Saturday, August 29, 2009

Training Together Part 2

A year ago, I wrote about the importance of training together in a group. Recently, this issue surfaced again. I was too slow for the rest of the class. I was slow because I was trying to enjoy the practice, to complete each move properly. But by being slow, I am not able to react to the changes around me. So should I follow the rest?

Yes, and no. Yes, I need to follow the pace of the class as a whole, because that teaches me how to react to the pace of others. Taiji is about keeping pace with your opponent, and group practice is a good way to learn that.

No, because even when trying to keep pace, you must not end up speeding through each movement without completing it properly. Even when trying to keep pace, you need to continue to complete each movement properly, otherwise, the practice becomes just an exercise to move your bones and does not add to improving your skill.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

What is Relax part 2

I have written about what it is to relax in previous posts (here and here). But that is just the physical portion of relaxing. While physically relaxing the body is part of being able to apply taiji, it is not the complete picture.

Taiji is about the mind. The most important part of this is to relax the mind. Whether you are practising your form, or pushing hands, or facing a real opponent, the most important aspect of taiji is to do it with a relaxed mind. So what is a relaxed mind? It is one which is not overly focused, yet does not wander all over the place. For example, while practising your form, you may be paying some attention to your kua to make sure you sink and relax it properly, yet at the same time, your attention is not so focused on your kua that it becomes your single preoccupation. When practising your form, while you try to practise each move to show its application, you are not so focused on showing the applications of each move. When pushing hands, while you try to listen to your opponent's force, you are not actively seeking to know where his force is going.

This "in between yes and no" is the most important thing about relaxing your mind. The focus is there, but it is not sharp. In a way, it is like aiming your camera at a specific nearby object, yet not focusing the lens to get a sharp image. In this way, while the specific nearby object appears slightly blurred, the surroundings are not lost.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Proposed Training Programme

Just a thought I have on how train from now on.

Basic foundation exercises 基本功 for 30min
Specific movements 单招练习 for 30min
Form/routine practice 套路练习 for 1hr

The first 30min is to build up a good foundation, to instill in the body the correct posture and requirements for taiji, to improve the movement of the joints, etc. This will include basic warmup exercises to increase flexibility, as well as silk reeling exercise.

The next 30min is to rectify and improve the execution of specific movements within a routine. This should help to get rid of bad habits and aid in application. An example will be continuous practice of Grasp Sparrow Tail (拦雀尾).

The last 1hr is to put into practise the principles of taiji, focusing more on the internal aspects such as staying relaxed, using the mind to lead the body, etc.

Comments? I will be happy to hear about how you train too, because I may be able to draw reference from that for my own training.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Bajiquan Videos

Here are some more baijiquan 八極拳 videos from Youtube.

A sparring routine used to practise application (and response).

Matsuda Ryuchi 松田隆智 performing bajiquan. He is the author of the comic Kenji 拳児, which is a comic about a person's bajiquan learning journey.

This is the competition form used for wushu competitions nowadays.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Learning to Relax

Just when I thought I had made a bit of headway in learning how to relax, I realised how far away I really am.

When I pushed hands with my teacher, I still feel force, and I know that is brute force coming from me. Yes, it is a bit, very little, but still, it is muscular force that can be used against me when pushing hands. It is muscular force that is preventing me from being able to apply the soft side of taiji properly. It is muscular force that comes about because I still cannot relax.

And I think it is because I am still using a lot of muscular force when I practise my routines. Taiji is about the mind moving the body, but I still end up using my muscles to move the body. While it may sound funny/ridiculous (how else to move if not to use muscles?), the muscles here I am referring to is the muscular force that we are so used to using, the brute force that we are used to using. So, after some thought, I think the way to improve and learn to relax is to go away from the muscular force and work towards using the mind to move the body, to use the mind to make the movements when practising my routines. Once I can do that, maybe I will be able to relax better and not like the muscular force manifest itself when pushing hands.

A Gentle Lock

Just to share an experience I had.

I have previously talked about the hard and soft applications of the same move in taiji. Last night, my teacher was using me to demonstrate a move. When he used lyu 捋 on my arm, placing one hand on my wrist and another at my elbow, I had the strangest kind of feeling. I felt that I couldn't move. I felt that if I tried to move my arm, no matter which direction, the hands being placed at my wrist and elbow would not allow that movement. And all my teacher did was to place his hands on my arm. It was not like he was locking my arm with force. It was what I call a gentle lock. It is because his "listening" is so good, that every small movement that I make, he was able to detect and move in the smallest/slightest way to counter it, while still maintaining his hands at my wrist and elbow.

This is what taiji is about. Winning without having to fight. Just like what Sun Tzu said is the highest form of winning. Without an overt expression of force from my teacher, I (whose arm was being locked) knew exactly what was in store for me should I try to struggle and fight back. And I knew that I had no way out of it.

It will be a long way (if ever) before I get to this stage. But at least it is something to remember, and slowly work towards.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Trimming Your Fingernails

Once thing that I learnt back in the days when I was learning wushu, and have since been practising, is to keep my fingernails short at all times. Because for someone who practises martial arts, it serves practical reasons to have short fingernails.

1. There is less chance of your nails catching onto your opponent's clothes and breaking at the worst possible time and causing you unnecessary pain and distraction.

2. Your nails won't break when you are trying to punch or poke someone, causing you unnecessary pain and distraction.

3. Your nails won't scratch your practice partners, causing them unnecessary pain and injury.

So, for yourself and the people you practise with, I would advise keeping your fingernails short. It will benefit you (or at least prevent a disadvantage for you) and is a courtesy to others.