Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Challenging Yourself and Your Teacher

One way to learn is to challenge yourself and your teacher, by asking him to teach your the most difficult things. Challenge yourself to learn the most difficult, and at the same time, challenge your teacher to be able to teach you the most difficult. If you succeed, you have managed to learn something that others have yet to learn, and your teacher has also shown that he can not just teach the easy stuff but also the difficult ones. And being able to teach something means you are able to truly understand something.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Open Up Your Knees

Recently, when I was checking my movements using a mirror, I realised that my body was slanted to one side. Yet no matter how I tried to straighten my body, I wasn't able to find a comfortable position that allowed me to straighten my body and yet maintain a firm stance.

During one of my practice sessions, my teacher was looking at my movements, and he pointed out that my forward knee was collapsing inwards, and thus my butt was protruding out to the opposite side. I realised that this was what was causing my body to slant to one side. A very simple problem with a very simple solution. My knee was collapsing inwards. I needed to open up my knee. That was all. Once I was able to do this, I felt so much better.

And my teacher also pointed out that the knees must always be opening outwards. Even when the toes are pointing inwards, the knees must open outwards. Otherwise, you will not have a stable stance. And in order for your knees to open outwards with toes pointing inwards, your kua must be relaxed and you must be able to turn your kua. This is yet another important lesson in a long taiji journey.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Pushing Hands Training Mentality

What is pushing hands training about? Why do we train with a partner? And how should we train with a partner?

In pushing hands, the objective is to make your opponent lose his balance. You can either push him, or let him fall off balance from over-exertion of his own force. The aim of the training is to correctly apply the principles of taiji so as to be able to sense your opponent's force and his centre of gravity, such that you can then ward of his attacks and use his force against him.

Thus, when training with a partner, we should as much as possible try to push him, so that he can learn to ward off our attacks. And we should as much as possible let our partner push us, so that we can learn of our own weaknesses and improve from there. When we push our opponent and he loses his balance, we are not trying to prove who is the better practitioner. Rather, we are just trying to help our partner learn about his own weaknesses. Similarly, when our partner manages to push us away, we should thank him for showing us our weaknesses, and work on the problems exposed. When we start to push at each other with the sole purpose of making the other fall, we have lost sight of our aim. It is something that we all need to remember and continue to ask ourselves as we practise pushing hands.

Pushing Hands Classes

For those in Singapore, my teacher Mr Kwek Li Hwa (郭礼华老师) teaches pushing hands at Kreta Ayer CC (level 2 activity room 4) on Thursdays from 8:30pm to 10:00pm, and at Changkat CC (level 1 dance studio) on Sundays from 6:00pm to 7:30pm.

Here are some photos that I managed to snap during classes today.

Monday, December 08, 2008


I won't talk about taiji proper today. Rather, I want to bring up the issue (or rather, to highlight the non-issue) of lineage.

There are many practitioners out there who are concerned about lineage. Before they learn from someone, they want to know who is the teacher's teacher. And there are also those who teach, that like to stress who their teachers are. And of course, those who seek out renowned teachers to learn from them. Ultimately, they are all after the same thing - lineage. They want to be associated with certain people, either directly or indirectly.

But why is lineage important (or not important)? I think it is important only if you are unsure of yourself, or of what your teacher is teaching. "This is what I learnt from the great master so-and-so, therefore, it must be right." But if we go by this thinking, then there is only one correct form of taiji, which is Chen style old frame. Because all the other taiji masters of old trace their lineage back to Chen style.

So why then do we have so many other styles now? It is because while the masters of old traced their lineage back to Chen style, they have gone beyond being mere copycats, and instead of replicating the form of taiji, they have replicated the spirit and principles of taiji in their own routines. The actions may be different, but the spirit and principles are the same.

Thus, as we continue down our taiji journey, let's not be too obsessed about lineage. Rather, look at your teacher, and see if he is able to embody the spirit and principles of taiji in the way he performs his routines, the way he teaches his students, and the way he lives his life. That will benefit you more than being the disciple of Master So-and-So, who may have studied no more than a week under more renowned masters.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

What Is Relax 松?

