Thursday, October 16, 2014

Your Talk Reveals Your Walk

Taiji is about relaxing, about how to use your opponent's force against him. Because you are using minimum force during pushing hands, your arms shouldn't get tired. Instead, your arms get tired when you are using force to resist. My arms used to get tired in my beginning years of pushing hands, because I still have not learnt how not to resist. But over the years, I have learnt that the more your opponent tries to use force, the more you should try to relax. When he uses force, he tires himself out, he starts panting. By staying relaxed, you conserve energy.

So when my fellow student was talking about how he easily tires when he practises with another student (who is new and uses a lot of brute force), it is a revelation that he is still not able to relax when faced with force. He is still resisting.

Being relaxed doesn't mean giving space to your opponent. In fact, by being relaxed, all the more your opponent won't be able to come in. But it is human nature to push back when pushed. That is instinct. We train because we want to change that. We need to train long and hard to change that instinctive reaction.

And so I continue to walk this path.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Don't Copy The Master

Yet another inkling from my experience with calligraphy.

I am preparing a piece for a calligraphy exhibition. My calligraphy teacher got a fellow master to write an example for me as a reference for my practice. I have been trying to imitate that master's example during my practices.

My calligraphy teacher told me I should not try to emulate the master. Because my technique is not there yet, so when I try to emulate the master, instead of looking good, it looks wrong. Instead, I should write each word properly.

It reminded me of my taiji learning journey. When I first started out, I was learning Chen style taiji, and I tried to emulate my teacher's movements. But instead of looking like a taiji master, I looked very unnatural. I was getting it all wrong. My teacher told me not to try too hard to emulate his movements, but rather to focus on getting the movements right first. Make sure they conform to the principles of taiji, and eventually, the flavour will come in.

Work on the basics, get them right. Eventually the flavour will come in. Trying to emulate the styles of others when you are not there yet only makes you look unnatural and thus wrong. It takes time to master an art. There is no shortcut.

Back to practice.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Practise A Lot, And Keep Practising!

Constant practice is need for you to improve.

But constant practice is not enough.

You also need to practise a lot each time you practise.

I drew this link between calligraphy and taiji before, and I now draw this link again.

Recently, to prepare for a calligraphy exhibition, I have been practising calligraphy a lot. A lot more than what I used to do. Plus I practised almost everyday (only skipped one day out of the week). The end product was something very much different from what I started out with. I improved. A lot. Within one week.

Thinking back, this is similar to my experience with taiji. I improve through constant practice. But when I practised more each time, the improvement was significantly more. I could sense progress, instead of taking months to realise that I have improved.

So don't just keep practising, but practise more each time too!

Friday, September 12, 2014

Respect Revisited

Yesterday, only two students turned up for class. Myself, and another student (who usually fetches my teacher to class).

Rain or shine, my teacher turns up for class.

But I can't say the same about his students.

It is not about money. It is about respect. Respect for the teacher that took his time and effort to teach the class. Respect for fellow students who look forward to learning together with you. Even if you don't respect yourself, you should respect the people waiting for you, wondering what happened to you.

Saturday, September 06, 2014

Taiji And Pushing Hands Go Hand-In-Hand

I had the chance to push hands with someone who has been learning taiji for a very long time. But he does not practise pushing hands. While you can see his strong foundation from his taiji movements, the moment our hands touched, I knew that he was not able to fully relax.

Yes, taiji practice is very important. It is the foundation and it is eventually what taiji is about. But if you don't push hands, you will never know if you are truly able to relax, to truly be able to apply the principles of taiji.

So practise both your taiji routines and pushing hands, because they go hand-in-hand. You can never apply taiji without practising both.

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Consistently Wrong

Consistency comes from practice. And when you keep practising the wrong thing, you will always be wrong.

I have been consistently wrong in one of my movements, moving my hand too high. My teacher pointed that out the other day, and I have been making effort to correct it.

It is a lot of effort. Because every time my concentration slipped a bit, my hand goes back to the same height that it is so used to, because that was how I had been practising.

The practice has become habit, and now, I have to spend that much more effort to correct my mistake. And that's why it is so important to be correct in your practice. Because it takes a lot more effort to right a mistake.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Learning Pushing Hands in Singapore

My teacher, Master Kwek Lee Hwa, teaches both taiji and pushing hands. In his taiji classes, he does talk about taiji application and a bit of pushing hands too, but otherwise, he also has dedicated pushing hands classes that focus on that aspect of taiji practice.

There are many types of pushing hands, but Master Kwek teaches taiji pushing hands. It is for those interested in learning how to apply taiji, how to relax and use your opponent's force against him. Those interested in learning how to push others need not apply. You don't need to go to pushing hands class to learn how to push someone. A five-year-old can teach you that (at least, the one at my home can).

Details of his pushing hands classes are below:

Every Thursday night, 8:30pm to 10pm
Kreta Ayer CC, Level 2 Activity Room 4
(Kreta Ayer CC is between Chinatown MRT and Outram MRT stations.)

Every Sunday evening, 6pm to 7:30pm
Tampines Changkat CC, Level 1 Dance Studio

You can also get information on the classes from Master Kwek's facebook page.

Come join us! It takes years and years of practice to be able to relax and use your opponent's force against him. The road is not an easy one. But if you persevere, the rewards are there for you to reap! What is important is to have the right mindset towards learning pushing hands. The right mindset opens your mind to the lessons that pushing hands practice can give you, allowing you to gain more from each practice. The wrong mindset closes your mind, preventing you from learning anything from practice sessions.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Learning Self-Defence Is Not Easy

A topic came up about self-defence in the course of work. Well, my opinion is that it is not easy to learn self-defence. Self-defence is not something that you can learn at a workshop over a few days and expect to be able to apply it in the future when something happens.

I have been learning taiji for more than 9 years, pushing hands for almost that long. Yet I don't dare to say that I am confident that I will be able to use taiji to defend myself. Because pushing hands is not self-defence. Yes, it leads to it, but it is only a portion leading to it. There is also the need for pair practice, something which I don't do a lot of. And even then, this will be in a controlled environment. When facing a real attack, there are no rules. I can only hope I am able to remain calm and relaxed so that I can apply what I have learnt.

9 years of practice and I am still at this stage. What more can you expect from a short workshop? To be able to apply a skill takes constant practice. Even then, one can only hope that in the face of danger, one does not forget what one has been practising all these years.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Respect Your Opponent, Revisited

I am revisiting my thoughts, not because there is nothing new to learn, but rather because some things are important enough for me to want to constantly remind myself.

After the incident yesterday, when my opponent fell over and hit his head, I am reminded again on why I act the way I do when I practise pushing hands. My opponents are my training partners, and I treat them with respect. They help me to learn my weaknesses. They are not people to conquer, people to beat.

And that is why when I push hands, I try not to cause my opponent to fall. I just try to use his strength against him to upset his balance. My aim is to make him realise that it is his own force that is being used against him to cause him to lose his balance. It is sometimes difficult, because my opponent may lose his balance, regain his balance and come back even fiercer. Then it becomes a vicious cycle. Things may reach a stage in which his force is so strong that he may fall. I usually try to avoid that happening by letting him push me away to put an end to things and start afresh. But sometimes, his force may be too strong, too sudden, and when it is used back against him, I may not be able to control how much to return and cause his to fall.

When that happens, I feel bad. Because it means I still have not reached the stage when I can control the force that I return. It means I have some way to go. And I feel bad because I risked injuring my training partner.

I always remember what my teacher said. Don't push all the way, don't commit all your force, don't use 100%. Use 70%, leave 30% behind. When you do that, you are not just leaving your opponent a way out, you are leaving yourself a way out.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Playing Rough, Revisited

Something happened today that reminded me of another incident some time back.

My opponent was trying to grab my arm for a reverse arm lock. I followed his force instead and put my elbow against his chest, telling him that he should not use force, else his force can be used back against him. He tried it again, this time with the same result. He then told me that he can sweep away my elbow if I try to close in with it again. I told him that is a very dangerous thing to do because that force can be used back against him.

He tried. Even though I warned him not to.

He fell back felt and hit the back of his head against the floor. Fell like a log because he was using a lot of force and his whole body was stiff.

I felt bad because I wasn't able to control the amount of force that I used back against him, causing him to almost injure himself. But at the same time, I also tell myself that I had given him enough warning not to use force, not to try to win by brute strength.

Pushing hands is not about pushing your opponent. It is about learning to sense and use force. If we are so obsessed with pushing our opponent, we will never be able to relax and learn how to sense and use force.

