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The Importance of Note Taking in Internal Martial Arts

The Importance of Note Taking in Internal Martial Arts


by IAI Ba Gua Zhang Instructor Jonathan Breshin


From the first seminar I ever attended with NYIA, I was encouraged to take notes in class or directly after class. This seems like a no brainer and obvious thing to do, but most students just don’t do it (I’m guilty of being one of them).

Why is note taking so important? For one, there’s no way you’re going to remember everything you learn in a given class. There’s just too much at play and too much information passed to memorize it all.

Each class is filled with new information, discoveries and nuances, and once it’s over, you may never hear concepts and ideas presented by the instructors in the same way ever again.

Also, my teacher, and founder of New York Internal Arts and Internal Arts International, internationally recognized martial artist and Chinese medicine practitioner and scholar, Tom Bisio, has always pointed out, the mere act of writing things down can help you to retain the information; even if you never look at it again. There’s an exchange that happens when pen meets paper, and it can mean the difference between retention and loss of information.

Also, there are personal discoveries that you might make in a given training session, and if they’re not recorded on paper, you may have to relearn those discoveries, or worse yet, lose them forever.

I’ve personally forgotten to take notes for long stretches of time and can tell you first hand I’m regretful of it. There’s no doubt there have been several steps in my training that I’ve had to relearn over and over because I was too distracted (or lazy) to jot them down.

I’ve been in class before when I’ve heard something that resonated so deeply with me, but then I got distracted soon after (probably by a correction) and the original impact was lost. It’s a true shame and complete waste of time.

I’ve never seen anyone more disciplined at note taking than our brother Reggie Halley. Reggie’s been training with NYIA for over 25yrs, and every class I’ve ever been in with him (up to present day) – and even private/personal training sessions – he’d be there jotting down notes from discoveries and insights made and/or referencing back to see old discoveries.

I’ve always been in awe of Reggies note taking. I’m certain he’s got bookshelves at home stacked with his notes of discoveries, techniques, quotes and thoughts. And it shows in his grasp, understanding and demonstration of the arts.

These practices can also be extremely challenging to describe and articulate to others who have no experience. The simple act of note taking I believe helps us to find ways of articulating, even if only to ourselves, the complexities and deep nature of these wonderful arts.

Not only does cataloging our discoveries and practice help us with everything mentioned above, it’s also incredibly gratifying to look back at your notes from years past as a way to acknowledge your own progress.

I generally feel inadequate in my abilities and am always looking at what I’m trying to improve and what I’m not good at. It can be hard for me to give myself credit or a pat on the back. The only times I’ve felt halfway decent about my progress is when looking back at notes from years ago and seeing what I used to struggle with.

It can also be entertaining to read your old notes. My first notebook is mostly filled (almost EVERY PAGE!) with ‘sit the kua and relax my shoulders’ from all of the different instructors telling me in each and every class. I can clearly recall Reggie telling me to “drop your shoulders” while running through Lao Ba Zhang early on in my training.

I’ve also found that taking notes after class forces me to mentally review the training session which offers another perspective on the material. I may not remember everything I intend to write down, but it’s almost like I get a little extra training in.

I hope we can all learn from our school brother, senior instructor and good friend Reggie Haley. Don’t take the training sessions for granted, no matter what stage in your development, there’s always something to jot down.


Jonathan teaches weekly classes and private lessons in Qi Gong and Ba Gua Zhang in NYC. Contact Jonathan at: