Here’s a non-secret: one of the keys to improving is being self aware.
Training is 10% instruction and 90% practice. Did you listen and understand your teacher? Are you aware of when you do something wrong and how to correct it? It’s obvious when you try a new or difficult technique, but what about the basics?
I’ve thrown thousands of punches in my life, but sometimes they travel in a curve, I rotate my fist too early, or there isn’t enough intent behind them. Sometimes my toes are at weird angles when I kick. In Taijiquan, I need to build more leg strength and work on transitioning with root. I’m not soft, especially during partner drills. Sometimes I notice these issues and other times I don’t. The list goes on and everything needs constant practice.
Awareness of your body’s movements applies to any physical activity. As it develops, you may start to feel like everything you do is terrible, but don’t be discouraged. It’s a good thing and it means you’re improving.
I’m very fortunate to have daily access to Dr. Yang and other experienced training partners/teachers, but no matter where you are, your teacher won’t (and shouldn’t) babysit you. They can’t sit there, point out every mistake you make, and wait for you to fix it. This is where the 90% practice comes in. It’s just not a matter of repetitions, but working towards overall improvement. It doesn’t matter how many sequence or sparring drill reps you’ve done if #500 feels like #100. They shouldn’t feel the same. They will be the same if your focus isn’t there.
How your body moves is one aspect. Are you aware of what your body and mind are telling you? As you age and/or incur injuries, you start to realize when you’ve reached your physical limits, even if your mind tells you otherwise. There’s good pain and bad pain. When do you need to rest? What massages or stretches do you need to do for recovery? What do you need to eat and avoid eating? What bad habits do you need to reduce or eliminate? What are the bad influences in your life? What good habits and influences do you want to adopt?
Awareness of Surroundings
This beginning stage of awareness has translated to other aspects of my life. As a teacher, I’ve noticed some improvement in helping students with body mechanics. In the past, I could explain how I thought something should be, but I wasn’t necessarily able to instruct students in how to improve. Now, it’s like my vision has improved, although it’s still quite blurry. I see more things that look off and can offer more ways to correct them, but sometimes still I can’t figure out what it is. (Most of the time it’s structure and/or timing.)
When was the last time you didn’t hear any sounds made by humans? One of the things I love about the Center is when all I can hear are sounds of nature. If I speak to someone, I try to speak slowly and just loudly enough so that they can hear me clearly.
Perhaps it has much to do with aging, but I theorize I’m heavily influenced by living in remote, laid back Humboldt County and my Taijiquan training. We practice the solo sequence slowly to become aware of a million things like stepping, rooting, transitions, alignment, chest, spine, body structure, breathing, martial grand circulation, intention, etc… In partner practice, we start slow to develop listening jing among many other jing. We train awareness in Shaolin as well, but I don’t think I would be at this stage at this point without Taijiquan.
I’m more aware in social situations. Many people don’t listen or observe. They interject their opinions as soon as you stop talking, say “uh huh” to make you finish, flat out interrupt you, or ask questions with obvious answers if they’d simply observe. (I’m still guilty of these.) They happen to me more often now, or at least I’m more aware of them. Maybe it’s because I speak too slowly. People may not have bad intentions; this is merely an observation.
One thing I don’t understand is the need to fill the silence with babble. Does silence make people uncomfortable? Why? Without it, how can you observe the many other things that are happening?
They say 80% of communication is nonverbal. Other energies are “speaking” to you too. Develop awareness and develop intuition and empathy. Understand other people. Understand the situation. Then, can you understand situations across time and the spectrum of existence? Perhaps you can understand your purpose in living? Whoa.
I started this blog to share what I’ve learned without preaching or giving absolute answers, but now I’m asking you more questions because I have questions. This is one reason why I train martial arts. Martial arts isn’t just about learning how to fight; it’s a way of life. Grandmaster Cheng said: “The final goal of learning is to discover the meaning of life.”