Monday, August 04, 2014

Leaning Forward

What do you do when someone leans forward to push? Especially if he adopts a long and low stance, like in this video below?

If my opponent adopts a long and low stance when leaning forward to push, it means that it is difficult for him to fall forward. If he is going to fall forward, all he needs is to use his front leg to push himself back up and he will regain his balance.

And that is the key.

When he leans forward to push, relax and he will lose his balance. He will fall forward. If he then tries to right himself, then you should follow through by helping him. When he uses his front leg to push himself back to right himself, add a bit of force to help him, and he will fall back instead. That is how to use his force against him. His force pushing forward to make him fall forward, and his force to right himself to make him fall backwards. Don't resist, but follow him instead. 捨己从人,不丢不顶。

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Enjoying Practice

I aim to take at least 30 minutes to finish a set of Yang Style 108. In the past, I tried to practise as slowly as I can, and it felt slow. I knew I was deliberately trying to drag things out.

But recently, I tried something else. I just aimed to stay relaxed during the entire set. My mind was on staying relaxed, on linking my legs to my upper body so that I use the force generated by my legs to move the upper body instead of my muscular strength.

The practice didn't feel slow. In fact, it was an enjoyable pace. And I easily took more than 30 minutes to complete the set.

I will be trying this with Chen Style and Sun Style too, just to see how it affects my practice.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

It's The Basics That Are Important

I keep hearing this from my teacher, and it is also something that Matsuda Ryuchi (松田隆智) writes about. There may be many forms in a style, but it is the most basic that is most important. Because most of the time, that basic set embodies all the important things in that style. It is the essence of that style. It may be a few moves, but if you get it right, it is all you need.

My teacher teaches a way to practise 揽雀尾 in a never-ending manner as a warm-up and basic exercise for 杨氏太极拳, because this single move has 4 out of taiji's 8 forces.

Matsuda-sensei likes to stress the importance of 八极小架, and studies the variations amongst the various schools since it is the essence of 八极拳.

There is 四把 and 六大开 in 心意六合拳, 10 basic moves that forms the style's essence.

Similarly, 形意拳 has 五行拳, just 5 different moves but they form the core of 形意拳.

So as we practise the various forms, we must not forget that it is the basics that are important. Forms are just a way for us to string the practice of those basics together.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Inkling: Action Reaction

Just an inkling about force in taiji. How does one generate a large amount of force while staying relaxed? After all, we are used to generating force with our muscles. So how do we generate force without using those muscles?

I am still trying to figure it out, but I think it has to do with action reaction. Your weight sinking down into the ground when you relax your body is an action that generates a reaction. The action force is downwards, but we use our body to direct the reaction force towards the direction that we want.

Something like that.

So we are actually using nature's force (aka gravity) when we relax and push. A force that is much larger than whatever our muscles can generate.

Thursday, July 03, 2014

Be Reactive, Not Proactive

A key principle of taiji is to follow the intention of your opponent (舍己从人), ie. to be reactive. I think it is linked to something that I wrote about before. When there is intention, when you deliberately want to do something, your force will take shape. And when that force takes shape, it can be sensed, and it can be used against you.

And that is why it is important to be reactive. When your opponent's intention forms, his force takes shape. Sense that force, and react to it. Use it back against him. React to how he moves (or not move).

For example, if all you are thinking is about how to push your opponent (or to use roll back and draw in your opponent), that intention actually will take form. Instead of being able to push (or draw in) your opponent, your opponent now has an opportunity to sense your force and use it against you, if he remains relax. The key, thus, is to remain in that relaxed state, between want and don't want. React to what he wants to do by stopping him in his tracks and turning his force back against him.

So don't try out new moves deliberately. Try them when opportunity presents itself. Such as when your opponent moves in such a way that you can use this new move you just learnt. To do otherwise is to become proactive, to let your intention take shape, to let your opponent use your own move against you. It is the road to defeat.

Wednesday, July 02, 2014

The Passing of Matsuda Ryuchi (松田隆智)

I just found out that Matsuda Ryuchi (松田隆智) passed away in July last year. What a shock. He is not just a martial artist practising various forms of Chinese and Japanese martial arts, but also delves deep into researching these martial arts and their principles. He has written quite a number of books based on his research, and is also known for his martial arts comic series Kenji (拳兒).