What does relax 松 mean? It may sound like not using strength 力, but that is only half the story. A common misconception is to take the strength out of the arms, thinking that is what relax is about. But when you do that, your arms have gone soft 軟, which is wrong. When your arms are soft and limp, they allow your opponent to push in and you have no way to avoid it.

Relax is not just about the arms, it is about the whole body. And importantly, it is about relaxing the kua as well. When your kua is relaxed, when your opponent's force comes towards you, you are able to move your kua to first absorb the force, then turn the force away. In order to know that his force is coming, your arms need to be as light as possible. Once you know the direction of the force, because your kua is relaxed, it automatically moves in the direction of the force, thereby absorbing it. Then, by turning your kua, you are able to deflect the force away.

A reason why people keep reverting to using brute force is because they are not able to relax their kua. Thus, when their opponent's force comes in, their arms, if soft and limp, is unable to deflect away the force. Eventually, their arms will be pressed against their body, and then they will be pushed away. Thus, to avoid being pushed, they start to resist their opponent's force using the strength of their arms, which is brute force. The important thing is to keep reminding yourself to relax your kua when your opponent's force comes in.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Whose Force Is It? Part 2

Sometimes, we think it is our opponent who is using brute force, rather than ourselves. After all, we think we know the principles of taiji, we think we are applying them correctly, we think we are relaxing, we think we are correct. We think too highly of ourselves. So how do we know whose force is it that we are feeling? Who is the one using brute force?

Recently, I haven't been practising as much, and thus when I go for pushing hands lessons, and feel that my opponent is using brute force, I sometimes ask myself if it could be that I am the one using brute force, and my opponent is only returning my force to me. But I managed to observe something the other day. My opponent's arm was quivering. Yes, quivering. From using brute force. And thus I got my answer.

When your opponent uses brute force, sometimes, things will get out of hand and pushing hands become very rough. For myself, I am still unable to counter brute force such that I can protect myself yet control the amount of force being used against my opponent. Thus, the more force he uses, the more likely I will use it against him, thus increasing the danger to both of us. It may end up that my opponent uses brute force, I use it against him, and he uses more brute force to counter, and thus I use that against him, until things get out of hand with too much force being used and chances of someone getting hurt. Usually, when that happens, I would let go and let my opponent have his way, so as not to end up getting either one of us hurt. I guess I have a long way to go before I can be like my teacher, and control the amount of force being returned to my opponent.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Are We Practising Correctly?

A question came up today. How do we know if what we are practising is actually correct?

At first, I didn't know the answer, or rather, didn't bother to think much about the question. But now that I have some time, thinking about it, I guess it has to do with pushing hands.

We will know if we are practising correctly (both forms and pushing hands) if, during pushing hands, we are able to feel the direction of our opponent's force, neutralise it, and then return it back to him, without feeling that we are using brute force (ie. the muscular strength of our arms). Because in order to do all that, we need to be able to apply all the principles of taiji, both in terms of physical requirements (sinking/relaxing kua, body straight, etc.) as well as mental/emotional requirements (not being afraid to lose, keeping calm, etc.)

So if you are curious as to whether you have been practising correctly, during the next pushing hands session, ask yourself if you are able to sense your opponent's force, deflect it away and back at him, all the while without tensing the muscles on your arms.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Turning My Kua

Just when I thought I had it figured out, I found out that I was wrong.

I had thought that turning my kua meant that when I my weight is on my right leg, and I want to shift over to my left leg, I should sink my left kua and then use my right leg to push myself to the left. Turns out that this is only half the story, and thus, the wrong way to do things.

During a short discussion on Chen style silk reeling exercise (a basic taiji exercise that is often used as a warm-up), my teacher pointed out to me that my kua movement is wrong, resulting in me turning my backside rather than my kua. The right way to turn my kua is actually as follows.

When my weight is on my right leg, in order to shift to my left leg, I need to sink my left kua and at the same time, as I am sinking my left kua, I need to be pushing to the left with my right leg. Thus, both my left and right kua are moving at the same time.

