Sunday, December 31, 2006

The Spirit of Competition

Recently, there was a pushing hands competition in Singapore. While I did not go and watch the competition (because I didn't hear about it until it was over), I did hear something from my teacher that set me thinking. Apparently, there was a round in which a big size man in his 40s was pushing hands with a smaller size man in his 70s. The man in his 40s pulled the man in his 70s, causing him to fall. To me, this just doesn't sound right. In pushing hands competitions, shouldn't the matches be organised according to weight? And even then, pushing hands is not sparring, it is friendly competition and should stop before anyone gets hurt. Those who take part in competitions should be at a certain proficiency level that they know when to stop, how to prevent themselves from getting hurt, or from causing hurt to their opponents.

For myself, I have only taken part in one taiji competition so far. To me, competition is not about winning. It is about learning from others, seeing the standards of others, and from there motivating myself to do better. With the competition in mind, I motivate myself to train hard, so that I will not go in and make a fool of myself and my teacher. I don't go in to win. I don't go in to pick on the faults of others. Rather, I go in, do my best, and see where I stand. I look at those who do better than myself, and ask myself what are they doing better. I look at others and see what are their mistakes, so that I don't make the same mistakes.

The spirit of competition should be in learning from one another. Your opponents are not your enemies, they are there to help you learn what you are doing right and what you can improve on. Treat them with respect, as in a way, they are your teachers too.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Pushing Hands and Taijiquan Routine

The relation between pushing hands and taijiquan routine is critical. To improve in one of them, you cannot do without the other. No matter how hard and long you practise your taijiquan routine, you will never be able to perform the movements to reflect their meanings unless you know how to use these movements. And how do you know how to use these movements correctly? That is where pushing hands come in.

During pushing hands, you try to apply the movements learnt and practised during taijiquan routine. The little details that you left out during practice will haunt you when you try to apply the movements during pushing hands. You will come to realise that these little details that are left out will mean you are unable to apply the movements properly. So when you try to apply these movements and do not achieve the results that you want, reflect on why. Ask yourself what are the details that you may have left out, and watch out for these when you practise your routine.

With enough practice, movements become second nature. Thus, reaction when pushing hands becomes second nature. The movements you use during pushing hands become a reflection of your taijiquan routine and how you practise it. If you have practised your movements correctly, it will show in being able to apply the movements during pushing hands. Similarly, any shortcomings in your movements will also become apparent when you try to apply them during pushing hands. However, taijiquan routine is the basis for pushing hands. Practising your routine will help you get better at pushing hands, while pushing hands will help you to improve your routine.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Push With Back Leg

Question: How does one push using the strength generated by the back leg, yet still keep the arms relaxed? If anyone has anything to share, please post a comment. Thanks!

Saturday, December 23, 2006

How To Lu 捋

A simple question, actually. But not easy to answer. The key point always lies in not using brute force, in not resisting the opponent's force. One hand at the wrist, the other near the elbow. The key is how to coordinate both hands so that they complement each other. The hand at the wrist must lead the opponent's wrist downwards. The hand at the elbow must lift up the opponent's elbow. Then, the hand at the elbow must turn, and start to lead the opponent's elbow downwards. What you want to achieve is to lead the opponent's arm downwards, away from yourself.

You lead your opponent not with the strength of your hands, but by shifting the weight to the back leg and turning the waist. Your hands are but an extension of the movement generated by you shifting your weight to the back leg, which then turns the waist, and ultimately reveals itself in the movements of your hands in leading the opponent's arm downwards.

A common problem is to try to lift your opponent's elbow up with force. That goes against the basic principle of taijiquan. Another is to try to hook your opponent's elbow towards you. The key is not to hook his elbow, it is to bring it up, then lead it down. And the hand at the opponent's elbow must coordinate its movement with the other hand at the wrist, so as to lead the opponent's arm downwards as a whole.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Basics Are Important

Learning the basics is always very important. Before trying to learn more, one should always make sure that he or she has already learnt the basics, and is able to achieve a certain standard. Otherwise, without a good and strong foundation, a person can learn the moves, but still end up unable to apply it properly because they lack the actual skill and understanding.