His knowledge will live on through his works and the students that he had taught in the past.

Some videos on Youtube:

Monday, June 02, 2014

Taiji Is Personal

Taiji is a very personal thing. Each of us experience taiji in our own ways, and while a good teacher is able to point you in the right direction, it is still up to the student to put those teachings into practice and experience for himself what it really means.

Without practice, there is no experience. Without experience, there is no understanding. Without understanding, there is no improvement.

It all starts with practice.

And then it is about understanding what you are experiencing. About linking up what you experience with the principles of taiji, link it up with what you have been taught, what you have been told. You put your understanding into practice, and from there gain new insights. It is continuous learning, as you continue to improve yourself.

No one can teach you what it means to relax. You have to experience it for yourself.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Inkling: Panting Means Over-Exerting

If you ever end up panting while pushing hands, it means you are using too much strength. It means you are not relaxing. It means you are over-exerting yourself.

Stay relaxed, and even if things move fast, you will still be able to react to it with minimal force. Stay calm, and things will become clearer. And then you will be able to see just what you need to do in order to counter your opponent's moves.

I have came out of pushing hands sessions panting before. Now I know it was wrong. I was trying too hard not to be pushed, I was trying too hard to push back. When I stay calm, I can instead sense what my opponent is trying to do, and move accordingly to counter it with minimal force. And I can thus come out of the same session without panting anymore.

So if you realise that you are panting during pushing hands, it means you need to relax more.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Moving Into Another Stage

My teacher noted that I am able to relax my kua some of the time. Not all the time, but some of the time. Which is in itself an improvement already. I am thus at the stage in which I know what is relaxing my kua and I am able to do it. But I have not reached the stage in which I can consistently do it, and it will be a long way more before I can subconsciously do it.

Still, it is good to know that I have made headway and am on the right path.

Time for even more practice, so that I can consistently relax my kua.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Pushing Hands Classes In Singapore

Master Kwek Lee Hwa teaches pushing hands classes at community centres in Singapore. Those interested can come and join the classes, which are usually reasonably priced because they are regulated by the community centres.

Every Thursday night, 8:30pm to 10pm
Kreta Ayer CC, Level 2 Activity Room 4
(Kreta Ayer CC is between Chinatown MRT and Outram MRT stations.)

Every Sunday evening, 6pm to 7:30pm
Tampines Changkat CC, Level 1 Dance Studio

You can also get information on the classes from Master Kwek's facebook page.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Inkling: Keep Moving, Don't Stop

One of the principles of taiji is to keep moving. Each movement is supposed to flow into the other. I think I have an idea of what that means. It is like the taiji circle, yin flows into yang, yang flows into yin, there is no end, the end of yin is the start of yang, the end of yang is the start of yin. Just like the end of a peng (ward off) could well be the start of ji (squeeze), the end of ji is then the start of lu (roll back), the end of lu is then the start of peng, and so on. Each movement flows into the other, there is no end.

Something that came up during pushing hands, but which sparked me into thinking about something that my teacher was telling me. He told me that my movements have breaks in them, and I didn't understand before. I thought my movements did not stop, I always kept moving when I am practising. Now I think I know what he meant. He is not talking about the physical movements, but rather the intent of those movements. They need to flow from one to the other. This is something that I will keep in mind for my practices.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Inkling: Absorbing His Force

An inkling while pushing hands. At the point of contact, I felt my opponent's force. I imagined myself relaxing the point of contact, and then absorbing his force, drawing his force down through my arm and down into my kua. And then I shifted my weight forward towards him, pushing at him slightly and lightly. He bounced back a few steps.

My teacher keeps telling me about relaxing and then pushing back slightly and lightly. I guess the part about relaxing is not just about relaxing my body, but also about relaxing to absorb my opponent's force. Something to think about and work on.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Inkling: Taiji is About Change

The concept of taiji, about yin and yang, is about change. It is about continuous change, it is about cycles. One state flowing into the next, ever changing. And thus it is a fitting name for a martial arts in which one of the principles is about not being stiff. For in order not to be stiff, we have to keep moving, we have to keep changing.

Thursday, April 03, 2014

Stages in Learning to Relax

As we practise our routines, we learn to relax, but it starts with conscious effort.

First, we need to learn the movements. Get the movements right.

