Monday, November 16, 2015

Chinese Martial Arts by Peter A. Lorge

I just finished reading this book, and thought I would introduce it.

It doesn't talk about how to train, there are no pictures on styles, but this is a good book to read to understand how martial arts in China evolved into their current shape. Martial arts in China is very much a part of China's history and its evolution was heavily affected by the times.

For the serious practitioner who is interested in history, this may help provide some hints on how to go about improving your own practice, by understanding how things became the way they are now.

The Mind Knowing is not Enough

I was at an event and someone was giving a speech. While it had nothing to do with taiji or even martial arts in general, what he said was quite applicable in all aspects, and I have tried to see how it can help in my own taiji journey.

He said that just knowing something in one's mind is not enough. Your heart and body must be able to do it for it to be meaningful.

Thinking back to taiji, I think what this means is that just knowing how the movements are like, and how they can be applied, these are all in the mind. But if these do not come out naturally, if these are not part of your heart and body, then they become just empty talk. Yes, it is important to know something, but mental exercises can never replace actually physically practice in developing skills.

Practice leads to better understanding. Understanding leads to better practice. Both must go hand in hand in order to grow.

Sunday, November 08, 2015

Practise to Understand

Read somewhere that you practise not just to improve your skill, but to improve your understanding.

Totally agree. I was practising the other day when I discovered yet another way to apply one of the movements in Yang style 108. And how it is but yet another variation of the basics of taiji.

As you practise, you understand more. As you understand more, you realise that they are all the same.

Thursday, November 05, 2015

Why So Many Styles?

Why are there so many styles out there?

Because everyone is different. What works for one may not work for another.

So when someone finds something that works for him, he practises it. And passes it down. If it suits his student, that student passes it down too, forming a style. And because everyone is different, we have so many styles. Even within the same style, every practitioner is different, adapting small portions to suit him or herself.

Which brings us to the question: is there an authentic style?

People claim that what they practise is authentic. "This is how the founder practised it." "My teacher's lineage is so and so, right to the founder himself."

Yet, do authenticity and lineage mean something is practical and can actually be used?

Maybe styles that are passed down are just broad systems. Each style works for people within a certain category. But in order to be effective, the style still needs to be assimilated into oneself, and adapted to one's needs, characteristics, strengths and weaknesses.

So maybe authenticity and lineage are important, but what is even more important is to eventually bring everything within oneself to create something that works for oneself.

Because we are all different. And that's why there are so many styles. Because there are many categories of people.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Getting Back On Track

For the month of October 2015, I have practised 21 hours of taiji, including:
23 sets of taijiquan (4 Chen, 12 Yang, 7 Sun)
24 sets of taijijian (12 Chen, 12 Yang)
12 sets of Yang taijidao

I am slowly getting back on track... yes!

Besides routines, I am also spending time on basic exercises. These take about 30 minutes to an hour each day, and especially good for busy days when I know I won't be able to practise full sets.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Practising With The Spear

Back when I was in Singapore, I learnt some basic spear techniques from my teacher, Master Kwek Lee Hwa. The most basic, of course, is 拦拿扎 (lan, na, zha).

Recently, I have started to include this as part of my own training. Nothing complex, just that basic spear technique. And I kind of have an inkling as to why martial artists of the past all practised with the spear.

Because the spear is a long and heavy weapon. Yes, you can use it with muscular strength, but your arms will eventually grow tired. But if you learn to use your body as a whole, you can thrust with more force, and pull back the spear faster. And repeat this for more times.

Seems to me that lan, na, zha is one of the keys to learning fa jing. So it is going to be in my training regime for a while.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Painting a Picture

"Colors are like styles, one’s heart is the paper, and the teacher is the brush." - Matsuda Ryuchi

Eventually, the picture is drawn by the artist himself.

Sunday, October 04, 2015

Practising Outdoors

It is a new thing for me to practise outdoors.

After all, most of my practice had been indoors, and even when outdoors, the practices were at community centres. Which means that when it rained, the CC staff would find an indoor venue for practice to continue.

But not now. Not when I practise on my own in a park.

When it rains, I end up doing basic exercises in my room.

Hopefully, I can settle into a rhythm for practice soon... and with it, find a suitable venue for indoor practice as well.

Thursday, September 03, 2015

Slow Start

Since moving to Japan, things have been busy.

