Monday, June 29, 2020

Using Chen Style as a Basic Exercise

One of the basic exercises my teacher uses is an unending string of Yang style's Grasp Sparrow Tail (拦雀尾). You just keep repeating the same move in all four directions, and you can keep practising it for as many repetitions as you want. It is a very good basic exercise since Grasp Sparrow Tail incorporates 掤 peng, 捋 lyu, 挤 ji, and 按 an.

I was thinking if I can do the same with Chen style, based on Lazily Tying Coat (懒扎衣). And I think I got it, it is basically a repetition of the first 4 moves.

1. Buddha's Warrior Attendant Pounds Mortar (金刚捣碓)
2. Lazily Tying Coat (懒扎衣)
3. Six Sealing and Four Closing (六封四闭)
4. Single Whip (单鞭)
5. Back to 1.

Each repetition of 1 to 4 will make you change your facing to another direction 90 degrees to the left of the previous repetition. Repeat four times, and you end back facing the same direction. Four repetitions form a set, and you can keep doing as many sets as you want. And like the unending repetitions of Grasp Sparrow Tail, this set allows practice that incorporates 掤 peng, 捋 lyu, 挤 ji, and 按 an. I will be incorporating this into my practice routine. I will also experiment with incorporating mirror image practice into this set so that it becomes more like the Grasp Sparrow Tail set (which is actually a set of 8 Grasp Sparrow Tail, 4 of which is the normal, the other 4 mirror images).

Saturday, May 23, 2020

The Meaning of the Standard Opening Move

The opening move of both Chen and Yang style taiji is a turn to the right, followed by a step to the left (in the direction of the "forward"). The turn to the right is to deflect a punch to the right, and the moving of the left leg is a trip followed by a kao. While the actual movements are slightly different between the two styles, their broad applications are the same, because Yang style derived from Chen style.

This opening move has a lot more meaning behind it. If you think about it, it is the first move in the routine. And it really deserves that spot, because it is meant to be a response to the most basic of attacks--the right hand lunge punch.

Most people are right-handed. And therefore, the average person, when attacking, will throw a right hand punch. And probably lunge forward with the right leg too. A right hand lunge punch. Therefore, in a street fight with the average person, the most common attack a person would face is the right hand lunge punch. Being able to counter this most common of attacks would mean you can deal with most of the people who comes against you.

And that is why the opening move of both Chen and Yang style taiji is a response to the right hand lunge punch. Deflect the punch to the right. If the opponent overreaches and loses balance, good. If not, he would probably pull back his punch, and his center of gravity, to regain balance. This reduces the weight he places on his front leg, and that is what your left leg is for. A sweep to trip his front leg. If his center of gravity is moving forward, and you sweep his front leg forward, he will topple back. But if he still manages to stand, that is when you shift your weight to the left leg to move your whole body toward him in a kao, which can be an elbow if his body is a bit further.

Deflect his punch to the right, sweep his front leg if he tries to move back, then kao if he continues to stand. This simple series of moves is basic but effective. Most people know how to apply this first set of moves, but I don't think many understand why it is placed at the very start of the routine. The first few moves are usually practised the most, and you probably want to put those that are most likely to be used up front.

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Unrelated to Taiji: Online Dojo Unites Kids During Pandemic

Online Dojo Unites Kids During Pandemic

More for archival purposes. Local kendo club got featured on NHK World for using Zoom to continue with practice.

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Inkling: The Point of Intention (Focus)

Intention (意) or focus is a critical part in taiji application. However, I think a common misconception is to place focus on the point of contact. While the point of contact is important, it is not what we want to achieve. Our intention, our focus, should be on the effect that we want to achieve. Which means it is directed at our opponent's centre of gravity.

On the surface, the point of contact is where our force seems to be acting. But if we focus on the point of contact, it becomes a point of contest. Contest between our force and that of our opponent. This then becomes resisting, a contest of brute force.

Instead, we want to focus our intention on our opponent's centre of gravity, the source of his force. We want to make our force act at the root of our opponent's force. So while the point of contact may be at the limbs, our force is directed toward our opponent's centre. We therefore need to be able to discern the direction of his force coming from that centre, avoid meeting it head on, and work on his centre from a different direction that will cause him to lose balance.

