Underneath my yellow skin

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How to See Progress When It’s Microscopic

i will cut you
Wudon Sword Fencing

My teacher’s teacher opened a new taiji academy last weekend, and I attended the open house. There was a demo, and I couldn’t help but compare this demo to the first time I saw a demo at the old studio. It was a year or two after I started taking classes, and everything looked so amazing to me. One of the masters said, “To the beginner, everyone is a master,” and it was so true in my case. I watched them do the Solo Form, and I couldn’t imagine I would ever be able to do the whole thing. The next time I attended a demo, I knew the whole Solo Form, but I was still really impressed with the people doing weapons. Again, I had no idea how I would ever do anything as amazing as that. I did note that I could tell between the different styles of the practitioners of the Solo Form. “This one is a bit stiff.” “That one needs to bend her knees more.” I wasn’t trying to critique; I was just happy that I could tell the difference. This time, I joined in on the Solo Form (first section only. Sifu knows if he has people demonstrate more than that, it would be boring for the audience), but I didn’t have my sword with me, so I had to sit that out. I could have borrowed one, but I would have felt awkward doing so. As the others did the Sword Form, however, I could see where they were making mistakes, which meant that I had learned the form pretty well. It’s hard to tell because it’s not as if I’m making noticeable progress every time I practice, especially now that I’m focusing more on refinements rather than corrections.

When I first started to learn taiji, it was easier to feel as if I were actually learning something because I had concrete units to measure by. “I’m learning a new posture today!” That’s something my mind can grasp. Once that’s over, even the major corrections are tangible. “You made a mistake here. Fix it.” I don’t like it, mind you, because I hate making mistakes, but it’s something I can work on and notice when I’ve actually corrected the mistake. Now that I’m eight or nine years into my studies, I’m mostly past this phase of the Solo Form. I know the whole form. I don’t make major mistakes. Sifu has changed some of the postures so I’ve had to relearn them, but I at least know them by now. What I need to do is teach myself the left side to keep it interesting*. OK, I have to make a confession. I don’t like the Solo Form. I never have, and I don’t know if I ever will. I really didn’t like it in the beginning, but I knew it was the basis of everything else, so I suffered through it. Now, I don’t hate it, but I still don’t like it. Ever funnier is that the position most people like best and thinks is easiest–Cloud Hands–is one of my least favorites. The kick section, which most people don’t like, is my favorite section. I like complicated better than easy, plus there are obvious applications to the kicks, which there aren’t for Cloud Hands. There are applications, of course, but not so immediate to the eye.

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