Thursday, December 23, 2010

Balance, Weight and Steps

How you distribute your weight determines your balance. After all, it affects the position of your centre of gravity which effectively determines if you are in equilibrium or not (balance or off-balance). However, one often overlooked point is how your lack of balance can affect your steps.

When taking a step, if your balance is off, you will fall towards where your centre of gravity is. This affects where your step actually lands, since it may not land where it is intended. Which is why we need to place our weight on one leg before we step forward with the other leg. That way, we are stable when taking a step, and our step lands where we want it to be.

Monday, December 06, 2010

Turn Here, Turn There

Yet another inkling after thinking about my experience pushing hands with my teacher. It is about how to neutralise your opponent's force and use it back against him.

For example, when your arm comes into contact with your opponent's arm during pushing hands, turn your arm towards him in one direction until you meet resistance. Once you meet resistance, use that to stick to his arm, and then change the direction of turning your arm, all the while still turning towards him. If you meet resistance again, change direction. The thing is to change direction when you meet resistance, all the while your arm is turning in towards him.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

A Joke... Or An Insult?

The opening move in taiji is a very simple movement, yet very difficult to master. From the opening move, one can see if a practitioner is able to achieve all the requirements of taiji, such as the body moving as a whole, relaxing the body, not using brute strength, moving continuously, etc.

During one of our classes, a senior student of my teacher was sharing with another student (quite new to taiji, but he has practised Japanese martial arts for decades) that we have been practising the opening move for about 3 years now (though it is more like 30 years for the senior student...) Hearing that, the new student declared that he would master the opening move in 3 months.

I don't know how to treat this statement. Should I take it as a joke? Or an insult? If a person thinks he can master something that we have been practising for 3 (or 30) years, is he belittling our effort, or belittling the difficulty of what we are trying to learn? Or is he so full of himself that he thinks he can do in months what others takes years to do?

I, for one, would think that he should know the importance of training. That as a practitioner of martial arts himself, he should know that there is no short cut. To be good at something, you need to put in effort to train in it. So I was quite shock at his statement. And if he knows the importance of training, would he then make his statement in jest? Or did he mean more than what he said?

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Being Relaxed and Accepting Defeat

I keep writing about being relaxed. And I think that is really the key when facing an opponent.

In taiji, we are told to be relaxed. Relaxed is not a state of the body. It is a state of mind that brings about a state of body. It is no use trying to relax the body if your mind is not relaxed. If you are worried or afraid or angry or anxious, it will show in your actions.

Recently, a practitioner of Japanese martial arts was talking about what he learnt. It got me to recall what I myself know about Japanese martial arts, having trained in them before as well as having my own intimate relationship with Japan and things Japanese, including their way of life and their mentality. In Japanese martial arts, they advocate 覚悟, which when translated goes something like being aware of the consequences and ready to accept those consequences. In bushido (武士道) terms, it means being ready to die for a cause.

I think they all refer to the same thing. It means being ready to accept defeat (and the consequences that comes with it, including, at times, death). When you are ready to accept defeat, your mind is no longer cluttered by fear, anger or other emotions. Your senses are then heightened because your mind is at a different (higher) state of awareness. In a way, your mind is now sharper and thus you react faster. You can still be defeated if you never trained hard enough (because your body cannot achieve what your mind tells it to do) but you are otherwise at the peak of your performance.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Don't Let the "Balloon" Flatten

A common mistake, which I came to realise when pushing hands with my teacher, is that I let my "balloon" flatten. This "balloon" is my peng, and when I let it flatten, I mean my elbow bends more than it should, creating a corner instead of the arc/circle that is required in taiji.

Sounds hard to understand? An illustration: When I push, my arm is slightly bent to create an arc. When I hit resistance (my opponent's force resisting back), my teacher taught me to relax and then continue to push. But the mistake is in the relaxing part. What my teacher meant was to relax the kua and then continue to push using the strength of my legs. What I did was to relax my arms (lessening my peng) and allow my opponent's strength to move in, bending my arms a bit more than it should, creating a corner when it should only be slightly curved. When my arms are bent too much, I cannot push properly with my legs, and in order to straighten my arms a bit, I end up having to use muscular strength, and that is when my opponent can use my muscular strength against me.