Monday, March 09, 2020

Martial Art, Martial Skill

Our present-day martial arts have their roots in martial skills of old, when people used to fight with their fists, swords, spears, and other such weapons. But what is the difference?

Here is what I think.

First, martial skills developed for a purpose: to maim or kill an opponent. Whether it was for self-defence in turbulent world, or for armies to win battles, the purpose is the same. And in order to do this, there is a need for both physical and mental training. Physical training to allow the body to execute the moves required to maim or kill. Mental training to hone the mind to be able to overcome fear, because in close combat, being in range to hit an opponent means one is also prone to being hit.

A side effect of physical training is it teaches the mind to overcome hardship, because physical training is tough, it is repetitive. It teaches the mind to focus on perfecting a move. Beyond overcoming fear, it hones to mind to be capable of working hard toward achieving a goal.

With the invention of guns and other long-range weapons, the need for close combat as part of daily life has shrunk significantly, so much so that it is near obsolescence. Yet the mental training part of martial skill training--overcoming fear, teaching focus and perseverance--is still as applicable today as centuries ago. And that is why martial skills came to be practised today, but not as a practical skill, but as an art to hone the mind.

The main difference is the purpose.

The purpose of martial skill is the death or injury of an opponent. Mental training is needed to allow the physical skill to be applied. The mental supports the physical.

The purpose of martial art is the training of one's mind. Physical training is used to train the mind, and a bonus is that the physical skill can be applied should the rare need arise. Here, the physical supports the mental.

Both physical and mental aspects are important. But more importantly, we need to keep in mind which is the main purpose, and which is the supporting role.

Wednesday, January 01, 2020

Tracking My Training for 2020

Continuing the practice in 2015, carried on till 2019, I have been tracking my training, and will also do so for 2020.

For 2019, I practised:
55 sets of Chen style Old Frame First Routine
55 sets of Yang style 108
92 sets of Sun style taijiquan
(total 202 sets of taijiquan in a year)

129 sets of Chen style taijijian
129 sets of Yang style taijijian
(total 258 sets of taijijian in a year)

215 sets of Yang style taijidao

And also many hours of basic exercises and single moves.

Total number of practice hours in 2019: 279.5 hours

Again, for 2019, I have not been keeping my training log... 😅
Guess it is really a goner.
But the amount of practice (in terms of hours) has increased slightly from 2018.
And I am looking forward to increasing the amount of practice in 2020!

Sunday, December 22, 2019

Reflex or Response

I think there are broadly two ways to train.

One is reflex. It is about muscle memory. The goal is to be able to react to a certain situation by reflex action. Such training entails repetition of a single set of motions over and over again, until the body is able to carry out the exact motions without thought. When a trigger occurs, the body goes through that same set of motions as a reflex action.

The advantage of such training is that it eliminates the need for thinking during application. The disadvantage is the need for a very very huge repertoire of "set pieces" in order to be able to handle different kinds of situations. And the more "set pieces" there are, there more time is needed to train, since it takes thousands, if not tens of thousands, of repetitions to hone such movements into reflex actions.

The other was is response. The goal is for the body to carry out the full response as commanded by thought. Such training entails training the body to respond to the brain, to train the brain to be able to fully control every single movement of every single body part. Time is spent on training the body to precisely execute the commands from the brain. The keyword here is precise. Thus, when a trigger occurs, the brain immediately analyzes the situation, then tell the body exactly how to respond to that trigger, and the body precisely carries out the response.

The advantage of such training is that it is not limited by one's repertoire. The brain can think of responses for situations which is has not trained for, and command the body to execute the responses. The disadvantage is the the brain is now involved, so there is a need to train the brain to think, by feeding it scenarios, allowing it to analyze those scenarios, and then forming a set of principles on how to react. There is also the time needed to train the body to be able to precisely execute each command the brain can give.

So which is the better way?

Personally, I think there is no way to compare, no way to judge. Different people have different preferences, and what works for me may not work for you. The common thing, though, is training. Both ways require a lot of training, and is only effective through a lot of training. It is often said that hard work will not betray you, and in this case of training, I can only agree.

