Tuesday, November 18, 2008

A Lot To Unlearn

Tonight was Tai Chi class at the gym. I was looking forward to class because last week I was unable to attend. I had to rush to get to class on time. Luckily I was there before the instructor and had a chance to talk with the other students. There was a new person in class and she was concerned about not having prior martial arts experience. The other student and I told her not to worry because previous experience seems to be a disadvantage. The new student mentioned her concerns to the instructor and he said (as he glanced at me) "Don't worry, we have a lot to unlearn."

I am not sure how to take this. I do not think the instructor said it to be harsh but I felt discouraged by the remark. You see, I do not want to unlearn...I want to learn more. Does unlearn suggest that the movement I study in Okinawa Kenpo is wrong? Different...yes. Wrong...no. I knew from the start that Tai Chi would be difficult. I did not realize that it would be so hard on my knees. I am placing too much stress on the knees because I am not moving from the center. During the form, and in drills, we spend a lot of time with the weight distributed on one leg. My instructor said that in time my knees will feel better.

I am not going to let tonight's class get me down. I am going to practice my Tai Chi movement drills this week. I know that I look like a Okinawa Kenpo practitioner trying to do Tai Chi. Right now that is exactly what I am. I have only been taking classes for two months!

Hopefully a better class next week.


Anonymous said...

Maybe you should branch out into something more heart pounding like spinning or step class. All of the slow moving exercising you are doing could be bad for your knees.

Move your body!!!

Meg said...

I think *I* take offense at that comment by the instructor. You study a different martial art than what he's teaching. You are there to learn and you are learning. I personally think his comment was a bit uncalled for. There's nothing wrong with being different. We're all different.

Steve said...

Michele, that sort of remark irritates me to no end. I'm with you and would have taken such a remark in much the same way. Suggesting that you will need to "unlearn" something implies that the Tai Chi movements are right and what you've been doing your entire life is "wrong."

Steve said...

Without being there and without knowing the instructor, it's one of two things. He was referring to you that you have bad habits (in his opinion) that you need to "unlearn" or he may have been referring to you, him and others in the class. I can see myself in his position, looking at you when he was talking for the purpose of including you in the conversation.

Remember, it's martial arts, so there is never perfect for anyone at anytime. We ALL can always be better.

Michele said...

Anon: You might be right. A step class might be too hard on the knees but I should give spinning a try.

Meg: Thanks for the comment. My motivation to take Tai Chi was for health benefits. I thought that it would be good for my knees. The added benefit is that it is a martial art.

Steve: The word “unlearn” bothers me. The more I think about it…the more it bothers me. The instructor may not have meant the comment how I interpreted it.

Steve: I agree that in the martial arts “we ALL can always be better”. I see each training session as an opportunity to learn and improve. This is regardless to whether I am teaching or training. Learning is a gift.

The instructor’s comment just did not sit well with me. I may have taken the comment too personally. The instructor knows my background and knows that I am there to learn. It is as simple as that. I have no hidden agenda. He indicated that he started his training learning karate then decided to convert to Tai Chi. He indicated that Tai Chi was the path for him. I respect him for his decision.

There is a new student in our dojo. He has several years of boxing experience. He is having trouble with some of the movements. The reverse punch is giving him trouble because as he explained: there is no reverse punch in boxing. He explained that you move forward in boxing bringing all your weight with the punch. I suggested some drills that would help him with his reverse punch. I did not nor would I tell him that he has to “unlearn” what he spent years studying. I told him “we move this way in Okinawa Kenpo”. To be honest, I am hoping to get a few tips from him.

Anonymous said...

Maybe you should just sit home and watch TV, or go out to a restaurant and order a "can I make my butt bigger meal" All execise does is make you eat more! Plus it is hard on you knee.

John Vesia said...

When I took aikido years ago, one of the black belts there said something like, "Oh, you do karate, that's not gonna help you." People don't hear themselves sometimes. The thing is, my karate background did get in the way of doing aikido.

