I keep emphasizing the small details when teaching Taijiquan. As the student progresses through the years the details become finer.
You would think that the first movement to Grasp Sparrow’s Tail is not such a big deal after doing it for a few years. However, if you don’t get the fine details done pat the skill you so desire still won’t be there.
A lot of so-called secrets are in reality fine details that students typically don’t pay attention to because they don’t see the importance. Sometimes students can be forgiven for thinking that the basic form is not as advanced as the latter forms or even the latter sections of the basic form. However, advanced skills are built on foundational skills. Frequently the foundation skills are right at the beginning of the form so its easy to miss them if we take what we do for granted.
The first movement of Grasp Sparrow’s Tail looks simple. Firstly, we have a raising of the right arm before turning to the right. If you just rush through your learning then all you get is a warding off movement to the right. No big deal, right?
But if its no big deal then why can’t students use even this simple warding off action to stop an attack? What’s the key here?
I got a chance to work on this with a student who has been with me for some years. I pointed out that the better one’s body control the lesser the outer neutralizing movement to the point where it looks like only localized strength is used though to the person feeling it the power is there. I also pointed some things we do at an advanced level that seemingly contradicts what a lot of Taiji players believe in – and that is a large turning of the waist to neutralize.
If you can mentally map out the angles and positions properly in your mind you don’t need to use the waist to turn so much. In fact, there is a trade-off here in that the more you turn the longer you take to neutralize the attack. As long as you go against styles that use large attacking movements then you can get away with it. But if you try it against styles that emphasize fast, short bridge attacks then you will have a much harder time.
So you really have to sweat the small details if you want your Taiji skills to seem effortless and literally be able to use 4 ounces of strength. Otherwise, you will move like a lumbering elephant and try to use 1001 lbs of effort to overcome 1000 lbs of attacking strength. Instead of a refined art you end up with a crude art not to mention violating a number of Taijiquan principles.
No one ever said its easy. But if you want to be able to really understand what the Taijiquan Classics are saying then you have to make an effort to sweat the small details.