_Asking Miss Li a question was always a tricky thing. It was about timing. If you didn’t ask the right question (at the right time for you) you’d be just told “Go away and practice”. Her method here was straightforward. If you didn’t understand something then you wouldn’t understand the answer. If you didn’t understand the answer then what’s the point of asking the question! The trick of course was to ask the right question at the right time. Sometimes gauging the right time to ask was more luck than judgement.
During my time training as an instructor with Rose Li, I was allowed to sit in as many classes as I could. After one of these classes a good friend of mine asked me to do something for him. I’d a lot of respect for him; his Tai chi was exceptional (much better than mine!) but he was modest enough not to accept or want the complement. He was one of the very few people who I’d say, from looking at his practice, that he knew what he was doing. He’d gotten what ‘the System’ was all about. He was also the only other person I’d known that’d been given the OK from Miss Li to go off and teach. I’d understood that he was doing some Tai Chi teaching at Dr Van Buren’s Chinese medical school in East Grinstead. As an aside – there’re a lot of people out there saying that they’ve learnt from Rose Li but if they’re teaching, the simplest thing is to do is ask them for physical proof that they’ve permission from the Old Lady herself to do so.
Anyway, as we were walking down the street from 7 the Grove, towards Finsbury Park station, he asked me a rather curious favour. Maurice, he said, you know the form ‘grip one, grip two’? Yes, I replied. Well, he added, it’s driving me crazy. I’ve asked her a dozen times how to do it and she seems to do something different every time! I think she’s either going deaf or that she just doesn’t understand my English! Could you ask her, he pleaded, I’m too nervous to go back and ask the same question again. Ok, I said.
The next time I saw Miss Li I asked her straight up how to do ‘grip one, grip two’. She laughed, and with a very visible twinkle in her eye, she got up out of her chair and said “Like this….OR….like this…..OR like this….”. In each case the form was slightly different but the way she was doing it was the same!
This was a real fundamental lesson. The ‘System’ was more about key principles rather than rote learning of form patterns. Ok, the form gave you some insight into how the movement should be done but in essence, it didn’t really matter. What was prescriptive wasn’t the form but the principles that underlay how you did the form. Totally mind-blowing!