The difference? The previous/wrong method has me moving my left and right kua sequentially, while the correct method is to move them together.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

You Have The Answer

I was driving back from a pushing hands lesson, and in my mind were some questions. I was going through them so that I can organise what I want to ask my teacher the next time I see him.

But as I was going through the questions, I started thinking more about them, and in the end, I realised that I actually had the answers to the questions. I realised that I had the answer to what I should do when my opponent pushes me till I have no more room to retreat, or what to do should he stiffen his hands to prevent anyone from moving it. And the answers are all so simple, because taiji is very simple. The principles are always the same, it is just a matter of realising when to apply what.

So if you have a question, think about it. Go back to basics, and who knows, the answer may be within yourself!

Practise Seriously

We need to be serious in our practise. And that includes not just when we are practising our forms, but also when we are doing one or two moves to clarify our doubts, or when we are running through a newly learnt move trying to remember the move. Especially when we are still learning a new move, it is all the more important to practise it correctly. So everytime you learn a new move, there is no "I am just trying to remember the broad actions". Every effort should be made to try to get the move right. If everytime you do a move correctly, it is practise as well. Whether you are trying to remember it, or demonstrating to someone else, or actually putting time into practising it.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Low Stance Pushing Hands

My teacher mentioned that in the past, when he was learning pushing hands, they used to adopt very very low stances. He always likes to tell us that we are standing up too tall, that we need to "sit lower".

But adopting a low stance is not necessarily correct. The important thing about taiji is being able to relax and turn your kua. So even when adopting a low stance, you must not do so at the expense of not being able to relax and turn your kua. So while you may need to open your legs a little further apart to adopt a low stance, you must not open your legs so wide that you cannot move your kua at all. In fact, to correctly adopt a low stance, you space your legs just wide enough, and it is through relaxing your kua and thus sinking it down, are you able to adopt a low stance. And in doing so, you will find that you can turn your kua as well, instead of having a low stance but being unable to move much.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Mongolian Bowl Dance and Taiji

Today, we went to watch a concert featuring drums and dance. I have talked about how drums and taiji are alike in the past. Looking at the Mongolian bowl dance (see the Youtube example I found below), I was impressed with how the dancer could actually keep the bowl on top of her head, balance it so well and yet still move so freely. In fact, she was able to walk straight and level, not the bobbing up and down that we usually walk. And it brings us back to taiji, in which when we shift our weight from leg to leg, we need to avoid bobbing up and down. We need to move like the Mongolian bowl dancer, keeping our head at the same level all the time.

Relax Your Arms

Besides relaxing your kua, which is very important, one more mistake that I commonly make is to use my arms' muscular strength to move my arms when I am practising my forms. Strength should come from the legs, and through turning your kua, the strength gets transferred to the arms to move them. And in order for that to happen, you need to relax your arms (shoulder, elbow, wrist) as well.

So while you concentrate on relaxing you kua and turning your kua using your legs (see pushing with your legs), you must also remember to relax your whole upper body, so that the strength generated from your legs can actually get through to your hands.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Relaxing Your Kua

This is a lesson relearnt. Obviously, I have yet to realise how wrong I have been practising my moves. Even though my teacher has pointed out that I need to relax my kua, and not just sink it, I still have not been able to grasp what it means. Last night, after another practice session, I am beginning to grasp a little of what my teacher meant.

I had thought that using my kua means sinking it, and then turning it. Well, I was half right, and thus half wrong. Sinking my kua and being able to turn it should not be the focus of my training. Instead, I should focus on relaxing my kua, such that it is not tense, such that I don't focus solely on sinking my kua and trying to turn it, and end up tensing my whole body. If I am able to relax my kua, I will find that it will sink down naturally, and it becomes possible to turn it. It is the key to both form practice, as well as pushing hands.

