How to Know if Students are Relaxed

How to Know if Students are Relaxed

Postby Parkallen » Tue May 02, 2017 8:05 pm

Can we, as teachers or facilitators, know if our students are relaxed? And if so, how do you know if your students are relaxed? In a typical tai chi class we practice the form together, everyone moving slowly, fluidly, and quietly, but do you know if your students are relaxed while they practice? Do you sometimes wonder "are my students relaxed?"

There is a sharp distinction between our personal in-the-moment experience of doing the form, and the personal experience of each other student during the same moments. We might appear, and feel within ourselves, due to the synchronized movement expected of everyone in the class, that we are all doing the "same" thing, but are we really? This raises the side issue of whether or not the diktat of synchronizing movement in a class is beneficial to relaxation or not.

I also wonder, is it possible to be relaxed in the form, but not in other things, as in both other things in our life and in the class. Can the class structure be strict, but the form be relaxed? Certainly it is contradictory to structure the class strict, yet expect our form to be relaxed. But does such a contradiction effect the psycho-physical act of playing the tai chi form? What I mean is, such a contradiction between class-structure and tai chi principles is I believe unarguable, but does this actually present a problem to tai chi instructors?
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Re: How to Know if Students are Relaxed

Postby ChiDragon » Wed May 03, 2017 8:33 am

1. By observation to see if the students are relaxed or not.
2. Go touch the student by tingjin. If the student is very stiff, then you'll know that the student was not relaxed.

The diktat of synchronizing movement in a class is beneficial to relaxation or not?
IMO The diktat of synchronizing movement is not a beneficial factor to relaxation. The relaxation is really up to each individual student.

The questions at the end are not stated very clear to be answered explicitly.
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Re: How to Know if Students are Relaxed

Postby fchai » Fri May 05, 2017 4:22 am

Hi Parkallen,
An interesting question. In my opinion, you can normally tell this if the student's movements are fluid, agile, effortless, etc. To my way of thinking there should be adherence to the 10 essential principles, not to just the one aspect of "song".

In a class, the primary function is instruction and correction, if error is evident. The synchronisation aspect of a class has certain limitations, but it should not prevent one from the proper execution of the form and the adherence to the 10 essential principles. The additional factor that needs to be taken into account is the synchronisation and hence the pace of the movements will probably have to vary during the course of the form, but certainly not in an abrupt manner.

How do you mean by"strict"? There are certain routines followed but that are all that they are. To not have a routine or structure for instruction would be foolhardy. There is certainly no berating and yelling to get the troops to behave. Lol.

A fundamental philosophy I subscribe to is that everything one learns should generally and if practicable, be applied holistically. The lessons, skills, knowledge, conditioning, training, etc. that one gets from Taiji does not begin and end at the door of the class. You also use it as part of your life skills, how you respond and conduct yourself with others and the world around you. That is why Taiji, to me, is such a treasure.

This mind you is just my humble view.
Take care,
Frank
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Re: How to Know if Students are Relaxed

Postby Audi » Mon May 08, 2017 3:02 am

Hi Parkallen,

I am not sure what you mean exactly by “relaxed.” As I have posted before, I have encountered three different shades of this word on my Tai Chi journey that are subtly, but importantly different. The first one concerns minimizing the use of the muscles, the second involves letting the limbs move freely, and the third involves loosening and lengthening the limbs. For the Association’s practice of the form, I think the third usage is critically important to understand. It is not so much a state of being as a method of positioning the body and mind.

To understand this third definition of “relaxed,” consider the first of the Ten Essentials, which basically tells us to position the head as if “suspended” above. This requires using more of certain muscles than most people use, while not stretching so hard as to generate too much of a feeling of stiffness.

One of the many ways to understand the literal meaning of the first of the Ten Essentials is that the neck should feel empty, as if something is pulling your head up (like a vacuum above your head). If, on the other hand, you minimize the involvement of the neck muscles, the vertebrae will not feel separated and you will not be able to move the neck freely.

