Saturday, August 06, 2022

Short Trip Home

 
Finally, after 3 years, I managed to take a short trip home. As part of this trip, I visited my teacher, Master Kwek. A few months ago, he was hospitalised for COVID-19, and although he is fine now, his memory is starting to fail. Still, while sitting down, his ting jing was still as good and he could point out my problem areas easily.

As his health wasn't really good, I couldn't really get him to see me practising at the void deck. Instead, I practised a few moves in his living room while he gave some pointers.

The most important pointer I got from him is that it is more important to practise each move correctly than to try and complete an entire routine. If I am short of time, I should just practise a few moves, slowly and correctly. For example, my kua still sticks out sometimes. I had not really noticed it on my own, but Master Kwek pointed it out right away. The important thing is to practise each move correctly, and if I had been doing so, I probably would have paid more attention to my kua and worked harder on it.
 
Bottom line: Practice only counts if it is done correctly. Otherwise, it is just a waste of time.

Anyway, after visiting him at night, I drop by to the nearby coffee shop and bought hor fun for supper, something that I used to do.


Friday, May 06, 2022

My Collection of Matsuda Ryuchi Books

This is my collection of books by Matsuda Ryuchi (松田隆智) sensei.

The entire journey started with the 拳児 manga series. This is the original 21-volume set.

And this is the republished 11-volume set.

He has also written books about his quest to find the strongest punch.

His later works also include two books about the results of his years of pursuing martial arts. I actually summarized the contents of one of them previously.

His earlier works are instructional books on Chinese martial arts at a time when they were still not well known in Japan.

Of course, talk about Matsuda-sensei and you cannot avoid talking about bajiquan, and he has instructional books on that too.

Plus an overview of Chinese martial arts, more like a research compilation.

And he was also featured in Japanese magazines that focused on Chinese martial arts. Here are some of those issues that I have which featured Matsuda-sensei.

As you can see from his Wikipedia entry, he has written many other books, some of which I do not own. Maybe someday...

About Being On My Own

In August 2015, I left Singapore and moved to Japan, and basically came to be on my own when it comes to my taiji journey. Of course, I do try to return to Singapore when I can and let my teacher, Mr Kwek, take a look at my progress on this journey. COVID-19 kind of threw this into limbo and it has been a while since I was able to return to Singapore.

So I am kind of really on my own for a while now. And it is not just in taiji. Last year, my calligraphy teacher moved to another prefecture at one end of Honshu, which also means I no longer have the chance to directly learn from her. Under her, I have reached the stage when I am ready to go for grading to become a calligraphy teacher.

In both taiji and calligraphy, it is when I am on my own that I actually become a lot more motivated to practise. Of course, I had been practising a lot of taiji when I was in Singapore under Mr Kwek, but there were stretches when work prevented me from going for classes, and during those stretches, I didn't really practise on my own too. But now, without a teacher or regular classes to attend, I end up trying to practise every day on my own, whether it is routines or just basic exercises. While the total amount of time spent on practices may have dropped from my peak while in Singapore, I would say I am more consistent in the amount of practice.

Similarly, ever since my calligraphy teacher moved away, I have been practising more often on my own. In the past, I wasn't really a good student, practising calligraphy like only for the minimum required. But now, I will take my own initiative to practise, to write things and such. I guess it is when I am truly on my own that I feel motivated (or anxiety, for that matter) to keep practising so that I can at least maintain my standard, if not get better.

Still, to be able to do this requires a certain level of skill before becoming "independent". If I had not reached my level when I left Singapore, I would not know what is good or bad, and no amount of practising on my own would help; instead, it would just mean I keep repeating my mistakes until they become helplessly ingrained into me. For calligraphy, because I have reached this certain level, I am able to independently assess my own pieces and know how to make each practice piece better.

In conclusion, I think it is okay to be on your own. But only after you have reached a certain level that allows you to be able to point out your own mistakes, to know what is good and bad. Before reaching that stage, trying to practise on your own actually becomes a hindrance for reaching greater heights.

Tuesday, May 03, 2022

Manga "Kenji" (拳児)

I am a "fan" of Matsuda Ryuchi sensei, and have written previously about one of his books as well as his passing. I actually got to know about Matsuda-sensei because of his manga series, Kenji (拳兒). Back when I was still in junior college, I had read the series (translated into Chinese), and when I was studying in Japan, luck had it that the publisher was doing a rerun of the series, publishing them in 11 volumes (instead of the original 21). So I dutifully went to the bookstore regularly to buy new volumes as they were released.

Well, recently, I finally managed to get myself a set of the original 21-volume set on Yahoo! Auctions.

