The First 20 Hours. That’s the name of a best selling book that pushes the idea of learning a skill in 20 hours instead of 10,000 hours.
Is it possible?
Yes, certainly. The key emphasis here is to learn a skill rather than master a skill to an expert level.
One of the things that I have been working on is how to teach push hands in an easy-to-learn manner yet makes logical sense to a total beginner. If a student has some martial arts background then I would normally teach the way I learned it but when I took on a total newbie some time back it became impossible to teach the way I would because part of how fast he can pick up push hands depends on how much he has understood from his own training and the other part depends on whether he can make sense of what I was teaching him.
Here is what I think – the traditional way of teaching makes you learn more comprehensively. However, in the beginning it can be chaotic and confusing. If not enough time is spent on learning it then even a student who has learned for a few years would have picked up very little workable skills that can actually be applied against a resisting opponent.
One thing I didn’t want my students to do is end up with what I call shoving skills that had little to do with Taiji as a combat art. Instead, I would like to see them learn how to use the push hands platform to actually use the techniques that they have learned in the long form. This type of learning serves two purpose :-
1) If you know how to use the techniques then it would help you to understand how to do the form properly
2) If you don’t do the form properly then it would show up when you do push hands. If you are a serious learner this in turn would push you to re-examine your form performance and carry out the necessary corrections so that the next time your push hands skill would improve.
With the above in mind I started thinking about how to teach push hands effectively. The first thing I did years ago was to look at push hands like a game of change which was how I come around to calling this approach the Push Hands Game. The other thing about calling it a Push Hands Game rather than say Push Hands Combat was that I didn’t want students to be overly obsessed with winning as I found that having this mentality during a push hands training session would cause them to tense up and be afraid to lose. This in turn acts as an obstacle to them learning many of the things that I wanted them to pick up.
For example one student would tense up each time he comes under attack. This in turn means that he cannot let his mind go and enter into a state of no-mind that would allow him to flow easier. He would also keep trying to use strength to attack under the mistaken notion that doing fajing is a must when all it did was to cause him to slow down and telegraph his intention to attack.
So to change it into a “fun” game of change is to say hey, loosen up. Winning is not the point here, doing it properly is. With doing it correctly then comes winning using the principles. This is how we want to do our Taiji.
Even, then Push Hands Game is a complicated subject on its own despite the defined parameters of how to play it. One night I spent a lot of time trying to teach just how to control both sides of the circle. Another time I found myself just trying to teach a student not to run at the first feeling of being pushed and consequently cause his structure to collapse. Many times the problem was mental. Once this was resolved, the physical part was easy.
One point I do agree with the author is that many people today don’t have the time to put into learning, much less become an expert at it. In fact, I just saw some videos of a Wing Chun style I learned before and I could not help but think that the flavor of their style was absent in their chi sao. Their chi sao looked more like Ip Man style chi sao flavor then the soft flavor that their style is supposed to have.
My point is this – if you just learn something you may still be way off the subject. For effective learning in a short time you really need to know what you are learning and this is where the author of The First 20 Hours made a few good points about it. Actually, this is also the direction I am moving towards in developing the Push Hands Game. I want to have high standards but I know this comes at a trade-off : time. So the question is how to shorten the learning curve so that more students could learn push hands faster.