Inching towards clarity
Sifu has said that he doesn’t teach anything new, rather we just understand things differently each time. I haven’t had any earth-shattering learning experiences with my training lately, so I take this to mean that enough of what Sifu has taught me has sunken in that my head no longer hurts when trying to grasp his lessons. Of course, there is still the possibility that I have completely misunderstood him and am operating with completely flawed model of reality.
What does this level of understanding mean practically? Well, I have a sense of what Sifu is doing when he demonstrates slowly and pauses at key points to explain. I can intellectually understand how the skill works. But without those pauses, I don’t see the skill unfolding even at half speed (or slower). I can just catch that my structure has been locked and my mass is being targeted… a moment after Sifu has already bridged. Years of training have netted me the ability to more quickly see just how screwed I am when Sifu bridges. I have yet to perceive the moment of capture or the alignments to my structure before the bridge. The idea of being several steps behind is less theoretical to me now and more concrete.
Back to the basics
Basics. Fundamentals. Jibengong. Whatever you want to call them, they are foundational. You need the basics to train seriously and you never stop training them. Even professionals still practice to ingrain basics. They are of crucial importance, so you’d think that everyone would train them until they have been mastered. And that’s where that line of thinking falls apart. All the corrections I see (for myself included) are basic. Case in point: I had it pointed out to me that I was absorbing to my back at my shoulders rather than down the front. I know how to absorb down the front. I even correct my own students about moving too much from their shoulders and absorbing to the back. Yet, here I was making that same mistake with my basics.
Just because they are the “basics” does not mean they are easy. This is especially true when you have to integrate basics together or perform under conditions outside of your experience. As the saying goes, if it were easy, everyone would do it. So, it’s back to more basics practice for me.
Five Qualities of Movement
Why absorb-project, open-close, condense-expand, concave-convex, and three-dimensional? I’ve mentioned before that it’s useful to have everyone on the same page using the same jargon. If you allow everyone to use their own terms, communication becomes a problem and misunderstandings arise. The same word can encompass different ideas to different people, so it’s best just to start from a common terminology base.
But it’s more than just that. In ILC, you are learning a physical movement skill. The body only has a set number of ways to move at each joint, but the combination of movements covers an expansive set possibilities. You need some way of mapping that movement space so that you can describe and navigate it. I think of the five qualities as a sort of principal component analysis of movement possibilities. They are distinct mechanisms of movement which you can combine to describe movement.
Could other terms be used? Sure. You could borrow terms already used in other arts, but you run the risk of being misunderstood since those terms could easily mean different things to different people. You could even use common biomechanics terminology. Though in that case, the terms are biased towards single joint actions and are probably too complicated for general teaching. Can you imagine the nightmare of explaining an integrated whole body movement in terms of flexion-extension, protraction-retraction, elevation-depression, supination-pronation, nutation-counternutation, etc for all the joints in a kinetic chain? For the purposes of exploring unified body movement, the five qualities make a lot of sense.