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.

Friday, June 12, 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.

Friday, April 24, 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.

Sunday, March 29, 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

Discontinued:
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

Discontinued:
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.)

Sunday, February 15, 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.

Thursday, February 05, 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.

Monday, February 02, 2015

Safety Is Paramount

My teacher places a lot of emphasis on safety during lessons. After all, no one comes to class wanting to get injured.

When someone gets injured, three parties are at fault. The person who caused hurt, for not being able to control his own actions. The person who was injured, for not being more aware of what is going on and thus avoiding getting hurt. And the teacher, who failed to create an environment in which the students value the safety of each other.

When we started learning weapon forms, my teacher would stress on safety. How to hold the weapons, how to walk around and being aware, so that you don't hit other people or get cut by others. And when training in unison, he would emphasise that we move together, so that we don't end up getting in each other's way. Questions should be left to the end of the practice, not during, since the rest of the class is still moving even if you decide to stop and ask a question. And that is very dangerous.

And all the more in pushing hands, he stressed the importance of respecting your training partner. Causing hurt is not the aim of pushing hands. Learning from each other, learning about yourself, that is the reason why we push hands. Which was why he allowed himself to be pushed instead of causing harm to his opponent.

Be safe, stay safe. If you can't even stay safe in practice, how to stay safe in a real fight?


Saturday, January 17, 2015

Learning Different Styles

My teacher, Mr Kwek, teaches three main styles of taiji: Yang, Chen and Sun. I have learnt all three styles from him, and previously wrote about what is good about learning each of these. Yang style provides a very good foundation in the basic principles of taiji, while Chen style is good to learn how to apply taiji. Sun style is good in learning footwork and movement.

But at the end of the day, learning any single one is enough. Just be good in one, because you can get the benefits from being good in one single style. There is no need to learn three styles to be able to use taiji. You just need to put in a lot of time and effort into practising one style.

Then why did I learn three styles?

Because my teacher teaches them. I learnt three styles because I want to be able to help him in his classes. I started out only wanting to learn Chen style, but as I followed him around in his classes, I realise I wasn't of much use, since he teaches other styles that I had not learnt. So while I was trying to help him teach for my own improvement, I couldn't help out at most of the classes.

So when Queen Elizabeth visited Singapore in March 2006, and my teacher's class had to do a taiji performance, I went through a crash course in Yang style taiji so that I could be part of that performance. Good thing I have seen my teacher teach Yang style before and therefore was not totally new to the movements, so I could at least keep up by imitating those around me. But that got me thinking. If I really want to help my teacher, I need to know more, so that I can help more.

That got me started on learning Yang style. And then Sun style.

So while I have learnt to use each style to train a different aspect of taiji, I did not learn the three styles for that purpose. I learnt them so that I can help my teacher.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

14 Hours In A Week

I did 14 hours of taiji over the past week.

That's an average of 2 hours per day.

That's half of what my teacher used to do. He used to practise 2 hours in the morning and 2 hours in the evening, every day. That's 28 hours in a week.

If 14 hours a week is tiring, I can only imagine what practising 28 hours a week is like.

I have a long way to go...

Friday, January 09, 2015

Which Is More Important?

I was asked if practising routine or pushing hands is more important?

My answer is that you need to do both.

"But what is you really need to choose?"

For me, one cannot do without the other.

If you really need to choose... choose to be better at taiji. Put in time and effort to practise both routine and pushing hands.

We all only have 24 hours in a day. It is up to us to decide what we really want, what is more important to us. That is how we then allocate our time.

Allocate time and effort into the things that are important to you. If improving at taiji is important enough, you will find time to do both routine and pushing hands.

Note: Not everyone understands this. Anyway, I just told the person asking, that if she needs to choose, then choose to practise routine. But that's just because I don't think she is at the stage in which she will understand what I actually think.

Monday, January 05, 2015

Tracking My Training For 2015

In a previous post, I have been tracking my training for 2014.

