Saturday, December 22, 2007

How to Return His Force?

One question that keeps coming to mind is how to return an opponent's force back to him.

When there are two points of contacts, that is easy. For example, if his force is coming towards your right, you can relax your kua and let him push your right, while using your kua to redirect his force towards your left and returning it to him. But that can only be done if both left and right are in contact with him.

So when you only have a single point of contact? After all, even if you absorb his force from the start, if you want to return it to him after that, won't you end up resisting his force?

Actually, the key lies in first relaxing the kua, as usual, then absorbing his force (same). Next is to first redirect his force away from you in a circular manner, and continuing the circle, return his force back to him. When redirecting his force, you must first peng, then stick to him, before using your kua to turn yourself towards the direction that you want his force to go in.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

About Impatience

This post is about impatience, it is not about taiji but I guess having patience (and thus learning to get rid of impatience) is an important basic skill in taiji too, so I am putting the link to my other blog here just to share with you my thoughts.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Respect Your Opponents

I have talked about respect before, in a previous post. Today, I will talk about respecting your opponents, your training partners.

Our opponents, our training partners, are there to help us to learn more about ourselves. Through pushing hands with them, we learn about our own mistakes, we learn about our weaknesses and where we need to improve. Through them, we know what we need to focus on. Thus, they deserve our respect, since through them, we are learning and improving.

When we do not respect our training partners, when we think of them as people that we need to defeat, when we start to treat them as objectives to be conquered, rather than the people that they are, that is when we not only stop respecting them, but also lose their respect of us. Mutual respect is lost, and pushing hands become a matter of deciding who is better, rather than a journey of self-discovery and improvement.

In the movie Fearless, Huo Yuanjia's father respected his opponents and rather than injure his opponent to win a match, he would rather suffer defeat and live with a clear conscience. The young Huo Yuanjia (portrayed by Jet Li) did not understand this and treated all his opponents as objectives to be conquered, not as the human beings that they were. He did not show respect, and thus there was no mercy. And when he showed no mercy to his opponents, they did not show mercy too when revenge came.

A martial artist's worth is not in how well he can fight, how many people he can defeat. It is in how he leads his life, how his life is an example for others to follow. And to do that, he must first be able to learn the important lesson of respect, a lesson that is easily clouded in anger and forgotten during success. But it is important because it is the basis that others use when deciding on how they want to deal with you. If you want to be treated with respect, you must respect others first. Otherwise, others will have no qualms about making you lose face, because they know that you will likely do the same to them.

Friday, December 07, 2007

How to Lose

Wait! This blog is about taijiquan, a way of life and a martial art, right? Then why am I talking about how to lose?

Because if you know how to lose, you know how to avoid losing.

I lost today. Not because my opponent managed to ram his shoulder into my chest. No, I lost today because after that happened, I allowed my emotions to take over, and wanted to get my revenge. In the end, we ended up tangling in a mess, more like wrestling, instead of pushing hands. And in doing so, I have lost, because I have let my instincts and emotions taken over, instead of trying to apply the principles of taiji to defeat my opponent. No longer was I trying to relax, no longer was I putting attention to my waist and kua. I was no longer practising taiji, which is what I want and am trying to learn. So I have lost, lost sight (momentarily) of my real objective (which is to better my taiji, and not defeat my opponent), and lost to the devil in my mind that is called emotion.

I quickly picked up the situation, telling myself to stay focused on learning taiji, on applying the principles of taiji. But I also told myself that if my opponent wants to play rough, then I don't need to play nice. Usually, once my opponent loses his balance, I don't press the attack (pushing him would just make him fall, there is no need to do that when training). But if my opponent needs to fall down to know that he has been bested, and needs to push his opponent down before he knows that he has bested someone else, then there is no reason not to play the same game, using his rules, but keeping to the taiji principles. He can punch and ram, I can still stick to my push and seal. In the end, I get to improve my taiji skills, which is what I want to do.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Twist and Turn

Recently, I watched some video clips of Grandmaster Zhu Tiancai performing Chen style taiji, as well as some of the next generation masters, also performing Chen style taiji.

One of the characteristics of Grandmaster Zhu's set is the little twists and turns that he likes to add into his movements, small and fine little moves that show his skill at "reeling silk". When you watch those from the next generation trying to imitate his "twists and turns", it is almost as if they are trying to imitate without knowing the meaning behind those little moves. What I see is someone trying to add in twists and turns into their movements because that is the way Grandmaster Zhu does it. The end result is that those twists and turns are big and rough movements, not born of "reeling silk" but rather more from static force. In other words, the source of those movements are not from the legs, but rather are derived from the arm muscles.

Look at Grandmaster Zhu and you will see "reeling silk" at work, from those small yet fine little moves, that derive their source from the legs. The moves are not big and rough, they are not very obvious, they are not exaggerated. They are a natural extension of him moving his body as a whole. And because they are in line with the natural movements of his body, they can actually be applied. These are not additional movements added in to try and imitate a style.

So unless you are able to understand why those small little twists and turns come about, and have reached a level in taiji when you are able to actually achieve that, adding in twists and turns only make it a laudable attempt to imitate something that you are not. It may be more worthwhile to put that effort into improving your basic taiji moves (like relaxing the kua, keeping the back straight, etc.)

Ever Changing

There are no fixed moves. Otherwise, you become predictable, and your opponent will lead you into a trap. Eight basic moves, five basic steps, these are the basic rules of taiji. After that, it all depends on how you apply these simple rules to bring about constant change.

If you keep changing, your opponent will not be able to follow, and eventually will make a mistake when he fails to follow the ever changing direction of your force. And that is when you either move in and push. Or he reads your force wrongly, uses strength in the wrong direction, and thus falls because of his own strength.

It is the myriad of moves that can be derived from the basic taiji rules, that makes taiji so unpredictable. And it is that unpredictability that makes taiji so effective.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Enjoying Taiji

Previously, I wrote about enjoying taiji and also about adding meaning to my moves. Today, after seeing my teacher perform a small part of Chen style taijiquan, I realised what he meant when he told me to enjoy practising taiji.

The key to adding soul and spirit (aka shen 神) is not in adding meaning to your moves, but in enjoying practising taiji. Taiji is about opposites: yes and no, have and have not, explicit and implicit, etc. So while it is good to show the meaning of each move, it must not be too explicit, else it is no longer taiji (since it no longer has the two sides of yin and yang).

You need to show each move, yet hide it so that it is obvious only when you want to use it. When performing your set, it seems as if there is some meaning behind each move, yet that meaning is not immediately obvious. For example, the move may be using the shoulder to hit, but you move in such a way that the shoulder knock is not immediately obvious, yet you are always able to do a shoulder knock.

And how do you do that? First, you must understand how to use each movement. Then, you need to relax and enjoy practising taiji, such that each movement is not an explicit show of application, but just a moving of the body, with the implicit knowledge that should you need to apply that movement, you know exactly how to use it.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Relax relax relax! (Part 2)

I know I have written many times about relaxing. Well, it is one of the most important thing about taiji, so do bear with me.

Last night, my teacher was telling me that when my opponent is stiff and using brute force, the more I need to relax. This stems from my last pushing hands session, in which my opponent was using a lot of brute force, and I had to use force at times (which is wrong). And my teacher demonstrate what he meant.

He relaxed. He became like jelly, like cotton. There was no point where I could apply force on, it was like trying to push an endless depth of cotton. You will just sink in further and further without really pushing anything. And when I used brute force, my own force caused me to lose my own balance and I just fell (because my force was moving in one direction, and with nothing to counter it, my centre of gravity ended up following my force, causing me to lose my balance).

And when I put my hands on his chest trying to push him, he relaxed and I ended up supporting his whole weight on my two badly positioned hands. That caused my arms to become stiff, and once that happens, he simply shifted his weight forward, and I just moved back because my whole body is now just like a big stiff log.

Relax and Enjoy

Usually, I practise my sets very slowly, so when it comes to practising taijijian, I have a problem. A set must be completed within 4 minutes (competition rules), but I am not used to practising my sets at that kind of speed. So in the end, whenever I try to make it within the stipulated time, it seems like I am rushing through my movements, and sometimes my movements are not clear at all.

The key here is not to rush through the set, but rather to firstly get used to the movements. Get the memory factor out of the equation first. When you are not struggling to remember the next movement, you have time for other things. So what are the "other things"?

First is to relax, even when speed is needed. In fact, the best way to hasten your movements is to relax. If you are stiff, your movements are always somewhat slower than if you can relax and let your whole body move together. When you relax, you are able to use your whole body to hasten your movement, rather than try to use just the strength of your arms.

