiger') but this was the first time I noticed it in a movement where it had not been shown to me explicitly.

Since then, I've worked on fixing the timing and movement of 'Crossing Wrists' and have become a lot more proficient at moving my hands unsynchronized while still keeping the movement connected. This has not only helped in those postures where I already knew that the hands needed to move at different speeds but has also allowed me to see other places in the form where the arms/hands move unsynchronized in much more subtle ways (e.g. 'Circle Foot and Carry the Hammer Forward').

I still have to concentrate when doing these movements otherwise I fall back to my synchronized ways but, when I get it right, it makes the transitions more smooth an comfortable.

ILC: Training Status Update

Following up from my previous post, since the end of June I've been focusing on Student Level 4 training rather than continuing Instructor Level 1 training - it just made more sense with my current schedule and interests. I plan to revisit IL1 training at a time when it makes sense to do so.

In the meantime, I'm looking for a workshop focusing on the Butterfly Form - keep me posted if you hear of one.

Happy New Year Everyone!

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Instructor Level 1 Training and 21 Form Applications

I've been rather lax at writing updates here over the last several months but for good reason - I've been really busy with training, which I'll explain now ...

Last fall there was an ILC workshop with Sam Chin the weekend of December 14th. In the run up to the workshop, I worked on learning the 21 Form to prepare to grade for Student Level 3, which I (along with 2 other of my schoolmates) successfully did.

At that point, I had to decided whether I wanted to start training for Student Level 4 (SL4) or if I wanted to instead train for Instructor Level 1 (IL1). While I don't particularly want to be an instructor, I ultimately decided to train IL1 because it meant studying the applications of the 21 Form and I felt I needed a deeper understanding of the form before moving on; it also helped that my training partner (Rod) was interested in training IL1 for similar reasons. We decided to prepare for the next workshop with Sam Chin, which was scheduled for the weekend of June 21st.

Training IL1 was more challenging then I'd expected. We needed to work on the applications, which involved spending lots of time looking at the 21 Form DVD and trying to figure out what was going on and how to recreate it.

So, in addition to my normal training, Rod and I started getting together several times a week to train, including a couple of hours on Saturday morning. We also went to a 21 Form workshop given by Ashe Higgs in April, a mini-workshop on 21 Form Applications given by Dima Grinberg in May, and I visited Joshua Craig's class in NYC at the end of June (where I also attended a mini-workshop by Dasha Sergeeva).

In February, Rod went to the ILC winter intensive and found out that we needed to lead class for 3 months before grading so, starting in March, we also started to lead our ILC class. Luckily, we had plenty of material from a workshop given by Alex Skalozub in February (and various other workshops we've attended) but it took time to prepare for the classes.

Training applications is difficult, particularly if you don't have previous experience doing so. It means taking all these things you've been training on your own and making them work on a partner - it's a big transition and we didn't go easy on each other. Still, as we worked through the applications, I came to understand the 21 Form a lot better and that has had a big effect on how I do the form.

Master Chin arrived a few days early for the June workshop and in 3 separate sessions (Thursday evening, Friday evening, and Saturday morning) he gave an impromptu 21 Form Applications workshop before the actual workshop. It was a great experience - after all that time working on the form and the applications, getting refinements directly from Sigong was eye-opening and I had the necessary context to understand and absorb what he was teaching.

But, in the end, it wasn't enough. On Sunday morning, Master Chin told me he didn't think I was ready to grade and that I should wait until he returned in December. I'll just say it was a let-down and leave it at that (on the up side Rod did grade successfully and I got to participate in that).

So I'm back where I started in January trying to decide whether to continue the IL1 training or go on to the SL4 training. On the one side, I've accomplished my goal of improving my understanding of the 21 Form so starting SL4 training seems like the way to go. On the other side, after the impromptu applications workshop, Rod and I feel we have a lot more to train now and it's seems a shame to walk away from IL1 after all I've put into it.

In any case, for personal and professional reasons, I've dialed back training to my normal (non-trivial yet sustainable) level. I hope to be ready to grade in December but gaining the skill has always been the goal so I'll just have to evaluate where I'm at when the time comes.

I also have to say that my instructors and fellow students have been incredibly supportive all the way through - its really a privileged to be part of that kind of community.

As a final note, I should mention that applications training has not only improved my 21 Form but has had a profound effect on my Taiji Forms and spinning hands, which I'm only now starting to appreciate.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

On Bended Knee

In the last couple of posts, I've discussed how I've been refining my body mechanics by keeping energy at the crown of the head (i.e. not slouching) and how this has led to getting a feel for energy in the center of the hips.

As I continued working on developing this feeling, I eventually realized that it dramatically changed how I stand on one leg. Having the forces aligned from the center of the foot, through the hip, and projecting out of the crown made the posture considerably more comfortable - I'm not completely certain why the posture became more comfortable but previous to this, when I would bend my knee while on one leg, it would quickly start to feel uncomfortable. With the proper alignment, I can now bend my knee much further than before with no discomfort and I eventually get to the point where I feel like I'm balanced on the bones and tendons.

This change has made a substantial difference in my Taiji form during transitions. For example, when doing single whip, the first part of the posture is to sink into the rear foot while pivoting on the front foot. This transition has always given me a lot of problems, particularly with the knee of the rear leg. Now, as I sink onto the rear leg, I focus on getting that same feeling that I have while on one leg and that gets me on the back leg without discomfort and prevents me from torquing my knee while I pivot (which means I need to twist my waist and upper body a lot more than before).

Once the pivot is done, the second part of the posture is to sink completely onto the (formerly) front leg and lift the (formerly) rear leg to transition into a bow stance. I've always found this transition to be tricky also - in part because of discomfort in the knee and in part due to trying to keep balance during the transition into the bow stance - but keeping the alignment/energy while sinking onto the (formerly) front leg makes the transition more comfortable and, since standing on the leg is now more stable, finishing the transition to the bow stance is also more stable.

These changes have made my legs a lot more active while shifting weight - bending and straightening much more than previously - and this has improved things all over the Slow form and in the ILC 15 Basic Exercises.