Saturday, December 07, 2019

Performing in Front of Others

What is the purpose of performing in front of others? Is it just for show?

Well, I now think that performing in front of others is part of taiji training. It is part of learning how to stay calm even though your skills are being tested.

In real combat, fear may hinder a person's ability to fully apply his or her skills. Fear can cause a person to tense up, which then goes against the taiji principle of relax. This fear comes from many factors: in real combat, there is that real possibility of injury and even death. But dig a bit deeper into this fear, and it is fear that your abilities are not good enough to win. It is fear that comes from a lack of confidence.

And that is where I think performances come in. Performances expose us to criticism: are we good enough? Performances give us opportunities to face that self-doubt, and learn to overcome it. The more performances we do, the more practice we have in overcoming self-doubt, and the better we get at it.

We all have experienced that nervous feeling before when pushing hands with a total stranger. That nervous feeling that comes from being uncertain if we can hold our ground against someone unknown. But it is that exact nervous feeling that prevents us from relaxing fully, hindering our abilities, and in the end, maybe fulfilling our self-doubt. Therefore, being able to overcome this self-doubt, to be able to overcome this nervous feeling, is essential to being able to fully manifest our abilities.

So we can either keep pushing hands with total strangers, which is one option but not a feasible one for most, or we can use performances as such a proxy. And opportunities for performances are aplenty. Every practice in a public is a performance, since you don't know who may be watching, and what they may think or even come up and say.

Practise more. Practise in public. It is a practice in overcoming self-doubt.

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Moving Together, Moving Independently

In taiji, there is the saying 上下相随, which can be thought of as the upper and lower body moving together in synchrony. So taiji is about the body moving as a whole, as one unit, right?

Maybe not.

Yes, the intention is to move the body as a whole, and when seen from outside, it looks like one is moving together as a whole unit. But actually, "moving together" is the manifestation of an intention; every part of the body is moving independently. But the intention of the overall "togetherness" makes all those individual movements look like a single, unitary movement.

And that brings me to practice.

In practice, we are actually practising the moving of each individually part of the body independently, and at the same time, we are practising how to move these independent parts together to achieve an overall movement. In other words, practice is about learning how to control every single part of the body, so that every single part moves only when told to do so, and moves actually as ordered.

That is what training is about. Learning to be able to control oneself. Because it is only with control can one's intention be properly manifested.

Tuesday, October 08, 2019

Learning from Videos

Have you ever thought if you can actually learn taiji from watching instructional videos and DVDs? Well, the answer is yes and no.

Yes, you can actually learn new taiji routines from videos. If you put in the time and effort, you will eventually be able to imitate the movements shown in the video, and with years of practice, probably be able to reproduce those same movements.

But no matter how detailed the video goes about teaching each single movement, there is always one thing that it lacks: feedback. The video cannot tell you want you are doing right or wrong. That will need to be something that you watch out for on your own. You will need to constantly make sure you are doing exactly what the video is showing.

And for someone who has zero knowledge of taiji to start with, when you do not know what is expected from taiji, you probably won't know what to check. You thus end up not being able to properly learn from the video. Explaining the "no" answer to that question at the start of the post.

So yes, if you already have some form of taiji knowledge and experience, videos can help you to pick up new routines (with lots of effort). Otherwise, it is likely to be an uphill struggle, and you may even end up climbing the wrong hill (learning the wrong things). And I still need to stress: videos can never replace actual teachers, because videos cannot give feedback. Another issue with videos is that each video only shows ONE expression of the form, as it was performed at the time the video was recorded. However, taiji is not dead; it is not "always the same". There are subtle changes in our movements depending on many other conditions, including the place (space we have), the audience, and mindset.

Still, videos are useful tools. For example, I used to take videos of myself so that I can check on my movements. It served as a learning tool for self-reflection. Videos also serve as records; I can use them to track progress. As records, they can also help to jog the memory, in case I forget something.

At the end of the day, videos are tools, and it all depends on how you use them. And like all tools, they have their uses, and are more suitable for some tasks and not for others. It is up to us to use them in the most appropriate ways for our needs.