So the lesson here is that when your opponent uses force, relax the kua, don't let your "balloon" flatten, and then continue to push with your back leg. By relaxing your kua, you draw your opponent's force out, straightening his force so that you can then use it against him.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Gauging Your Opponent

My teacher would tell us that the moment he contacts another person's hand, he knows how good that person is, and whether he can defeat his opponent or not.

I think I was able to experience something similar the other day. I was pushing hands with someone whom I have not met before. Although I was not able to come to any conclusions when our hands first touched, within one circle, I knew what I could do and what I should not try. I owe it to my teacher for teaching me the right mentality, which is to be relaxed and to be willing to lose. By going in with that mindset, I was able to discern just how good my opponent was and thus react accordingly.

Friday, November 19, 2010

You Have The Answer... Again

Yes, the important thing is to reflect, because that is one way to learn. And sometimes, you will find that you have the answer within yourself, if only you take the time to think and look for it.

Like today, when I was thinking about how to handle an opponent if he refuses to move his legs, pushing and pulling using only his arm muscles. It was a question that I was thinking about as I was walking, and I was going to ask my teacher the next time I see him. Then the answer came to me. If he doesn't change his stance, then use that against him. Move him perpendicular to the line joining his two feet. Either lead him forward or push him back along that perpendicular line, and he will fall. His unmoving stance will actually work against him.

Friday, November 05, 2010

Pushing Beyond Balance

There are two ways to push a person beyond his balance.

One is to push him until he is at the brink of balance, and continue pushing till he is beyond and loses balance.

The other is the lead him to move until his brink of balance, and then push him slightly to make his lose his balance.

The first way uses more force, the second is about listening to his force and guiding it towards the desired direction. In the first way, the push is the main tool. In the second, the push is the finishing touch.

There is a third way, which is to lead him to move till his brink of balance, and continue to lead him to move beyond his balance. In this case, there is no push.

You can easily replace push with pull in the above three examples.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Teaching As Reflection

I have talked about teaching being a means of learning before.

Teaching is a means of reflection.

After a long break from helping my teacher lead some of his classes, I went back again today to help out. Instead of the students that I used to lead, I helped with a group of newcomers. This gave me a chance to see those older students that I used to practise with. It made me feel ashamed and enlightened. Their mistakes were mine, and I am guilty of causing them to make those mistakes. They copied my mistakes when I made them, and continued to make those mistakes without being corrected.

The student is the teacher's reflection. The student's mistake is the teacher's. I have written about that before. In a class, the one who learns the most is actually the teacher. The student learns only from his own mistakes (as pointed out by the teacher) but the teachers learns from the mistakes of all his students.

When you lead a class, you need to be correct in your own moves. And that is why I appreciate my teacher for giving me the opportunity to help him lead some of his classes. I learn a lot more helping him lead his classes compared to when I practise on my own.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Drawing Out The Force

When two hands come into contact and don't move as both try not to use force, it is still resisting. Not moving because both are not using force is not relaxing. It is still resisting, albeit using minimum force.

My teacher is able to draw out force. No matter how relaxed and how much I try to avoid using force, once my hand comes into contact with his, he can draw out my force and then start to move me, at his choosing. When we both don't use force, our hands are just in contact. Then, he uses peng and draws out my force, I use a bit of force and he uses it back against me.

If I had used force from the onset, he would have of course used it against me. But even when I try not to use force, he is able to draw out my force. That is what a master in taiji is about.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Don't Push

It may sound weird, but that was what my teacher told me. He told me not to push. I think what he meant was not to focus on pushing, since he continued on to tell me to focus on neutralising my opponent's force. I think the lesson here is to focus on listening to my opponent's force and then try to neutralise it, rather than try to use it against him. So I think that will be my focus for a while, to try to figure out my opponent's force and how to neutralise it. After all, if I push back, things can sometimes become rough...

Monday, September 27, 2010

Pushing Hands is Not About Accommodating... (Huh??!!)

After telling me that pushing hands is about pushing the hands, the same fellow student told me that he cannot accommodate what I tell him when we were pushing hands. The context was: I was trying to tell him where he should place his hands so as to counter my push when we were practising two-hands pushing hands, so that we can work on drawing the circles first.

As I said, he probably did more years of taiji than me and thus know what he was talking about... but still, isn't taiji about trying to follow your opponent, and from there counter him? Isn't taiji about accommodating to your opponent (舍己从人)? But still, there is still a lesson to learn here.