Next is to enjoy the practice. When you enjoy the practice, you won't be tensed up and will also automatically relax. And your movements are smoother because you are not rushing to achieve things, you are letting nature takes it course. And you look better too. After all, the best performers (in performing arts, such as drums) always seem to be enjoying themselves when they perform. That is how you differentiate the master from the novice. The one that seems to be enjoying himself, the one that has the capacity to enjoy his own performance, that is the master.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Sit and Sink/Relax

My teacher pointed out to me a mistake that I have been making, but did not realise. I had thought that having a low stance would help me in relaxing and sinking my kua, but obviously, I was wrong. While I was sitting on my kua, I was not relaxing it, I was not sinking it.

So having a low stance and sitting on your kua is not enough. You must still put in that extra effort to relax your kua, and to sink it down. Otherwise, if your kua is not relaxed and sinking down, you will still not be able to use your kua to turn and direct your force properly.

Ever Ready

My teacher was relating to me an incident that happened in the past, when he used to train our national representatives for taiji.

During one of the competitions, it was about time for one of his students to compete. But his student told him that he hasn't warmed up enough yet. My teacher told him that as a sportsman, as a martial artist, he cannot say that he cannot compete because he hasn't warmed up.

A martial artist that needs to warm up first before he can use his skills isn't going to be able to defend himself from a sudden assault.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Calligraphy and Taiji

I was writing another piece of calligraphy today, and came to realise that calligraphy has similarities to taiji.

What similarity can there be between a martial art, and the fine arts?

The answer is simple. Both of them are art forms, and thus both have similar mental and emotional requirements. For example, you will not write anything good, or be able to practise your taiji movements properly, whenever you are frustrated. Your frustration will show in your moves and your works.

In taiji, you constantly practise to perfect your moves, to make sure that every moves attain the requirements of taijiquan, conform to the principles of taijiquan. In calligraphy, you constantly practise so that each stroke conforms to the principles of the writing style that you are using. Your taiji movements as a whole will look beautiful if they have spirit behind them. Each word you write will look beautiful if you have the same spirit behind them. 和 (peace) must look peaceful, 勇 (brave) must look brave, just like each taiji move must look like how it can be used.

In taiji, your greatest opponent is yourself. Each time you practise, you try to be better than the last, to not make the same mistakes as the last practice. In calligraphy, you are constantly trying to write better each time compared to the last. In both, you learn determination and perseverance even as you strive for perfection.

So are martial arts similar to fine arts? Only in the mind.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Why Study Weapons?

In this day and age, with guns, bombs and missiles, the age of swords and spears as weapons is long over. So why do we still learn them? After all, while learning taiji pushing hands can be a skill for self-defence, no one is going to be walking around carrying a sword or spear anymore, so skills with them seems less practical.

Well, as a means for self-defence, you would be better off learning pushing hands than trying to get something out of taiji sword. But that does not mean taiji sword is useless in this day and age.

Learning weapons is a good way to see how far you have progressed in your taiji skills. After all, weapons or not, the same principles apply, which is to avoid using brute force, that strength comes from the legs, to relax the body, to keep yourself upright, etc. If your application of strength is wrong, you will see it all the more clearly when using weapons, as you will find that you cannot channel your strength to the requirements for each movement. For example, if your wrist is not relaxed enough, the tassel will start to wrap around your wrist when you practise taiji sword.

So the biggest reward from learning weapons is not in the self-defence skills that you may pick up, but in the self-understanding that you will gain about your own strength and its application.

"Your moves are too right" part 2

My teacher brought this up again today, and so I tried to get some clarification on what he meant.

My moves are too orthodox, too "by the book". Especially when practising Yang style, my movements mostly follow a single speed (slow), which is not necessarily bad (it trains up leg muscles) but just doesn't seem good. My teacher told me that in order to improve, I need to drop that single slow speed, and be able to speed up and slow down when needed.

Practising my movements in a single monotonous speed makes it a chore to watch. Taiji, if done correctly, should look nice. While movements that look nice may not necessarily have meaning to them, movements that have meaning to them will definitely look nice. And how to add meaning to your movements? You must know when to speed up and when to slow down, be able to show the application of each movement without being too obvious.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Protecting Your Opponent

There was a recent article on the Straits Times, in which Janice Tay wrote about her experience at an aikido lesson. I happened to notice some similarities between what she wrote, and my experience with taiji pushing hands.

The locks in aikido are designed to cause pain, so much so that an opponent gives up any intention of continuing his attack. Instead of breaking his arm or ribs, aikido deters by careful and precise application of pain. There is no permanent, or temporary, damage done to the opponent.

Taiji pushing hands is similar too. The aim is not to break your opponent's arms, or to break his ribcage or break his back against the wall. No, the aim is to let your opponent know that he has been bested, through the careful and precise application of force to neutralise his attacks and redirect his force back against him. Similarly, done correctly, there is no temporary or permanent damage to your opponent.

Ultimately, if you can win without causing harm, you are one notch against those who need to cause harm before they can win.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Bouncing Off

When you try to push a rubber ball, first, with a little strength, you cause a small dent. To make a bigger dent, you need to use even more force. All the while, for every force, there is a reaction force. Thus, there is a force from the rubber ball acting on you, even as you try to push it. Eventually, you will reach a point in which you have used as much strength as you can to cause as big a dent on the surface of the rubber ball as you can. If you try to push anymore, that is when the reaction force is actually bigger than what you can take, and you bounce off from your own force.

I guess the same principle applies in taiji, when you are pushing. If your opponent peng correctly, what is going to happen is that you will eventually reach a point in which the reaction force generated by your own force is greater than you can take and you get "bounced" back by the force. And it is your own force, not your opponent's, that actually cause you to "bounce" off.

And that also says a lot about peng. You must be able to peng like a rubber ball, absorbing your opponent's force, letting him come in until he cannot push anymore and bounces off on his own.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Returning the Force

How do you actually return your opponent's force back to him?

When pushing with both hands, it is easier to understand this concept. His force from one side can be redirected back at him from the other. That's because there are two points of contact. Much like a wheel. When you push at one point of a wheel, the force turns the wheel, acting on it and in the end, you get an equal force in the opposite direction on the other edge of the wheel.

But when pushing with only one hand, with only a single point of contact, how does one redirect his opponent's force back at him? Each time I resist, my teacher not only doesn't need to move back to absorb my force, he is able to stop me from gaining ground, and at the same time return my force to me, slowly inching towards me if he so chooses. If he wants, he can let me exert all my strength trying to push him, until my arms get so tired that I cannot push anymore. It is like pushing a wall, yet he is very relaxed and doesn't seem to be resisting at all.

So how do you peng without resisting?

Sunday, October 28, 2007

"You are your greatest opponent"

What does this statement actually mean?

The key to winning, is actually to be ready to lose. But that is so against our own nature.

When we are young, we are strong and rash, we think the world of ourselves, we don't think we will lose. We feel that we need to win to prove ourselves to the world, to show that world what we can do. We are thus obsessed with victory, and tell ourselves to avoid defeat at all costs.

As we age, having proved ourselves, we build up a reputation. Now, we become afraid of losing that reputation. We become afraid of losing.

Yet to win, we must be ready to lose. So in the end, it is this nature of ours that we must be able to overcome, before we can truly be ready to win. Only when we have overcame our own weakness (being afraid of losing), clearing the clouds of obsession, can we see the key to winning.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Sliding Your Feet

A recent comment by wushu_kid led me to write this post.

"Why does the chen slide their feet? And if I wear a rubber shoes the friction would not allow me to slid easily. DO u get that feeling?"

Okay, let's answer the technical question first, on how to slide your feet.

No matter what shoes you wear, if you do it properly, friction doesn't get in the way. Sliding your feet does not mean rubbing the sole of your feet along the floor. Instead, you shift your weight to one leg. You relax your kua. Then, you slide out the other leg, with the sole barely touching the floor. And because all your weight is on one leg, you can control the other leg fully.

If you don't distribute your weight correctly, you end up having some weight on the leg that you are trying to slide out, and that is when friction will work against you and you will have difficulties trying to slide out your feet.

As to why you slide your feet? When you slide your feet, that feet is near to the ground. If need be, you can straight away transfer weight over to that leg, without having to abruptly step down. That way, you are able to keep your balance. When you abruptly step down, there is a sudden shift in weight, causing a slight imbalance in your centre of gravity, which can then be used against you when pushing hands.

You can try this when pushing hands. When you want to move in closer to push your opponent, if you lift up your leg to move in, he will seize the opportunity to counter attack when you are standing on just one leg. But if you slide your leg in, he has no chance to counter attack, since in a way, you still have both legs on the ground.

Another use of sliding is to sweep at your opponent's leg. The outer edge of your feet then becomes like a shovel which can be aimed at an opponent's ankle. When you slide your feet in, the inner side of your feet becomes a hook that can be used to hook in an opponent's heel.

