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Video as a Training Tool

You have to occasionally videotape yourself doing forms. When I'm practicing Tai Chi, in my mind I'm positive that I look like Chen Xiaowang. When I videotape myself and watch it, I more closely resemble Harpo Marx.

Video is an amazing tool. Imagine the treasure we would have if someone had videotaped Chen Fake or other great masters? Imagine being able to break down their movements, watch in slow motion, frame by frame, and freeze the video at certain points to examine body positioning?

We've all heard the old stories of a master demonstrating a form one time to a student, then saying, "I'll be back in one year." The student was expected to learn the form by that time. Naturally, that was probably impossible even a hundred years ago, when the attention span was a little greater.

Now, we have the ability to watch great masters on tape and DVD and study them--masters such as Chen Xiaowang, Chen Xiaoxing, and up-and-coming masters such as Chen Bing. This would be virtually impossible before the VCR and camcorder were invented.

But watching and studying great masters isn't enough. You need to have someone videotape your form, then carefully examine your posture and body mechanics and be honest with yourself.

A couple of posts ago, I mentioned the class in which my teacher noticed that I had lost peng during a movement, and I wondered how he could tell. That teacher was Jim Criscimagna in Rockford. I learned many great principles in his classes. One night, he told the class, "Almost all of you are carrying your chi in your chest." He explained what that meant, that our weight wasn't sunk, our root wasn't solid as we moved. It was an enlightening comment. No one had ever said that to me before. Now, I see almost all new (and even some experienced) students carrying their chi in their chest. And occasionally, I catch myself doing it.

When I'm practicing, and even when I'm teaching, I'm monitoring myself and I'm usually my own biggest critic. I can feel when peng leaves my movement. I can feel when I'm not sinking my energy. All the things that teachers like Jim have told me go through my mind.

But it's when I videotape myself and watch that I get the best insight into how I'm really doing, because I can see it from a distance, and sometimes I think it looks pretty good, but a LOT of times it makes me realize just how much practicing and how much more instruction I need. One thing that video can't duplicate is hands-on correction. We all need that.

As Jim and others have said, we're all capable of self-delusion. Use videotape to burst your little bubble and see if you're really putting the principles of Tai Chi into your form. Then go see a teacher.


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Chris Miller

Well said, it's definitely a third point of view that is hard to discount.



I remember this very class. I also recall seeing myself on video several times and thinking to myself how sloppy I looked. It can be an extremely useful tool to help monitor your progress. It's the next best thing to using a mirror while you're training. :)



Here's why I don't use video: I'm not yet to the stage where I'm willing to give up a "before" image. (And "after" is a long way off.) The last three years have been dedicated to (largely) intense preparation for my 3rd dan test, which should come in August '07. I'm nowhere near the martial artist I'd planned to be, in spite of a lot of hard work. And I don't want to see just how much I have to do in the next five months. Argh!!

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