Laughing At Myself

Sometimes, when I managed to push someone, I smile at myself. Not because I am happy. Not because I am conceited. But because I am laughing at myself. I am laughing at myself for being so eager to win, even though I know that I should not be so, even though I know that I should be ready to lose. It means I have a long way to go, before I can clear my desire to win, and truly master the spirit of taiji.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Training Together

My teacher talked about the importance of training together today. When you practise taiji in a group, keeping pace with each other, you will inevitably find that the pace is sometimes too fast or too slow for you. That is because everyone has their own pace when practising. However, it is important to keep pace when in a group, so that everyone is more or less doing the same action at the same time. This is actually good training, since it trains you to react to what is happening around you, to either move faster or slower in reaction to the action of the people around you.

Once you can react to people around you, when your opponent suddenly changes pace, you will be able to keep up as well.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

The Spirit of Competition (Again)

This is not my first post on the spirit of competition. But it is something that is important enough to talk about.

Recently, the National Wushu and Taiji Competition 2008 took place. Besides the post on, there is also a forum post at as well. Reading all the comments and posts, it seems that this year's competition wasn't that well organised, and wasn't that fair too.

The main complaints?
1. The judges were too young.
2. The judges don't seem to know how to differentiate between traditional and competitive forms.
3. The judges seem to give higher points to their own students to help them win.

If we are going to have a national competition to spur people on to greater heights in their practice of martial arts, then the competition must be fair. And that will depend greatly on the judges. If the judges are out to help their students win the competition, even if they don't deserve to, then they are not fair. If the judges are giving points to those who perform impressive moves such as jumps (something which is usually not found in traditional forms), then they may not be qualified to judge traditional forms. If the judges are too young, they may lack experience in judging, and knowledge in what is good and what is average.

And most of all, by not having a proper competition, it is the students, the competitors, who suffer the most. They go away with the wrong lessons. The average ones who win medals go away thinking they are good, which may make them proud when they should be humble. The good ones who went away losing may become disheartened, which is contrary to the competition's aim of spurring the level of wushu/taiji in Singapore to greater heights.

In the end, if a competition cannot be open and fair, then maybe it is time a watchdog steps in to correct the situation. If there is no checks and balances, eventually, the organising committee will run things their way, get away with it, and all at the expense of the wushu/taiji circle in Singapore.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Singapore National Wushu and Taiji Competition 2008

I didn't manage to take part in the competition this year, because of work constraints.

My teacher decided not to be a judge this year, even though he was asked to be one. Because he thought it strange, even demeaning, to ask a seasoned, qualified judge to attend another 3 more days of judge training.

And here are some comments on

Seems like there were quite some comments about how the competition was organised and executed this year. I heard they even charged an admission fee, something that they have never done in the past!

I wonder where our National Wushu Federation is going... sigh...

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Left and Right

Just when I thought that my taiji journey has slowed down, today, I managed to learn something again, just by observing my teacher while he was talking to another student.

I used to wonder why is it that my teacher can so easily cause an opponent to lose his balance by opening his arms. Today, I realised that is what Sun style's "open" is about. Relax your kua, then turn in one direction to draw your opponent forward. If your opponent stops resisting and goes with your force, he will eventually lose his balance as you bring his centre of gravity further and further away. If he resists and tries to pull in the opposite direction, just reverse your force by turning in the other direction, and he will fall backwards.

Tired = Wrong

Do your arms start to feel tired during pushing hands? Do your arms suffer from muscle aches after pushing hands? If so, you are doing it wrong. It means that you are using the muscle strength of your arms, rather than the force generated by your legs. It means that you do not know how to relax, that you are unable to relax your kua, unable to relax your arms.

So while you may think that you are not using muscle strength, while you may think that you are relaxing your arms and kua, if your arms start to feel tired during pushing hands, it means you are not. It is one of the easiest gauge of whether you are using brute force, or following the principles of taiji.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Lose With Meaning

As I like to say, winning is not everything. But does that mean we should lose?

Yes and no. Yes, we should lose, if losing means we keep to the principles of taiji, but somehow just get bested. No, we should not lose, if we cannot learn anything from losing.

The important thing is that, when you lose, you need to know why you lost. When you make a mistake that allows your opponent to gain an advantage, you need to know what that mistake is, and why you made that mistake. Only then, is there meaning in losing, and ultimately, you get to learn from defeat. Otherwise, you just lose big time.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Take The Openings

Sometimes, there may be an opening available, yet we hesitate to take the opportunity because we are unsure of what lies in store. Is it a trap? Or is it a chance?