This method of positioning the head is not always immediately obvious, but an attentive eye can often spot when a student is not doing it. We can use the same principle for all the limbs. You usually can see even in the Preparation Posture if a student knows how to relax in this way by the positioning if their arms, fingers, rear end, head, and shoulders.

In my personal opinion, in the Association’s Tai Chi, we should fill out our postures the same way a Chinese character fills out a notional square. The square always has the same dimensions, but the character inside it may be skinny, fat, straight, curved, slanting, simple or complex; however, it should always attempt to give the feeling of filling out most of the square. When you look at a student, you can see if they are positioning themselves according to this idea or whether they are trying to conform to some other idea of how to manage their movement.

With this idea of “relaxed,” synchronization between students is only a secondary issue. For instance, during our ranking tests, most people put significant stress on themselves. The texts are often administered simultaneously to two or three students, even though they are judged individually. Some perform the test while somewhat synchronizing their movements with others who may be testing at the same time, but most perform it at their own pace so as not to have to rely on someone else's judgment.

Take care,
Audi
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Re: How to Know if Students are Relaxed

Postby fchai » Wed May 10, 2017 1:08 am

Hi Parkallen,

The question of "relaxed" also brings to mind the principle of uniting the internal and external. The condition of physical relaxation or song can generally be observed from deportment, grace of movement, etc. However, how does one tell if someone is internally and mentally, song? This, I think is the more difficult question. In my own practice I have difficulty in maintaining this throughout the form from beginning to end. I can just imagine how it might be for someone new to Taiji, and I have been practicing for the better part of more than 30 years. So, I am a slow learner. Lol.

Take care,
Frank
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Re: How to Know if Students are Relaxed

Postby Parkallen » Tue May 16, 2017 5:03 am

Yes I agree, knowing if a student is internally relaxed, lets say psychologically and emotionally, is very hard to see, and will not necessarily show through touch-contact. I think that in part the expectations of the class (something created by the instructor but then takes on its own life) unintentionally causes tension. Those expectations are the form itself (the form as something to know), and synchronization of movement. The form itself, as a sequence of movements to know, weighs heavy on the minds of students, and that heavy weight translates partly into tension. This is not to say that this is an error in the form, in fact the challenge this poses is very beneficial, rather the question is how to address this problem while keeping the form just as it is.

I think it is very true that we need to make contact with our students to listen to their tension as ChiDragon pointed out. Interestingly, what is touch? It is essentially push hands, unfortunately push hands was wrongfully omitted from most tai chi schools' practice. The complication with touch-contact is that the student might change at the moment you make contact. There is a way to connect so that they relax rather then push back. I am astonished at how many of my students (long time form players) will immediately (without the slightest delay) resort to extreme tension upon contact. It was an issue that really through me off because it meant the most basic principle of tai chi was being lost even after so much forms practice.
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Re: How to Know if Students are Relaxed

Postby fchai » Tue May 16, 2017 6:16 am

Hi Parkallen,

You are so right. I have my more ''advanced'' students practice push hands not so much for the martial, but for other reasons. The reasons being rooting, song, absorption and redirection, the waist, integration of upper and lower, etc. In effect, it is a very direct application of many of the 10 Essential Principles. This also allows me to ting jin and also getting them to ting jin and a little dong jin. I am now personally of the opinion that not practising push hands in teaching Taiji is a deficiency that some Taiji schools need to address. They would be doing their students a serious disservice. Our nature is to naturally resist and the practice of push hands is an effective way of overriding this inbuilt natural response. Form practice does not do this!

Take care,
Frank
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Re: How to Know if Students are Relaxed

Postby DPasek » Tue May 16, 2017 1:54 pm

The natural response to contact would be “fight-or-flight” whereas we train being in-between these – not resisting AND not letting lose (neither excess nor deficiency).

