Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Taiji and Music

This came up during one of the recent taiji classes.

My teacher likes to play music during taiji classes. Recently, he had to leave class early, bringing along with him his set of music. We students were thus left "musicless".

Someone commented that it feels weird practising taiji without music.

I think music helps to create a soothing environment for practising taiji. Yet we must not rely on the music to create the environment. After all, taiji is about cultivating the inner self. The environment we create for taiji is within ourselves. Music may help, but ultimately, it is we ourselves we have to find our own means to create that inner environment. With or without music.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

How to Improve part 2

This is to add on to the previous post on how to improve.

Besides just practising each move by itself, I need to practise each move many times by itself. Each time, I need to pay attention to certain details to make sure that I am getting it right. I should not pay attention to ALL the details and try to get EVERYTHING right in one go. That is impossible and likely to hinder more than help. Instead, taking it one step at a time, I need to work on a single problem each time until I am able to correct it, and then move on to the next problem.

For example, taking a single move (Single Whip), and practising it 100 times, with the first 10 times focusing on whether my body is straight, the next 10 times on whether my kua is sunk and relaxed, and the next 10 times on whether arm is relaxed, and so on. At the end of 100 times, I would have gone through all the common mistakes. Repeat this for other moves, and repeat over time to revise and review (in case the old bad habits come back to plague me). It is not easy, it is time consuming, but only with hard work, patience and lots of practice can improvements be made.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Force On Force

Someone asked me during pushing hands class about using shoulder to hit someone. For example, when doing single-hand pushing hands, if the opportunity arises, can we use shoulder bash to counter? He proceeded to demonstrate what he meant by shoulder bash, which is basically zhuang . I told him that taiji is about using soft to counter hard, so using zhuang is a bit contrary to that principle. A better way is to use kao 靠.

It got me thinking, though. So why shouldn't we use zhuang but instead use kao? I think it is because if we choose to use zhuang and the opponent returns in kind, one of us will become injured. Why? Assuming my zhuang has a force of 50kg. If my opponent returns in kind with a zhuang of 100kg, the impact will be 150kg. Ouch! And the resultant movement will be against me (because his force is stronger), which means 50kg on force pushing me back. Thus, when we meet force on force, the stronger force wins. The weaker force ends up getting very seriously injured.

I guess this is an oversimplified way of explaining things, but it does serve to illustrate why we shouldn't try to use force, because we never know how strong our opponent can be. If he turns out to be stronger, we end up injuring ourselves instead. So the next time you think about using the hard application of taiji, think again. It may not be worth it.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Chen Style Hu Lei Jia (忽雷架)

This is Hu Lei Jia (忽雷架), which readers of the comic <拳児> ("Kenji") will know. It is slightly different from what you would expect from Chen style taiji.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Taiji For Health, Fame or Money?

There is a recent taiji boom in Singapore. Not just any taiji boom, but rather, a boom regarding a set of taiji routines developed by a group of doctors, supposedly good for people with arthritis, osteoporosis and even diabetes. I guess doctors, being professionals, know what they are talking about and I don't doubt the results of their research. After all, we all know that taiji, besides being an effective martial art, is also very good for health. I mean, nowadays, taiji is known more for its health benefits rather than its original use as a martial art.

So if you have arthritis or osteoporosis, it may be a good idea to start doing some taiji. Now that research by a group of doctors has proven that taiji is good for those ailments.

What I do not agree with is the method it is being introduced in Singapore.

The People's Association is introducing these sets of taiji routines into all community centres. I applaud their noble goal of making taiji available to the masses, in trying to help the masses overcome their ailments. However, what we have now is a new group of taiji instructors teaching these sets. Till now, in order to teach at community centres, PA required taiji instructors to be qualified by the Singapore National Wushu Federation. To be qualified, would-be instructors have to attend a week-long course, coupled with oral, written and practical examinations by a board of examiners (renown taiji masters). This ensured that all taiji instructors meet certain standards. Yet with this new group of instructors, there is no need to be qualifed by the SNWF. All these new instructors need to do is attend a 2-day training session with the group of doctors and at the end of the session, they are given a certificate authorising them to teach the set of routine for 2 years.

First question is, will this dilute the quality of taiji instructors in Singapore, now that SNWF is no longer the single body handing out qualifications?

Second question is, how well does the new instructor know taiji, to be able to teach taiji to students? After all, he/she only attended a 2-day training session. If taiji can be learnt in 2 days (even if it is only less than 10 movements), no one would spend a lifetime trying to master it. And if taiji cannot be learnt in 2 days, then what makes the new instructors qualified to teach? Won't it be a case of the blind leading the blind? If taiji is not taught properly, won't it hurt the students instead of help them? If that is the case, ethically, shouldn't we stop these new instructors from teaching taiji until they are ready?

Third question is, who authorised the doctors to authorise these new instructors? Doctors, being doctors, are professionals in the medical field. They are obviously subject matter experts on things medical. I have no problems with them authorising people to teach physiotherapy. But doctors are not professionals nor subject matter experts in taiji. It is one thing to share their research with people (so that people are aware of the benefits of taiji proven by research). It is another thing altogether to charge a fee to teach someone something that they have no right to teach. After all, are these doctors qualified instructors certified by the SNWF? How do we know if what they are teaching is even correct?

If the doctors conducted seminars (even charging fees for them) to share their research, I would have no issues. After all, they are sharing the results of their research so that people know the benefits of taiji in helping relief those ailments. People can then find the right teachers to learn taiji to aid their ailments. As doctors dedicated to helping people, this would have been a good approach.

But now, they are charging people to learn from them, and allowing these people to teach others. First, as far as I know, they are not the authority on taiji, so they have no right to charge others. (Maybe the descendants of Sun Lutang should charge these doctors a fee, since the movements are from Sun-style taiji.) Second, as far as I know, they have no authority to authorise others to teach, so they shouldn't charge fees for those as well. Third, how ethical is it to allow just anyone who has attended a 2-day training session to teach taiji? This could cause more harm than good. As doctors having to uphold their set of professional ethics, they may want to seriously relook at how they want to help those with these ailments. It is one thing to have a large following, it is another to have them all doing the movements correctly so that they can benefit from it.

A proposed approach would be for the doctors to share their research results through a series of seminars, target audience being taiji instructors, plus those interested. Participants can then be given a certificate of attendance. Those who want to teach this set of routine can do so, but only if they are already qualified instructors certified by the SNWF. Those who are yet to be certified by the SNWF can of course get themselves certified when they are ready. This way, we ensure that the instructors have a certain standard in taiji and proper understanding of taiji to know what they are teaching, and thus be able to teach it properly to students. The doctors probably won't earn as much directly from this, and are likely to be less well-known, but helping patients is their aim, not fame or money, right?