Monday, August 12, 2019

Inkling: Nip Force in the Bud

What is taiji really about? Why do we need to stay relaxed and calm? What is it about sensing force? Why is my teacher able to push me even though, muscularly, I am the stronger one due to age?

I think the answer comes from being able to nip force in the bud. My teacher may not be physically strong, but he can sense force the moment it tries to take shape. Force takes time to build up; 0 to 100 does not happen instantaneously, though this change takes place in a very short amount of time. Still, time is needed.

And that is when the master shines. The master of taiji is able to sense that change in force within that very short time. And being able to sense that force as it is trying to take shape means the master only has to deal with a smaller force, one that has not fully taken shape. From 0 to 100: the closer to 0 that the master can sense the force (magnitude and direction), the less force he or she has to deal with.

But sensing force early is just one part of the equation. The other part is to be able to respond to that force. Sensing force, and using force. These two sides of the same coin need to be applied in order to be able to nip force in the bud. And both require practice.

Saturday, August 10, 2019

A Visit to AMK Hilltop for Pushing Hands

For years, I have put off visiting AMK hilltop for pushing hands, because the group there is varied, and practise under a different mentality with regard to pushing hands. But the other day, I decided to just give it a try, since I will be away from Singapore for a while, and who knows when will be the next chance I have to go to this place.

Never having been there before, and based on what my memory told me about what I heard in the past from fellow students, I thought the people there are morning people. Arriving at around 10 a.m., I was greeted with the scene above.

It turns out they mostly gather around noon. I was too early. Oh... great. I needed to be home for lunch.

Still, I managed to meet a few of the early birds at around 11:30 a.m., and did a bit of pushing hands. Which basically just confirmed the impression that I had even before I went. Did I learn anything new? Well... yes. I learnt that I can hold my own against people who practise differently under different mindsets/mentalities. I also learnt that while I am able to sense force, and can easily use my opponent's force when doing taiji pushing hands (四正推手), when doing things differently with people who do not do 四正推手, I am not able to adapt and apply my understanding fully. That is something that I will have to work on.

Which can be a bit hard when I do not have a practice partner in Japan... but I guess "image training" is an option when all else fails.

Hopefully, I can find partners to practise pushing hands with in Yokohama.

Wednesday, August 07, 2019

Panting is Good... Not!

Someone told me that he pants during pushing hands because he is relaxing himself and keeps reacting to his opponent. This constant need to "keep reacting" means he has to move very fast to keep changing, and that is why he pants.

My thoughts on panting were shared before in this inkling. And my thoughts on panting remains the same even after hearing what this person has to say. Because I could see and sense for myself that he was trying too hard.

I am not perfect. I pant too. I pant too because after a long break from pushing hands, I was not confident of myself, and that hindered me from relaxing, resulting in me trying too hard. But after a while, I can usually get myself to calm down, especially as I become more assured that my pushing hands skills are still somewhat there. Becoming more relaxed, I can usually catch my breath, and become more relaxed till my breathing goes back to normal.

Panting is not relaxing. Not relaxing gets in the way of sensing and using force. Panting is probably a good sign to separate those who can relax from those who can't.

Saturday, August 03, 2019

Holding Onto Attention

I was on the plane, and there was this movie I wanted to watch. So I selected it, but a bit into the movie, I started to doze off because I was tired. In the end, I missed most of the movie.

Was it my fault that I did not watch the movie? Or was it the fault of the movie for not being able to hold onto my attention?

Similarly, if I were to perform a taiji routine in front of an audience, is it the audience's fault if they start to doze off or wander away? Or it is my own poor performance that is to blame for not being able to hold onto their attention?

Let's strive to be good enough to capture and hold onto the attention of our audiences.

Thursday, August 01, 2019

Kao靠 is not Zhuang撞

I was pushing hands with my teacher today and we talked about hitting (打) and zhuang (撞), and why these are not really taiji. It could me thinking, and I realized that while many martial arts employ these methods, taiji does not. Why?

