China 2019 – Day 21, Wednesday, 7th August

When arriving at the school in China, I squirmed a little when asked what my profession was. I felt a little awkward coming to the land of tai chi and telling them I was a tai chi instructor!

I quickly added the suffix – “but I come here to be a beginner again!”

Three weeks in and I have greatly enjoyed being a full time student again, learning something completely new and challenging myself. I like to think that I have an open mind and that having trained for many years previously in a different style hasn’t hindered me too much when it comes to learning Chen style.

I wanted to be like a sponge and soak up as much as I could, and I think so far I have managed to achieve it.

It’s all too easy to let our existing knowledge interfere with learning something new.

For example, weight distribution in White Crane is more through the heels, whereas in Chen, the ball of the foot is more of a focus. White Crane moves the hips and pelvis less while turning at the waist. Chen very much uses the movement of the hips and pelvis to derive power.

I try to never enter the futile debate as to which martial art is best or which style is the best (the answer is obvious, it’s the one you practice!) and when training a new way, sometimes a contradictory one, the best thing to say to yourself is, “Great, I have two ways to do it now!”

I lose count of the amount of learning and training situations I have been in, or even informal conversations where an expert (in anything) is asked a question, then someone else – low on knowledge, high on ego – answers the question, or worse, talks over the person who knows the subject best.

Personally, I like listening, you can learn an awful lot more. I’m not one for speaking louder, or quicker, or competing with others to give my answer. If someone wants to hear what I have got to say, they’ll be quiet and listen.

I’m sure most readers are aware of the concept of emptying your cup. There’s the famous story of a student who asks the master to teach him. It’s obvious that the student is full of his own opinions and basically thinks that he knows it all.

Whilst the master is pouring tea into a tea cup for his visitor, he lets it overflow. When the potential student alerts the teacher to the cup being full and the tea going everywhere, he replies, “How can I teach you when your cup is already overflowing, first you must empty your cup.”

Approach tai chi, or any other learning, with the same mindset. The beginner’s mindset – and empty your cup.

Even if it is something that you do know a thing or two about, there’s always something new to learn – and someone who knows more than you. What is more, it shows respect for the teacher or expert that you are learning under.

I could overflow a few cups with the sweat that drips off me during training the last couple of days! The weather today continues to make you feel like you’re training in a steam room and I don’t think that I have ever got through so many drenched t-shirts.

This morning we learnt a very cool mini sequence to demonstrate four key principles of the soft power in Chen tai chi (more on this in a future blog).

Annoyingly, I’m training through a couple of niggling injuries that have cropped up the last couple of days but in light of the blog post I wrote yesterday, I’m hardly going to let that stop me 😀

This afternoon’s training included a good stretch, qigong and forms practice. And partly because I love a bike ride by the river and partly because I eat too much delicious food here, after dinner I had another evening cycling trip for an hour or so before heading back for some training and writing.

I love training in the quiet of the evening, when the weather has cooled and sun descended. It’s a great time for focusing on what has been learnt throughout the day. It’s an intense month of learning and I find that lots of extra practice is needed.

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