So busy that, for the month of August, I only managed to practise 16 hours of taiji, including:
15 sets of taijiquan (3 Chen, 6 Yang, 6 Sun)
14 sets of taijijian (7 Chen, 7 Yang)
13 sets of Yang taijidao

Compared to July 2015, when I practised 54 hours of taiji, including:
35 sets of taijiquan (5 Chen, 14 Yang, 16 Sun)
39 sets of taijijian (24 Chen, 15 Yang)
28 sets of Yang taijidao

The whole week of rain didn't help, especially since I have yet to find a place indoors to practise (I practise outdoors at the nearby park).

Hopefully, I pick up some kind of practice rhythm soon.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

On My Own

From today onwards, I am on my own.

Mr Kwek, my teacher, has given me permission to teach taiji while I am in Japan, as part of my learning journey. I will do my best to uphold his good name and to help spread his teachings and traditional methods.

From now on, all the more I need to be correct in my movements, else those who follow me will get them wrong too. All the more I have to practise, so that I continue to improve and maintain a high level of standard, so that I can bring my students towards that high standard too.

My teacher has shown me the door into the world of taiji, it is time I walk through that door into the world on my own two feet.

For those interested in learning traditional taijiquan (Chen, Yang, Sun styles) in Yokohama, Yokosuka or Tokyo, do drop me a message.

Saturday, August 08, 2015

Thanking Mr Kwek

Today is my last lesson with Mr Kwek before I leave Singapore.

I have been learning from Mr Kwek for the past 10 years. Moving to Japan means I won't be able to learn from him as regularly as before (5 to 7 times a week will soon become maybe once a year) but that does not mean I am no longer a student. It just means that I will continue my learning journey in Japan in another mode.

Friday, August 07, 2015

More Haste, Less Speed

Sometimes, we are impatient. We want to be good at something as quickly as we can. We want to rush. So we try to find different ways to improve.

But sometimes, things take time. To be better at something, sometimes, it really is about the amount of time put into practice, and how what you practise.

So by trying different ways to improve, we end up wasting time that could have been spent sticking to one way to improve (and actually becoming good). It is like trying to go in five different paths, and attaining level 3 in each of them (beginner) when if you had stuck to one path, you would have been at level 15 (master).

So yes, more haste, less speed; the more you try to rush, the more you try to get somewhere faster, the more you may end up walking into detours and taking an even longer time to get there.

Thursday, August 06, 2015

Don't Teach, Don't Share, Revisited

Well, I once talked about not teaching and sharing until one is ready.

Another thing about not teaching and sharing is about basic courtesy.

We all have our own experiences. Some may have learnt different things in the past. Some may be practising a few different arts at the same time. But when one comes for a lesson, that lesson is about a particular style, a particular art. It is then basic courtesy to stick to that. Because one is a student in that lesson; one comes to learn. Not teach. Especially not teach something else.

A student came to pushing hands class, but started to teach another student about chin na. To me, that is being very disrespectful to my teacher, who is teaching pushing hands, not chin na. If my teacher wanted to teach chin na, he would have started a chin na class, not pushing hands.

Teach and share when you are ready, but stick to what the class is about. That is basic courtesy. If you want to teach and share about something else, start your own class, be your own teacher.

Saturday, August 01, 2015

Scientific Approach to Explaining Taiji

So what is "science"?
One of the definitions of "science" at is the "systematic knowledge of the physical or material world gained through observation and experimentation".

To many of us, explaining taiji in terms of science is to use what we know of modern science (usually physics, biology, those things we learnt in school) to explain what we learn/experience in taiji. Given the success of modern science in explaining physical phenomenon (and its pervasiveness in our education system), this seems like the correct way to do things.

One small problem, though. Taiji was created (conceptualised, documented, passed down) using a system that isn't based on modern science. So trying to explain taiji in terms of modern science is like trying to explain the monetary system based on mechanics. It may help the physicist to understand the monetary system a bit better (because you are talking his language) but it cannot fully explain everything. To better understand the monetary system, it may be better to learn a new "language" called economics.

So what is this "language" when we need to talk about taiji?

I think it is the system of classical Chinese philosophy and medicine, which was what taiji was explained using back in the past. Yin-yang, the five elements, acupoints/meridians, these are the concepts behind taiji in the past. To truly understand taiji, I think we need to understand the "language" behind it.

And is using this "language" a scientific approach to explaining taiji? Well, it is the Chinese system of expressing "systematic knowledge of the physical or material world gained through observation and experimentation". (I am not so sure about the experimentation part as we understand experimentation methods today, but I am quite sure there was a lot of trial-and-error that went into this "language".) I would dare say that it is the Chinese system for science, and a widespread system too, being used in East Asia for a few thousand years (before modern science appeared in the last couple of hundreds).

So while we may want to understand taiji using a "language" familiar to us (aka modern science), maybe it is better to try and understand taiji using the "language" it was created in. Learning a new "language" is not easy, but I think the effort will pay off in helping us to better understand taiji.