Friday, October 26, 2007

"Your moves are too right"

That was what my teacher told me. What he was trying to say is that my moves follow so closely to what he says, to the basic principles of taiji. While it looks good if I am going to demonstrate in front of a class, my moves lack style.

In a way, I look like I am following moves from a textbook, rather than practising taiji.

In the first stage, when still learning the basics, it is good to actually spend more time trying to look like the picture in the textbook, so that you know that your back is straight, your stance is correct, you are putting your weight on the right leg, you are sinking your shoulders and elbows, etc. The longer you spend in this stage practising in this manner, the better your foundation is. But that doesn't make you a taiji master. It makes you a good instructor.

The next stage is to add in the application part of taiji into your practices. You need to start thinking about how to apply each move, and show that application when you practise. This shows your understanding of taiji, and brings in your individual style into your moves. I guess this is what I still lack. I am still focusing on getting the basics correct, that I am missing out on showing the application part.

This actually hinders during pushing hands. My own experience is that because I am so used to the basics, my responses are all very standard, very simple, very basic. In the end, I don't really apply what I learn when I practise sets. I guess it is time to start thinking about application when I practise my sets, so that I will be able to apply them during pushing hands and make my responses more varied than now.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Drums and Taiji

I have written about Japanese drums and taiji before, so this should not be new.

I went to watch the movie The Drummer today. While the plot and acting wasn't that great, it is also not the purpose for this post, so I won't talk about those. Instead, let's focus on the drums. This time, it is not Japanese drums, but Chinese drums. But they are still drums.

Just like taiji, in the first stage, drums are drums, and drumming is drumming. This is the initial stage when you learn the basic moves, and emphasis is on getting the moves correct. A good foundation in this stage will only serve to make you progress further in the future.

The second stage, drums are no longer just drums, and drumming is no longer just drumming. You start to enjoy drumming, and it allows you to start learning about yourself. You find that you are able to concentrate and focus better.

In the third stage, you come to realise that a drum is still just a drum, and drumming is still just drumming. You have moved beyond needing to drum to know yourself. You have moved beyond the fixed routines. Given any drum, you can beat a tune.

And just as with taiji, power comes from the legs. See those drummers playing their drums, and you can see how they move their legs and bodies to transfer that force to their arms, so that they can beat their drums with the correct force for the correct impact. Drumming is not about moving the arms, it is about moving the whole body, to move the body with the rhythm, and at the same time, use that rhythm to generate force.

I guess the three stages are similar for all arts. Even an painter needs to start from learning the basics of painting and picture composition, before he can innovate and create. Just like how a martial artist or taiji practitioner must know the basics, before he can add flavour to his style.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Kenjutsu and Taiji 2

In a previous post, I had talked about the similarities between kenjutsu and taiji. After watching the movie The Hidden Blade (隠し剣 鬼の爪 Kakushi Ken Oni no Tsume), I found some more similarities.

In the movie, the lead character is a samurai who was tasked to kill another highly skilled swordsman. He went to seek the advice of his kenjutsu teacher, who told him that the way to win is to give in to the opponent in action but not in spirit. In spirit, he should always be attacking. But in his actions, he should be giving way to his opponent, making him more frustrated, making him angry. And then finally, bait him with an opening, let him come in, and in his rage, he will attack carelessly, and that is when you should strike. However, it is a very dangerous move, as giving your opponent an opening means you are taking a risk. His attack could be successful. But in order to win, you must be ready to die.

It reminded me of a previous post of mine on relaxing and letting the opponent frustrate himself. In taiji, it is the same thing, that while you seem to be giving way to your opponent whenever he attacks, you are not giving way in spirit. And when he frustrates himself and attacks in rage, you make use of his carelessness and brute strength to return that force to him. And similarly, in order to win, you must be ready to lose. I guess this is a very basic principle for martial arts in general. When you are afraid of losing, you will never be able to win, for your efforts will always be divided between trying to win, and trying not to lose.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

The Difference

After a day of work, I feel so tired, sometimes I almost doze off while driving home.

After a 30-minute job, I feel so tired, I just want to lie down and rest.

After a 30-minute swim, I feel so tired, I just want to sleep.

After 2 hours of taiji, I feel so refreshed, I wonder why I felt so tired while driving home.

Tape It Down

For those of you out there practising on your own, I would advise that you videotape yourself when practising.

When we have a teacher looking at us practising, he will point out our mistakes. Yes, we all make mistakes. Sometimes, even when we think we have done a movement correctly (because it felt correct), there may still be some mistakes that only a person looking at you can tell. And when the teacher is around, he serves that purpose, so that you know your small little mistakes and can work towards improving.

But when none is available? The next best solution is to be our own teacher. That requires a videocam. Videotape your practice session, play it back to see if you can spot your own small little mistakes.

I actually realised that importance of this when I saw a video of myself. It was actually during a performance. I was performing a section of Chen style, and got my wife to videotape it. When I got the chance to look at it, I was able to see the mistakes that I made, even ones that I hadn't realise because I felt that I had been performing those movements "correctly". Guess I was wrong in my feeling.

So for those who practise alone, get a videocam and a tripod. But then, the best is still to get a teacher.

Teaching Taiji

I have been helping my teacher to teach for more than a year now.

He got me to help him teach after I finished learning my first set from him, Chen style old frame first routine. At first, it seems strange for an amateur to be teaching others, but I slowly got to know the reason behind it.

For beginners, the important thing is not to learn the exact details, but just to remember the broad movements. And you don't need a master to teach you that. You just need someone who knows the set, and follow him as he is practising.

And for the person leading the class, that means he must be extra careful, to pay more attention to his movements, because each wrong move will result in many wrong moves (everyone following will follow the wrong thing).

Once you have passed the "remember the broad movements" stage, it is time to move on to the details. Once again, even with explanation, nothing beats practice. You still need a lot of practice to get those movements correct. And having someone in front to follow again helps.

And being the guy in front, being followed, means you cannot afford to get the details wrong, since now, the rest of the class is not looking at your broad movements, but referring to you for details that they may have forgotten. So while in the previous stage, you reinforce your understanding of the broad movements by leading the class, now you are reinforcing your understanding of the details by carefully practising it.

And when you are asked questions, you either know the answer, or you don't know the answer. If you know the answer, it shows that you have a certain understanding. If you don't know the answer, it reveals to you your lack of knowledge in that area, which then becomes an area for you to work on so as to improve.

So while someone may have been practising taiji for 50 years, he or she may not be as good as someone who has been teaching taiji for 20 years. When you practise taiji, you only learn from your teacher and yourself, which is basically two persons. When you teach taiji, besides learning from yourself, you are also learning from all your students. For their mistakes is a reflection of your mistake (they follow you).

But I am not saying that we should all go out now and teach taiji. Just that teaching is one way to improve, and it may be the faster way once you have the proper foundation.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Relax relax relax!

Yes, the key is to relax.

The more brute force your opponent uses, the more you must relax. That way, no matter how hard he tries, he simply cannot push you. It will be like trying to push into an endless depth of cotton. Whenever his force comes, just relax, turn and deflect the force away. And if he becomes frustrated and uses even more brute force to try to push you, then you have already won. Because eventually, his force will be so strong, that when you deflect it away, his force will carry him with it, causing him to lose his balance.

So when your opponent tries to push you with brute force, be so soft that he doesn't have any place to put his force. Just relax and let his force flow past around you. Eventually, when his force is too great, it will carry him with it. The moment you resist, it becomes a contest of strength, and whoever has the bigger muscles will win.

Saturday, September 29, 2007


My teacher always likes to describe peng as being like a balloon. Your arms should not flatten, they should be round. Yet, taking this to the extreme makes the arms rigid, something which goes against the taiji principle of relaxing.

Balloons are not balls of steel or concrete. They are filled with air, and are thus elastic. When pushed, they do deflate, but then bounce right back into shape. Thus, while the idea is not for our arms to flatten, it doesn't mean that they cannot flatten. Just like a balloon, we must allow it to "deflate" and then bounce back into shape. Otherwise, we are rigid and using brute force, a big contradiction to taiji's basic principles.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Win the Battle, Lose the War

Sometimes, we are so fixated on gaining a certain advantage, attaining a certain objective, that we don't realise that we have lost more than we have gained. Like when pushing hands, sometimes we try to achieve a certain effect, and we become so focused on achieving it, that in the end, when we do achieve it, we don't realise that our opponent actually managed to defeat us in another way. We may think we can win by pushing our opponent away, but actually, even if we do push him away, we have actually lost, because we were so focused in pushing that we ended up using brute strength.

In winning, we have actually lost. That small little gain in ego has resulted in effort lost in trying to master taiji.