To me, this can be done with either light OR heavy contact, and is dependant on having both yin and yang (neither all yang = fight, nor all yin = flight) at each point of contact with the partner/opponent. Achieving this yin + yang quality depends on interactive practice since it is not the natural response – it is unlikely that a practitioner could gain this through solo practice. Most without this training will use yang + yang (tension) in response to incoming energy.

To me, stick and adhere, connect and follow (zhan nian lian sui 粘黏連隨) is a key for using Taijiquan, and this cannot be trained solo. While one can get a sense of these qualities from patterned drills (especially connect and follow), one should engage in free play (or random movements, whether cooperative or non-cooperative) in order to understand them. Also, starting from non-contact is important (especially for stick and adhere) rather than just from contact practice.
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Re: How to Know if Students are Relaxed

Postby ChiDragon » Tue May 16, 2017 3:58 pm

粘黏連隨
粘黏These two characters seem to have the identical meaning as stick and adhere. However, the esoteric Tai Chi interpretation are contact and adhere seem to be making more sense.
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Re: How to Know if Students are Relaxed

Postby DPasek » Tue May 16, 2017 4:31 pm

ChiDragon wrote:粘黏連隨
粘黏These two characters seem to have the identical meaning as stick and adhere. However, the esoteric Tai Chi interpretation are contact and adhere seem to be making more sense.

Could you elaborate? I may or may not agree with you depending on your interpretations.

To me, both terms are about making contact. They are just two sides of the same coin; the yin and the yang of making contact (when you are primarily yin or primarily yang; e.g., contacting something coming towards you, or you going away from you to make the contact). Because of my understanding, I would personally avoid using the term “contact” for one of the characters since I think that both terms are related to making contact with an opponent/partner.
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Re: How to Know if Students are Relaxed

Postby ChiDragon » Tue May 16, 2017 6:28 pm

I go by the interpretations here:
太極推手四要:沾、黏、連、隨
沾者,提上拔高。有一個點與對方接觸謂之「沾」,沾著不使丟脫。
What do we mean by ?...An one point contact with the opponent is considered to be 「沾」. The contacter doesn't let the opponent to get away. IMMHO It has a hidden meaning in it as the initial contact, in order, to be adhere.

黏者,留戀繾綣。有數點與對方接觸謂之「黏」,俗云:「沾是一點,黏是一片」,吻合燙貼,往復纏綿。
What do we mean by ? Stay in contact. It has a multi-point of contact with the opponent which considered to be 「黏」. The old saying, is one point(一點), is a flat(一片)

Ref: 太極推手四要:沾、黏、連、隨
http://warrentw.blogspot.com/2012/04/blog-post_12.html
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Re: How to Know if Students are Relaxed

Postby DPasek » Tue May 16, 2017 7:41 pm

ChiDragon wrote:I go by the interpretations here:
太極推手四要:沾、黏、連、隨
沾者,提上拔高。有一個點與對方接觸謂之「沾」,沾著不使丟脫。
What do we mean by ?...An one point contact with the opponent is considered to be 「沾」. The contacter doesn't let the opponent to get away. IMMHO It has a hidden meaning in it as the initial contact, in order, to be adhere.

黏者,留戀繾綣。有數點與對方接觸謂之「黏」,俗云:「沾是一點,黏是一片」,吻合燙貼,往復纏綿。
What do we mean by ? Stay in contact. It has a multi-point of contact with the opponent which considered to be 「黏」. The old saying, is one point(一點), is a flat(一片)

Ref: 太極推手四要:沾、黏、連、隨
http://warrentw.blogspot.com/2012/04/blog-post_12.html
It seems like we may potentially at least partially agree, although we view it from different angles.

For example, 沾 seems compatible with both “the contacter doesn't let the opponent to get away” and the contactor’s “initial contact,” and what I refer to as the yang side of the coin (initiating the contact rather than the one being contacted).

“Stay in contact” for 黏 could perhaps be interpreted as the contact occurring as the one being contacted, or receiving contact initiated by the opponent (i.e., the yin side of the coin).

The goal of both 沾 and 黏 is to stay in contact and for the contact to have a sticky quality.