Today, I learnt that when there is an opening, take it. Even if it is a trap. If it is a chance, you will gain from it. If it is a trap, then react to the trap, and try to turn your misfortune into another opportunity for yourself. With skill, you will realise that you can turn the greatest misfortune into gain for yourself. All openings, real or fake, then becomes opportunities for gain.

So if your opponent presents an opening when pushing hands, take the chance and attack. If it is a trap, neutralise his counterattack and use it against him.

Admitting Defeat

It is important to know when you are bested. After all, if you have been defeated, there is no use struggling. Admit defeat, then move on. The most important thing is to learn from your defeat, know why you were defeated, and not make the same mistake again.

At the end of the day, being defeated allows you to learn about yourself, to know your own weaknesses (and strengths) better. And with self-knowledge comes great power.

Slow But Fast

My previous post talked about doing my routine faster. Well, that is not the way to go. Nope, in fact, doing my routine seems like I am rushing through things, and in the end, nothing is achieved.

The key, it seems, is not to do the routine faster, but to do the routine slow, yet know where to increase the speed. So while the whole routine is done at a slow pace, there will be occasions when the rhythm picks up. In that way, the routine doesn't appear monotonous, yet it doesn't seem to be a mad rush. I guess this is what is meant by 快慢相济.

So the important thing for me now is to practise and practise, until I get the timing correct.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Do It Faster And Many Times

My teacher told me that I am still not turning my kua, and suggested that I practise my routine slightly faster. Because it could be that my kua is turning, but because I am doing the routine so slowly, it is not noticeable. Well, I think if my kua is turning, whether I practise my routine fast or slow, it will be noticeable... but still, I will try to take his suggestion during my next few practices. The only concern I have is that when I practise my routines fast, I usually end up panting, which is not good.

Also, he mentioned that it is not useful to practise a routine, rest a while, then practise it again. It is more useful to practise a routine continuously for a few times.

So for my next few practices, I am going to practise my routines faster, and without rest in between.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Just Squeeze

Last night, my teacher was talking to another student about how to "squeeze" 挤. The most important lesson I got from this? It is that when you are going to do something, just do it. Don't think too much about "if he does this, then I will do this; if he does that, then I will do that". Think too much and you won't be able to do what you want in the first place.

Saw a similar post in another blog when I was surfing just now.

So don't hesitate, don't try to anticipate too much, see an opportunity, grab the opportunity.

Chen Style Taiji Sword 陈式太极剑

A video clip taken from yumintay's blog.

The static photo (before you click play) is my teacher, Mr Kwek.

1、朝阳剑    2、仙人指路   3、叶底藏花   
4、魁星式    5、哪吒探海 6、青龙出水
7、护膝剑    8、闭门式    9、青龙出水
10、翻身剑 11、青龙转身   12、斜飞式
13、展翅点头  14、拨草寻蛇   15、锦鸡独立
16、哪吒探海   17、盖拦式   18、古树盘根
19、饿虎扑食   20、青龙摆尾 21、倒卷肱
22、野马跳涧   23、白蛇吐芯  24、乌龙摆尾
25、钟馗仗剑 26、罗汉降龙   27、黑熊翻背
28燕子啄泥   29、摘星换斗   30、熊鹰斗智
31、燕子啄泥   32、灵猫扑鼠   33、锦鸡抖翎
34、海底捞月   35、哪吒探海 36、犀牛望月
37、劲风掩草   38、斜飞式   39、左托千斤
40、右托千斤 41、左截腕    42、右截腕
43、横扫千军  44、金针倒挂   45、白猿献果
46、落花式    47、上刺剑    48、下刺剑
49、斜飞式    50、哪吒探海 51、鹞子翻身
52、韦驮献杵   53、磨盘剑   54、金针指南

Give Him What He Wants

A simple lesson, but important nonetheless. If your opponent wants something, let him have this way, give him what he wants. He wants to pull, let him pull. He wants to push, let him push. The important thing is not to resist him.

