Sunday, May 31, 2009

How to Peng part 3

I have written about how to peng before (see here, here and here). I have written about relaxing before. I have written about how not to resist, and how relaxing is different from going limp.

Today, I am going to write again about peng, because the most important movement in taiji is peng. Peng is not about resisting, yet it is also not about going limp. If you don't use some force, you cannot peng. Yet if you use too much force, you will not be able to peng as well, because you will not be able to listen to your opponent's force.

Peng is what taiji is about, it is how you can use four ounces of force to divert away a thousand catties of force (四两拨千斤). But 四两拨千斤 is not totally going without force. You still need a bit (four ounces) in order to do anything about the thousand catties of force. What it means is that you are able to use a little bit of force to move a very big force. And how you do that is because, when you are relaxed, you are able to sense (listen) the incoming force, ascertain its direction and magnitude, and thus use a small token force to divert away the incoming force.

Blocks in karate and external martial arts attempt to accomplish the same thing, which is to divert away the incoming force. But because they do not differentiate between the direction and magnitude of the incoming force, the force needed to execute a block is always the same. In taiji, because we listen to the incoming force to ascertain its direction and magnitude, we are able to tailor the force we use to block/peng.

And once you are able to listen to the incoming force and use peng, you can then redirect that force back to your opponent.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Yielding vs Following

The important thing in taiji is not to resist your opponent's force. But that does not mean yielding to his force. There is a difference between yielding (譲) and following (随).

When you yield, you are not resisting, and your opponent's force comes in, and you end up with nowhere else to go.

But taiji is not about yielding. First, you need to be aware of your opponent's force, so you listen/feel for it. Then you need to stick to it, so that it doesn't slip away. Then you follow it to where it is going. And then you lead it towards where you want it to go. The reason why you do not resist your opponent's force is so that you can feel where the force is and where it is going, so that you can then lead it towards where you want it to go.

Slow != Correct

For those who don't do programming, the symbol '!=' means 'not equal to'.

A friend of mine said that when driving a car, "slow doesn't mean safe". That is true, but I also have to add that "fast is inherently dangerous".

In taiji, when practising your routines, slow doesn't mean correct. But similarly, fast is fundamentally wrong.

My teacher takes about 40 minutes to complete a set of Yang style 108. For me, I took about 30 minutes. But the difference is that, when I am doing my set, I move so slowly that I seem to have pauses in between, which is fundamentally wrong. Yet my teacher finishes his set in a longer time, without appearing to have pauses. Why?

I think the answer is that he completes each movement fully, while for me, I sometimes move into the next movement without completing the previous one (because my kua is still not relaxed enough to allow me to turn fully). So the important thing is to complete each movement, and keep moving continuous so that there are no pauses.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Taiji is Cruel 2

I was walking home after taiji class, when it occurred to me why the moves in taiji are so cruel. It takes a long time to be able to correctly apply the principles of taiji, to learn how to listen, understand, neutralise and use force. Once you are able to do so, you are able to control your opponent's and your own force so well that you can choose the exact effect that you want, whether it is to make your opponent lose balance, break his ribs or push him back a few feet. But until then, you are unable to properly use "soft against hard". So if you meet up with trouble and really need to save yourself, you will need to rely on technique rather than skill. That is why the techniques in taiji are designed to be cruel and lethal, so that it is one shot one kill. The underlying rule is that a person learning taiji will be a person of martial morals, and thus will not abuse the cruel techniques, instead using them only in times of dire need.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Martial Morals 武徳

Martial morals (武徳) is an important aspect of training in martial arts. When I was learning wushu, my coach would always finish off each training session by gathering the students and talking to us. My taiji teacher likes to talk too, though he doesn't make it a practice to talk to the students together as a group. While the topics vary, the important thing is to glean a bit of understanding about how my coach or my teacher thinks about life in general, about their principles in life, about how they go about dealing with issues. Although they are not 100% correct (then again, who is to judge right and wrong?) they do serve as examples that we can learn from, to build up our own set of martial morals.

One of the calligraphy pieces that I wrote.

While we may have skills that can subdue the world, it is only through our martial morals that we can make the world submit to us. You can defeat an opponent by skill, but you can only win his heart with your morals.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Moving With Kua

I came to realise something last week while observing my teacher as he was explaining something to another student. It has to do with the evergreen issue of kua.

Sinking/relaxing/turning the kua is more than just that. We need to understand why we are doing it, which will eventually help us in being able to transfer the force from the legs to the hands. When my teacher sinks or turns his kua, the action is translated to his hands, i.e. when his kua moves, his whole body moves together, the hands move as well. He is able to use the turning motion of his kua to move his body, his shoulder, his elbow and his wrist. And because he is able to uniformly distribute the force throughout, there is no one location which is "heavier" than another, and thus there is no "edge" for me to leverage on against him. He is like a spinning sphere, touch him at any point and you get thrown away.

On the contrary, when I move my kua, I am unable to properly translate the force to my body and hands. The force is unevenly distributed along my arm (usually being heavier either at my wrist or my elbow) and thus, my opponent is able to leverage on that to return my force to me. I am like a spinning cube, there are points at which if you apply the force in the correct direction, you will be able to push me away.

So the lesson here is that we need to move using our kua, which helps us to distribute the force generated from our legs uniformly across our entire body so that we can become a spinning sphere. For example, when pushing, we move our body forward by pushing with our back leg. Towards the end of the push, we need to sink/relax our kua, but at the same time use that movement to continue pushing (by relaxing our shoulders, sinking the elbows and sitting down our wrists).

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Back to Basics

In order to correct my "Chen style hands, Yang style legs" problem when practising my Chen style old frame first routine, I am going back to the basic of silk reeling exercise, to train up my ability to twist my kua properly so that I can better demonstrate the silk reeling movements that forms the basis of Chen style.