Tuesday, July 07, 2015

Learning From Injuries

Recently, due to more practice, my right knee has been a bit sore. I had thought it was because it is not used to moving so much, and didn't think too much about it.

Then, I pulled my left hamstring.

As I start thinking about these injuries, I realised they are probably related, and there is something to learn from them.

I pulled my hamstring because my right knee was too weak (after too much strenuous exercise) to push me up from 跌叉, causing me to overly exert strength on my left leg to get up.

In turn, my right knee is weak because it still feels sore.

And why does it feel sore?

Because I have not been able to properly relax my right kua, thereby placing undue stress on my right knee. As I practised with all these injuries, I finally realised what led to the other, and the root cause (right kua not properly relaxed).

So just because you are injured does not mean you should stop practising. Practise what you can, and who knows, you may just learn something from the injury too!

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Running The Gauntlet

Had a chance to play a game, in which I have to fight through 3 pairs of people to reach the other side, and everyone (including myself) carries a foam stick. I lasted 14 laps before my stamina ran out.

Lesson: stamina is important.

Lesson: one-to-one is very different from handling multiple opponents.

Lesson: it is important to take down an opponent quickly, preferably with one blow.

Lesson: safe = not realistic; with foam sticks and the "no hitting head" rule, your opponent doesn't go down, no matter now many blows.

Although it was a game, there are many things to learn from it.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Holding Back

As I look at my teacher practise pushing hands with a fellow student, I realised that in pushing hands, we hold back a lot. Pushing hands is not about the actual application of taiji as a martial art; it is about sensing force, to be aware of our own and our opponent's force.

For example, a simple lyu, but once my teacher has managed to upset the balance of my fellow student, he stops. He holds back. If he did not, and had carried the lyu to fruition, my fellow student would likely have hit the floor with his face, plus have his arm broken, at the very least.

And the trained martial artist knows this. He knows and therefore he holds back. Because the aim of practice is not to hurt your partner. It is enough to be able to do something and know that you can carry it through to fruition if need be.

So while some pushing hands classes may look very cordial, look again. It could well be that those in the class have reached a certain stage to know that they can carry things to fruition. And recognises that practice is just practice.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Inkling: Water Vs Rock

By themselves, water and rocks do not move. When an external force acts on them, it causes them to move. When you push a rock, you are exerting a force on it. When that rock is pushed against a piece of glass, we all know what happens.

When you push a rock at water, the water swallows the rock.

When you push water at rock, water may carry the rock away, or even break it. Look at waves smashing away cliffs over time, or the power of tsunamis sweeping away everything in their paths.

Maybe being rigid or relaxed (fluid) is just like rock and water: they are a medium for transmitting force.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Inkling: Pushing With Little Effort

Why are practitioners of internal martial arts able to push so effortlessly?

I think the key may be in "moving together 上下相随" and "moving continuously 绵绵不断".

To keep moving, and keep moving as a whole. With the power from the legs, transmitted through the torso, manifesting in the hands, I think it means that power generated in all parts of the body, moving towards the same direction, eventually reaches the contact point (usually the hand, but not always).

So if every part of the body from the leg upwards is generating force in the same direction, that entire sum total of the force can be made to act on the contact point.

If any part of the body is stiff (not moving), it becomes deadweight. Any force generated before that will need to first be used to move that portion of the body, before any left over force can reach the contact point. I guess that is why taiji tells us not to be stiff, because any part of the body that is stiff will mean force is wasted in moving it, reducing the total force that can be brought to bear.

And the key to learning how to keep moving, and move as whole, is to practise slowly. Because it is not human nature to keep moving as a whole. Only by practising slowly can we force ourselves into the habit of moving together as a whole. But once we form that habit, we become able to move together as a whole, fast or slow. And that is when you can push effortlessly.

Or so I think...

Back to practice, and more practice.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

No Escaping The Master's Eyes

A master's eyes are a pair of trained eyes, able to see what others may miss.

Last week, I was pushing hands with someone who was very rough. He kept trying to pull me and make me fall forward. Once, I used his pull to move forward, get behind him, and turn around, causing him to fall forward instead. But instead of letting him fall flat on his face, I held on to his arm, keeping his face inches from the ground.

To the untrained eye, things would have happened too fast to catch what actually happened. After all, it was over in a split second. But not to the trained eye. My teacher saw it for what it was. He told me today, "If you had not held on to him, he would have fell." A simple sentence, but it told me that he had caught everything that happened, and knew exactly what was going on.