After letting him have his way, the next step is to use what you have learnt to change the direction of his force (without going in the exact opposite direction, since that becomes resisting his force). For example, if he pushes towards you, you can direct his force upwards and then away. If he tries to push you down, you can direct the force towards him.

Give him what he wants, put yourself in a seemingly disadvantageous position to lure him towards committing himself to using more force, and then redirect that force to your advantage. That will allow you to turn what seems like defeat into victory.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Chen Style Taijiquan and Xin Yi Ba 心意把

We all know that the various styles of taiji developed from Chen style taiji. However, from where did Chen style taiji develop from?

Matsuda Ryuchi 松田隆智 has his own theory about the development of taijiquan. He sees a connection between Chen style taiji, and Shaolin's Xin Yi Ba 心意把.

As you can see, figures 3 and 4 are similar to Chen style's 金刚捣堆, if not the same. Yet it is not in other styles of taiji, such as Yang and Sun styles. Why? Could it be that this move was only added into Chen style after Yang style was borned?

掩手耾拳 - Which Leg To Put Your Weight On

Is 掩手耾拳 a reverse thrust (karate's gyaku-tsuki 逆突き)? According to the books on Chen style taiji that I have, they all state that the punch is performed with the right hand, with the weight on the left leg. Yet, my teacher teaches me to punch with the right hand, with the weight on the back (right) leg. His reason being that if your weight is in the direction of your punch, you can easily lose your balance, something which your opponent can easily use against you. Your weight can be on whichever leg, since the power from your legs can be directed by your waist to your arms. Putting your weight on the back leg gives you a more stable punch without compromising on the power of your punch.

I ask this question because I was reading a book by Matsuda Ryuchi 松田隆智, author of the Japanese manga "Kenji" <拳児>. In his book <続・拳遊記>, he showed examples of 掩手耾拳, and mentioned that when he learnt it, he was taught that the back (right) leg is straight, rather than slightly bent (like what is being taught nowadays). He feels that the straightened back leg adds to the power of the punch, and that is true if 掩手耾拳 is to be done like a karate's reverse thrust.

A picture of Chen Xiaowang's 掩手耾拳. (From

Friday, May 30, 2008

A Slip

I let slipped my hand today.

And was told that I slipped because I was resisting, that I was using brute force to resist my opponent's force. And it was true. So I slipped, in all sense of the word. I was resisting my opponent's force, when I should have been trying to let him have his way, to redirect his force away.

So I decided that I won't let that happen, that I will let my next opponent have his way. And I did. He wants to push? I let his push, then tried to neutralise his force and return it to him. He wants to pull? I let him pull, and use his pull to close in to him. He wants to play rough, to grab and lock arms? I gave him a taste of his own techniques, by locking his arms. It was wrong, but I decided that enough was enough when he just wouldn't let up and continued to push my limits. Here I was, trying my best to learn the finer techniques of pushing hands, and yet he continued to use brute force and play rough. So I decided to give him a taste of his own medicine, only that I tried as much as possible to cause him pain only when he uses force.

Is this right? No. Do I feel good about it? Actually, no. But I think it helps me, because everytime I make a mistake, and let my anger take over, I chastise myself and move one step closer towards better control over myself.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Image Training イメージトレーニング

Image training, or イメージトレーニング as the Japanese calls it, is very important in learning how to apply taijiquan. So what exactly is image training? It is imagining yourself going through the motion, without actually being in that situation. A classic example is shadow boxing, in which you imagine your opponent punching at you, and you train your body to react by ducking, feinting, counter-attacking, etc. Another example would be to dribble a soccer ball, imagining yourself changing directions as your imaginary opponents try to tackle you or block your way.

In taijiquan, it means that when you are practising your forms, not only do you think about how to apply each move, but you try to imagine how each move should actually feel. For example, as you shift your weight to your back leg, you imagine your opponent pushing, and yourself absorbing his force. As you shift your weight forward, you imagine yourself listening to your opponent's force, and returning his force to him. Beginners are unable to do this, since they don't know how an opponent's force will feel like, how it feels to absorb or return your opponent's force. But someone who practises both pushing hands and the forms will gain the most benefit, since it allows him to, in a way, "push hands on his own". And when he actually crosses hands with an opponent, because his mind has been conditioned to react to certain "feelings", his responses are much faster.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Don't Think Too Much

I realised that there is no need to think too much. The thinking should have been done before you put your hands against your opponent's. The moment you cross hands, it should be natural flow, acting and reacting based on what you have been doing day in and day out.