The important thing is still not to fear losing, to concentrate on achieving the principles of taiji, to focus on your movements as a whole, to use your opponent's strength against him, and if bested, to learn from your mistakes.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

A Good Foundation

A good foundation is very useful. After weeks of not practising, I am picking up my training tempo again. And a good foundation served to make it easier for me to get back to where I was. While the lack of practice has left my legs weaker than before, with constant practice, I am sure my legs will grow strong again. With the good foundation, where I know what are the requirements for each movement, once my legs are strong enough again, I am sure I will have no problems getting back to where I left.

In fact, today's practice made me very glad that I spent time to build a good foundation in the past, when I had time to do so. If I had not, and spent my time trying to learn more styles rather than concentrate on improving one, I probably will have a lot more problems today trying to get back to where I left off.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

A Week For A Week

I haven't been practising regularly for some time, due to work. In fact, I had a gap of more than 3 weeks during which I didn't practise at all.

Based on past experience, every week not spent practising requires one week to get back to where I left. I could feel the difference today. I seemed to have forgotten a lot of what I have learnt, my legs are not strong enough to properly practise the whole form. I used to be able to practise my forms two or even three times, but today, I could barely finish the first set without having to stop. The second set was horrible; I was unable to carry out most of the basic requirements like keeping my back straight, or even shifting my weight properly.

I guess this time, it is going to take me a whole month before I can get back to where I left... Unlike computer games in which you can save and come back another day to the very same spot, training gaps set you back.

Friday, September 14, 2007

National Wushu Display 2007

Does anyone know what are the highlights for this year's National Wushu Display? Thinking about whether to go or not...

Sunday, August 19, 2007


As martial artists, ethics is an important part of life. Being skilled in causing harm to people means that we are expected to carry ourselves in a different way, to be more demanding on our own behaviour. We should be pillars of morality. And one of the most important value when dealing with people is respect.

In the past, people have only one teacher. If they want to learn from another, they need to seek their teacher's permission, even if their teacher may not be as skilled as the other. A teacher is like a father, and you had to treat him as such.

Nowadays, this thinking has probably changed. People don't learn from a single teacher anymore. They switch teachers like they switch jobs. When they find someone better, they fly there like bees to honey. They start to forget who was the one who taught them the basics, who was the one who taught them to recognise what is good skill.

Respect your teachers. Respect those who have treated you well. If you don't respect those whom you have benefited from, others will not respect you as well.

Constant Practice

Constant practice is the key to improving.

Due to work commitments, I haven't been diligent in my taiji practices. And it shows. My legs are not as strong as they used to be, so my stance is now not as low when I do Chen style taiji. Couple that with my backside sticking out (because my legs get tired too easily), I would say that I have taken a few steps back instead of going forward.

My teacher sees it, and has been hinting to me that I haven't been practising enough. I guess he is being nice in not telling me straight that my level has dropped. But he also knows that he doesn't have to be too straightforward, that I will get the hint. Guess the only way now is to try to find time to practise on my own even when work seems to be piling up to the sky.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Taiji and Religion

Some people get confused between taiji and religion. Just because the taiji symbol is used as a symbol by Taoism doesn't mean that taiji is part of Taoism. Some Christians that I know decided not to take up taiji because of this. And my teacher was relating an incident about a talk he gave at a mosque. He was talking to the Muslims gathered at the mosque about taiji (they invited him), but at the end of the talk, they asked if there are Muslim teachers. I don't know what that has to do with learning taiji.

Personally, I don't think practising taiji means you are a Taoist. My teacher used to teach at a Catholic church, and he himself is not Catholic. Yet the father there welcomed him and let him used the church grounds to teach taiji to the church goers. If a Catholic father does not see taiji as part of another religion, then why should the rest of the layman?

Yet in another way, taiji is similar to religion. Not any religion, but religions in general. Why? Religion is about faith. No one knows what Heaven is like, yet faith allows people to follow in the teachings of a religion, believing that it will ultimately lead them to where they want to go. In practising taiji, we must have faith too. Right from the start, we are unable to use soft to counter hard. But we must have faith in the teachings of our teachers, and the teachers before them. Follow their teachings and it will ultimately allow you to use soft to counter hard.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

National Wushu and Taiji Display 2007

I heard that this year, the National Wushu and Taiji Display will take place on 15 Sep 2007 at the usual venue (Indoor Stadium). Tickets are available from the national wushu federation, as well as community centres. From past years' experience, tickets will be sold on that day itself at the entrance as well, so if you really have no time to get the tickets, you can always try your luck on the actual day itself. If anyone has any more information on this event, do feel free to share!

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Stiff Arms or Not

I asked my teacher how is it that the arms can be relaxed, yet the force generated by the legs can manifest itself at the arms and actually flip an opponent away. I would think that in order to transfer the force from the legs to the arm, the arm and torso should be a whole unit, and by shifting the weight and using the kua to turn the waist, the whole torso and arm would turn with the force generated by the legs.

But this means that the arm is stiff. Which obviously is wrong. But if we relax the arm, then when the torso turns, and the arm does not, the force doesn't get to the arms...

I think the answer could be that the arms are relaxed. The force generated at the legs are not used to forcibly flip an opponent away. Rather, listen to the direction of his force, and use the force generated in your legs to gently shift his force in the direction that you want.

Taiji and Kendo

Yesterday, during pushing hands class, we had Japanese visitors. One of them is a kendo practitioner. Having done a little bit of kendo myself, I was trying to explain to him about taiji and pushing hands. While explaining to him, I made a small discovery, that taiji is similar to kendo in that, to win, you must not fear losing. One of the common mistakes in kendo is to always be on the guard, for fear of exposing yourself and letting your opponent land the first blow. While you may not lose if you always keep your guard up, you are not going to win too. And worse, if your opponent is faster or stronger, he can either slip past your defence, or simply plow through it.

The trick to win at kendo is to actually allow your opponent to attack you. When he is attacking, he cannot defend. And that is when you strike. When he attacks, he opens himself to attack. You use that opening to attack. But first, you must be willing to let him attack. You must be ready to lose, should your attack on him fail and he lands the first blow.

I explained this to the Japanese visitor, hopefully he sees the common ground that taiji shares with kendo in terms of thinking. I would think that the way of the warrior is to be ready to lose. Only then are you ready to win.

Friday, July 13, 2007

A Step Back

I think I have came up against a block. After pushing hands today, somehow, I felt tired in my arms. Which means I must have been using brute force. Otherwise, why would my upper arms be tired? But I was trying my best to relax... yet, I end up using force. Why? I was trying to peng away my opponent's force. I was trying to shift my weight, and through that, turn my kua and from there turn away my opponent's force. But somehow, the force generated by me trying to turn my kua just doesn't get translated to my arms. So in the end, I still end up using brute force to turn away my opponent's force. So the more force he uses, the more force I had to use to turn it away.

So how do I transfer the force generated at my kua up to my arms? I wished I know... guess it means a lot more practise with my forms. I must admit that I have been lax in my practice of late, because I was down with a cold and also because of work. Somehow, that must have shown today when I was pushing hands. The force generated just wasn't being used. And I end up doing what I tell others not to do - use brute force. I tell others to relax, yet I myself was unable to do so.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Big and Small Circles

Just thought I wanted to bring up something that my teacher talked about the other day.

A key to taiji is in drawing circles. And those circles do not stand alone. Using the kua, small circles drawn through shifting the weight from leg to leg (and turning the kua) are translated into big circles drawn by the arms. The small movements (circles) at the lower body translates into big movements (circles) at the upper body. And key to that is using the kua.

Observing my teacher, he is able to move his legs very slightly, yet translate his power to his arms to generate a big circle. For us, we shift our weight back and forth between our legs, with very big/obvious movements at the lower body. But most of the power generated is not translated to our upper body, and we end up drawing smaller circles. And smaller circles mean less power.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Push With Back Leg Part 2

I came to realise yet something today while practising Yang-style taijiquan. My teacher always tells me to relax my kua, especially when I am shifting my weight. Right now, I usually am aware and try to relax my kua before I shift my weight to my back leg. Then, when pushing forward, I use my back leg to push. I realised today that when pushing with my back leg's strength, I was not relaxing my kua enough. This actually means that when pushing, my back leg's kua is actually resisting. Which is why when I push and my opponent resists my force, we will end up in a deadlock, and I am unable to use his force against him.

By relaxing my kua even when pushing forward, I should then be able to absorb my opponent's force should he choose to resist my push, and subsequent redirect his force back to him. I do wish to try this out during the next pushing hands session, but I am still unable to relax my kua and still push. Guess this means a lot more practice!

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Take Your Time

Hurrying is not going to help. More haste, less speed. It takes time to learn a skill, and taiji is no different. If we expect to see results after one or two years, then why would people spend their whole lives studying taiji and still continue to pursue it?

Living in our modern world, we expect to see instant results. Why wait for the webpage to load? Switch to 10Mbps broadband. We have instant noodles. Why search for a payphone, use a handphone instead. We expect everything to take less time than before. And taiji is no different.