This is really just a "I want to collect them all" mission rather than my desire to read the manga, since I have already read it before. Still, I am really happy because this set of manga is really a bit of martial arts history. Or rather, a part of my taiji journey, since I first read it in junior college, which was also when I first started learning taiji.

(It has been a while since I wrote on this blog, and this post is really unrelated to taiji. But I do have something I want to write about and will try to do that soon.)

Saturday, January 01, 2022

Tracking My Training for 2022

Continuing the practice in 2015, carried on till 2021, I have been tracking my training, and will also do so for 2022.

For 2021, I practised:
58 sets of Chen style Old Frame First Routine
58 sets of Yang style 108
102 sets of Sun style taijiquan
(total 218 sets of taijiquan in a year)

105 sets of Chen style taijijian
105 sets of Yang style taijijian
(total 210 sets of taijijian in a year)

175 sets of Yang style taijidao

And also many hours of basic exercises and single moves.

Total number of practice hours in 2021: 312 hours

Again, for 2021, I have not been keeping my training log... 😅
And the amount of practice has gone down from 2020.
So I am looking forward to increasing the amount of practice in 2022!

Friday, September 10, 2021

The Misconception About "Not Using Force"

In taiji, we keep talking about not using force. But "not using force" should not be taken literally. After all, taiji is a martial art, and there is no martial art that does not use force. The term "not using force" is actually a technical term that is used to set taiji apart from other forms of martial arts.

Instead of a more or less continuous application of force, taiji is about the selective and minimum use of force. The least amount of force is used to achieve the desired effect. This is the minimum part. In order to allow this small force to have the maximum effect, it needs to be applied at the right time. This is the selective part.

It is this selective and minimum use of force that allows an old taiji practitioner to still be able to neutralise attacks. An old person is definitely not as strong as a young one, but by using whatever little force that old person has at the right time, he or she is able to change the trajectory of any incoming attack to render it harmless.

And that is why we train. Only through training can we learn to recognise what this "right moment" is, and what the "minimum force" required is. The use of the term "not using force" during training is a reminder to ourselves that we are here to find that right moment and minimum force. It is "not using force" that sets us apart from other forms of martial arts. "Not using force" is not literal; it is the name given to a concept, the concept of selective and minimum use of force. It is only through understanding the concept behind the label that we can practise correctly toward the desired ideal state.

Thursday, July 29, 2021

Power Comes from Speed and Being Relaxed

Taiji is a martial art. Like all martial arts, it is about the manifestation and application of power. And like all martial arts, power comes from the speed generated when one is relaxed.
 
Force = mass x acceleration
 
At any point in time, our mass is fixed, so that only thing that we can change is acceleration. This is the point of being relaxed. Being relaxed helps us to go from zero to a high speed in less time. This gives a higher value of acceleration compared to being rigid.

The goal is the same: to be relaxed so that you can achieve the maximum acceleration.

The way to get there is usually split into two: external martial arts (外家) and
internal martial arts (内家). In simple terms, external martial arts focus first on speed, then work toward being relaxed while maintaining speed. Internal martial arts focus first on learning to relax, then moving toward using that relaxed mode to achieve speed.

Which means that, at the end of the day, there is no "better" method. Instead, it is about understanding the training system and concept behind the martial art you practise, then keep practising it.

Side note:
While the goal is the same, the journey is not. The application of martial arts always requires speed because no one is going to attack you in slow motion. So if you are able to achieve speed, even if you are not relaxed, you will still be able to somehow apply the martial art you practise, even though not to maximum effect. But no matter how relaxed you can be, if you cannot turn that into speed, you are going to get beaten up when attacked.

Monday, April 26, 2021

Inkling: Linking to the Ground

In taiji, an important concept is to be rooted. However, I don't think this means being firmly stuck to one place. Rather, it is about being able to translate all actions such that they begin and end from the ground. At the same time, this "ground" is anywhere that the body contacts the natural surrounding.

The key is not to become a rigid object that is in contact with the ground. The concept of being rooted is to derive strength from the ground, but the translation of that strength to the application point requires the movement of the various joints in as a complex series of linked levers. Taiji theory helps explain this using the major joints like the knees, kua, waist, shoulders, elbows, and wrists. When practising taiji routines, it is thus important to have a mental image of how the movement of each joint is in series, how they work as a single move in total, and how this entire move is linked to the ground.

In a more simple way, it is about visualising in the mind the entire path taken by the force, originating from the ground (which is where the person, usually the feet, is in contact with the ground) and traveling through the rest of the body until it reaches its final place of application. And I think it is also important to realise that force can be applied anywhere along that path. This thus adds flexibility to the application of taiji moves.

