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.