Maybe it has to do with being accurate, maintaining balance, and doing the most damage. Hitting techniques (punches, chops, zhuang, etc.) depend fundamentally on the strength of the person executing those moves. The more muscular (heavier), the more damage can be dealt. The damage is at the contact point between the person hitting and the person being hit. There is also an opportunity for the person being hit to avoid the hit. This may cause the person hitting to lose balance, especially if he or she has overextended him or herself.

In contrast, in taiji, even techniques like elbow (肘) and kao (靠) are executed when already in contact. This takes the "avoid" aspect out of the equation. Damage is caused by the person being attacked losing his or her balance and then hitting into something. This means the force is that person's own weight, plus whatever force is used by the attacker in executing the move (which can be up to the weight of the attacker). The total force that results can thus be more than the attacker's own weight. The damage is at the contact point between the person being attacked and whatever object he or she hits when his or her balance is off. Thus, while the contact point between the two persons can be at the arm or torso, the damage can actually be at the head if it is the head that hits the ground. Also, as long as the move is executed correctly, the attacker is not overextending, and thus does not lose balance.

However, this requires the taiji practitioner to be able to effectively close distance to come into contact with the opponent so as to be able to execute these moves and techniques. This "closing the distance" is a topic by itself, which I shall touch on separately at another opportunity. For here, suffice to say that it can be slow or fast; fast enough to make kao look like zhuang. But kao is not zhuang; zhuang is a single move, while what looks the same is actually a "closing the distance" followed by a kao.

Monday, July 29, 2019

Long Time... Bad Feel

It has been a while since I actually practised with a sword or broadsword. And the weight felt... heavy.

While in Japan, I have not really been practising weapons. So that I do not forget the sets, I have been going through the motions, but never really used an actual sword or broadsword for practice. At most, wooden ones, but most of the time, it is just going through the motions.

So when I had to actually pick up a sword and a broadsword last night for practice, the weight felt... heavy. It wasn't really foreign, just not used to it. Still, I think I should be able to get back the feel with a bit of practice.

My thighs are burning, though... as I have not been practising so intensely while in Japan. 😅

Wednesday, May 08, 2019

Swinging, Pretending... Respect?

As a martial arts practitioner, I respect anyone who respects the martial arts. Practising martial arts is a lifelong journey. It is not something to be taken lightly.

So I really hate it when people play around, pretending to be martial artists. Pretending to be the warrior they are not.

It takes a lifetime of commitment to be a warrior. Pretending to be one is, at best, an insult to everyone who has devoted him or herself to such a path.

So when I saw someone recently pretending to be a martial artist... I really wanted to go up there and show him that he is not.

But I did not.

I did not need to prove anything. Not to him, not to myself.

And because I understood this, and held myself back, I think I have grown.

It is a lifelong journey, a lifetime of commitment.

Friday, March 29, 2019

Another Post About Learning

I like to talk about learning. Because learning taiji is a lifelong journey, a never-ending endeavour. Actually, learning itself is something that should not end. For if we stop learning, we stop growing.

The learning process is a cycle. It starts with accepting ideas, concepts, knowledge that one does not currently possess. This can be from people, from the environment, even from existing ideas, concepts, knowledge that is within oneself. The keyword here is "accept". One must be receptive; otherwise, it will pass in through one ear, and out through the other. To be receptive, one must not criticise; this is not the stage for that. This is the "absorb" stage, just like a sponge soaking up everything, be it water or oil.

The next stage is to understand what was just absorbed. Again, this is not the stage for criticism. It is about finding out more about what has been accepted into our minds. What is its purpose? What does it mean? How is it applied? What are the underlying assumptions? What are the enabling conditions? The keyword here is "understand".

Then we can move on to make that "new" idea, concept, knowledge into something that we truly own. After understanding that idea, concept, knowledge, we need to then ask ourselves: how does it fit into what I already know? This allows us to draw links between existing knowledge and new knowledge. And it is through these links that we own that "new" idea, concept, knowledge, and become able to apply it eventually when the situation arises. The keyword here is "assimilate": to make it into our own, because we can never truly apply what we do not own.

