Monday, March 21, 2016

A New Place For Taiji

After many days of practising in my small room, I finally managed to go out and practise today. Found this new place by the river to practise. Nice scenery, and even more beautiful when the cherry blossoms bloom in a few days time!

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Going to be Busy

Looks like March and April will be busy months for me... hopefully, I can still find time to squeeze in some practice.

Meanwhile, I am trying to make use of whatever is left of February.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

(Almost) No Break

Since practising on my own, all that time spent practising had been quite... continuous. Each practice session may last only 30 minutes or an hour, but the practice is non-stop (almost). After each set, I maybe take 6 to 10 deep breaths, then move on to the next set; for longer sets, maybe a drink of water and then it is back to practice. Very different from the past, when I attended lessons. Each session could be one and a half hour to two hours, but in between would be breaks, small talk, or just looking at others practising.

Now, there is no one to talk to, no one else to look at. Breaks are only for myself, so no one to wait for too. Which means almost the entire practice session is devoted to practising. Which is good.

Looking forward to more practice!

Monday, January 18, 2016

Snow is Like Rain...

I was thinking: 雪后公园打太极,天黑地白太极图。
So scenic, definitely must go...
So I changed, got ready the gear I needed, and left the warm house to brave the cold as I walked to the park.

And then reality hit me.

Snow is slippery, and snow will melt. After the snow, the park is a slippery and soggy place.

Snow is beautiful, but snow is like rain... no outdoor practice when there is rain or snow.

Friday, January 01, 2016

Tracking My Training For 2016

In a previous post, I tracked my training for 2015.

For 2015, I practised:
71 sets of Chen style Old Frame First Routine
140 sets of Yang style 108
127 sets of Sun style taijiquan
(total 338 sets of taijiquan in a year)

156 sets of Chen style taijijian
125 sets of Yang style taijijian
(total 281 sets of taijijian in a year)

185 sets of Yang style taijidao

And also many hours of pushing hands and basic exercises.

Total number of practice hours in 2015: 342.5 hours

I am also keeping a training log to note down the exact details of what I have been training on.

Looking forward to more practice in 2016!

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Maintaining Balance

I know I am not there yet, because I lose my balance. When doing some of the single-leg stances (like kicks) in the routines, I sometimes lose my balance. Which may seem like a small thing, since I practise on uneven ground and sometimes in strong winds. But after seeing a video on some people practising pushing hands, I got an inkling that maintaining balance is a very important part of training.

Two persons pushing hands. Pulling and grabbing at each other, one trying to throw the other, the other struggling to keep his balance. Not exactly my idea of pushing hands, but still, this thing about balance kept me watching. Yes, there seems to be something in there about maintaining balance.

Then I think back about myself, losing balance sometimes when I practise my routines.

Taiji is practise slowly, because it is only by practising slowly can you pay full attention to all the details. And one of the details is balance. About sensing how you shift your weight, how to maintain balance at all times. With practice comes proficiency, and with proficiency comes confidence. And with confidence, you can relax. You won't be tensed up when facing an opponent, because you have confidence in what you can do, because you know you have put in a lot of effort into training.

With training, everything becomes second nature, including maintaining balance while moving. Knowing your own centre of gravity becomes second nature. Knowing how to keep that center of gravity stable becomes second nature. No matter how you or your opponent moves, you are able to maintain your balance. That is half the battle won.

And that is why I practise. And practise.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Keeping a Training Log

Besides tracking my training in terms of hours and sets each month, I have been writing down the details of my training in a notebook. Not just how many sets of what routine, but also how many repetitions of basic exercises too.

This not only helps me track my training, but also serves as motivation to train too. I am more motivated to train daily so that I have something to write in the notebook. And when I don't train for a day or two, I am reminded of this whenever I flip open the notebook (all entries are dated). Guess this is a habit from a career that worked with logbook entries.

But it is great motivation, so I am going to keep this up for a while.

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.