For example, penglujian 按 is the most basic of taijiquan's moves. While there are eight main ones, these four are the basic ones, and only after achieving certain standards in them, should someone try to start learning more about cailiezhoukao 靠. And out of all these, the most basic is peng. If one cannot peng properly, the other three main moves cannot be done correctly, and of course the other four more advanced moves cannot be properly applied as well.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Using Your Opponent's Strength Part 3

I talked to my teacher today about what to do if I cannot lu my opponent's arm because he sinks his elbow. After all, if I try to roll back on his arm, I will end up using brute force to turn his arm around and pull it downwards. Since that is against taiji's principle of not applying brute force, what should I do?

My teacher's answer was very simple. You don't need to go up against his force. If he sinks his elbow downwards, his force is downwards. So trying to lift up his arm, turn it around and then pull it downwards is to actually go up against his downwards force. This is ding. What I can do here is not to try to lu anymore, but to just turn my palm around and push his elbow towards his body instead. Since his force is downwards, my force towards his body is unopposed and I will then be able to push him down.

I will try to upload some photos of what I am trying to say. Have to find a few people to "model" first.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Using Your Opponent's Strength Part 2

Hua 化 allows you to neutralise an opponent's attack. But in order to use his strength against him, you need to use dai 带. To do so, you must be able to feel where your opponent's force is going, and then follow that force. Then change that direction slightly towards where you want him to fall.

For example, during lu 捋, if your opponent's force is forward, follow it forward, but slightly divert it downwards and away from your body. If he resists by pulling back his force, follow his force upwards, divert it towards him so that he falls backwards instead. The important thing here is to follow where his force is going, not against it. Aid his force to make him fall.

During pushing hands yesterday, my teacher was able to lift up a person using lu because the person resisted and was using brute force to stop my teacher from bringing him forward and downwards. By observing my teacher, I realised that my teacher was able to sense when the opponent resisted. The moment his opponent resisted and started to pull his force back and up, my teacher followed that force and lifted up his arm following his force. As his opponent was using brute force and his whole body was stiff, that simple lifting of the arm resulted in him being lifted up as a whole.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Light is Heavy

My teacher once told me that "light is heavy" when I asked him how to prevent others from lifting my elbow up when pushing hands. What happened was that, whenever I practise pushing hands, there were occasions when my opponent was able to lift up my elbow (and thus bring up my whole arm) and push me off balance. My teacher's reply to my question was that I need to "sink my elbow". By that, it is not to use strength to push my elbow downwards when someone tries to lift it up. Rather, I am supposed to relax, use no brute force, and just try to make my arm as light as possible. The lighter my arm, the heavier it will be for my opponent when he tries to lift it up.

I tried this during last week's pushing hands session. And guess what? It works! When I consciously relax my arm and try to make it as light as possible, my opponent was not able to lift up my elbow. But everytime I lose concentration, and use just a bit of brute force to bring my elbow downwards, my opponent was able to sense my force and up went my elbow, and my balance. It goes to show how important it is to relax and not use brute force. The lighter you are, the heavier it is for the opponent.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Applying What You Learn

During the pushing hands session today, there were a few times when I was unable to neutralise attacks from my opponents. Even though I didn't fall or anything, I felt that I was using brute force to maintain my balance or to fend off the attacks. On my way home, I started to think about this. I came to the realisation that I had the solutions to all the attacks. Yet why was I unable to apply those solutions when I was actually pushing hands with someone?

The answer, I guess, is because when I practise, I don't think enough about application. I keep thinking about how to make my movements conform to the requirements of taijiquan, to carry out the small details that my teacher taught me. Yet I lost the big picture. I have left out visualising how to use these movements in actual application. If I had diligently practised visualising while practising the movements, I would have known how to react when my opponent starts to push my elbow upwards.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Chen Style Taijijian

Today, I have started to learn Chen Style Taijijian (sword) from my teacher. Although I have learnt a wushu jian routine before, taijijian is different as the sword is only lightly grasped. The movements follow the principles of taijiquan, and I am glad that I had spent the last one year building up a good foundation. I was able to understand what my teacher was trying to say, which I think will ultimately help speed up the learning process as well as allow me to learn more from my teacher.

