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What is drilling?
When a teacher tells a student to drill something, they mean that a form, exercise or partnered drill must be practiced until told to stop. This could be 5 minutes or perhaps 30 minutes.
It depended entirely upon how much practice was required that day.
'Drilling' entails the repetition of a single aspect of the syllabus. One repetition is not drilling. It needs to be at least 5-10 times. Unless you have mastered a skill, drilling is necessary.
Sifu Waller feels that 5-10 repetitions of a given qigong exercise is usually adequate. The maximum recommended number of repetitions would be 20.
He did each single thing as if he did nothing else.
Traditionally, a 'form' can be repeated up to 3 times. However, if you are learning a new movement, this should be drilled as many times as necessary until the pattern is instilled and familiar.
Solo drilling is vital. It trains muscle memory and ultimately becomes hard to forget. The aim is to drill until you no longer have to even think about the movements.
This sort of training also builds up strength.
One major advantage of consistent on-going home practice is the cultivation of muscle memory. Rather than having to recall every movement, the exponent's body knows where to go and what to do.
This is the first step in moving in a tai chi way... What's the catch? To accomplish this, frequent, mindful practice is needed. There's no other way to attain this skill.
The more often your body performs tai chi movements, the more likely it is to remember them automatically.
High repetition of qigong and tai chi movements results in muscle memory. The muscles are familiar with how and where to move and the brain directs the action.
It will feel as though they moved by themselves. This is essentially no different to what happens when you drive a bicycle or a car.
However, with tai chi you are learning long, complex sequences of movements/combat drills/applications, so the challenge is greater and more diverse. The advantage of muscle memory is habit.
You do not have to think as much. You can become immersed in the event itself.
For partner drills such as 'pushing hands', students should aim to commit at least 5-15 minutes of class time drilling a single exercise.
You may change partners but you should refrain from moving onto a new drill prematurely.
Continual, mindful practice of a single drill encourages the mind to think less, and the body to learn the sequence and the appropriate sensitivity skills.
Cursory practice, lasting only a minute or so, is essentially pointless.
Shuai jiao, chin na and form applications should be drilled at least 10 times each.
With 'shuai jiao', it is not necessary to go to the floor every time but some of the examples should involve greater commitment, otherwise the application is not realistic.
Older/less flexible students should avoid going to the floor too vigorously or frequently.
Combat drills such as 'san sau' require a large amount of drilling, both solo and partnered.
In order to instil instinctive responses, aim to commit a good 10-20 minutes each time to drilling a single combat set thoroughly. Change partners regularly to encourage greater versatility.
For the distracted student, drilling may seems utterly boring at first.
However, one facet of any Zen-related discipline is the repetition of a form or pattern; the accurate reproduction of a deliberate sequence of actions. The aim of this practice is to lose the sense of self.
No thinking, no worrying, planning or anxiety. Just being. After a while, boredom will pass and you will simply feel the movement, not yourself. This is progress.
This is a good sign. Sore joints is not a good sign and indicates that you are using the joints too much or maybe stretching too much.
We have dozens of drilling challenges in the syllabus to ensure that students gains the necessary amount of practice. Some are just 30 mins a night for 4 weeks.
The longest is 2 hours a night for 48 weeks.
Careless drilling is fruitless. It is not necessary to drill many items in succession. Be concerned only with what you are doing right now. If this means that you don't get to work on other material, fine. Accept this. Drill mindfully, consciously and you will slowly improve.
Only careful, sensitive and skilful effort can achieve enduring results.
18 March 1997
Last updated 16 June 2023