But taiji is different. Just as it takes time to learn calligraphy, time to learn to read, time to learn to swim, it takes time to learn taiji, and time to learn how to apply taiji. Hurrying is not going to help at all. In fact, hurrying may be detrimental to improving at taiji, delaying your learning journey.

The saying goes that it takes 10 years before you can truly call yourself a taiji practitioner. But that was in the past, when people practise day in, day out, seven days a week. Nowadays, if we only practise pushing hands once a week, and only two hours each time, can we even expect to get close in 10 years? If we only practise once a week, then 7 years of work can only truly count as 1 year of practise.

There is no short cut. Practise often, practise hard, and be patient. While a better understanding of taiji principles will help, you still need practise in order to improve. Don't feel disheartened just because you don't think you are improving. You won't see results in one or two years. But give yourself time, and you will find that, with practise, in one or two years time, you will definitely be better than before.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

What It Means To Relax

My teacher tells me that to relax the arms, you have to first relax the kua. Thinking about this, I think I am starting to understand what he means.

When someone pushes your arm, if your arms are relaxed, but your kua is not, what happens is that the balloon that your arms form with your body becomes flattened by your opponent's force. But when your kua is relaxed, when your opponent pushes your arms, the balloon doesn't really flatten. Instead, your whole upper body moves back to absorb his force.

But you control your movement. You don't move straight back in the direction of his force. As your kua moves to absorb his force, at the same time, your kua is moving to change the direction of his force. And thus you are able to redirect his force against him.

So being like jelly is not relaxing. You relax so that you can become a balloon, an elastic rubber ball, capable of deflecting someone's force back at him.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Peng Like Rubber

I was a bit frustrated today during my pushing hands session. Somehow, I was unable to use my opponent's brute force even though he was using a lot of force and I was trying my best to relax. Thinking back, I guess it is because I don't really understand how to relax and how to peng properly. My teacher always like to draw the analogy of peng to being a balloon. After today's session, I think I am finally getting a glimpse of understanding about what peng really is.

Think about a concrete ball. When you strike a hammer at it, it will crack. Then imagine a rubber ball, and when you strike the same hammer at it, instead of cracking, the hammer bounces back. This is how to peng properly. When you relax your arms, you are not letting your arms hang soft. When your opponent pushes, your arms absorb the force, then bounces back. Your arms and your body forms the rubber ball, while your waist (and kua) is used to turn the rubber ball to deflect away your opponent's force.

When your opponent pushes the rubber ball, your body must move as a whole, using your kua to absorb whatever force that your arms (the rubber ball) cannot, and then using your kua to direct his force back towards him. Not resisting his force doesn't mean you let him push in all the way. Your arms must still bounce back at some point in time. What I have been doing wrong is that I let him push in first, then when I cannot let him push in anymore, I start to shift my weight behind to absorb more of his force. What I should do is to absorb his force by moving my kua, at the same time trying to keep my arms (the rubber ball) as intact as possible, yet allowing for it to flatten a bit if need be. But when my arms flatten, there must be a point to bounce back.

I'll try this out and see if it works. Hopefully, my understanding is correct and this helps me to improve. But then, even if it is wrong, it is still a lesson, since I then know what I shouldn't do.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Whose Force Is It?

I have been busy with work and moving house lately, so I haven't been able to write much.

Anyway, one of the questions that came up during my taiji journey is, how do you know whether it is you using force, or is it your opponent using force? Whose force is it anyway?

What I heard from my teacher is that, sometimes, when you feel that your opponent is using a lot of force, it may not be so. It could be that you are using brute force, and because your opponent is able to relax and return your force to you, you think that he is the one using force. When in actual fact, the source of the force is from you.

So how do you know whose force is it? Well, if you are using brute force, your arms will start to tire soon. If your opponent is the one using brute force and you are relaxed, then his arms will start to tire, not yours.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Moving Together

Recently, my teacher pointed out one of my mistakes to me, something which I had all along thought was correct. But it was actually wrong. In the past, I had thought that using my waist to move my arms meant something like swinging my arms using my waist (to put it in an extreme manner). When I turn right, my arms would then follow. Then, when I turn left, my arms continue to turn right for a while before following my body and changing direction to left.

But my teacher told me that this is wrong. When I turn my waist to the right, my arms should follow and move to the right. When I turn my body to the left, my arms should straight away follow and turn to the left. Otherwise, there will be a point in which my arms are moving right when my body starts to move left. This flattens the "balloon" formed by my arms and my body, weakening my peng and thus giving an opening to my opponent for him to move in.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Relax and Push

I was pushing hands with my teacher when I realised the difference between the way we pushed. For me, I use my legs to push my body forward and backwards. But my teacher uses his leg to push his body back and forth, and at the same time is able to turn his kua so that his body also turns while moving back and forth.

The result is that while my force is in a straight line back and forth, his force is able to move in a circular manner. He is also able to use my straight force and turn it back towards me via turning his kua.

Another observation is that while I need to shift my weight back when trying to ward off my opponent's force (because I am still unable to properly turn my kua), my teacher is able to ward off my force simply by relaxing his kua, such that he does not move back. As a continuation of that, he can straight away push back. So he holds his ground, then push back, while I move back before I can push back. If an opponent is able to sense me moving back, he can move in, preventing me from pushing back.

So everytime I try to push when I sense my teacher has relaxed his force, he instead uses his relaxing to ward off my force and at the same time push back towards me. So instead of my force flowing in to take up the supposedly vacuum his relaxing has caused, I find his force inching towards me instead, until he eventually decides to seal me off and I lose my balance the moment I try to move.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Continuous Learning

Everytime I practise, I try to check my movements to make sure that what I am doing fits the image I have in my mind. This image was formed as I learnt from my teacher. When he teaches, I try to imitate his movements, forming an image in my mind. Over time, an image of each movement starts to form in my mind, compiled from watching my teacher perform each movement. And it is against these images that I constantly check my own movements with.

Yet learning does not stop here. The images I have in my mind were formed through my observations of my teacher's movements. Each detail that I observed was seen through the filter of my understanding of taiji at that time. Thus, even though my teacher's movements may not have changed, each time he performs a movement, I pick up different details. And as my understanding of taiji changes, the details that I pick up will change.

So the important thing is not to let the images in my mind crystalise and become cast in stone. The images must constantly change as I observe my teacher, slowly shaping itself to becoming more and more like what he does. And how to do that? Not only must I keep my mind open and ready to change my images, I must also improve my understanding of taiji so that the details I pick up will be meaningful.

Don't let what you see become a mindset that ends up restricting yourself to your own little well. If we are not as good as our teacher, it may not be because the teacher is bad at teaching, it may be that we ourselves have stopped learning.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Admitting Defeat

It is very important to know when to admit defeat, to know that you are bested because the opponent is better. When you use brute force to win, your opponent will not admit defeat willingly. It becomes a battle of muscles, and victory depends on who can push harder.

When you are able to push your opponent because of skill, because you are able to counter-attack with his force, your opponent still may not be willing to admit that he is bested. He may instead be mistaken, thinking that you are using brute force, when actually, you are using his force back on him.

When you are able to seal off your opponent, such that if he doesn't move, nothing happens, yet when he moves, he immediately loses his balance and falls, he will know that he has been bested, and would be more willing to admit defeat.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Kenjutsu and Taiji

I went to watch the movie "Love and Honour" (武士の一分) and saw the similarity between taijiquan and kenjutsu (Japanese sword fighting). In it, the main character was told that for him to win, he must be ready to die while his opponent is fighting to live. What this means is that to win, you must be willing to give up everything, including your own life. The way to lose is to cling on to life, to be afraid of losing everything. When you are ready to lose what you have, you will find victory.

This is very similar to what my teacher has always been saying about taijiquan. When we are afraid to lose, we become tense whenever we sense that we are going towards a situation that is disadvantageous to us. We start to struggle and use brute force. That is when our opponent is able to use our own brute force against us. But when winning is no concern to us, when we are ready to lose, even when we are in a position of disadvantage, we can continue to remain calm, remain relaxed, and from there try to find a way to turn it to our advantage.

When we are no longer focused on winning, our view is not obstructed by victory, and we can see the bigger picture (the full situation). And that is when we are able to find a solution to our problem.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Japanese Drums and Taiji Part 2

After talking with my wife today, I have found another similarity between Japanese drums and taijiquan.

We all start out learning the movements. It is the same whether it is Japanese drums or taijiquan. We first learn the basic movements (how to beat the drum, which hand to lift, etc.) followed by learning how to string together a series of basic movements. Then we move on to learning the details of each movement, such as how high to lift the hand, how fast to flick the wrist, etc.

Sad to say, by the time most people reach this step, they stop learning. They think they have learnt what can be learnt. What they have learnt, however, is just the shell. It may look good, but it is without content, without meaning.

