Friday, 30 August 2013

Just doing it!

Lee Davis-Conchie - Face of the Anthony Nolan charity 
Just got back from visiting one of our school's instructors and good friend Lee Davis-Conchie. It was a good day to visit. Lee has been battling leukaemia for the last couple of years. Today he got the fantastic news that he is in remission and is set to have a life-saving bone marrow transplant. Usually people have a transplant after two lots of chemotherapy. This will be Lee's second transplant and he has just finished his ninth lot of chemo - the last lot being particularly hard. What's this got to do with Taijiquan?

Throughout his battle Lee has never stopped training. Staff in the Blackpool General hospital were dubious about him training his spear form after a day's chemotherapy! He has often come to class with a Hickman line sticking out of his chest - I confess to having been ignorant as to what this involved - its a line inserted into a large vein just above the heart, the other end hanging out of the chest, for drug administration etc... Last year he "broke out" of the cancer ward to come to Chen Ziqiang's seminar. In a reversal of the usual end of session photos Chen Ziqiang asked to have his picture taken with Lee, saying that his attitude was inspirational! 

If you looked at his Facebook page you wouldn't see any great fanfare - no breathless announcements
Just doing it!
"yaaaah I'm going out/I've just been out to do some Laojia". Just out with no excuses and doing it. Lee's attitude brings to mind a conversation we had with Tian Jingmiao, disciple of one of Chen Fake's most famous students Lei Muni. She compared Taijiquan training to brushing her teeth - just a normal part of her everyday routine - Nothing to make a big fanfare about.  Real achievement in Taijiquan, or any other martial art, comes from doggedness and consistency. We've all seen the flashes of blinding enthusiasm that have to be shared with everyone else - usually by beginners who shortly afterwards move on to the next thing. Or by those who desperately want others to know they are doing a bit of training. Serious practitioners have long since simply accepted training as part of their normal routine.

Lee is on his way to being a posterboy for the Anthony Nolan Charity, who recently took a series of photos highlighting his warrior spirit. The Anthony Nolan Charity was established in 1974 to create a register of donors willing to donate their bone marrow to people desperately needing a transplant. Since then over 10,000 people have been given another chance of life. The charity is always looking for new people to register as donors...


Monday, 12 August 2013

Is it possible to make a sudden leap forward in skill?

Gradual and systematic progression
"Practice quan a thousand times, the skill will transmit itself"

To learn Taijiquan one needs a gradual and systematic progression, from the elementary to the advanced level. Anyone who goes against this tenet will not succeed! We can't really be any clearer than that, can we? Zhuangzi's Daoist classic summarises the only really effective way to approach learning:: "Neither deviate from your instructions, nor hurry to finish. Do not force things. It is dangerous to deviate from instruction or push for completion. It takes a long time to do a thing properly". Likewise, there is a saying that is often repeated in Chenjiagou that "you should treat ten years as if it were one day". China's rural martial arts have long accepted the need for patience and the acceptance of  following the rules for an extended time.

People often talk excitedly about some breakthrough or other they've just experienced - some discovery or new realisation. These breakthroughs are a natural and normal part of the learning process. But this new understanding means little if it is not then relentlessly trained into your body.The advice left by successive generations of masters is very clear on this point: 

Chen Xin (16th Generation): "All idle talk does is to create a tide of black ink; actually putting it into practice is the real thing".

Chen Fake (17th Generation): "How much you accomplish depends entirely upon how much effort you put in..."

Chen Zhaopi (18th Generation): "Besides having the direction of a good teacher,the main criterion is whether the person himself is willing to put in the hard work".

Chen Xiaowang (19th Generation): "train diligently, ignore tiredness and accept the need for hard work".
"Train diligently and accept the need for hard work"

A few weeks ago, in response to the question as to whether progress is always incremental and gradual, or can it in certain instances also be sudden and fast? Chen Ziqiang's (20th Generation) answer left little room for doubt: 

"... a person should practice diligently and persevere unremittingly. It is not possible to have a quantum leap. This is wishful thinking, a pipe dream. There are no shortcuts".