Thursday, April 9, 2020

Some Thoughts on Home Study and Practice, a rant!

"Never send a kiss by messenger."
-Sufi Proverb

With our world changing before our eyes, my fear is that we will throw out the baby with the bathwater. What do I mean? There are ways to learn and practice that involve other people. Just because we can watch something on line doesn't mean we really learn it, even if we can imitate it exactly.

For example, would you let someone perform surgery on you who learned from youtube? There are four other aspects to learning besides sight, namely hearing, feeling, tasting, and smelling. I'd even venture a 6th sense, the five senses combined inside. Plus the sight learning from a screen lacks many dimensions and depths.

Tai-Chi is above all concerned with feeling. Balance is a feeling, not a sight. Otherwise, blind people could not walk, and you could not walk in the dark. For health, we feel what is going on inside our body, and for spiritual growth we feel what is going on with our energy and spirit. As a martial art, Tai-Chi relies on sense of touch, not sight and distance. That is why the close distance of pushing-hands training is so important.

To learn from a teacher is to get corrections and tune-ups on lessons learned. Insights into learning styles, personalities, and breakthroughs only happen face to face. A screen can't stop you and give correction or guidance. Even live-time on-line classes lack the feeling of people in proximity, with their sense open to learning and sharing.

Instead of changing the age old, time tested, proven way to teach and learn, I'm going to sit, and wait, and watch. I am doing a Zoom class and meeting soon, and filming some forms and practices for the interim, but these are temporary, not final. I am not in any hurry to change what I know to be effective until I have more information.

Grandmaster Wai-lun Choi told me a phrase in Chinese, Hao Chun Sam Sao, meaning "passed from my mouth into your heart." He explained it as the method of transmission that happens between master and student. The Yang's Family called it the "Oral Transmission," or the "Wu-Dang Transmission." This has been the way for hundreds of years. I'm not going to drastically change that a few weeks into a pandemic. Don't get me wrong, I'm washing my hands, physically distancing, etc, but that is for now.

This is one reason why I emphasize that you are able to warm up, meditate,. do your qi-gong, practices forms, etc. at home, on your own. One time I asked Master Liang what can I practice for pushing-hands when I don't have a partner. He showed me three practices, which I will film and share. He showed me where the rises and sinks are in the solo form to practice long power , fa-ching, and short power, da-ching. He taught me how to strike a post, and he taught me solo techniques for the long spear.
Master Choi taught me many methods with a ball on a table for sensitivity. Master Gin Foon Mark told me a partner is the highest level of training, and all the various equipment, dummies, and bags are for when you don't have a partner.

So, I'm not against change, I do embrace uncertainty, but I also know that we are in flux and change and we can't accurately make adjustments without full knowledge. In my prosperity training I learned, "Don't make decisions when emotional." I'm not going to. And I am emotional, along with the whole world. So be patient with all this, me included. We will get through this and we will experience the wonderful arts together again. I leave you with a quote from Siddartha by Herman Hesse;

"I can think,
I can wait,
I can fast."

P.S. An addition from my amazing friend, brother, and mentor, Master Paul Gallagher.

"The teaching must be passed from warm hand to warm hand." 
- Zen Master Shunryu Suzuki


  1. Good thoughts, Sifu. Thanks. And don't forget direct contact with our warm friend--the cold--as it is merciless but righteous! Victory or Valhalla!