There is really no escaping from the master's eyes.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Pushing Hands, Not Pushing People

Pushing hands is not about pushing.

It is about sensing force and how to use it.

To learn to push people is easy. My six year old son can push someone without learning.

Learning pushing hands, though, is something else. It needs practice, the right mindset. A lot of effort. It is not easy. And you need the right teacher to guide you along.

So ask yourself, are you here to learn pushing hands, or pushing people?

Wednesday, May 06, 2015

Different Paths

Sometimes, people go on different paths, each believing their own way is the better one, the correct one.

The only way to find out is to walk the path till the end.

Hopefully, we each find what we want to find at the end of the road.

Sometimes, there is no right or wrong, we just walk the path that we want, the path that suits us.

So for those who believe that pushing hands is about pushing, that relaxing to neutralise force is not the way, well, you can walk your path.

I will stick to mine. Because I am following in the path of my teacher. It is what he has achieved that I want.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Inkling: Losing Balance

I wrote about how force should act along the line linking the point of contact with your opponent's centre of gravity. But my teacher said it is not just about pushing towards your opponent's centre of gravity. That got me thinking...

Got a new inkling.

It has to do with balance.

Our weight is supported by our contact points with the external world. As long as our centre of gravity is within this line or area defined by the contact points, we will not fall (we won't lose our balance).

And we are very good at shifting our centre of gravity to keep our balance.

The trick to getting your opponent to lose his balance could then be about getting his centre of gravity outside of the line or area. Either by your own doing, by his own doing, or a combination of both. What it means is that even if you don't push towards his centre of gravity, he can still lose his balance if the result is that his centre of gravity moves outside that line or area.

Food for thought, time to try out.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Don't Be Afraid To Draw Your Opponent In

A fellow student was asking my teacher on an application of a movement in taiji.

The application required one to draw his opponent towards himself.

The student had doubts about drawing an opponent in. After all, isn't that putting oneself into danger instead?

Well, you can't hit someone if he is out of your reach. And if he is within your reach, you are within his too. It is this psychological barrier that one must learn to overcome in order to be able to apply taiji.

Being within his reach does not mean you are in danger. You need to put him within your own reach, yet in a way either to expose him, or to make sure he is unable to hit you (that is to say, neutralise him). So while he may be close, he is the one in danger, not you.

So don't be afraid to draw your opponent in. Instead, know what is the danger, and how you are going to deal with it.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

My Teacher, Mr Kwek Lee Hwa

Not many people know this, but my teacher, Mr Kwek Lee Hwa, has been teaching taiji at community centres since 1965, when he was 21 years old.

He started teaching taiji at Boon Teck Community Centre in 1965, and was probably the first person to teach taiji in community centres in Singapore. He was 21 years old then, having learnt taiji from Grandmaster Lim Bo Yen for 10 years. For 10 years, he went to Grandmaster Lim's place twice each day, practising 2 hours each time (that's 4 hours in a day). After 10 years, Grandmaster Lim gave him the go-ahead to start teaching, and Mr Kwek has been teaching taiji ever since.

Two years later, in 1967, he started teaching taiji at another community centre, Kreta Ayer Community Centre. He has been teaching there up until 7 Mar 2015, when we had our last taiji lesson at Kreta Ayer CC because it was closing for major renovations. That's 48 years of teaching at a single location. It's a pity that he has to stop his classes there because of renovations, but it can't be helped. The classes at Kreta Ayer CC has shifted to Toa Payoh East Community Centre.

Why Toa Payoh East CC? Because Toa Payoh East CC used to be called Boon Teck CC. The same community centre that Mr Kwek started his taiji teaching journey back in 1965. He has since been teaching there for the past 50 years.

This is passion. This is commitment. This is my inspiration. I only hope I have the passion and commitment to live up to being his student.

See here for a list of classes by Mr Kwek.

Monday, March 09, 2015

Taiji Classes by Mr Kwek Lee Hwa (Updated 9 Mar 15)

** Updated as of 9 Mar 15 **

My teacher is Mr Kwek Lee Hwa, who started teaching taijiquan back in 1965, at Toa Payoh East CC (back then, it was known as Boon Teck CC). He currently teaches taiji at a few places in Singapore. Below are some of those places.

