Tag Archives: questions

Practise, Repetition, & Questions.

Who practises?
I guess that most people don’t practise the exercises.  For the majority it’s enough to come to a class once a week, and have a reminder of the moves.  Fair enough… everyone who does tai chi or qigong does them for any number of reasons, and if it’s for a social reason, or just to get out of the house, then the once a week class is all you need.
However, if you want a bit more than that, even a small amount of practise will go a very long way, even if it’s only to keep you in the right mindset.

Practise & repetition.
The point of practise is to ingrain habits that enable you to move beyond the movements themselves.  It’s astonishing how your brain can learn and remember patterns of stretch and contraction – not just a single muscle, but you can remember how the entire muscular structure feels in relation to other muscles whilst undergoing a particular movement.  Yes, sometimes you might learn bad habits, but they can be corrected if you understand that practising is not a chore but is there to move you beyond your norm.

Your ‘norm’.
By this I mean the way that you usually make your body move, sit, stand, function.  This is the way that your habits of, for example, tensing one muscle unnecessarily when using another, are constantly repeated, so much so that it feels strange when you break the habit – the most common of these probably being the way that we use our shoulders, or our lower backs.
Practising will have effect of your ‘owning’ the new way of using your body; it’s the art of breaking habits, or changing your norm.

What is practising?
Practising is ‘intelligent repetition’.
What this does NOT mean is going over the whole tai chi or qigong sequence or set (this is the same as not playing the entire piano piece, playing all 18 holes of the golf course, or only playing a complete game of tennis) from beginning to end every time.
What this DOES mean is that you find the movement that feels awkward and is constantly giving you a problem and work on that part specifically.
If you only go through the Form from beginning to end, you end up repeating or fudging the same problems simply in order to get to the end.  Of course, if your aim is just to get the shape of the set of movements, then that’s a different matter.

Practising is Intelligent Repetition.
In other words there is a focal point to the practise.
Intelligent repetition is not a case of “throw enough mud at the wall and some will stick”, nor is it, “if I do 15 or 30 minutes every day, I’ll improve, irrespective of how much I concentrate”.
You might as well watch TV at the same time!
You find the problem (this might only be the bit where you have to think harder, or it could be the bit where the coordination slows you down) and you then dissect it, working on very small parts of it at a time.  A session of intelligent repetition will probably mean that you never get around to doing the whole sequence.
Intelligent repetition is the way to change things rather than repeating the same mistakes time after time.

Questions are great!
One of the interesting things about practising is that when you get it into your schedule, you start to find questions about what you’re doing.  Sometimes you find the answers to those questions simply through practising, and if not, you have a question for the next class.
I know that people don’t like to ask questions when in a group, but I like questions in a class, the more the better.
First of all, you can almost guarantee that if someone’s asking a question about something, someone else has the same question, or a slight variation.
Secondly, even if the same question is asked on several consecutive classes, the answer will never be the same; everyone has moved on from their previous norm, so a development of the answer will be necessary.
Thirdly, although I write a lesson plan for every class, the best classes are nearly always when someone unexpectedly asks a question in the class.  When this happens, the planned structure of the lesson immediately alters dramatically, and the lesson plan goes out of the window.
Fourthly, when someone asks a question, the group takes ownership of the class content, and immediately becomes more involved.

I can’t remember what to practice… It’s gone!
After a class, the knack is to practise anything that you can remember.
When you do so, sometimes other bits start to come back, and in your head you move back into the class where you learnt it.  If they don’t come back, it’s not a big deal; you’ve got your head into the right space, and are starting to take ownership of the material.

I might practise it the wrong way.
My own view is that this doesn’t matter; you can sort it out when you come to the next lesson, as long as you keep an open mind.  The act of practising, even incorrectly, brings you closer to what you’re trying to learn, and you’ll correct it all the more easily.  NOT practising moves you nowhere!

Finding time.
This is one of the big stumbling blocks; there’s always something which needs to be done first.
I suppose that, like dieting, you’ve got to really want to do it..
Once you’ve begun a routine of practising where you feel that, if you don’t, you’re letting yourself down, then you’re on your way.

For me, the best way to start was to borrow a couple of minutes from my usual schedule by getting out of bed before everyone else.  There were no distractions, and I wasn’t eating into my usual routine (or practising on a full stomach).  I know that for some people this doesn’t work whereas putting it into the diary at a specific time works better.

Find a way if you can… It will pay dividends.
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James Drewe teaches Taijiquan and qigong in both London and in Kent. Details of weekly classes can be found on the website, and there are classes for 2-person Taijiquan on one Saturday a month.

CONTACTS:
http://www.taiji.co.uk
http://www.qigonghealth.co.uk
Email: taijiandqigong@gmail.com
Phone: 07836-710281 or 020-8883 3308

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SO serious!

Most people who do tai chi or qigong come along to a class because they want some exercise, perhaps also to meet likeminded people, maybe to do something a bit different, maybe to find some calm in a hectic working life, or to centre themselves… and so on.  Probably something like .0001% want to become teachers.

The teachers’ balancing act.
For the tai chi and qigong teacher, you want to share your enthusiasm – your insights into what you do, and what gives you enjoyment, but you also know that the vast majority are there to do something a bit different, and probably don’t take it as seriously as you do.
In other words, there’s a fine line between being overly serious in a class and making the event an enjoyable experience.
I’ve known a few instructors who take the whole thing extremely seriously without any sense of making it enjoyable, seeming to forget that most people are not there for the same reasons that they are there.

Getting irritated.
I’ve also known teachers who get annoyed when their students don’t understand something.  They seem to forget that the student is actually paying them money to come to the class, which implies that the student wants to learn, rather than be told off for apparently being stupid.  The teacher’s annoyance also strikes me as strange because, if someone doesn’t understand something in a class, surely the tutor has either aimed too high with the info, or else explained himself inadequately.  Sure, some people don’t listen, but perhaps their focus is still on something else from which you’ve now moved on.

‘I don’t get it.’
My view is that, if someone doesn’t get the point I’m trying to make, I’ve either  explained it badly, I’ve explained it in too complex a manner, I’ve taken too long to explain it, the analogy I’ve used to help people wasn’t good enough, I’ve tried to explain too much at the same time, or perhaps I haven’t demonstrated it clearly.

A tai chi or qigong class therefore has to cater for all. You need a bit of fun, a bit of a challenge, but at the same time you need to present some of the subtleties so that people leave thinking, “I didn’t know it could feel like that”, having experienced a change in either their bodies or in the way that they move, or possibly in the way that they see the world.

Asking questions.
People don’t like to ask questions.  I completely get this.  If you’re in a group of people, you don’t like to ask anything in case everyone will think the question stupid, or too basic, or missing the point, or in case you are asking a question that’s already been explained and you were too thick to get it first time around!

But in my experience, however stupid you might suspect the question is, there’s always someone else in the group who wanted to ask the very same question, and who’s really pleased when you ask it.
Furthermore, when people start asking questions, everyone suddenly gets involved and more often than not, other questions start to arise.  Then the class takes on a positive momentum of its own.
Questions mean that you’re thinking about what you’re doing and trying to get to grips with it in your own way.

Do I have to practise?
We’re not in a temple in China anymore; this is 21st century high-pressure life, and not many people want more pressure in a lunchtime or evening class.  No one wants to be emotionally beaten up by the instructor for not practising; yes, you might want to improve, but at your own speed.
For some teachers a student’s lack of practise can be very annoying, but those teachers either forget, or simply don’t take into account, that people learn for a variety of reasons, and that their students are not learning to please them.

Details of Tai chi and Qigong classes with James Drewe here.