Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Slow work produces fine goods

In his book "Uncovering the Treasure", Master Stephen Hwa states on page 105:

"It is amazing that Masters of the past could have such insight that slow and seemingly soft movements could be an ideal tool to train a person to deliver exceptional power."  Speaking of Classical Tai Chi and not Tai Chi that relies on external movement of the limbs which constitutes 99% of what is practiced today, he continues by saying: "What they discovered was that the slow movements with internal discipline trained a person in every little detail of fajin moves. After a person repeated the moves a thousand times, it becomes part of him and is available to use any moment he wishes at any power or speed".

 Some very rare video has appeared on the Internet of the legendary golf professional, Ben Hogan.  Video after video and with accompanying audio one hears him advocating and demonstrating slow motion golf swings and in this video at a certain point we even hear him mentioning the words "Tai Chi".  In his book "Slow Practice Will Get You There Faster", Ernest Dras, states that Ben Hogan practiced slow motion drills thousands of times in front of mirrors and advocated it to beginning golfers. It is said that Sugar Ray Leonard who had incredible speed, utilized slow motion training to maintain perfect form. I'm reasonably sure as well that a search will reveal many other top athletes who utilize slowness in their training drills.  The purpose being to make their movements perfect.

In his book "Long strokes in a Short Season", the swimming coach Art Aungst talks of his own studies in Tai Chi.  He states: "Tai Chi incorporates slow speed patterning of perfect movement through 360 degrees of body rotation, stressing balance and core body movement. My teacher demands that each basic movement be perfected before moving on to the next one.  My understanding of the thought behind it is that the neural pathways are "grooved" so that in a true performance situation, there is no conscious thought to interfere with the speed of perfect movement."  He even quotes from the Tai Chi Treatise:  "The outer  academies use clumsy external strength, so that the beginning and end are broken, the opponent thus has a chance to attack...from the beginning to end, Tai Chi is continuous, without interruptions, like an endless circle". This statement about "neural pathways are grooved" is also used  by Eric J. Horst in his book about mountain climbing called "Maximum Climbing".

The concept of "neural grooving" is to be found in book after book from the psychology of learning to many anatomical texts. I suppose if one had to use an analogy to describe what happens it might be one of a giant steel ball  resting on top of a sand dune.  Each time we give it a slight push it rolls down and creates a groove, moving ever slowly because of its size.  Then we keep repeating the process from the top of the dune,  gently starting it to roll, over and over and over again.  Because it has formed an initial groove, it will subsequently be easier to continue rolling it.  The key concept however, it to do it as Master Hwa has stated, Ben Hogan advocates and probably many athletic coaches  urge:  Do it thousands of times, do it slowly, do not stop practicing... for the least amounts of "grooving" will produce small and weak tracks,  doing it slowly and frequently will make big,  strong neural paths and give us a fine product.

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