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Practice!

For the past year and a half, I have been developing and shaping a writing practice. It started off simple, write three pages a day. The subject matter was not important, nor was the level of skill, or mastery of technique. Instead the idea came back to the idea that being defined as a writer meant you had to write. Pretty simple, huh? In writing everyday you make writing second nature. It takes the fear out of creating "something good".

I bring this up because I've come to a point in my training, where I feel the need to be take what I've learned in class outside with me. So, I've started thinking about "practice" and how to develop one.

A practice is not necessarily a routine. It is a space in time to continually come back to what you've learned and take a second to play with the material so that it makes sense. The key here is consistency and discipline, but I think it is also important to change it up a bit. What's consistent is the time and space you give to developing new skills and techniques, or attaining certain goals. Changing up a bit (and remembering to have fun!) makes it easier to come back every day and start moving through the forms again.

There's a tendency when you're learning something to become hung up on one idea or technique. Sometimes it seems like the more we repeat something, the more we reach a point where we realize, "I'm stuck." It can be difficult in those moments to let go of the frustration of "getting it right". But in actuality, this block is great because it gives us an indicator of exactly what we need to work on.

Can't remember what comes after single whip? Well, then! Time to pay attention to that part next time in class! Not really sure how to do that number 17? Now's the time to try it out!

Fortunately, there are so many wonderful things to focus your attention on in our Shaolin training!

When I was fairly new in my position as a grant writer I had a hard time finding my groove. It was the first time I had to structure the day more-or-less on my own. Sure, I was driven by external grant deadlines, but as for the day to day, it was hard to know what exactly to focus on for eight whole hours!

Do I start breaking up a more complicated grant with a later deadline into the pieces and start finding the information I need? Or should I focus on the straight-forward grant with the fast-approaching deadline?

The answer was...both! I remember meeting up with a lawyer friend around this time and describing how I was feeling stuck in the projects I was supposed to be focusing on at work. She described what she did when she was feeling stuck with a particular case, "Start working on another project, and then, when you get stuck with that one, start working on something else." It seemed counter-intuitive, but I tried it and was able to get substantially further in the more complicated grant with the later deadline. As for the straight-forward grant, taking my eyes off of it gave me the chance to look at it later from a fresh perspective. By then it was easy-peasy! I was able to complete it and easily and continue working on the more complicated grant, which required more time.

I'm trying now to use the same approach in my current Shaolin practice. I've started off with very easy, very reachable goals. For instance, one goal is "work on hou tien chi breathing while waiting". So, anytime I'm waiting, on the bus/MUNI/Caltrain/BART, stuck in traffic, even when I walk to work from the station, I practice hou tien chi. Well, that may not seem like much, but five minutes here, 10 minutes there, pretty soon you have 30 minutes a day you're practicing the yin breath and the yang breath. Add that up over a work week, that's already 150 minutes! Over a year (minus those two weeks of vacay), and that's 7,500 minutes!! Wow, sure adds up!

It all has to start somewhere. Now, I'm trying to use 15 minutes at lunch to run through forms, break down each move to really think about what it is, where it's supposed to be striking and how to apply it. Then, if there's still time left over, conditioning, conditioning, conditioning! Eventually, I'm going to use the guide in the manual (section 3, page 27-check it out, guys!) to develop a more robust training schedule. I expect that over time, just like within my work or my writing practice, I will increase my skill level, endurance and memory.

Once things start to get "easy" and "routine", that's just a sign it's time to up the ante. Now, within my writing practice, for instance, rather than concerning myself with finishing a story, I'm drilling down to the minutiae. I'm looking at specific scenes and the transitions, and finding the "holes". Extra attention to those areas makes them stronger and brings them up to par with the rest of the writing. The same is true of going through Shaolin material. You can use these same ideas to build your practice or enhance an already existing practice.

Hopefully from all this, I'll be able to build a practice to take with me anywhere!

Like, to see my progress? Keep me accountable! I'll detail my challenge here. They say it takes two weeks to develop a habit, so, I'm going to try for three weeks and then see if it "stuck".

Share your own experiences in practicing! What works? What doesn't?

One thought on “Practice!

  1. Excellent article, as always! From my experiences, I have found three things that have really helped me: teaching, reading, and spirit!

    I’ve always found that teaching has helped me reinforce my material as well as come up with applications. Also, having that responsibility drives you to keep up with your material and refine it so that the material is passed on to other students as accurately as possible. While teaching, you’ll see the material in a different light and might even that “aha!” moment where a move or a whole form makes sense. And you don’t have to be an assistant instructor to teach someone, you can also help a new student with their material during practice hour or meet up with fellow students outside of class and have each person take the lead while going through a form!

    Now to reading. I’ll admit, I generally hate reading, but that’s only because I’m a very hands on type of person. If I don’t see or play around with something, I won’t understand it when I read. But you won’t fully understand something until you take the time to read about it, and that’s where the recommended reading comes in. One of my fellow Shao-Lin friends pointed out that our instructors can’t teach us everything in the time that we have with them, so to fully grasp our material we should get into the reading list they provided. Even our student training manual has a lot of information that some of us tend to overlook. For the past week, I’ve been getting back into meditation and the Small Circle of Heaven, but I was stuck getting it to work. Yesterday, I pulled out my training manual and one of the recommended books (Shaolin-Do: Secrets of the Temple) and found out that I was leaving out some techniques that would help achieve the Small Circle of Heaven. I tried out those techniques and I could feel it start to work. I haven’t achieved the Small Circle yet, but with some practice and some reading, I was able to make a small improvement.

    Finally, and I think most important of all when practicing and learning the art, is spirit. After every test, Elder Master David says to be less tentative, which is very important. And the best way to get rid of the tentativeness is to do as many pretests as possible as well as demoing forms that you just learned in front of your classmates. But something that I had a hard time understanding was something that Elder Master Sharon would say every once in a while, and that was to put ourselves into the form. I thought about it for so long, but didn’t start to understand it until recently. Some of you know that I was going for a PhD in Chemical Engineering, but decided to end with a Master’s due to the awful experience I went through. I was pretty devastated after a while, but I also took a lot of time to reflect on why things went wrong. I realized that I was trying too hard to please my advisor, and in the process, I lost my passion for my research. Now I don’t want to come off as blaming everything on my advisor, but she never really gave me the freedom to be myself, especially when I gave a presentation. She would say that I was “unprofessional” or “not serious” all the time. So I stopped being myself and tried to be serious all the time. I stopped talking to my coworkers unless it was work related, and it was always so quiet in our office. I hated every moment of it. I couldn’t stand coming in the morning, feeling that tension everyday. I was getting sick all the time and I ended up injuring my back. And it was all because I had no spirit. So I think that spirit is putting yourself into your activities. Instead of trying to become a tiger, become the tiger version of yourself! Now it’s not that easy to do, and it’s still something I’m working on. One thing that helps is to visualize your opponents, and that will prevent you from looking down while testing. But that’s only the start. The form has to resonate with your heart before it shows externally! If you’ve ever had the privilege to see the Elder Masters or the Grandmaster bust out a move, you’ll know what I’m talking about! Keep practicing and Have fun!

    -Mo

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