From what I understand there are a lot of health benefits associated with tai chi. I think your knees will adapt. Hang in there.

Anonymous said...

This one's interesting.

First, I think the instructor was just emphasizing your own point to help reassure the new student. I don't think he meant to put you down in any way.

"Unlearn" seems to me to be a sort of "Zenish" phrase that can come across as off-the-shelf and disrespectful.

But it does come close to my experience when starting karate after having studied Aikido. I had to work hard to keep my knife hands and sword arms straight (rather than cupped and curved) and to keep from slipping into a semi-cat front stance. I really felt like I was "unlearning" some things.

This was tough because I deeply respected and enjoyed Aikido. In fact, I dropped out of martial arts for a long time because whenever I tried a new style I kept feeling like I was betraying Aikido.

It's bind, isn't it? When we study a martial art we give up so much of ourselves (our ACLs, for instance :-), and I think we can't help making it very personal.

Other than we geting to fall and liking the people I work with, I can't tell you why I study the style of karate I do. But over time, I think it's making me a part of it and I'm making it a part of me.

I feel like I'm missing out when I think about Tai Chi, Kung Fu, Judo, Aikido etc. I admire anyone who can study more two or more simultaneosly, but I can only do one at a time.

Michele said...

John: Thanks for the encouragement. I knew that Tai Chi would be difficult to learn. It took practice and time for me to acquire the stances and movement necessary in Okinawa Kenpo. I know that I need to give myself time to practice Tai Chi movements.

BBBlues: I agree. I do not think the instructor meant it as a put down. He is a nice guy. I am sure that I took the comment too personally. The word "unlearn" has a negative connotation for me. I do not want to forget, put aside or discard what I have learned in Okinawa Kenpo. I found your comment “I kept feeling like I was betraying Aikido” very interesting. That feeling may be the reason that “unlearn” struck a chord with me.

Anonymous said...

I have to agree with steve. Its irritating to hear such comments. anything you learn from any martial art will have advantages. As an instructor, he should realise this.

Anonymous said...

Occasionally comments from your teacher may appear on the surface hurtful or uncalled for. However, from my own teacher I have learned that a big part of martial arts training is the destruction of the ego. Over time I am learning to take comments such as the one you received and not get caught up in the (typically unintended offense)and just focus on what I can get out of it that is constructive. Teachers are human too and they don't always say the right thing but over time if you develop a relationship with your teacher you should be able to approach them later and ask for a clarifcation if you are left guessing at what is meant and sincerely seeking to improve based on what was said.

Btw - so nice to find a blog with a real dialogue going. I am a mom in her 40's who loves martial arts and recently started my own blog discussing the personal growth aspects of the practice. . No visitors yet. :) If you'd like to be one of the first, I'd be thrilled. Would love some suggestions on making the blog better as am a newbie to blogging. You can visit me at kungfu4women.com Thnks!

Michele said...

Marks: Thanks. I never realized how difficult it was to learn multiple styles.

Dragonfly: Thanks for your comment. I stopped by your blog and tried to leave a comment. It asked me for a wordpress account and unfortunately I do not have one. You have a nice blog and I will check back often.

I do not think that the instructor said the comment to be intentionally hurtful. However, it did bother me. You make a good point about building a relationship with your instructor. Thanks again.

Anonymous said...

Michelle - Thanks so much for pointing the comments issue out to me. Just a silly newbie mistake. I think I have it worked out now. Appreciate the visit and am enjoying your blog too.

btw - I took Tai Chi for about 2 years but my school stopped teaching it in favor of qigong. It does take a bit of getting used to though I cannot recall my knees hurting from doing it. However, when you are first learning the form, you tend to hold stances longer. Once it becomes more continuous perhaps that issue will go away. I now take qigong (similar to tai chi) and really love it. Works all muscles, tendons and ligaments is virtually every part of body over the course of time.