When you practise the forms, you should be thinking about how to use them. And thus, when you actually face one of those situations, it should just be a natural reaction. For example, when his force come, just relax, then return the force. Don't need to think too much about how to return the force, where to return it, etc. Just do it. When you think too much, you lose the opportunity, and that is why you find that you are unable to return your opponent's force.

Listen and Learn

It is very important to listen to what your teacher has to say, even if he keeps saying the same thing (probably because you keep making the same mistake), or if what he says doesn't make sense. Because taiji is amazing because some of its principles seem to contradict what we term common sense or basic instincts. It makes sense to us that when someone tries to push us, in order not to push, we have to resist his force. But taiji says that in order not to fall, we have to go with his force and not resist it. We know that in order to move fast, we have to train fast. That is why our athletes keep running, so that they can run fast. But taiji says that in order to react fast, we have to train slow.

Some people scratch their heads when they listen to their teachers saying these, and never really have the patience to learn what they mean. In the end, they give up, unable to grasp what taiji is really about. Only those who are willing to listen and have the patience to learn will truly understand what their teachers are trying to tell them. It comes with patience and many defeats and lots of frustration, but in the end, you will learn what taiji is all about, and why slow can help you to react even faster.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Playing Rough

One of the new students at pushing hands class plays quite rough. While it is an unspoken rule at our class that we don't use the more violent and rough techniques like bashing, elbow jabs, grabs and pulls, this new student, being very competitive, has been using these techniques. Looking at him, it is fortunate that no one has gotten hurt yet.

But do we really need to play rough in order to win? And do we really need to win in the first place?

The way I see it, if you really want to win that badly, and you are willing to play rough (and thus maybe even hurt your opponent), then you should also have nothing to say when your opponent ends up hurting you. After all, in order to protect himself, sometimes, he may have to use more extreme techniques to counter your violent and rough moves. A more experienced practitioner may be able to slowly counter your rough moves, but the more inexperienced one may not be able to be as gentle as well, when he needs to protect himself from getting hurt. He may not be able to soften your brute force before returning it at you.

So if you want to play rough, go ahead. But be ready to take responsibility should you really hurt someone badly. And you have no one to blame, if someone hurts you badly. After all, if you don't respect your opponent, he won't respect you too.

Saturday, April 19, 2008


The other day during pushing hands, I was taught how to lu 捋 properly.

The important thing is to wait for your opponent to commit his force. A common mistake of mine is that one I sense his force coming, I try to divert it away. While this meant that my opponent is unable to push me, it also means that I am deflecting his force away without causing him to lose balance, since his centre of gravity is still well within his two feet.

My teacher demonstrated how to do it properly. He let me push. All the way, until my hands are close to his body. Then he used peng and lu to first deflect my force away, then draw me off balance. Because I have committed my force and my centre of gravity was near it extremities, a little help from my teacher and I lost my balance.

It reinforces the principle of "don't be afraid of losing". Allow your opponent to commit his force before you act, because otherwise, while you won't lose, you won't win either.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Let Him Have His Way

During a recent pushing hands session, I came to realise how important it is to let your opponent have his way. When he pushes towards you, you have to do your best to deflect the force away. But once the force has been diverted away, you shouldn't just push towards him. Instead, you should try to let him lead you towards him. See where his diverted force is going. Follow it. In doing so, he won't realise that he is the one leading you in, and by the time he realises it, you would have went in beyond his defences.

Similarly, if you have pushed, and your force has been diverted away, don't panic and try to bring your force back. See where your opponent has diverted your force, and see if there is any way to bring it back towards him instead. Divert the diverted force back towards your opponent.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

A Student With a Heart

My teacher started teaching a new class of students today.

