I’ve been learning to walk and it’s hard. Really hard. In fact it’s probably one of the hardest things I’ve done in an awfully long time. The reason I’ve been relearning to walk is that I changed my shoes. Instead of having the usual grown-up shoes or trainers the same as everybody else I’ve moved into barefoot shoes and it’s been a real learning experience.
I’ve had foot pain for rather too long now and the doctor suggested I was suffering from plantar fasciitis to which the solution was a series of foot-stretching exercises and supports in my shoes. The stretching didn’t really make sense to me and the idea of living with supports just didn’t sit right either. Supports shouldn’t be a permanent solution but there wasn’t any prospect of them ever going away. Stretches and supports weren’t going to be a long term solution, not for me.
My feet always felt fine when I was doing form but for general walking I was a bit of a mess. It was really strange and made no sense. I didn’t understand why my feet were fine with form but not with anything else. I just couldn’t figure it out.
Poking around on the internet I stumbled across an excellent site called Why Things Hurt ( http://whythingshurt.com ), specifically this page: http://whythingshurt.com/blog/post/22/Shoes-good-support-or-coffins-for-your-feet. Looking through the site it appeared that when I was doing form I was being very careful and gentle with my foot placement whereas when I was generally walking I was banging down with my heel rather more than I should be, at least that was my interpretation of what was going on. In my defence it’s not entirely my fault it’s a product of walking with shoes that have heels on and taking longer strides than I really should. The more I read the more sense the site made and it appeared that everything I thought I knew about walking was wrong.
Investigating my little foot problem sent me down the barefoot shoe route and it’s been an experience. It took about two months to get close to something approaching normal walking. During this period each step felt like my whole skeleton was readjusting itself and I was constantly hurting my feet ( due to my stride length being too long ) and I still haven’t figured out running yet. I think I need to get a proper handle on walking first. Never has the phrase “walk before you run” been truer.
I could have given up and reverted back up my “sensible” shoes and insteps. I didn’t. In fact I’ve only worn my sensible shoes once during the whole transition period and it was a truly horrible experience. Having committed to the barefoot lifestyle there’s no going back now. It’s a bit like Tai Chi. Tai Chi isn’t exactly easy and far too many people come along without appreciating the commitment involved in learning a new skill.
Back when I began the whole Tai Chi thing I couldn’t wait to get started, I just woke up one morning and knew it was something I wanted to do. I have no idea how I had come to that conclusion but I had and despite some difficulty finding my initial class I never looked back. I think I’d caught a segment on Pebble Mill at One or something and the idea must have germinated for a few months before budding into life in a moment of awakening but I’m really not sure.
I took to the class enthusiastically and thoroughly enjoyed the learning process. At home I used to practice in the lounge with the light off, the blinds open and the streetlights providing the illumination. I loved it. I would have done this every day if I could. I only started to get frustrated because I saw other members of the club doing beautiful sword forms while our group was being constantly corrected for weeks on end on the minutia of hand placement. We’d be corrected one way one week and back again the following, it all seemed a bit pointless – three millimetres does not a difference make.
When I transitioned to the Wudang style my head exploded. There was so much more to the form than I had ever known, it was so much more complicated than the Yang forms I had learnt and there was pushing hands too. The pushing hands drills confused me no-end and I distinctly remembering at the time just how difficult everything was and I was never going to forget how hard it all was. I still loved Tai Chi and that passion to learn kept me going. Thing is, over time I did forget how hard the learning process was. I really can’t remember how hard it was to learn the form or the pushing hands drills because they’re pretty much second nature to me now. I remember that I wasn’t going to forget how hard things were but I have forgotten how hard things were, I just remember knowing I wasn’t going to forget, so something stuck.
There’s a definite learning curve to Tai Chi. It never stops. Ever. Whatever level you’re at there’s always something else to learn. Depths to moves that you hadn’t previously recognised. Stepping that might be wrong, balance changes, locks, breaks, whatever you think of, it can probably be changed and improved or questioned. Tai Chi is very different from anything else you’re ever likely to do. It’s slow pace is unlike anything else out there but it’s also bright and active with the pushing hands routines and the applications bringing the form to life. There’s an awful lot to the art and it’s an ongoing learning experience.
Now, the reason I mention this learning curve is that I really don’t know what people expect when they come to a class but they don’t seem to expect things to be difficult. For some reason they think that because little old ladies do Tai Chi in the park it must be easy. As soon as they realise how much their legs hurt from simply standing for a while, or how confusing it is trying to move an arm and a leg at the same time, or they start to realise the depth of commitment this Tai Chi stuff takes, they pretty much make their excuses and leave. Tai Chi isn’t just something that needs to be done for an hour a week in class, it needs to be taken home and practiced. Re-learning to walk was incredibly hard and I was doing that constantly for months and Tai Chi is the same, like any life skill it takes commitment and dedication to get anything out of it.