Wait. So when do we criticise? Well, in this process of mine, there is no such deliberate act. When we try to assimilate a bad idea, concept, or knowledge, we may find that it doesn't really link with anything that we currently "own". We can then proceed to put it in a separate "box" in the corner of our knowledge realm, along with other bad ideas, concepts, knowledge that we have assimilated in the past. Even these bad ideas, concepts, knowledge have a place in our learning. They teach us what doesn't fit in with what we have. And who knows, these may one day form a component of something else that does work, that does fit in. Maybe we just haven't found the missing link to link them with our existing knowledge.

So my learning process is:
1. Absorb
2. Understand
3. Assimilate
4. Go to 1

Of course, this is a simplification; in the process of understanding, we may happen upon new ideas, concepts, knowledge too, which branches off into a separate absorb-understand-assimilate cycle elsewhere. Still, it does provide a base model for better understanding my learning process.

Other posts about learning:
How I Learn
A Little About Learning
Learning From A Teacher
The Learning Process
Listen and Learn
Continuous Learning

Thursday, February 07, 2019

Pushing Hands in Yokohama

It has been a while since I moved to Japan, and I have yet to find a pushing hands group to practise.

So, rather than try and find one, I am thinking of starting one.

If anyone is interested to join a taiji pushing hands group in Yokohama, I am proposing we meet at Odori Park (大通り公園, the stretch between JR Kannai Station, and Isezaki-chojamachi Station on the Blue Line; specifically, the portion in front of the Fureai Hospital). The place is relatively quiet at night, yet not so inaccessible (JR or municipal subway), and there is the Yokohama Ginobunkakaikan just beside it. The kaikan offers rooms for rent for classes and meetings and such, so if the group ever grows big, we can rent a classroom or something at the kaikan. Of course, since the park is open air, we won't be able to practise when it rains.

Interested parties, please leave a comment (include preferred days of the week and time). I will respond with a comment too about specific time (which will be weekday nights) to set up an initial meetup at the park.

For those totally new to taiji pushing hands, no problem, I will guide you. 😃

Thursday, January 31, 2019

The Teacher and the Student--A Teacher and a Student

I have written about learning attitude before, but I want to take some time today to revisit this topic. A person, when learning something from someone, would do so with previous knowledge in many different fields accumulated over time. Some of that knowledge may be relevant to what is being learnt, and some may not. So when a teacher teaches something that is contradictory to our prior knowledge, there is the urge to question the teacher's knowledge: are you sure? Because that is not that I have previously learnt.

And that is when a person stops being a student. He or she has just raised himself or herself to become an equal to the teacher.

I am not saying the teacher is always right. But in a learning situation, there is always a teacher and a student. And yes, those roles are not mutually exclusive; in fact, in a learning situation, both parties are teachers and students at the same time. When I teach taiji to someone, I am the teacher, but at the same time, my student is teaching me something: how to teach. In that, I am the student.

But that does not make us equal. There is always a "power" difference in the relationship, although that difference flows in different directions depending on what we are talking about. That is how knowledge is passed.

Because when we start out by questioning the teacher, we have stopped being the student, we have stopped learning. From my years of taiji, I think the trick is this: do not question (challenge the teacher's knowledge) right from the start. Do not let your previous learning cloud your current learning journey. Take time to absorb what is being taught first. Have faith, and stay faithful to the new knowledge being taught. Spend time to practise it, to understand it through practice and pondering. Because I have found that, what originally looks to be counter-intuitive at first, will over time become assimilated into our knowledge to broaden our knowledge base. And when we broaden our knowledge base, we will have a bigger foundation on which to build a higher pillar of knowledge.

Do not be too quick to judge. Give your teacher a chance to show that he is not wrong, and yourself a chance to learn something new.

Wednesday, January 02, 2019

Tracking My Training For 2019

Continuing the practice in 2015, carried on till 2018, I have been tracking my training, and will also do so for 2019.

For 2018, I practised:
54 sets of Chen style Old Frame First Routine
54 sets of Yang style 108
98 sets of Sun style taijiquan
(total 206 sets of taijiquan in a year)

135 sets of Chen style taijijian
135 sets of Yang style taijijian
(total 270 sets of taijijian in a year)

225 sets of Yang style taijidao

And also many hours of basic exercises and single moves.