Then, consciously try to use less strength in moving when trying to achieve each movement. At this stage, you are still moving your body in individual parts using muscle strength, just that you are trying to use less muscle strength to achieve the same movement.

The next stage is to try to move your body as a whole to achieve that same movement. This part is about linking your legs to your arms, so that you use the force generated by your legs to move the rest of your body, by relaxing your joints. It is still conscious effort to move your body as a whole using the force generated from the legs. And this is the stage in which you need lots of practice, to make it second nature.

And once it becomes second nature, you will then reach a stage in which, by thinking about the movement, your body will respond automatically to achieve the movement. This is when you are able to use intention to move your body.

For me, it is back to practice...

Friday, March 28, 2014

Recent Training Routine

My recent training routine starts with 15 minutes of warm-up.
原地走 (walking on the spot, to loosen up the body)
转脚 (ankle rotation)
转膝盖 (knee rotation)
伸屈膝盖 (bending of knees)
弯腰压腿 (hamstring stretch)
大鹏展翅 (raising of arms front and back)
转肩 (turning the shoulders)
伸手 (stretching out the hands)

I practise about 4 days each week.

Day 1:
1 set of Sun style taijiquan
2 sets of Yang/Dong style fast form
1.5 hours of pushing hands

Day 2:
10 sets of opening 起势
1 set of Yang style taijiquan

Day 3:
3 sets of Yang style taijidao
3 sets of Yang style taijijian
3 sets of Chen style taijijian
1 set of Yang/Chen/Sun style taijiquan

Day 4:
1 set of Chen style taijiquan
1.5 hours of pushing hands

Will probably expand the warm-up to daily if I can. At least on those days in which I don't really practise, doing a bit of warm-up exercises before going to work seems like a good idea.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Relaxing Is Not Letting Go

Staying relaxed is a taiji fundamental. Yet it is not the same as letting go. It does not mean going limp. Even when relaxed, one must maintain the "balloon". It is not the same as dropping the balloon. You relax in order to maintain the balloon, so that when people press in, they bounce back. If you drop the balloon, then when people press in, they reach you instead.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Inkling: Some Thoughts on Taiji, Consolidated Into Simple Phrases

Relaxed but not letting go.
Slow but not stiff.
Fast but not disorganised.
Light but not limp.

Sunday, March 09, 2014

Force as a Concept in Taiji

The word force (劲) is often used in taiji, such as when we talk about the eight forces of taiji such as peng (棚) and cai (采). This Chinese character for the concept of force in taiji is used to differentiate it from what we understand as force in our normal sense of the word. But what we need to understand is that the concept of force in taiji is not what we normally understand by the word force. We understand force as something physical that is used to move an object. That is not what the word "force" in taiji means. It is a concept used to understand the physical manifestation of a state of mind in taiji.

The biggest clue to us that the concept of "force" in taiji does not refer to physical force comes from the phrase 用意不用力, which means to use mental intention, not physical force. This is what taiji is about: using the mind. Our actions are actually the physical manifestation of what our mind is thinking about. The mind leads and the body follows. So in taiji, the focus is not on the physical but on the mental state of the mind. The use of the word "force" is to explain a concept, something that starts in the mind but comes to manifest itself in the physical.

Friday, March 07, 2014

Inkling: Relax and Change Direction of Force

I still haven't really figured it out yet. But I think relaxing has something to do with changing the direction of your opponent's force. Somehow, when you relax, his direction of force is reversed, and you are thus able to return his force towards him and use it against him.

Such as when he tries to pull you towards him, by relaxing, you change his force, and can make him fall forward instead. Or when he is pushing towards you, by relaxing, you change his force and bounce him backwards.

I will need more experience and pondering to figure this out, but that is the basic idea as of now.

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

Learning to Push

You don't need to learn how to use brute strength to push. Even a baby knows that. A 5 year old (like my son) knows that. We are all brought up learning how to use brute force.

So coming to pushing hands class, trying to learn how to push, and continuing to use brute strength... that is a waste of time. There is nothing new to learn here. These are all things that we have learnt as kids and gotten better at over the years.

The value of pushing hands class is in learning where we are still unable to relax. Because when someone is able to push us, it means we still have some place or point in time in which we are unable to relax. Realising that, and then working to relax that place/point, is why we actually push hands.

Everyone can push. But not everyone knows how to relax.