Taijiquan Classes
Tampines Changkat CC on Mondays, 8pm to 10pm
Toa Payoh East CC on Tuesdays, 8pm to 10pm
Hong Lim Green CC on Thursdays, 6pm to 7:30pm
Toa Payoh Lorong 1 shed (Block 98A) between Block 96 and Block 98 on Fridays, 8.30pm to 10pm (This class is for his students interested in further improving their foundation.)
Toa Payoh East CC on Saturdays, 7pm to 8:30pm
Kampong Ubi CC on Sundays, 10:30am to 12noon
Tampines Changkat CC on Sundays, 7:30pm to 9pm

Poh Khiu Temple on Wednesdays, 8pm to 10pm (Mr Kwek has not been teaching at Poh Khiu Temple for some time now because the new management there has discontinued his class.)
Kreta Ayer CC on Saturdays, 11am to noon and 7pm to 10pm (see link) (This class is no longer available as Kreta Ayer CC is going to start major renovations, and all classes will stop from Mar 15 onwards. Instead, classes have shifted to Toa Payoh East CC, see above.)
Ang Mo Kio Ave 3 Blk 323 multi-storey carpark (top floor) on Sundays, 7:30am to 9am (Due to circumstances, Mr Kwek no longer teaches at the carpark in Ang Mo Kio.)

Pushing Hands Classes
Toa Payoh East CC on Wednesdays, 8:15pm to 9:45pm (If Saturday night is more convenient, Mr Kwek also allows students to register for the Wednesday pushing hands class, but come for practice on Saturday nights during taiji classes instead.)
Tampines Changkat CC on Sundays, 6pm to 7.30pm

Kreta Ayer CC on Thursdays, 8.30pm to 10pm
Kreta Ayer CC on Saturdays, 5.30pm to 7pm
(Classes at Kreta Ayer CC have stopped from Mar 15 onwards due to major renovations. Shifted to Toa Payoh East CC instead, see above.)

Monday, February 16, 2015

Practise Slowly

When practising routines, my teacher advocates the following:
At least 30 minutes for Yang Style 108.
At least 15 minutes for Chen Style Old Frame First Routine
At least 12 minutes for Sun Style.

Why? Because when you practise, it is important to practise slowly. Because when we first learn taiji, we still don't know how to relax. So when we move too fast, most of the time, we are not able to move in a relaxed manner. Moving slowly forces us to try to relax and gives us time to focus on the fundamentals, such as making sure the movement of the hand is linked to the legs.

Once you have reached a certain stage, you will be able to move in a relaxed manner fast or slow. It is still recommended to practise slowly though, so that you can constantly check your actions to make sure they are correct.

Friday, February 06, 2015

Inkling: The Line

Just an inkling I had today.

About this line that joins the point of contact (POC) to your opponent's centre of gravity (CG). When your force acts along this line, it will have an effect on your opponent. So when you are pushing hands, the trick is to utilise force along this imaginary line.

Similarly, your opponent will be able to move you if his force acts in the line that joins the POC with your CG. To neutralise his force means to shift either the direction of his force away from your CG, or to shift your CG away from the direction of his force.

The shorter this imaginary line, the easier it is for force to act from the POC towards the CG, due to the shorter distance the force has to act on. But it also means that it is easier to neutralise the force, since a small movement will result in the force no longer acting on the CG.

It's all about the line.

Wednesday, February 04, 2015

How I Learn

When I first started out training under my teacher, Mr Kwek, I was learning from him Chen style taijiquan. I had previously learnt this under my wushu coach, but I wanted to learn it properly from a taiji teacher. What I had previously been practising looks good to the untrained eye, but is worth nothing to someone who knows taiji.

My teacher would teach me the moves, one or a few. And then I would practise them. Again and again and again. Every session, I will keep practising the movements that I have been taught so far. I never asked him to teach me the next move. When he felt that I could learn more, he came over and taught me the next move.

That is faith. Faith in your teacher. Faith that he knows best (after all, my teacher has been teaching taiji for 40 years when I first met him) and knows when you are ready to move on to the next step.

Keep practising, ask questions, and then practise some more. Eventually, you will get there. There is no secret, no short cut, other than lots of practice. To think that you know more than your teacher, to think that you are ready for the next step when your teacher doesn't think so, that is your own self-conceitedness at work. And it is working against your progress.

Be humble, be patient.

Tuesday, February 03, 2015

Don't Teach, Don't Share, Until You Are Ready

Teaching taiji is a good way to improve at it.

Sharing with your fellow students is a good thing too.

But when we learn from a teacher, we are here to learn what the teacher has to teach. It may be good to share knowledge, but share what you have learnt from the teacher, not what you know. Because your own understanding may not be deep enough.

Teach what your teacher taught you, not what you are practising. Because what you are practising may not be right.

It takes a certain amount of time, effort and understanding before one is ready to help teach and share what he has learnt. To try and teach and share before that may end up impeding fellow students, rather than helping them.

So yes, by all means teach and share, but only when you are ready.