Total number of practice hours in 2018: 259.5 hours

I have not been keeping my training log, though... 😅
Guess it is a... goner.
But the amount of practice has increased slightly from 2018.
And I am looking forward to increasing the amount of practice in 2019!

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Momentum in Taiji

I am not a fan of trying to use modern science to explain taiji, but sometimes, it does make it easier for us (who have been taught modern science in school) to understand it better. Here is a video I found which tries to explain how the concept of momentum can be used to explain things in taiji.

If you want to know more about the Galilean cannon, you can also check out this video (not related to taiji):

So now we know the science behind "staying rooted".

Friday, August 24, 2018

A Little About Learning

Life is a learning journey that does not end, and taiji is part of that learning journey.

Since moving to Japan, I have not had many opportunities to train with my teacher, Mr Kwek, but I still try to find time to practise with him when I am back in Singapore. Today, I wish to share a bit about my attitude towards learning.

At class, I avoid sitting down. No matter how tired I may be, I do not sit down. I only sit when circumstances require me to sit, such as when I need to sit beside my teacher to share something (like a video) with him. To me, not sitting down is my way of saying "I am interested in learning, and I am always ready to get back to practice."

When I am doing forms for my teacher to check and comment on, he sometimes closes his eyes. But I do not stop. I do not think, "Why am I spending time practising if he is not looking?" Instead, I know he is probably tired (he teaches at many places, and gets home late). And I also know that if I am good, he will be interested in seeing. So the motivation for me when he does close his eyes is, "How do I up my taiji such that he will be so interested, he cannot look away?"

This is similar to when I am practising outdoors in public. Sometimes, people will stop to take a look. But most do not stay long. "How do I catch their interest?" That is the question I have at the back of my head which keeps me going. Maybe one day, someone will stop, and continue watching until I finish the entire form.

Related posts:

Friday, July 27, 2018

Taiji Fast, Taiji Slow

When people think of taiji, they think of slow movements. Which, in a way, is right. Taiji is practised slowly. Why? So that we get all the details right. So that we get used to moving in a specific way, such that this specific way of moving becomes muscle memory. And the way to do that is to keep practising, to take time telling your brain to move your muscles in that specific way. It is not a matter of how many times you repeat each movement; how long you spend on creating that "link" is more critical.

However, I think that does not preclude taiji being practised fast. Because actual application is fast, and your body must be able to move with that kind of speed to response to an actual attack. So there is an aspect of speed in taiji practice. In fact, Chen style taiji emphasizes fast and slow in practice. Even Yang style has a fast form developed by Dong Yingjie.

But slow is the basic. And slow is where you should start. Get the movements right. Create that "link" first. And make sure that you do it slowly so that the "link" is the correct one, that your brain instructs your muscles to move in that specific way correctly. Because when we move fast, we make mistakes. And if we keep making the same mistakes, that mistake becomes muscle memory, and it becomes hard to untrain. Only when you have formed that correct "link" can you start to take it to the next stage, which is to be able to move both fast and slow, correctly.

Sometimes, going slow is the faster way.

Friday, April 06, 2018

Inkling: Moving Gears

I was watching a video online, where a taiji master was explaining about his method. He touched on something about being a set of moving gears, like an engine gearbox.


I have recently been exploring electronics and motors and 3D printing, so gears are not entirely new to me. Coupled with this concept about moving gears, I kind of have a better understanding of how force is being transferred from the legs to the point of application. It is as if the joints are the places where gears are coupled. Broadly speaking, at the kua, one gear (leg) turns to drive another (hip). The other (hip) turns and brings the entire torso with it. This movement of the torso acts on the gears at the shoulders, which is again another set of gears, with one (shoulder) turning another (upper arm), in turn moving the arm.

Of course, this is a simplification. There are a lot more joints tracing the path from the ground to the point of application, and each is a set of gears being turned by the set before, and turning the next set. This also achieves "moving as a whole" and "top and bottom following each other" as well as the continuity of movement without stopping.

The muscles as pistons and actuators, and the joints as gears. An inkling for verification in training.