Practising the Movements

Practising the full set of a routine is important. No one can deny that. After all, practice makes perfect. But how many times a day should we practise? For me, practising a set of Chen Style Old Frame First Routine usually takes between 20 to 25 minutes. I heard from my teacher that he takes about 40 minutes to complete a set of Yang Style 108. With limited time for practice each day (yes, I do have to work), I just can't be practising 6 to 8 sets each day.

The solution? A friend of my teacher (he teaches taijiquan as well, the Zhengzi Style) told me the importance of practising one or two movements each time. Besides practising a full set, I should take one or two movements, and concentrate on improving them.

My view on this is that practising the whole set improves the flow of my movements, as well as train the strength of my legs. Practising individual movements improve my understanding and grasp of each movement, allowing me to better apply them during pushing hands and also when practising the full set. The two types of practice complement each other, and ultimate improve my techniques and understanding of taijiquan.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Teach to Improve

One of the best ways to improve at taijiquan is to teach taijiquan. This was what my teacher told me, and from my own experience helping my teacher to teach his other students, I have found it to be very true. When I have to teach my fellow students, I need to be sure that I demonstrate the movements correctly. I need to be sure that I understand each movement well, so that I can explain the movement as well as the application. Not only do I understand the movements better, but I am also forced to practise so that I can demonstrate the movements correctly. When I lead my fellow students in practice, I cannot skive. I must give my 100% so that my movements are correct, else my fellow students will be following the wrong example. When a fellow student makes a mistake, I ask myself if he or she made that mistake because I have the same mistake and he or she was just following my example.

So if you have hit a wall trying to improve your taijiquan, teach! Your students just may be able to teach you something about yourself. After all, a student's mistakes is a reflection of the teacher's shortcomings.

Monday, November 27, 2006

The Importance of Listening

Sometimes, it is more important to listen than to practise. Each practice session is about two hours long. Of course, practice is important. But sometimes, just plain practising is not enough. After all, practice alone will not improve my technique if I do not know what my mistakes are. It is only when I listen to my teacher that I know what are the important details to watch out for when I practise. These details may be simple and small, but they are important since they affect the application of techniques. For example, not turning the forearm enough during peng may mean that I am unable to fully ward off an opponent's attack. Not shifting enough weight to the front leg may result in an ineffective push. These are the little details that a trained eye will be able to pick up and point out. Practice without listening may mean that I reinforce my mistakes even more, continuing to learn the wrong things. By listening, I correct my mistakes and also learn the reasons behind the movements.

By the way, the old Chinese character for listen, ting, is made up of the characters for an ear, ten eyes, and one heart. To listen, it is important to not just use the ear, but to use the eyes, and listening must come from the heart.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Using Your Opponent's Strength

Yesterday, I was talking to my teacher, and asking him how to use an opponent's strength against him. It is a question that surfaced during a pushing hands session. I could sense that my opponent was using brute force, causing his whole body to become stiff. But I was unable to exploit this.

When someone uses brute force to push, his whole body becomes stiff. The way to exploit this is to use your waist to turn and ward off (peng) the attack. Continue the motion and the direction of his force will be altered away from your body. If he is leaning forward, continue to lead his force forward, and he will eventually fall as his centre of gravity is brought outside the support of his legs. Not using brute force is very important. When an opponent pushes, do not resist his push with brute force, or it will be ding. Relax (song), then use peng to divert the force away from yourself.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Drawing Circles

Taijiquan is all about drawing circles. When doing a routine, and you just can seem to do the movements smoothly, just draw circles, either big or small, and the movements will become smooth. Circles can be used to neutralise the opponents attacks. Circles can be used to stick to an opponent's arms. Circles can be used to direct an opponent towards where you want him to go. Drawing circles is at the very heart of taijiquan.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Hajimemashite

Hi, I have decided to start a new blog to post my thoughts on taijiquan, instead of cluttering everything on my personal blog (Teck's Treehouse). This will make my blogs more focused and with a central theme, easier to find the things that you want to.

Taiji is a martial art and a form of exercise originating in China, and much of the theory behind it is in Chinese. Attempting to translate certain words into English may at times be a bit challenging, and some of the meaning of the original Chinese word may not come across fully. However, I will try to do my best in translating my thoughts. Some entries may end up being fully in Chinese, though, if the concepts are too hard to translate properly into English.