Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Running Water Does Not Become Stagnant

Every few years or so, I write something about the benefits and need for students to take private lessons. Just recently I had a string of private lessons with people who had been here for over ten years, but who hadn’t taken a private in a long time. Most were shocked to get a couple of pages of corrections, helpful hints, and general updates. If you didn’t change the oil in your car would you expect it to run smoothly? Do you only shop for food once a year? What about checkups with your doctor or dentist? How about brushing your teeth? I won’t even go there! The point is that your solo form is as much a part of you and your daily life as the few maintenance examples I just gave. Let’s have a quick look at what group classes can and can’t do for you, and then some (more) words about private lessons.

Group classes are the main classes I teach. They serve many purposes. These classes teach many different styles and sequences and provide access to teachings on a wide scale of times and days. In group classes I give lessons that cover a variety of levels and abilities. Many of my lessons are arranged so that everyone can get something for their practice. I don’t teach to the lowest common denominator, but try to aim for somewhere in the middle of the experience and knowledge of the people present at any particular class. One thing I can’t do is to give a lot of individual attention to any one person in a group class. That doesn’t mean that if you don’t receive a correction, everything is perfect. I will point out things to individuals, but group classes are a democracy with everyone having equal access to the material and teacher.

Private classes are a whole different story. What reasons are there for studying privately? Some people simply can’t make any of the classes in the schedule. Others want to study a subject not in the current schedule, or want to go over a past class. Some people are really fast learners, while others need private classes to just catch up and keep together with their classmates. In a private class, the teacher and subject are really focused on you and your practice. Master T. T. Liang used to say “you can’t see the dirt on your own back,” meaning we can see others mistakes while they are doing the solo form, but can’t see our own mistakes and needs. In a private class, you will be corrected, guided, taught, and given homework, all tailored to you, your level, and your wants and needs. Individual lessons can make a huge difference for you when you get back to group classes and see that many people are working on your self-same corrections. Or you may see your lesson carefully constructed to fit a large group.

So now, are you ready to schedule a private class? I would suggest one per season, that’s only four a year. At the very least, once a year should be a must. If you have been learning and practicing Tai-Chi for more than five years, you NEED to check in one-on-one with your teacher regularly. My fee does not reflect the worth of the lesson, attention, or experience you have access to in a one on one class. Some private lessons with Master Liang were absolutely priceless. Some classes with Master Choi were two hundred and fifty dollar an hour, and worth every penny! If you are behind in your solo form corrections and can’t afford a private lesson, I will provide one for you either below my sliding scale fee, or just give you one as a gift. I can do two people’s solo form correction at the same time and my fee can be split. It’s that important.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Dancing Spring Eternal

Everyday you live, you age. There is an Irish saying, “do not resent growing old, for many are denied the privilege!” Time passes and either gives or takes, especially concerning the body. Range of motion, flexibility, power, endurance, etc. are all affected by the passage of time. Did I mention wrinkles? Taoists mention practices that”keep Spring (youthfulness) eternal.” These methods stress how you do, not what you do.

Co-teaching a class with Jane Shockley at Zenon Dance School, I am seeing the healing benefits of Tai-Chi on the bodies of dancers. There are professional, retired, long-time, as well as new dancers in our class. They receive instruction on relaxation, standing meditation, breath, Tai-Chi, Pa-Kua, and many other martial arts, including some swordplay. Many have had injuries due to the hard work they have undergone to train and rehearse as dancers.  Dancers in our class learn to work with principles and theories that help them train smarter instead of just harder.I can tell you, coming from years of vigorous martial arts training, dancing is every bit as difficult, challenging, and loaded with hard work, sweat, and tears, as any martial art.

Finding tension and poor mechanics is as valuable to a dancer as it is to a Tai-Chi practioner. One method is to go slow to recognize what is hurting you, or feel which part of your body is out of alignment with gravity. What Jane and I do in class is go from Tai-Chi to Modern Dance, from slow to fast, from easy to strenuous, and from the mind and theory to the body and movement. We explain and demonstrate the principles and movements from the Tai-Chi/Martial-Arts/Meditation point of view, and Jane takes them and either shows where they exist in Modern Dance, through various combinations and routines she choreographs, or she creates moves and phrases that use the principles just discussed and then demonstrates how to give expression of those theories in motion. She shows how to apply these concepts and training techniques to get more refinement and quality out of the dancer without taking more out of the body. Jane’s phrases and etudes are both beautiful and educational. Many students report back to us about feeling great after our classes. They experience energy and joy as a result of the instruction and pace of the class.

We also explore Tai-Chi movements, called postures, and techniques for two person Tai-Chi, called sensing-hands, and routines and combinations for Tai-Chi Swordplay. The focusing of whole-body power, and training tips from Shao-Lin, Praying Mantis, Lama, and other styles of kung-fu, give our dancers ideas for training, expression, and choreography. Jane and I are also cataloging our concepts and methods into seminar and workshop format. For now we teach weekly, on-going classes but will make our lessons available for a wider audience soon.

We can move in so many ways even into our old age. My teacher was 102 when he passed away and taught into his 90s. His movements became smaller and more refined, his jumps became little hops, and his kicks gradually went lower. Yet, he still demonstrated and performed and taught for decades. Dancers can still move, express, and enjoy all those lovely movements and actions they have done for years. We just need to allow the body to adapt as it ages. An old saying is “the wise person does not desire to become young again.” Dance as you dance now, not as you once danced. Let your wisdom and experience shape your movement as it does your body.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Global stress

We can know about so many things globally today. We do need to know what is going on with our fellow earthlings, but we also need to know that we cannot fix the whole world, or feed everyone or stop every threat or change very much. Yet we let all that information occupy our minds and turn our energy on, causing stress. “Think globally, act locally” is a great concept provided we don’t take the stress of the world on ourselves.  We are rarely given good, wholesome stories from abroad yet hours of pain and misery and fear are broadcast to us daily. And we take it in through our eyes and ears directly to our hearts and minds. No filter. How many times and at what great numbers will we be subjected to death and destruction? What number of killings or deaths will make us truly fight, or flight? None yet, so we freeze. And yet stress goes to work even when we seem to do nothing or seem to not be affected by the horrors the media uses to get our attention. How many people stop dead in there tracks to hear a story about a fuzzy little bunny? But gore, betrayal, terror, and gossip will make us stop and give our deepest focus.

Meditation can help us train the filter to our deepest self. It can also help us balance our feelings and counteract the stress of all the work our minds do, both intentionally and unintentionally. Meditation helps us make a place of peace in our innermost self. There are so many types and methods of meditation. The best one, the one I can recommend the most, and the one that is the most effective, is the one YOU like and practice regularly. Like daily. Like everyday daily. The method that brings you to the calm, contemplative state where your conscious mind can go on stand-by and your spirit can recharge or soar or play.