When is feedback a gift?
If I got a pound for every time I hear the cliché feedback is a gift, I'd be rich. However you want to put it, feedback does help you grow and develop. We all like to think we're on the right path, but in truth, we actually need a bit of help. There are many things you cannot see and we have to be honest about our progress.
Feedback comes in many forms. From the very casual to something at a higher level. A nice short compliment might give you a boost when it comes to a bit of validation. But how much value does that compliment hold? Was it given in a sincere manner or were they just being polite. Also importantly, how much do they know about what I'm doing. And do they actually care? Then again, do you respect their opinions?
In your Taiji Journey, you will encounter many people who will give you feedback. At each and every stage, there is something you can and should take away. Whether they be your juniors, peers, seniors, instructor level or something else. If you're honest, you will definitely appreciate feedback.
When I was still attending class and still trying to improve, my late teacher would require me to perform in front of the class one of the routines I will do at competitions. Everybody would have to give me a score and a short comment. It was no fun as I know who will give me harsh criticism. The classmates would generally be diplomatic with scores and comments, but these were not important to me. However, I take the comments of my seniors seriously, even if I didn't like what was said. It was for my own good. My teacher would give me three points to take away. I would spend the weekend working on improvements. Good medicine is seldom sweet. I improved over time and I didn't get any genuine compliments until the last years of class. A regular dash of humiliation keeps you humble and grounded. This is a common thing in Chinese martial arts. But isn't this a bit harsh? Well no, it is a form of compassion. You might ask how so? From the culture that gave you Daoism, Confucianism and popularised Buddhism, this doesn't sound like compassion. Well, compassion comes in many forms. In plain English, this is more like tough love. Given the hard truth, so you learn is far better than sweet words that don't push you to improve. You have got to learn it and earn it. You wouldn't get anywhere just memorising key points from books or being spoon fed. Those who are more experienced in the art can see how good you actually are. Your training doesn't lie. No amount of cute tricks and spin will cover up that fact.
Another way of feedback was to film myself perform my routines and watch those videos afterwards. This was about self-appraisal and it is important as I don't see what the audience sees and honesty matters. I was dreadful back then and no medals for me, because I didn't deserve them. These feedback methods don't suit everybody, but they were beneficial to me. It hurt, but it worked. At the end of the day, it's about what you do with the feedback. If you care about your progress, then you will find a way to learn and develop from feedback given. Taiji is a martial art and to grow in your art, you need to eat bitter. Some might ask whether this applies if you are doing Taiji in a non-martial way. I'll let you work that one out.
Be open about receiving feedback. Sometimes there is some truth in what is said. Thinking back to those earlier days. I valued that input and spent years improving on the basics. I knew if my foundation was weak, I can't progress. You might think you can impress with a few cute tricks, but your training doesn't lie. Arrogance is a barrier to learning. A friend of mine tried to give somebody feedback, but it was rudely brushed away. Don't be this kind of person. Nobody will give you feedback, because you're not open enough to accept change. Don't fall for the Dunning-Kruger effect, yet many do. Competitions are a great way to learn about your own abilities. Being good in your own class might be boost to you ego, but how good are you compared to others? I have competed in enough competitions to know that there are many competent martial artists out there. Underestimate the competition at your own peril.
Taiji is a very very broad art. Don't assume it is just about form routines, there are many ways and means. So there is no simple one way for everybody. Be careful as to who gives you feedback. Be mindful of the bullies, as they don't mean you well. And the middle managers of the art who like to tell you their way is the only way and only then is your Taiji considered Taiji. If learning Taiji is likened to climbing a mountain. Then consider that there are different paths that can lead you to the top. No teacher has the answer for everything.
So feedback can be a gift, but it depends on the giver and you as the recipient. At the end of the day, your training doesn't lie.
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