For 2014, I practised:
66 sets of Chen style Old Frame First Routine
112 sets of Yang style 108
109 sets of Sun style
(total 287 sets of taijiquan in a year)

173 sets of Chen style taijijian
149 sets of Yang style taijijian
(total 322 sets of taijijian in a year)

290 sets of Yang style taijidao

At this rate, it will take me more than a lifetime to be able to practise 10,000 sets of any single routine.

For 2015, besides tracking the number of sets, I will also track the number of hours I put into practising taiji.

Practice practice practice!
 

Thursday, December 04, 2014

Low But Must Move

A low stance is good for training. But if you cannot move your kua in that low stance and end up just shifting your weight front and back, side to side (or worse, not moving at all), then you will not learn how to relax your kua and use it to absorb your opponent's force. Your low stance would be a rigid stance that is good to train up your leg muscles, but nothing to improve your taiji.

A low stance makes it easier to train you to move your kua, the important thing is to learn how to move your kua. Not the low stance. One is the aim, the other is the method. Don't put the cart before the horse.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Talk is Cheap

Talk is cheap. We all know the principles of taiji. Just read a book. But being able to achieve what is written, now, that takes a lot of effort and time.

So while someone may tell you a lot and sound like he knows a lot, you have to ask yourself: is he really able to do the things that he is talking about? Or is he just talking but not doing? Anyone can tell you to relax in order to use your opponent's force against him. But can the person telling you this actually do it? Or is he actually using brute force?

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Training Together, In Unison

It is important to train together. Not only do you learn to keep pace with others, but you actually learn how to control your movements better. Especially if you are practising in a confined space, you need to have a very good grasp about the space you need to avoid getting into each other's way. And practising in such confined spaces forces everyone to keep pace with each other; after all, if you are all moving in the same direction, doing the same thing, you won't bump into each other. All the more when practising with weapons, you want to make sure you have good control and how much space you need, and keep pace with each other, so that you don't hit anyone.

So one of the best way to learn spacial awareness and control is actually to practise weapon forms in a group, inside a room small enough to accommodate everyone but not too large such that everyone can run wild. Two good examples: when we practise Yang style taijidao at Tampines Changkat CC on Sunday nights, and when we practise Chen style taijijian at Kreta Ayer CC on Saturday nights. The rooms are just big enough to accommodate everyone, and everyone needs to be mindful of what is happening so as not to hit anyone else.

Saturday, November 08, 2014

Martial Morals 武徳 Revisited

I learnt an important lesson today.

One of my fellow student from Thursday pushing hands class brought his friend to push hands with my teacher today.

My teacher asked me to push hands with him first. That person is quite rough, and tried to grapple and throw me, but instead fell backwards when I took a step forward towards him. Next, he pushed hands with my teacher. My teacher just upsetted his balance a few times, never caused him to fall. But that person kept struggling, and my teacher kept telling him not to use so much force. Then the person tried to grapple my teacher, and my teacher let himself be pushed backwards and fell.

The lesson?

It is about martial morals (武徳).

In order not to let myself get hurt, I allow my partner to fall. But my teacher is different. Instead of allowing his partner to get hurt, he chose to let himself be pushed. He could easily have chosen to use his partner's force against him, but because his partner was so rough, that could easily end up hurting his partner. He has reached a level in which he respects his training partner so much that he would rather hurt himself than let his partner get hurt.

I still have a long way to go...

Thursday, November 06, 2014

Ouch!

I am not really appreciative when my pushing hands partners play rough. To me, pushing hands is a practice in which you need to respect your partner and not play rough. I always try to avoid injuring anyone during practice.

But instead, I got injured... okay, just a minor scratch (about 7cm long) but still, it goes to show that while I may place emphasis on not injuring my partners, that feeling may not be mutual. Sigh.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Your Talk Reveals Your Walk

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

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

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

And so I continue to walk this path.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Don't Copy The Master

Yet another inkling from my experience with calligraphy.

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

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

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

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

Back to practice.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Practise A Lot, And Keep Practising!

Constant practice is need for you to improve.

But constant practice is not enough.

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, September 12, 2014

Respect Revisited

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

Rain or shine, my teacher turns up for class.

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

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

Saturday, September 06, 2014

Taiji And Pushing Hands Go Hand-In-Hand

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

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

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