Monday, March 05, 2018

Inkling: Transferring Force

I think there are two aspects to force being generated from the legs.

One is using the force generated by the legs to move your own centre of gravity. Another is to use the force to turn your body (trunk), which in turn changes the direction of the force from the legs and applies it to another direction through the arms.

These two are non independent of each other. In fact, they are to be used in combination, so that you bring force to bear (by moving your centre of gravity) in the right direction (with your body as the axis).

And one of the best ways to train this is through basic exercises. There are basic exercises where the focus is on changing the direction of the force through the body, basic exercises on how to use the legs to move your centre of gravity, and basic exercises that combine both. I guess this will be the focus of my training for a while as I pursue this inkling.

Monday, January 01, 2018

Tracking My Training For 2018

Continuing the practice in 2015, carried onto 2016 and 2017, I have been tracking my training, and will also do so for 2018.

For 2017, I practised:
33 sets of Chen style Old Frame First Routine
48 sets of Yang style 108
64 sets of Sun style taijiquan
(total 145 sets of taijiquan in a year)

99 sets of Chen style taijijian
99 sets of Yang style taijijian
(total 198 sets of taijijian in a year)

165 sets of Yang style taijidao

And also many hours of basic exercises and single moves.

Total number of practice hours in 2017: 243 hours

I have not been as diligent in keeping my training log, though... 😅

Looking forward to increasing the amount of practice in 2018!

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Force Skips One Point

I am not a real fan of Chen Zhonghua, but I wish to share something that I saw on one of his videos on YouTube. It is about force skipping a point.

The points here refer to the hand, followed by the elbow, the shoulder, then the waist. If your force is at your hand, your elbow will be weak, and there will be force in your shoulder, and your waist will be weak. If instead you relax your hand, the force will be in your elbow and it will be coming from your waist.

This is just a case to point out that we should relax the hand and shoulder, but I thought I would share it anyway.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Unbelievable Theory (off-topic)

I am reading a book written in the late 1990s by Japanese researchers of martial arts. One practised karate before moving on to Chinese martial arts, while the other has stuck to Japanese martial arts, focusing on traditional ones like ju-jitsu.

This traditional Japanese martial artist actually thinks taiji theory came from Japanese martial arts, proposing that Yang style taiji came from something with a similar name in Japan. He also thinks the founder of Chen style taiji came to Japan and brought back martial arts theory with him that led to the creation of taijiquan.

The researcher of Chinese martial arts was trying to debunk his theories. I mean, taijiquan originating from Japan is a totally unbelievable theory. The simple fact is that when taijiquan was created, Japan was shut off from the world; the Tokugawa Shogunate did not allow contact with the outside world. That alone would have made it impossible for outsiders to enter Japan to learn Japanese martial arts. There are many other facts pointing out how this theory cannot be true, but I rather spend time pointing out facts to support a real theory, than wasting time on debunking something as unbelievable as this.

Talk about egoistic... I almost wanted to stop reading, but I told myself that I should continue so that I am aware of such extreme (and untrue) views out there in the world. There are people who choose to believe in their own beliefs rather than open their eyes to facts.

Okay, this doesn't really have anything to do with taijiquan. I will try to steer back to talking about my taiji journey from my next blog post onward. Bear with me for this one post.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Complementing Taiji Practice

Taiji is a complete martial art by itself. My teacher always advocates it is enough to just practise taiji alone, going through the traditional 108 form, the quick form, balanced with pushing hands and the practice of basics. I too agree that taiji is completed in itself. But I also think taiji practice can be complemented with other martial arts. The two very obvious ones, which I have partially brought into my own training, is xingyiquan 形意拳 and baguazhang 八卦掌.

How do these two complement taiji?

I see xingyiquan as complementing the fajing portion of taiji, so I weave wuxingquan 五行拳 into my practice. Baguazhang is being brought in for the footwork. This is not new; Sun style taijiquan founder Sun Lutang was himself an expert in taiji, xingyi, and bagua. But I do not seek to be an expert in all three; I just wish to better my skills in taiji. Ultimately, the aspects from xingyiquan and baguazhang brought into my training is just to help me get better at taiji.