We spend a lot of time practicing. Ideally we want to get the most bang for our buck in return. Here are some things to consider that may help you as they did me.
Own Your Training
We must take personal responsibility for our own training. If we make something or someone else responsible for it we are creating problems. A great art and/or a great teacher are wonderful things but neither of them can do kung fu, the hard work, for us.
What to practice, when to practice, classes to take, books to read, research, finding teachers, it's really all up to you anyway. Recognizing this puts the power to achieve your goals back in your own hands.
Be Clear About Your Goals
We need to be clear of why we are training and what we are trying to achieve. This gives us direction in our practice, direction we can test to see if we are headed in the right direction. There is no extra credit for attendance. The dedication and effort we put in entitle us to achievement within the art but the achievement is also not reachable without it.
Put it this way....if you are doing a particular practice and you don't know why you are doing that practice, how will you know you have achieved what the designer intended?
Take Jam Jong as an example. Depending on what we are focused on in a particular session completely changes the nature of the practice even though it does not seem any different from the outside. If I'm working on a primary vector its completely different than focusing on relaxation while maintaining unity. If I am working on internalizing an orbit that is a different practice then conditioning my self for self-defense.
Be clear on what you are trying to accomplish.
Formal training is great, either alone or in a class, but 2 or 3 times a week is not enough. We need our bodies to be constantly reminded of the new pattern of movement we are exploring. Old habits are hard to break.
We need to find those bits of time to activate the frame and work with it, even if it's just for a few minutes. Call it casual training .....you may soon find that your total casual training time exceeds your total formal training time by a significant amount.
Casual training help to coax the skill out from under the formal training, to make it useful when applied to daily activities. Over time Integrated Strength becomes the old habit that's hard to break.
There are many tools out there to help us with our practice. I use a Fitbit to track many of my training sessions. The heart monitor allows me to use a HIIT approach to modulate my intensity level and it counts the steps and distance traveled.
Sometimes I will structure my routine, performing so many repetitions of a given technique or exercise. This is pretty easy as Yi Chuan emphasizes single movement practice. There are a bunch of apps that allow you to track your training progress like you would at the gym.
An app on my phone gives me hourly reminders to link and connect. I take notes in OneNote because I can draw pictures easily and webcam to record ideas I would like to share with friends.
Each practitioner should find out what works for them and experiment with new tools as they become available.
Punching bags of all kinds, fitness bands, axe handles, metal bars, long rattan and waxwood poles, dummies, yoga balls, locks, balance boards and countless other toys can be incorporated into training. This brings in variety, provides new challenges and can also help build self defense skills with weapons.
It not really the toy that is important, but how we wield it. The way it is used must support our overall goals of being able to activate, develop and use integrated strength.
As our practice develops we want to spend more of it freestyling. This means playing, improvising, and letting go in our practice. Take things to the extreme or just get lost in the moments as you become more of an observer than doer.
Often times we find insight and/or inspiration in freestyle practice. The discipline and repetition of formal training can snuff out that creative spark.
Freestyling lets the subconscious mind come out and play and opens up new possibilities.
As metioned above, we need to incorporate our training into everyday activities. As I write this paragraph I am standing at my desk in Jam Jong. When I walk my dog later I will be working on incorporating stepping principles into my casual stride. I will use my next bike ride to work on my internal orbit. This afternoon I will activate my frame while standing in line at the grocery store.
Casual training can be defined as training integrated strength during activities whose purpose is something other than practicing integrated strength, so basically almost anything up to and including watching TV slumped in the chair.
Casual training does three very important things for us.
First, it opens up vast amounts of time for training. Casual training is an extension of the train often philosophy that can open up all waking hours to be potential training time.
Second, it teaches us to express our achievements casually. If we can apply integrated strength to a hand shake, opening a door or pushing the grocery cart our chances of being able to use it effectively for self defense .
Third, it improves the activities themselves. Every time I go snowboarding is a full day of training Yi Chuan that builds my snowboarding skills.
Keep it Simple
We can only do one move at a time. Learning a 36, 48, 124 or whatever movement set or form is great but we can only perform one move at a time. Too many complicated movements, too many complicated shapes can be confusing.
Since our goal is to move in an integrated way we need to keep it simple. We need to focus on quality over quantity, the transition between two shapes. Yi Chuan is designed this way. From the outside it looks simple, but that simplicity makes it easier to explore the ramifications of Integrated Strength.
Keeping our practice simple is actually a shortcut. Integrated strength itself is formless and shape is essentially a delivery possibility. The goal is to be able to express integrated strength with almost any shape.
Keep a Journal
Writing stuff down is useful, even if you never look at it again.
Take notes of what you have been taught, record your experiences in training and questions, right down your questions. Struggling to conceptually express our training experience and holding open what we don’t know help us further to tap the subconscious.
When I’m struggling to write something down, I know I need more work on it. Expressing what I am confused about cements those questions in my practice. Having notes gives a chance to get something later. I often look back in my journals and see things that I missed or misinterpreted.
Guidance is Good
Get your teacher to help design your practice. Bring your journal to training, ask questions. I like to leave my students with a practice prescription after a training session so they know what to focus on in the coming weeks.
There are many rabbit holes and dead ends in this type of training. Anyone that can help you avoid them is a useful asset.