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.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Knee Injuries

A common problem experienced by beginners is knee injury. Some of my fellow students, especially the new ones, complain about feeling pain in their knees after starting to learn taijiquan. In fact, when I first started learning from my teacher, I had the same problem too. My knees would hurt, and I would ask myself what was the cause. I thought it was because my legs are still not strong, my knees not used to the exercise. In the end, I started to wear knee supporters during practice, and even took glucosamine to help my knees heal. After about a year, however, the problem seems to have been cured, or at least gone away.

However, looking at my fellow students who are now facing the same problem, I think I know what is the real cause. Beginners are unable to relax their kua. Thus, when they bend their knees, without relaxing the kua, their weight is supported by their knees, putting unnecessary stress on their knees. If they relax their kua, their legs will become like a spring, and their weight will then become evenly distributed along their leg (like in a spring). This prevents unnecessary stress on their knees.

Thus, if you are currently experiencing pain in your knees, look at your stance. Is it because your kua is not relaxed, and you are putting unnecessary stress on your knees? Your legs should be like two springs supporting the weight of your body, not like two twigs about to break under the weight of your body.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Resistance is Futile

Yes, it is true. Resistance is futile. No matter how strong you may be, resisting is not going to work. One of my pushing hands partners likes to use a lot of force. When I am able to relax and redirect his force away, I am able to neutralise his attacks in time. However, when I am unable to, and I try to use force too, and resist his force, we end up in a deadlock. Worse, he is a squash player, while I don't lift weights... so you can guess who has the stronger arms. I end up with very tired upper arms...

But how to resist the temptation of resisting? How to tell your body to relax, and how to react in time to redirect his force away? I know the key to redirecting his force is in my kua, but I am still unable to relax my kua to use it correctly. Most of the time, it is still my backside that is moving around, or my kua will stick out (especially the back leg). I guess this is a reflection of my movements. This is an area that I will need to work on when practising my routine. Only when my movements become second nature, will I be able to correct apply them during pushing hands. Meanwhile, I just have to live with being pushed around whenever I am unable to neutralise my opponent's attacks.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Appearance 神态 and Details 细节

I was talking to my teacher about slow movements when practising Chen style. He told me before that in Chen style, there must be slow and fast movements (有快有慢, 快慢相应), and when he demonstrates this, there is the flavour of Chen style. However, whenever I try to practise movements slowly, I am unable to replicate the same flavour. Instead, my movements are just plain slow and neither resembles Chen nor Yang style.

This may be because of paying attention to details (细节). When I try to pay attention to the details (keeping body upright, shifting the weight properly, making sure my wrists, elbow and shoulders are correct, etc.) I am not paying attention to appearance (神态). The result of paying attention to details is that as my attention is constantly roaming around my whole body, my actions end up losing continuity (no 绵绵不断), and the upper body and the lower body do not move as a whole (no 上下相随). As a whole, my routine still looks quite loose (散).

However, when I try to pay attention to appearance, I still cannot bring out the flavour of Chen style (or Yang style) as the movements lack sufficient meaning (lack 内涵). This is because the details are just not there.

Details allow you to apply taijiquan. Appearance shows the application of taijiquan. One cannot do without the other. However, in the beginning stages, it is impossible to do both. Paying too much attention to appearance will mean that the details (and therefore the basics of taijiquan) are not there. In the long run, this will hinder my progress. However, paying too much attention to details will mean I can apply taijiquan but don't know how to apply the movements, ie. I can peng, but I won't know when to peng.

The path seems to be to start with the basics, to start with paying attention to details. With sufficient practice, your body will start to move as a whole. Once you have reached that state, more emphasis can be placed on appearance, so that in the end, not only can you apply taijiquan, but you know when to apply the various movements.