Perhaps less compatible would be the references to one point or multi-point (a flat), as that is not really required from my interpretation. But when I contact an opponent (沾), I do want my quality to be like a sphere (contacting at one point, and differentiating yin from yang at that point of contact) while I want my opponent when contacting me (黏) to be flat (or like a cube, i.e., not differentiating yin from yang at the point of contact). So perhaps this could also be viewed as being compatible.

Your information is interesting to me since I had not seen that interpretation before. Thanks.
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Re: How to Know if Students are Relaxed

Postby ChiDragon » Wed May 17, 2017 9:42 pm

太極推手四要:沾、黏、連、隨
It is an one person operation from the beginning to the end. The initial contact at one point with the edge of the palm(the baby finger edge). Then, turn the wrist to have multi-point of contact, with the palm, on the arm of the opponent; and also link and follow(adhere to the opponent's arm). Thus this is the whole philosophy behind push-hands.

By touching the student with a fingertip on the arm, right away, one can tell the state of relaxation. Sometimes, the student might react to the touch and changed the state of relaxation quite drastically. The teacher may ask the student to move the arm back and forth while relaxing at the adhesive state. If both the student and teacher do not feel any resistance, then the student is in a relaxed state.
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Re: How to Know if Students are Relaxed

Postby DPasek » Thu May 18, 2017 1:08 pm

ChiDragon wrote:太極推手四要:沾、黏、連、隨
It is an one person operation from the beginning to the end. The initial contact at one point with the edge of the palm(the baby finger edge). Then, turn the wrist to have multi-point of contact, with the palm, on the arm of the opponent; and also link and follow(adhere to the opponent's arm). Thus this is the whole philosophy behind push-hands.

By touching the student with a fingertip on the arm, right away, one can tell the state of relaxation. Sometimes, the student might react to the touch and changed the state of relaxation quite drastically. The teacher may ask the student to move the arm back and forth while relaxing at the adhesive state. If both the student and teacher do not feel any resistance, then the student is in a relaxed state.

What if first contact happens somewhere other than the hand, e.g., when one’s leg touches the opponent’s leg, or when one contacts the opponent with the shoulder...? For a concept that appears like it could be applicable to any point of contact, why would someone want to so constrain the concept to just contact with the pinky edge of the hand and only against the opponent’s arm?

For me personally, that is far too narrow a view to be of much use. While I know that many schools teach the progression from the pinky edge of the hand to the palm..., and that this is fine for a controlled cooperative push-hands drill, it is probably not applicable to most non-cooperative interactions with an opponent. The underlying concept may be applicable, but this is just one limited example of the concept.

For example, in the following video of practitioners showing the Yang style choreographed sparring routine, how many times is the contact made with the pinky edge of the hand?:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IOaRwYm-ZUg

To me it addresses the yin and yang of making contact with an opponent, at any point that the contact may occur. Yin and yang are broadly applicable, why constrain it so severely?

Being able to be round on contact does mean that if contact is made with the pinky edge of the hand, one should then be able to rotate the hand as if it were a sphere, as illustrated by the rotation to the palm, but this is not the only place that should be “round” when contact is made with an opponent! Contact with just the palm first often leads to being flat rather than round, so it is good to practice rotating upon contact, but this should apply everywhere, not just the hand!
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Re: How to Know if Students are Relaxed

Postby DPasek » Thu May 18, 2017 1:51 pm

CD,

To me, it seems like you have practiced one example of a principle so dogmatically that it has come to define the principle rather than just illustrating the principle. This seems to be another example of the frog in the well story, or losing sight of the forest for the trees (getting caught in small details and failing to understand the bigger picture).

This seems similar to the discussion that we had previously about “double weighting.” To me this discussion relates to that one since I consider being “flat” as being an example of being “double weighted.”

If one just practices Taijiquan for health, then it likely does not matter much, but I try to understand this art in a more broadly applicable way that includes interacting with a non-cooperative opponent.
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