Sunday, August 17, 2014

How to Learn Tai Chi

White Crane Flashing Wings
I have been studying tai chi for a number of years now. The more I learn, the more learning I have to do.

Most students, myself included, run through our forms and call it our daily practice. This weekend, I did something a little different.

I spent one hour practicing Leisurely Tying Coat and then one hour practicing White Crane Flashing Wings. I experimented with the timing of the weight shifts, the waist rotations, the motion of the hands, etc. I worked one hand over and over until it seemed correct. Then I worked the other hand over and over. Then I combined them and fine-tuned. Repeat as necessary.

I kept asking myself questions like, “How is the force generated here?”, “How is the force transferred to my hands here”, "What is the timing on the weight shifts?", and similar, over and over.

Then I combined the two forms and worked on the transition. Over and over. It's amazing how much I didn't know.

The more I learn, the more learning I have to do.

© 2014 Eric Borreson

Saturday, June 14, 2014

How Can We Use Technology to Connect?

This is a presentation I gave at Dr. Paul Lam's annual Tai Chi workshop in St. Louis, MO. See the notes at the end.

Good morning. I am very happy to be here at the world's biggest and best tai chi family reunion. We really are a family here.

Dr. Lam asked me to talk about Harmonizing Technology. I have absolutely no idea what that means. So I decided to ignore it in the hope that it would go away. It didn't. Eventually, I couldn't ignore it any more.

I still had no idea what to talk about. How can I talk about technology? It changes every time a new phone or tablet comes out or whenever a browser update comes out. It changes every time Facebook changes their privacy settings. Again.

I thought about this for a long time before I finally understood that I was missing an important point.

It's not about the technology itself. It's about how we USE technology to help us meet the goals of the Tai Chi for Health Institute. It's about how we USE technology to empower people to better health and wellness. It's about how we USE technology to connect with each other, to learn, to teach, and to empower.

Let's talk about learning. Dr. Lam has worked very hard to promote medical studies to show that the Tai Chi Health program is an evidence-based program with proven benefits. He sends out a monthly newsletter where he summarizes progress in this important effort. That is very simple and effective technology. He has articles about how people overcome obstacles to improve their health and the health of others. You can also learn about upcoming workshops where you can learn about tai chi and learn about teaching tai chi.

Did you know that he has a Facebook page, too. And a Twitter account. Ask him a question online. He will answer.

The US-based Tai Chi for Health Community has a Facebook page, too. We share news articles so we can all learn about recent medical studies of tai chi, and we share stories and pictures of local events. This is all to help us learn. We also have a quarterly newsletter for members. I asked Jim to share this in my introduction. The newsletter is full of information to help you learn. It's one of the benefits of joining the Tai Chi for Health Community.

Let's talk about teaching. All social media include a method to share news. On Facebook it's called Share. On Twitter it's called a Tweet or a Retweet. You can teach others by sharing news with them. I write a blog about tai chi. I share it with everyone that is interested. Teachers share schedules and news with their students. We have a regular column in the TCHC newsletter about developing an on-line practice where we feature web pages. This newsletter column is to show you how to create your own online presence.

And most important, let's talk about empowerment. Dr. Lam talked earlier about how fear holds us back. I want to empower you. I want you to get more involved. Get online. If you are already online, I want you to do more. I want you to learn more. I want you to teach more.

I want to see a world full of dedicated teachers that are working together to accomplish our goals. Individually, we are limited. We are powerful when we use technology to work together.

Thank you.

Note 1. This is a script that I spoke from. It isn't a transcript of what I actually said. I am sure that I drifted away from my notes a little bit.
Note 2. I omitted a little bit from my original script. I had only 5 minutes to deliver this presentation. When I had 1 minute remaining, the MC gave me the signal that the hook was coming. I do not include that omitted material here.
Note 3. This presentation was recorded. If Dr. Lam puts it on YouTube, I'll post an update and link.
Note 4. The June issue of the TCHC is online and available free for everyone. Click here to read it.

© 2014 by Eric Borreson

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Four Ways to Improve Body Awareness

One of the things that seems to confuse tai chi beginners is body awareness. They really don't know
what their body is doing in space. They try to move their arms and hands in a certain way and the movement doesn't look at all like they tried to do it. Even worse, they don't even know that they don't know what they are doing. How can we teach body awareness to students?

I have four suggestions. 
The first is the idea of “First Separate, Then Combine,” sometimes called “Directed Practice”. There are so many things going in even a simple form that beginning students can't keep track of it all. Separate and then combine means to separate out a principle or a movement or form, practice it separately until it becomes second nature. Then separate out a different part of a form and practice it. Then combine those parts and practice them together until they become second nature. Then separate out another different part and practice it separately. Then combine it with the others.

A second idea is to teach awareness in layers. Watch and follow the instructor. Practice by yourself. Watch the instructor again. Practice with a group and help each other. Visualize the movements. Practice by yourself. Repeat as needed.

A third idea is to teach awareness through Body, Mind, and Breath. Move your body as best as you can. Visualize the movement in your mind. Pause during the forms and check that visualization against what your body is really doing. Breathe slowly and use your breath to calm your mind and body.

A fourth idea is to teach awareness by pausing. Wherever you are having difficult learning a form, stop several times in the movement before the point where it's not working right. Check to see if you are where you expected to be. Breathe deeply. Don't rush. Correct any mistakes before moving on.

Try them and tell me how it works.

© 2014 by Eric Borreson 

About the Author: Eric Borreson, author and teacher, uses his writing to teach and his teaching to write. Why not circle him on Google+?