Sunday, March 15, 2009

Stages of Taiji - Big Strong Fast Light

The book "Flashing Steel" talks about four stages in training, namely "big, strong, fast, light". How does this apply to taiji?

Big: This is the stage in which we are concerned only with the big (aka main, broad) movements. We have yet to start paying attention to details, and we are performing our movements big and broad. We adopt lower stances to build up our leg muscles. This is usually what people call the "big form". The aim of this stage is to know the movements, and build up a good foundation.

Strong: This stage is when we have built up a proper foundation, when we are able to properly transfer the force from our legs to our arms. We are able to apply force without brute muscular strength, with the force being generated from our legs. The aim of this stage is to be able to properly manifest the strength generated by our legs to where we need that force.

Fast: In this stage, we are now longer constrained by the slow movements of taiji, being able to adapt our rhythm to suit the opponent. While in previous stages, moving fast meant using muscular strength, in this stage, we are able to move our bodies as a whole, and can move fast without having to resort to muscular strength. The aim of this stage is to be able to properly manifest the spirit of "fast forms" without having to resort to brute strength.

Light: This is the stage in which, having mastered the fundamentals of taiji, we are able to move our bodies as a whole, to adapt ourselves to suit the rhythm of our opponents, such that we can move fast or slow. The aim of this stage is to be able to move light as a feather such that our opponent cannot figure out where our force is coming from, yet because we are so light, we can react even faster to any changes.

Taiji Classes by Mr Kwek Li Hwa

My teacher is Mr Kwek Li Hwa, and he teaches taiji at a few places in Singapore. Below are some of those places.

Tampines Changkat CC on Mondays, 8pm to 10pm
Toa Payoh East CC on Tuesdays, 8pm to 10pm
Poh Khiu Temple on Wednesdays, 8pm to 10pm
Hong Lim Green CC on Thursdays, 6pm to 7:30pm
Kreta Ayer CC on Saturdays, 7pm to 10pm (see link)
Ang Mo Kio Ave 3 Blk 323 multi-storey carpark (top floor) on Sundays, 7:30am to 9am
Kampong Ubi CC on Sundays, 10:30am to 12noon
Tampines Changkat CC on Sundays, 7:30pm to 9pm

Most of them are at community centres, so do feel free to sign up for these courses if you are interested. For some photos and videos of his classes, you can take a look at the blog for the class at Kreta Ayer CC.

How to Improve

After learning taiji for some time, the question comes up on how to continue to improve, how to break beyond the current level. How do you move beyond technicalities, and move into the realm of being able to show the true flavour of taiji?

I still have mistakes here and there with details, yet when I try to correct my details when practising my routines, I end up focusing too much on getting the details correct that I am unable to relax, and thus lose the true meaning of taiji. So how do you move on from here?

Instead of remaining in my current stage, where I practise routines, I need to change my training style. To change the mistakes in the little details, I need to practise each move by itself. Repeating each move over and over again, each time paying attention to the details, is the way to make sure that it is correct.

Then, when practising my routines, I should just relax, and let the movements flow into each other, without paying attention to the details. I need to trust that in my practice of each move, I have already gotten each move correct, so when I string them up into the routine, all I need to tell my body is what is the next move, and trust that it will perform the next move correctly. That way, my focus is on the overall rather than the minute details, allowing me to relax.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Learning From Books

Two book reviews in my other blog:

The Inner Game of Tennis, which is about tennis and not just about tennis. I especially like the portion that talks about the mentality that we should adopt towards competition.

Flashing Steel, which is about iaido. I especially like the first part of the book that talks about the philosophy behind martial arts and the stages of progression in training.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Being Nervous

I was told to perform Chen style taiji in front of the class today. Somehow, I right after a few moves, my legs felt very tired, ending up that I was struggling to finish the form. When I talked to my teacher about this, he said that it could be because I was nervous, and also it may be due to putting in too much effort during the beginning, and thus not having enough left for the later part of the form. Usually, I don't feel nervous, having performed in front crowds and taken part in competitions before. Thus I guess it might have been the latter reason, in which I was trying to show my best, resulting in me tiring myself out from the start and not having enough energy to properly continue till the end. This is again a shortfall... I was trying to prove myself in front of others, when I should be adopting a more relaxed mentality, and I should have been adopting the mentality that I will just perform what I have always been doing without a need to try and prove that I am good.

Relax Your Expressions

While demonstrating Chen style taiji today, my teacher pointed out that I am closing my mouth too tightly. It is something that I haven't realised on my own, but which I think needs to be looked into. Because taiji is about relaxing, and if I cannot relax my expression, then it means that I have yet to be able to fully relax while practising my forms.