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.