An average Japanese drum performer is able to perform all the movements flawlessly. A good performer, however, understands the requirements of each movement, and how it adds to the overall beauty of the performance. He or she is able to adapt movements to the rhythm, to play around with the music to make it truly his or hers. Why? Because he or she understands why each movement must be carried out in a specific way. He or she understands the beauty behind the moves.

It is the same with taijiquan. An average practitioner is able to carry out his form flawlessly. A good practitioner, however, understands the meaning behind each movement in his form. He understands why each movement must be carried out in a specific way, why in a certain movement, the hand must be exactly this high, why the weight is on a specific leg. When he performs his form, you can see the spirit of the form being expressed, you see the meaning behind the moves.

It takes time and effort to reach that level. And how many of us, living in this time and age, with so many distractions, can actually say we are devoted enough to our arts to be willing to put in time and effort to reach that level?

Friday, April 13, 2007

How to Seal

While pushing hands may be about pushing, the ultimate aim is not to be able to push away your opponent, but to be able to seal (feng 封) such that he is unable to move, such that when he moves, he loses his balance instead. So how do you go about doing this?

The most basic is of course peng. Whenever your opponent pushes, first relax, then use peng to ward off his force and thus neutralise it. Then, using the strength generated by your back leg and relaxing your arms, push towards your opponent. If you use less strength than he does, he won't be able to feel your force. But he will know that you are pushing him, and he will in turn try to neutralise your force and then counterattack. Allow him to. When he counterattacks, repeat the same procedure of relax, neutralise, push back. Each time you push back, gain a bit more ground. And each time that happens, your opponent has less space to move before he goes over his centre of gravity (ie. lose his balance).

Eventually, as you relax and then press your advantage, you will reach a point in which you are able to move in close to your opponent, and he has no space less to move without losing his balance. When you have reached this stage, you have managed to seal your opponent off. If he tries to move, his own force (his movement) will cause him to lose balance and fall instead. This is using his own force against him.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

The Dark Side

See this post here on my other blog on "the dark side of the Force" (a spin-off from watching Star Wars). It is about how anger and fear brings one away from achieving the fundamentals of taijiquan.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Push When You Can

One of the things that I learnt today during pushing hands is that it is important to push when you can. Up till now, I usually don't push when I can. If I feel that I have already gained the upper hand, and can push my opponent away, I usually stop there. But today, I realised that it should not be this way. Pushing back is very important.

The first reason is because my opponent may not think the same way as I do. He may use my moment of hesitation to retaliate. And he may not stop just at gaining the upper hand. He may be out to win, and thus he may decide to push back when I don't push him. Thus, it becomes a case of "if I don't push him, he will push me." This is of course very dependent on the opponent. If you know the character of your opponent, you can then decide if he is someone who will take advantage of your being nice (by not pushing him when you have the chance). If he is someone who will take advantage of this, then it may be an option to push him when you can. Of course, another way to look at it is you should let him retaliate just to see if you can counter his retaliation.

Another reason is because you never know if you can really push him if you don't actually push him. So what if you gain the upper hand? Have you really gained the upper hand? Are you really able to push him? You won't know unless you actually try to push him. Who knows, you might have thought you have gained the upper hand, when actually you have not.

The third reason is to help your opponent to learn. By pushing him, you are exposing his weakness. This lets him know what he is lacking in, what his weakness is, and thus where he should devote energy so as to improve. This, I feel, is the most important reason why we should push when we can. After all, pushing hands is not about winning. It is about learning together, and improving together. Learning from each other is an important part of pushing hands, and if we hold back, we are not really helping our fellow practitioners.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

How to Peng part 2

After lessons today, I tried to confirm with my teacher on how to peng. When your opponent presses with both hands, and one hand is pressing stronger than the other, then you can use the strength of the stronger hand to peng, ie. if his hand on your wrist is stronger, transfer his force to your elbow.

But what if the force on his two hands are about the same? My teacher said that is when you have to use kua to peng, to turn his force away. Relax the kua, then slowly turn your kua, which will turn your waist, and thus redirect his force away from you.

Friday, March 30, 2007

How to Peng

I learnt something today while pushing hands. It came about because I was not doing my peng properly. My opponent pointed out that my arm was becoming flat (my upper arm was pressed against my body), so he was able to push me each time. The way to remedy this is to peng so that he cannot push me properly. This was during two-hands pushing hands. Basically, I should peng such that his hand that is on my wrist is unable to push properly. That was when I realised how to use his strength to peng. By relaxing my kua, relaxing my arm, I was able to use the force of his arm (the one pushing my elbow) to peng, preventing his other arm from pushing at my wrist properly. Basically, transfer the force acting on my elbow towards my wrist. Come to think about it, this is similar to Pie Shen Cui 撇身摧 that my teacher once told me about. "Return his force acting on your elbow back to him."

Friday, March 23, 2007

Staying Calm

It is actually very important to remain calm, even in the midst of action. This was the lesson that I learnt today after reflecting on my actions during pushing hands.

Usually, when I push hands, I don't seek to push away my opponents. Once I am able to neutralise their attacks and get within their defences, I usually stop without going through with my own counterattack. For example, once I peng away my opponent's attack, and manage to get my hand on his torso, I will stop, instead of pressing on and pushing him away.

What really got me all worked up today was when I did this, my opponent kept resorting to brute force to counter. His brute force attacks became very fierce, and that really got me worked up. In the end, I lost my cool, and went down the slippery road of trying to win (by pushing him away). My mind became pre-occupied with pushing my opponent down, rather than relaxing and countering his attacks. Thus, there were occasions when I countered brute force with force, or when my responses to his attacks were very rough (bordering on trying to break arms...)

I actually lost the essence of taiji. I was trying to win, when taiji is not about winning. I should have stayed calm, continue to relax and listen to his force. Instead, I was trying to push his away, and ended up with a few times when I used brute force too. I feel like I have lost everything that I have learnt, because using brute force is NOT the way, relaxing, listening and then countering is the way. I thought it was because I was unable to listen and react quickly, so my actions became very rough. On reflection, it was not. I became rough because I was out to win. And that is the one thing that I should not have done at all.

So, from now on, I will keep telling myself to relax, listen, counter. And if my opponent uses brute force and I am unable to react in time, I will just let him push me.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Japanese Drums and Taiji

I had the chance to watch a Japanese drums performance by the Japanese Association today. It was an event at Yio Chu Kang Community Club, and they were performing as one of the items. Besides being a great performance and totally enjoying them beating the drums, I also noticed something about them that led me to see the similarities between Japanese drums and taiji.

The starking similarity is in the way we use our legs for strength. Taiji theory always stresses that strength (power, force, and so on) comes from the legs. The force generated by our legs is channeled through our waist to our arms. The very same thing was observed of the performers for Japanese drums. By shifting their weight between legs, and turning their waists while shifting their weight, they were channeling the strength generated by their legs to their arms, where they use it to beat the drums. Looking at their kua, it was similar to taiji. The kua does not stick out when they shift their weight from leg to leg. In fact, looking at their kua, it makes me feel ashame that they can relax their kua better than me!

The other point is something that my teacher likes to stress. He always tells his students that taiji is about enjoying it. When we practise, we should try to practise with a relaxed mind, and enjoy the practice, rather than stress ourselves with making sure our movements are 100% correct. When the Japanese drums performers from the Japanese Association performed, you can see that they are really enjoying every moment of their own performance. They are not stressed out over the possibility of making a mistake during the performance. They just relax and enjoy their own performance, bringing in their own personalities into the performance.

In summary, Japanese drums is similar to taiji in the way we generate and use strength, and in the attitude we have towards our respective arts.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Relaxing Kua When Pushing Hands

I guess this is soon going to become the "Relaxing Kua" series.

I was pushing hands today, and came to experience for myself the importance of relaxing my kua when my opponent pushes. When my opponent pushes, and I relax the kua of my back leg, I am at the same time able to relax my arms, and turn my body, warding off his force.

But every once in a while, especially when his force is big and fast, I panic a bit, forget to relax the kua of my back leg. Because of this, I am unable to turn my body as my stiff kua has now been locked. In order not to resist his push, I keep shifting my weight back, but with no way to turn his force away. The result? I get backed into a corner, with no way of escape, and eventually lose my balance or get pushed away.

So watch your kua, it is very important when you are trying to turn your body to redirect attacks away.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Relaxing Kua When Shifting Weight

Just a very short note. This is about how to relax kua. There is a need to relax kua when shifting your weight. When the weight is on the back leg, and you want to shift your weight to the front leg, first, you need to relax the kua of your back leg. Then, slowly push with the back leg to shift your weight to the front leg. A common mistake I make when shifting my weight is to forget to relax the kua of the back leg before I push with it to shift my weight forward. The result is the bobbing effect, in which your body moves up, then down, as you shift your weight from back to front.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Strong to Gentle Part 2

I talked to my teacher about this (see previous post here) today. He said that being able to use an opponent's force against him in a gentle manner is really a matter of skill, which means practice, which means time. First is to develop the strength of your peng, which must come from the strength of your legs. When you are able to direct the force generated by your legs up to your arms, you will be able to peng and withstand your opponent's force, no matter how strong it may be.

