Sunday, June 28, 2009

Article on Self-Defence Classes in The Sunday Times

An article on self-defence classes was featured in The Sunday Times Lifestyle section on 7 Jun 2009. It started off with an interview of a fellow pushing hands student (the reporter came to visit us during pushing hands class). Below is a scanned image of the article. Those who subscribe to The Straits Times online can view it here.

The side article lists a few self-defence classes available in Singapore. Below is the excerpt from the side article on my teacher's pushing hands class.
Below are two photographs taken by the reporter, but it didn't make it into the print edition. My teacher is the one wearing white, and the one pushing hands with him is the person who was interviewed. The pictures were taken from here.Ever since the article ran, we have seen an increase in the number of students at pushing hands class. Besides the original class at Kreta Ayer CC on Thursday nights 8:30pm to 10pm, there is another class at Kreta Ayer CC on Saturday evenings 5:30pm to 7pm, and at Tampines Changkat CC on Sunday evenings 6pm to 7:30pm.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Taiji and Aiki 合気

In a way, taiji is very similar in principle to the Japanese martial arts of daito-ryu aikijujutsu 大東流合気柔術 (and its better know derivative, aikido 合気道). Taiji is based on neutralising your opponent's force, and so are the other two. Taiji has 化劲 while the other two has 合気. Both are 化劲 and 合気 based on not using the instinctive reaction force (aka resistance) but through giving up on this instinctive reaction force, you gain another type of force (which is 化劲 or 合気).

The means to achieve this force is slightly different, but has similarities as well. Daito-ryu/aikido focuses on partner training, in which two persons will help each other to apply movements. Through the practice of these movements, they seek to understand how to give up on this instinctive reaction force. For taiji, routines are practised by one person alone, yet a partner can also help to train up in the application of the movements (similar to how daito-ryu and aikido do their training), as well as pushing hands to build a foundation in the skills of taiji.

The end result is the same, to gain the ability to use 化劲 or 合気.

Applying Taiji

I have written about the applying taiji before, as well as how to learn the application of taiji via sparring routines.

There are two ways to apply taiji, namely to apply the techniques of taiji (in terms of how to use the different movements that you can find in a routine) and how to apply the skills of taiji (like how to neutralise force and how to return force).

To learn how to apply taiji movements, you need to constantly think about application when practising your routine. That is one method. Another is to have a partner who feeds you with attacks, which you then use a specific taiji movement to counter. You keep practising how to use that movement to counter an attack until it becomes second nature.

To learn how to apply the skills of taiji, it must be done together with gaining those skills. To gain those skills, you practise pushing hands. You feel for your partner's force, and try to discern its direction and magnitude, and then you try to neutralise it and return it to your partner. There is no fixed move, just the basic moves (peng lyu ji an cai lie zhou kao 棚捋挤按采挒肘靠) of taiji.

Both methods are correct in how you apply taiji, yet there is a difference. If you only practise how to apply the movements, you will be able to handle attacks that comes in fixed patterns (those that you have practised with your partner). But when it comes to things outside your usual range of practice, you will be caught off guard without a solution. But if you were to instead be able to apply the skills of taiji, then you will be handle all situations, even if you have never met them before. That is what is meant by "无招胜有招" "No (fixed) movements winning against (fixed) movements".

At the end of the day, in order to master the application of taiji, I think we need to use both methods.

Facial Expressions

In previous posts, I have written about facial expressions and how to add soul and spirit to taiji routines. Today, as I was watching a Japanese drum performance, I once again thought about the importance of facial expressions.

Meaning (意) and spirit (神) is very important in taiji, and practising routines is one of the main ways of learning taiji. So when we are practising our routines, we need to express the meaning and spirit of taiji, else our routines will be empty, and our practice will also be in vain (just actions, aka 摆架子). Watching the Japanese drum performance taught me the importance of facial expressions. When a good drummer plays, his facial expressions matches the rhythm and mode of the piece, because he is fully engrossed in expressing the rhythm and mode of the piece, such that he becomes one with the music. So when the rhythm is fast yet light, his face shows a happy expression, and when the tempo builds up to a thundering roar, his face becomes more serious. When the tempo softens and slows, his facial expression is relaxed.

The same for taiji. You need to match your facial expression with the meaning and spirit of the movement that you are doing. When the movement is smooth and slow, your facial expression should be relaxed, when the movement is small and faster, your facial expression should become more serious. When your facial expression matches your movements, it shows that you understand the movements, and practice becomes meaningful.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Secret Moves (秘伝技)

Is there such a thing as secret moves, that are sure-win moves when used? In aikido and daito-ryu aiki-jujutsu, there are such things as secret moves (秘伝技). But are they sure-win?

I think everyone has his or her own "secret moves". And each of us will have different "secret moves". Just what are these? They are actually movements that we are good at, that we are able to apply properly and thus gain an advantage. We are good at these movements because we have reached a level of training that allows us to apply these movements correctly.

And to round this up, I think the "secret moves" are really the basic moves. These basic moves that we learn right at the beginning are the most fundamental moves, embodying the principles of the system that we are learning. They are simple yet effective, and thus applicable in a wide range of situations.

Xingyiquan (形意拳) Competition Style

A video of the xingyiquan (形意拳) champion in Singapore's 2006 wushu competition.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Sparring Routines

Martial arts is about defeating an opponent. One feature common to Chinese martial arts is the use of routines to train. But one cannot train in the skill of defeating an opponent just fighting empty air. You need an opponent to practise against.

That is where sparring routines (对练套路) come in. These are routines in which one learns how to apply the techniques/movements as well as how to counter/block them. These are practised by two partners. One would practise the movements as found in a normal routine. Another would then use movements from within that routine as well to counter the movements.

An example is the bajiquan sparring routine below.

Once both partners are able to perform the sparring routine smoothly and with proper application of force, they can then move on to free form sparring. Pushing hands is a form of controlled free form sparring, with certain rules, to allow taiji practitioners a controlled environment to slowly build up their skills in applying taiji movements.

Fast But Not Scattered

A common mistake that I keep making when practising my Chen style routine is the habit of flinging my arms about when I try to make my movements fast (in order to have a variation of rhythm within my routine). There is a more pronounced change in speed for Chen style, yet fast doesn't mean swinging my arms around and end up being like changquan. Fast and steady, not fast and scattered (快而稳,不是快而散). To do that, I have to learn to control my movements, to watch this bad habit of mine when practising. The key is in turning using my kua. When I am able to turn with my kua, no matter how fast or slow the movement it, I can control the speed yet not appear scattered. There will be a certain force that can be felt from it.

Back to the drawing board... and more and more practice!

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Thoughts on Performances

Don't be surprised, but there are actually many wushu/taiji performances taking place round the year in Singapore. Most of them are events organised by/at community clubs, though SNWF also organises some activities as well.

Of late, my teacher (and his students) has not been taking part in performances. The last major performance we did was a few years back, when Queen Elizabeth II visited Singapore and he was asked to get his students to perform taiji to showcase as one of the activities that goes on in the neighbourhood of Toa Payoh.

While I don't like the idea of public performance of pushing hands, I think it is important to take part in performances of taijiquan. Firstly, preparing for the performance gives the students an objective to work towards, so there is a reason for them to practise hard and to try for certain standards. At the same time, it exposes us to what other people are doing, so that we don't end up living in our own world. After all, taiji is practised in many different ways by many different people, it is always good to know how others are practising taiji (though we don't necessarily need to follow their style/way).

It is the same with competitions. We take part in competitions not for the glory or the recognition by others, but rather to give a goal for us to work towards so as to focus our energy, and at the same time, ascertain our own standards.