Friday, March 19, 2021

Health Benefit of Taiji (Cholesterol)

I practise taiji as a martial art, but after so many years of practice, I have seen for myself the health benefits of taiji too. Not just in how I feel, but actual medical numbers.
 
This time, I shall talk about cholesterol levels.

Every time I do a blood test, my doctor will tell me my total cholesterol level is a bit high, but still within the acceptable range. But my doctor will then add to say that my good cholesterol is very high, much higher than the usual range, which is why the total level is high.

After years of hearing the same thing, I came to the conclusion that it was due to my constant practice of taiji. It may not be a lot, but this is one way I know taiji is good for me.

Friday, January 01, 2021

Tracking My Training for 2021

Continuing the practice in 2015, carried on till 2020, I have been tracking my training, and will also do so for 2021.

For 2020, I practised:
64 sets of Chen style Old Frame First Routine
64 sets of Yang style 108
120 sets of Sun style taijiquan
(total 248 sets of taijiquan in a year)

138 sets of Chen style taijijian
138 sets of Yang style taijijian
(total 276 sets of taijijian in a year)

230 sets of Yang style taijidao

And also many hours of basic exercises and single moves.

Total number of practice hours in 2020: 327.5 hours

Again, for 2020, 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 a bit from 2019.
And I am looking forward to increasing the amount of practice in 2021!

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Missing My Annual Feedback

Due to COVID-19, this summer, I did not return to Singapore for my annual visit. And it made me realise the importance of that annual trip. Because that annual trip is for me to visit my teacher, and to show him how much I have dropped in my skills from the inadequate practice and lack of his guidance.

I try my best to practise in Japan, but compared to being in Singapore under the guidance of my teacher, it is very different. In Singapore, I have a teacher who points out my mistakes. I have regular lessons that I attend, and I attend them because there is some responsibility. For example, I help my teacher to lead some of this classes. There are also occasions when I ferry him to class. This means that I cannot miss lessons for no good reason. It prevents the lazy part of me from taking over.

Leading classes also mean that I cannot practise what I want during those classes. Instead, I have to arrive at class early, before everyone else, and do my own practice (usually in front of my teacher, who also arrives early). It also means I have a lot of practice. It also means that I am constantly being pressured to better myself, as I have to set a good example when leading the class. There is the incentive to improve.

While I don't really lead classes even on my annual trips back to Singapore now, I do attend some of the classes and help when I can. I also visit my teacher for private lessons to let him correct my mistakes and see how bad I have become. In order not to be criticised, I try to keep up my own practice while in Japan. My annual trip is my annual feedback session, and it helps guide me for the next year. On focus areas, as a way to know where I am.

So without this annual feedback this year, I kind of feel a bit of lack of motivation. I still practise, but I don't know if I am heading in the right direction. I don't know if the things I have trying with actually work. But I guess, with the situation being what it is now, things can't be helped. I just have to fight through this low point.

Looking forward to being able to return to Singapore in 2021.

Saturday, August 15, 2020

Inkling: Using Experience to Imagine

Pushing hands and routines are both essential to taiji training. And not only do they help to hone different aspects of taiji, I think they help each other too. Practising routines help us to understand how to move our bodies in the taiji way, and to understand the problems we currently have.

Meanwhile, pushing hands helps us to learn how to apply taiji, and experience how the correct application of taiji feels. It is this aspect that I think can then be transferred back into the practice of routines to help us practise in an even better way. Once we have experienced how the application of force in the taiji way feels (through pushing hands), we can keep that image in mind when practising our routines. This "image training" is a way to train our body and mind to move in the taiji way. The image is not just about how each move in the routine is used; it is about how such application of each move will feel, in terms of the contact point(s) and the moving of our own and our opponent's centre of gravity.

For the near future, I will be focusing on this form of image training when I practise my routines.

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

(Not) Returning to Singapore

Usually, I spend a bit of time during summer in Singapore. This year, though, I am stuck in Japan because of COVID-19. So there will be no trip back home to Singapore. I won't be able to practise with my teacher, Mr Kwek. I won't be able to help out with pushing hands classes (and get some practice out of that).

Still, I am trying to make the best out of this trying situation. I try to keep up my daily practice of taiji routines and basic exercises. It is also a good time to watch some videos and get some fresh ideas. Not just videos on taiji, but other martial arts (and even cultural arts) since there are common principles.

Looking forward to next summer. Hopefully, we will be able to take a trip back to Singapore then (amidst the postponed Tokyo Olympics...)

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.