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.