Learning new ways to move is fun and satisfying. In Qigong and Taiji learning new movements is a constant part of the training. I have found that many students have difficulty with remembering the moves from one class to the next. Here are a few tips to make the intake of new movements a natural, normal part of your life.
Commit to Self-Practice
Learning and remembering new movements takes conscious effort, constant renewal and a commitment to practice. It takes an active engagement with the process. Just receiving the lessons in class isn’t enough. You will most likely forget by the next class. If you repeat a movement often enough, it becomes a body memory.
Practice Does Not Need to be Perfect
I sometimes hear people say they didn’t practice their moves because they weren’t sure of the details. The old saying is that perfect practice makes perfect. Wanting perfection, they avoided practicing any of the new exercises at all. Don’t go for perfection when learning something new. Just get it down in rough form. Go for stick figure drawing, not renaissance painting. Getting the stick figure down is creating the skeleton for further details to be added upon later.
Learn them Digitally at First
Learn as basically as possible. Where does each arm go? If you are stepping, which foot are you stepping with? If you are turning the body, which way? Do rough run-throughs. e.g. for Part the Horses Main, my right hand goes forward and faces up. My left hand is down and back. My right leg is forward.
Repeat as Soon as Possible
Repeat while the material is fresh. Otherwise it quickly dematerializes in your memory, a ship quietly sailing away into the fog of time. It is soon gone, and you’ve lost something small but tangible to build further upon. Then you have to relearn it. I recommend practicing the moves a few times when you get to where you are going.
Repeat Repeatedly for a Few Days
Do quick reviews, just to get the basic physical sequence down.
Stop what you are doing periodically through the day or three after learning these new moves to do brief and scanty run-throughs. These micro-practices don’t have to be any big production, just doing the moves one or more times. Whenever you think about it as you go about your day. Just do a run-through a few times.
Review in your mind
You can also visualize the movements at odd moments. Visualizing is nearly as good as doing to motions themselves
When you have something, even just a glimmer, nurture that glimmer by repeating it. If you have a base of movement that is even remotely close to the proper way to move, practice that base. By practicing it you are able to remember something. Then you can change it, correct it, improve it in later classes and personal practices. If you don’t try at all, you have to start over, which is frustrating and slows your progress.
Think about any new moves you have just learned in class as you go home. Keep these new moves fresh in your mind. As soon as you are able, physically go through them a few times again. I recommend to this as soon as you get to the next place you are going.
Make remembering and practicing priorities.
Example #1: On the Bus
I remember my Medical Qigong teacher Jerry Alan Johnson telling us how he learned a Chen Taiji form in Beijing (I think it was Beijing). He was in China learning more about Medical Qigong, so while he was there he also found a martial arts master in a park and took lessons in a form he didn’t know. After each lesson, riding the bus to the hospital he was studying at, he would go through the moves. Sitting on the bus he would move his hands and turn a little, reviewing while the material was fresh. He learned the full Taiji form. When I saw him perform it several years later, it inspired me to seek out and find some Chen Taiji. And I did. When Bob Lau moved to Bellingham he was able to teach me the long form in the New Frame style.
Example #2: Practicing First Thing
An example of how to grasp movement lessons happened recently. I just began learning the Partner Form (San Shou) in Yang Style Taiji from Michael Gilman, who is a long drive and a ferry ride away from me. In the first workshop we learned 10 moves, all done with another person. After the workshop, my training partner and I practiced these new moves as soon as I dropped him off at his house. There in the yard, we reviewed. Then I drove home and practiced the moves again, in my living room, visualizing a partner. Several times each day I practiced. The moves stuck with me. I’m ready for the next workshop.