The new class is actually organised by one of his ex-students. She used to learn from him for about slightly over a year at a church. But because church activities interfered with classes on a regular basis, the class was discontinued about a year ago. While some of the students then mentioned that they will join other classes (my teacher teaches at quite a few places), none of them actually turned up.

Who would have expected that a year later, one of them would gather people together, and organise a new class for my teacher.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Lack of Practice... But Moving Ahead

I haven't been practising very diligently of late. Work has been in the way, and thus I end up with very little chances to go for practice. But whenever I can, I try to practise, even if it is a small little movement or a small segment.

But I can feel myself moving ahead.

I am starting to realise how to use my kua to turn, how to use my legs to push, how to relax my kua, how to shift my weight properly, how to transfer the force from my legs to my arms. Somehow, I feel that my movements are not so "right" anymore.

I guess that practice is only half the journey. You need to reflect on your practice too, in order to improve.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Learning Fajing 发劲

Today, my friend started learning xingyiquan 形意拳 from my teacher. Looking at him practise sets me thinking about fajing.

In internal martial arts, the strength comes not from the muscles, but through the close coordination of the whole body, such that the whole body's weight is put into use. When we start to learn fajing, we may have the misconception that fajing is about a sudden burst of strength. So we try to recreate that effect, by using the strength of our muscles. But that is not fajing.

Fajing is a manifestation of the close coordination of the whole body such that the body's weight is employed to a certain point. In order to do that, one must first learn how to coordinate his whole body's movements. So, to learn fajing, first you must relax and not rush to see that "powerful burst of strength". Relax and go through the movements, making sure your body moves as a whole and complementing each other, instead of each component (arm, leg, waist, etc.) moving on their own. Only after constant practice and a long period of diligence will you start to see that you are able to slowly focus your weight to the place that you want to use it. Slowly, the powerful burst of strength that you had wanted to see will slowly manifest itself as your body's movement become coordinated. The strength that results is natural and smooth, unlike the rough and crude strength that comes from using muscles.

Yang, Chen and Sun

These are the three main styles that my teacher teaches. And thinking about it, these three complement each other very well.

Yang style is good for improving peng, lyu, ji, an, while Chen style is good for cai, lie, zou, kao. And Sun style is good for improving your footsteps. Master Yang style, and you have a solid defence. Master Chen style, and you can surprise your opponents. Master Sun style, and you will be able to spring that surprise from anywhere.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Experts in Pushing Hands

Being able to make someone fall does not make one an expert in pushing hands. The real expert is one who can make someone fall, when his opponent is trying to make him fall. Thus, when he is not being attacked, he does not attack. But once his opponent tries to attack him, he uses his opponent's force to counterattack.

So, being able to push someone down is just half the journey. And sometimes, you are able to push someone not because you are using your force correctly, but because you are using brute force. There is still a long way towards being able to make your opponent push himself down, to make him fall on his own.

Drawing Circles When Pushing Hands

Last night when I was pushing hands with my teacher, we were practising how to just draw circles smoothly, in as light a manner as possible. My teacher was telling me that whenever I push hands, all I need is to relax and draw circles, and I will be able to neutralise all attacks, and if my opponent uses brute force or resists, he will lose his balance.

What my teacher did was that he drew big circles, leading my movements towards the extremities of my centre of gravity. When I push, he will use my strength to lead me further forward. When I retreat, he will follow my force and make me move back a little further. Then, just when you least expect it, he draws me just a little beyond the edge, and I would fall. All these, while simply drawing circles.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Don't Panic

One of our natural reactions is to tense up when we feel fear. Once we sense danger, it is only natural for us to try to fight or flee. And that reflects in pushing hands as well, when our opponent manages to find an opening in our defence.

And it is all the more important when being attacked to remain calm. Once you panic, you tense up, you kua is no longer relaxed, and you become a single stiff block easily pushed by your opponent. Instead of panicking, if you remain calm, you can then relax your kua, which allows you to sink your weight, making it harder for your opponent to push you. Then, you can take your time to slowly neutralise his force, sensing where he is coming from and then deflecting it away.