I am a solo practitioner of taiji. After about 6 years of formal instruction, life events came about that makes attending formal classes difficult. However, from time to time, I try to attend a taiji workshop to get the ball rolling.
My wife doesn’t really think I need to attend workshops as “I have more than enough material to work through on my own”, but she understand my reason for attending. The main reason for attending a workshop is to be exposed to new material and alternate insights. The secondary reason for attending a workshop is to provide myself with a little catalyst to ignite my personal training.
Working backwards, the workshop event acts as a little disturbance or change in my normal routine. Sure, I can do the standing and do the forms, but nothing like an upcoming workshop to jumpstart things. I notice that I will often train “double-time” in preparation for the event. I want to make the most of the event and it’s best to be prepared ahead of time.
I have done enough forms where I can easily pick up on the choreography. For me, workshops are not about learning choreography, but about digging deeper into the nitty gritty. A lot of folks believe that one will never learn taiji through workshops and for the most part this is true as I believe taiji to really be a solo exercise. It’s really up to the practitioner to put in the time and take the appropriate steps, drink the water, etc. NO teacher or person can do that for us. To me, teachers are like guide posts along the path and can help in steering one in the right direction. They can nudge and encourage, but it’s up to us to push the pedal.
In roughly 3 weeks time, I will be attending a workshop with Fong Ha covering mainly yiquan and yang taiji. As such, the emphasis of my own training has been on yiquan standing postures and yang taiji. In fact, when I spoke to the event organizer and inquired about the material to be covered, he basically said, “be prepared for roughly 1.5 – 2 hrs of meditation work”… This is a metric I can work with and have tried to prepare myself for it. I want to make sure I have the basics down pat before I get to the workshop so hopefully I will receive correction on material beyond the basics. This type of approach for me has worked well in the past and I believe it is truly the best way to prepare.
Now, my goal for attending these workshops is to gain new material that I can work on and perhaps get some insight into my current material. I have achieved this goal with each and every workshop I have attended. While the quantity of materials received may be small, the quality is large and has definitely shaped my own practice and training over the long run.
All this talk of catalyst and goals reminds me of a quote I recently ran across:
When an archer is shooting for nothing, he has all his skill.
If he shoots for a brass buckle, he is already nervous.
If he shoots for a prize of gold, he goes blind or sees two targets –
He is out of his mind!
His skill has not changed. But the prize divides him.
He cares. He thinks more of winning than of shooting–
And the need to win drains him of power.
(Zhuang Zi 19:4)
I used to be part of the martial arts tournament circuit quite a bit back in the day, but that was mostly for Tae Kwon Do and Wushu. Just like a workshop, the tournament provided me with a catalyst to jump start my personal training. I worked hard to place well in the event, knowing that I was representing not only myself, but also my teacher and my school.
Form competitions resulted in a further refinement of my form based upon the judging criteria, mostly choreography and aesthetic appeal. Sparring competitions provided a forum in which I could test techniques and gauge my responsiveness in stressful and unpredictable situations. While this is all and good, with taiji I have no desire to enter competitions. To me, these goals do not align with my reasons for training in taiji.
I will end this post with one of my favorite kung fu movie quotes:
The object of matching is to beat down the opponent.
Wrong kid, the best way to beat the opponent is to use a gun. … The goal of studying martial arts is to maximize one’s energy. If you want to achieve that goal, you must understand life and the universe. … Fighting is for animals.
– Interaction between Chen Zhen (Jet Li) and Fumio Funakoshi in Fist of Legend