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.