At the same time, you must train to turn you kua. Without training your kua, you will not be able to turn and redirect your opponent's force, especially when it is strong. The key to turning your opponent's strong and abrupt force into a gentle counterattack is to turn slowly. To be able to turn slowly requires you to be able to turn your kua and be able to withstand his force with your peng.

For beginners like me, when we first start to become able to feel our opponent's force and use peng to redirect it, we are usually not yet able to control the speed of our peng, being either overly anxious or overly cautious. We meet the opponent's abrupt force with our abrupt peng, resulting in our opponent losing his balance in an abrupt manner. It takes time and practice before we can acquire the skill to peng slowly, slowly drawing our opponent into losing his balance.

Taiji and Principles of Life

Taiji is a way of life. It is not just a martial art, it is not just a sport, it is not just an exercise. It is a philosophy on how to live life.

Taiji teaches us that we should not be consumed with the desire to win. When pushing hands, we should not be aiming to push our opponents down. We should be concerned with developing our skills in the basics of taijiquan, such as how to peng (ward off) and an (push) correctly. When our minds are not clouded by our desire to win (and our fear of losing), we are less likely to resist our opponent's force, and thus more able to feel his force, and subsequently use it against him. Similarly, in life, it is not about winning all the time. The less occupied we are about winning or losing, the less pressure we feel, and the better we perform as we are not stressed by our emotions.

My teacher likes to say that, when pushing someone, you only use 70% of your full effort, leaving 30% to give yourself some leeway in case he counterattacks. Forcing your opponent into a corner is bad, as a cornered dog will bite back. Also, committing yourself 100% means that you cannot pull back should he be able to redirect your force. In life, when dealing with people, we also give them some leeway. We shouldn't force people too much, as they may then react in unexpected manners when backed up against the wall. By not overly forcing people, you are giving yourself more options to deal with them.

And there are times when you lure your opponent in, or follow his force, letting him think that he has gained the advantage. Then, when he commits (or even over-commits) himself, you ward off his force and use it against him. When applied to life, sometimes it may be more advantageous to give way to others first. Let them have their way, before you try to steer them towards yours. Sometimes you must retreat first before you can advance.

Wisdom of Our Forefathers Part 2

The people who developed taijiquan really are great. They not only studied human anatomy in great depth, they also studied human behaviour.

It is human nature to be afraid of losing, to want to win. Humans are impatient. And taiji takes advantage of these. Fear of losing (or the pressure to win) causes one to make mistakes, as judgment is clouded by emotions. By learning to keep calm, the taiji practitioner is able to see, and feel, much more clearly than someone whose mind is preoccupied with winning and losing.

And when one is afraid to lose, the reaction to resist an oncoming force becomes second nature. And taiji uses that second nature against you. When you resist, the more you resist, the harder you fall. Our forefathers studied the natural reaction to resist, and taught us to relax instead, so that we can feel the opponent's force, redirect it and use it against him.

It is a natural reaction to move back when attacked. Besides resisting an oncoming force, we move our body back to put distance between us and the opponent. Taiji teaches us not to run away. By running away, we let the opponent close in further, backing us up against a wall. Instead, when the opponent attacks, we should be ready to stand up to his attack, and be ready to meet his force.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Strong to Gentle

By relaxing, I am able to sense when my opponent starts to use force, and if he uses brute force, I am able to ward it off. The problem with this right now is that, I am still unable to control his force. So if he uses a lot of force, by warding off his force, it causes my opponent to move very abruptly. That is not what I want to achieve. I want to be able to do what my teacher can do. When he wards off your force, it is in a very gentle manner. Even if you use a lot of force, he is able to use your own force against you, yet it is not abrupt. It is very gentle, so that even when you lose your balance, you probably won't hurt yourself.

I thought the key lies in relaxing and drawing circles. Well, I tried that, and nope, I was still unable to use my opponent's force in a gentle manner. Relaxing and drawing big circles only allowed me to better ward off his force, but if his force is abrupt, he still loses his balance in an abrupt manner. I guess I need to think more about this, and maybe ask my teacher.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Sun Tzu's Art of War and Taijiquan Part 2

"Attack that which he must defend." When your opponent attacks, the first priority is to ward away his force. Next comes counterattack. Now, sometimes that is difficult, especially if you have trouble using his force against him. For example, his force is also very soft, so you find it find any force to use against him. What you can do then it to make him react, make him use force, by acting in a way in which he must response. For example, if your opponent is pushing you, with his hands at your elbow and wrist, one way is to use a bit of force at your elbow, baiting him to change the force he is using on each hand (change his 虚实). Once that happens, you can then take advantage of his lighter hand to move in. If he reacts and his lighter hand becomes the heavier hand, you move in on the other side instead. This allows you to slowly gain ground.

"Know yourself, know your enemy, and a hundred battles you can fight without worry." Knowing yourself comes from practising routine, in which you learn how to relax, how to shift your weight, how to maintain your balance, etc. Knowing your enemy comes from being able to listen to his force, which of course is the result of practising pushing hands. Only with these two will you be able to meet opponents with confidence each time.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Wisdom of Our Forefathers

My teacher was talking about relaxing our kua today, and it struck me how much study our forefathers put into developing taijiquan. They must have studied human anatomy very closely and realised that usually, when we move, the hip swings together with the legs (the femur and pelvis move together, just watch any pretty lady walking down the street :) And they developed taijiquan to exploit this. When leg and hip move as one, a person's centre of gravity can easily be moved. By practising and learning to relax the kua, so that hip and leg do not move as one, a taijiquan practitioner is able to move his upper body freely and yet maintain his centre of gravity. So he is able to move his opponent while holding his ground.

Monday, February 19, 2007


My teacher is good at locking my arm when doing single hand pushing hands. By locking, I do not mean those locks used in judo or other martial arts, in which arm locks are used. I am referring to my teacher putting his wrist on my wrist, and I am unable to move my arm without locking myself.

The feeling is this. He puts his wrist against mine. He doesn't push or pull, or do anything at all. Yet when I try to use peng to move his arm, I find that I cannot move his arm. The more I try to turn my kua to move my waist so as to peng, the more I find myself locking my arm against my body. And of course, using brute force does not help at all. My teacher simply uses whatever force I bring against him to put me off balance.

When I ask my teacher how to counter this, he tells me to peng. But of course, he says my peng is not able to move his arm yet because my kua is still not able to turn properly. Basically, the kua of both legs must be able to turn fully before a person can peng properly. Otherwise, there will still be a bit of ding (resisting force) left, which is why my teacher is able to lock my arm without having to do anything more than putting his wrist against mine.

I guess it is back to practising lan que wei...

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Don't Push Too Hard

Yesterday, I was pushing hands when I realised that my opponent was using a lot of brute force. He was using the strength of his arm to push, rather than the strength from his legs. So I tried to use it against him. I kept pushing in, trying to use his force against him the moment he moves, trying to seal off his movements. I kept moving in, pushing his limits, trying to seal off his movements even before he gets to move much.

In the end, I kept committing myself too much. I kept pushing him limits, not giving him space to breath, and in the end, I found out that I was delving too deep into enemy territory. There were a few times when I over committed and lost my balance instead, having pushed too far. By trying to prevent my opponent from moving, I ended up going in too deep with my force, allowing him to use it against me.

The moral of the story is that, the more allowance you allow your opponent, the more allowance you are giving yourself. My teacher likes to say, "Give your opponent 30% chance to escape, and you are giving yourself a 30% chance of escape too."

Sun Tzu's Art of War and Taijiquan

Taijiquan is like war. Or at least, that was the impression I got when I was reading a few passages from Sun Tzu's Art of War the other day, trying to kill time.

"Armies are without fixed disposition just as water is without fixed form." Similarly, in taiji, force is like water, flowing in wherever there are openings. There is no fixed "this hand must be hard and the other soft". Whichever hand is the one using force is whichever hand that is unopposed (ie. there is an opening provided by the opponent there.)

"Make the enemy adopt a disposition dictated by you." In taiji, using light and heavy, hard and soft, you shape your opponent's response. You make him move in the way you want him to move. In other words, you take the initiative away from him. He may or may not be the first to move, but you always end up having the initiative and making him respond to you instead.

