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.