"Adopt a position of no defeat." Master peng, and you will be able to ward off all attacks on you, and therefore place yourself in a position of no defeat. It is why peng is the most important of the taiji basic movements. Once you are able to prevent yourself from defeat, you get to choose when to sally forth with your attacks.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Old versus New and Fajing

I was asked why I am not learning Chen Style New Frame, since I have already learnt the Old Frame. Well, my thoughts on the new frame is that it is not really that new after all. The old frame is the origin, and the new frame was introduced to show off one of the more distinctive feature of Chen Style Taiji, which is fajing. The old frame first routine teaches basics, the second routine emphasises fajing. The new frame first routine just adds a few more fajing into the old frame first routine. So, if I can do my old frame first routine correctly, and practise the few fajing inside, I will be able to develop my fajing too. I don't need to learn the new frame to be able to fajing.

On the topic of fajing, a fellow student commented that Yang Style, unlike Chen Style, does not have fajing. I think this cannot be further from the truth. All styles of taijiquan have fajing, it is just whether it is done in an obvious way, or a less obvious way. For example, Chen Style has very distinctive, strong and fierce fajing, but not seeing the same thing in Yang Style or Sun Style does not mean that they don't have fajing. When pushing in Yang and Sun styles, there is a small, final turning of the hand and sitting of the wrist. That is the fajing in these two styles. It is not as obvious as in Chen style, but it is fajing all the same. It is a softer form of fajing.

Thus, there is no real need to practice a routine that has a lot of strong fajing. There are many forms of fajing, and it is better to practise a routine that is well balanced in both strong and soft fajing. After all, taijiquan is not about how strong your fajing is, but how well you can use it.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Relax but Peng

I learnt something new again today. It has to do with relaxing (song) and peng. While pushing hands today, I tried to relax so as to feel my opponent's force, and from there neutralise it. But I forgot to do a very important thing. While relaxing, I forgot to peng too. The result was that my opponent was able to push in quite close to me before I turn and ward off his attacks.

After a while, I recalled my teacher saying that when I peng, I need to make the force at both my wrist and my elbow the same. When one is heavier than the other, my opponent will be able to exploit this and enter where my hand is lighter. That was when I realised that I have not used peng when he pushed. What I had been doing as my opponent pushed was to relax, let him push in, sense his force, then turn it away. But this allowed him close to my body, putting myself at great risk should he suddenly use brute force.

So I tried to peng while relaxing when my opponent pushed. The result was totally different. I was able to keep him away from my body, yet at the same time, I was able to feel when his force is coming. I was able to neutralise his attacks far from my body. The next question is to find out how to use the strength of the back leg to peng while relaxing and letting my opponent push towards me.

Laziness is a spiral

Very few people turned up for lesson today. I am sure it is not that they are lazy, but still it affected me a bit, since laziness was something that my superior talked to me about yesterday. You can read about my thoughts here in my other blog.

Even if it is not laziness, we just shouldn't miss lessons without reason. After all, the teacher takes his time and effort to show up, we should show respect for him and turn up for lessons too. If we have any good reasons not to, we should inform the teacher beforehand. Being tired is not a good reason. Being busy is not a good reason too if we can still squeeze time out or rearrange our schedule. Good reasons would be things beyond our control, like the boss calls a last minute meeting, the car broke down on the way to class, etc.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Making Mistakes

My teacher, and also one of his senior students (he has been with my teacher for over 20 years) said the same thing to a fellow student today. "Making mistakes is making progress." When I first heard this, I was wondering, huh?

The explanation soon followed. When you become aware of your own mistakes, that is the first step towards making progress, towards improving. When we first start learning, we are more focused on trying to remember the steps, and fail to pay adequate attention to the little details as well as the principles of taiji. But as we progress, when we start to realise our own mistakes in details or principles, that is when we know what we need to change. Being aware of our mistakes is the first step towards being able to change them.

Which is why my teacher and senior student bother said the same thing. Once you know your own mistakes, you will start to think about how to correct them. You will start to tell yourself to watch out for the same mistakes, and try not to make them again. In doing so, you are actually improving your form, and it brings practice from "remembering the steps" to the next level of "correcting mistakes".

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Slow versus Fast

Why do I do my taiji sets slowly? For the past 6 months and more, I have been taking about 25 minutes to complete one set of Chen style old frame first routine. When I lead my fellow students in practice, the feedback I get is that this is too slow for them, most of them are unable to follow, especially towards the later half of the routine. So today, I did my routine much faster, just to see how it is like.

Firstly, the reason I take 25 minutes to do one routine is not because I intentionally work on making my movements slow. Instead, the reason is because I am checking myself for mistakes. I keep checking whether I got each movement correct, whether I am following the principles of taiji (such as keeping my back upright, relaxing my kua, shifting my weight properly from leg to leg, etc.) If I don't take time to practice each movement, I would not be able to check my movement before I move on to the next.

Of course, in Chen style, there are specific movements which needs to be fast (the punches, the kicks) which is where I move fast, as per the requirements of the movements. But since taiji is about having both fast and slow, whenever I do a fast movement, I compensate by doing movements before and after it slow. But again, this is not intentional. I am just moving slower so that I can check myself better in preparation for moving fast, to make sure that I have everything correct before I fa jing.

So what happens when I practise fast? I had the feeling like I was rushing through the routine. In fact, before I could even check my movements, I was moving on to the next one. Basically, I was not learning anything, it seems like I was just going through the motion. In fact, I usually sweat a lot when I practise. But when I increase the pace, I had thought I would be panting and sweating by the end of the routine. Instead, I wasn't sweating as much, and I wasn't panting at all. My legs didn't feel tired at all. Going at that pace, I probably could have done the routine a few more times. Compare this to when I practise slow. Usually, after the second set, my thigh muscles would be aching, and by the third set, I would be feeling ready to crawl home.

Practising fast may be good at first, because you get to practise the routine a few more times, making it easier to remember. But once you remember the movements, it is time to move towards practising slow, which is to pay attention to the details and make sure that you are practising each movement correctly.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Attitude when pushing hands

Having the correct attitude when pushing hands is very important. After all, pushing hands is a learning activity for both parties involved. We are there to learn from each other, both to learn about ourselves as well as our partners. During pushing hands, through practising with our partners, we learn about our own strengths and weaknesses. We also learn how to listen and know the strengths and weaknesses of our opponents.

So what is the correct attitude towards pushing hands? Well, I don't dare to say I have the correct attitude. All I can do is share with you my attitude towards pushing hands.

First, be humble. Even if you have been pushing hands for a while, you are not perfect, so be willing to accept that fact. There are times when others can manage to push you. Accept that with grace, rather than frustration or anger. Don't think too highly of yourself when you manage to push your opponent. Sometimes, it is because he doesn't want to resist your force. Sometimes, it is because he may cause you harm if he tries to ward off your attack.

Be willing to accept defeat. After all, if you start out already willing to lose, you will not panic when an opponent manages to push you. If you don't panic, you are less likely to resist his force. Your mind will be clear to consider your options, and you can then act accordingly. Keep telling yourself not to resist (it is a common mistake for everyone). Keep reminding yourself of the basics (peng, relax the kua, turn the waist, etc.)

Be patient. Look for openings in your opponent's actions. Take your time to adjust yourself so that you do not present any openings for your opponent. Take your time to look for ways to counter your opponent's attacks.

Treat your opponents with respect. Do not cause intentional harm to your opponents. Which means that cai, lie, zhou and kao should be used sparingly. Also, sometimes, when your opponent's force is too great, warding it off may result in you throwing your opponent way off his balance and causing him hurt. In such cases, it may be better to let him have his way (as long as you don't end up hurting yourself) rather than to ward off his attack.

The above has helped me to learn and benefit from my pushing hands sessions. If there are any other pointers, please feel free to share them.

Friday, January 26, 2007

How Not to Resist

Today, during my weekly pushing hands session, two of my fellow pushing hands partners were up against one another. One of them (the squash player) decided to use brute force. The other, not being one to submit easily, decided to use brute force against brute force. The scene reminded me of two bulls with horns locked in a fight. In the end, the squash player was able to push the other away most of the time. The bottomline? When using brute force, the one with the stronger muscles win.

So how NOT to resist brute force? While the principle of taiji is to relax, the mental attitude is also very important. There is no use telling someone to try to relax if he is not willing to try. Just as the Chinese saying goes, "He who gambles must be willing to accept losses", the correct mental attitude for those learning pushing hands should be, "He who takes part in pushing hands should be willing to accept being pushed by his opponent." With this mental attitude, you can then go on to tell yourself, to remind yourself constantly, "When he pushes, I will not use brute force to resist, I will try to neutralise his attacks by relaxing."

While initially, you will probably find yourself being pushed around a lot, as you are unable to relax and use peng properly yet, after a while, you will realise how relaxing actually allows you to peng properly, and that is when you will start to have minor successes in neutralising attacks made using brute force. The more relaxed you are, the better you are able to sense your opponent's force, the better you are at knowing where to redirect that force to neutralise it and even attack back.