Pushing hands is not about learning how to push someone. We can easily do that, just by you pushing me and I pushing you. Pushing hands is about learning how to sense your opponent's and your own force. I think the important thing when learning pushing hands is to know why you are even learning it in the first place. If the objective is to be able to push someone, you will learn how to push people. If your objective is to learn how to sense force, you will learn how to sense force and use it against your opponent.

And of course, if your objective is to learn to push but mine is to learn to sense your force, while you may be able to push me around at first, I will soon be able too use your force against you. The more I let you push me, there more I learn how to sense your force and eventually use it against you. If you never let your opponent push you, you will not know how to sense force.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Pushing Hands Means to Push the Hand (Huh??!!)

Life is really about learning, and we continue to learn new things each day.

Like today, when a fellow pushing hands student told me that pushing hands is about pushing the hand. Thus, I am not supposed to push anywhere else except the hands... of course, the definition of hand (手) here is a bit wide, it includes the arm (手臂) as well. So if his hand moves down, I am supposed to follow. I am not supposed to push his chest even when he leaves a big opening, because I am supposed to follow (随) and his hand has moved down.

I tried saying that taiji is about not giving up and not resisting (不丢不顶), but that seemed to fall on deaf ears since my fellow student was quite certain that he is correct. Well, he is older than me and probably learnt taiji for a longer period than me, even though he is new to the pushing hands class. I guess that gives him the right to say things like he knows what he is talking about and doesn't need to listen to others.

It reminded me of the famous Zen lesson. When your cup is full, you cannot receive anymore. When we come into class with pre-conceived notions about what is right and wrong, we cannot learn what the teacher has to offer.

One thing positive that I learnt. I learnt how to push with my back leg better. It is still something that I don't do well but I am slowly progressing. And I must thank my fellow student for that. He was the one who pointed to me how to push with my back leg better.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

After 3 Months

3 months not training (much) set me back by a lot (I think). My teacher has yet to comment but I think he is just trying not to discourage me. A lot of catching up to do...

What did I do for the last 3 months?
Silk-reeling exercise for about 15min each session, plus some other basic movements for 5min, total 20min of training each time.
Trained about 3 sessions each week, after averaging out. Sometimes I trained daily for 2 weeks, sometimes I missed one whole week of training.
Zero pushing hands... no one to push hands with.
I think I can count the number of times I practised routines... maybe 4 times of Chen style and 4 times of Yang style...

The other day during pushing hands class, I sort of lost control. My partner was using force and I was returning it to him. He then told me not to use force to push him... and then he started using more force, so it felt to him that I was pushing harder. Then he got a bit rough (elbow, two-handed arm lock, grabbing) which was okay at first. But he kept saying I was using brute force to push him. Every once in a while he tried to use two hands (we were doing single-hand push hands) so in the end I also used two hands and pushed him. This got him a bit mad, he became real rough, tried to throw me and when I didn't fall but instead sprung back towards him, I did a double-handed push on his stomach quite unintentionally. But the end result is the same. I hit him when I should not have.

Lesson here? When things start getting rough, break off. Find another partner. No point ending up sparring. That is not pushing hands.

A lot of catching up to do... and a lot of distractions to take me away from focusing on the training...

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Enjoying the Practice

Everytime I see my wife's drum teacher teaching drums, I am reminded that it is important to enjoy what you are practising. He is totally enjoying his drum lessons. He enjoys what he does, running around teaching Japanese drums to students, organising Japanese drum performances and performing in front of a crowd with his students. He enjoys the drumming experience, seeking not to control it but rather to flow with it. And thus creates greatness (so great that he was even given the opportunity to perform with Kitaro in Singapore when Kitaro was here in 2010).

I guess I can learn from this. I have been trying very hard to control my movements, so much so that they become something other than the smoothness of taiji. Yin and yang no longer flow into one another, instead becoming abrupt, jerky transitions. Maybe it is time to just let go of correcting the movements and just go with the flow?

Monday, July 12, 2010

Retaining Students

I was watching another taiji class practising the other day (while waiting for my wife to finish her drum lesson) and it set me thinking. Why is this taiji class here so big? Why is it that some of my teacher's classes are large while some are small?

Looking at this other class, I guess I have the answer.

It is not about the teacher. It is about his students. If the senior students are willing to help out and teach the new students, the class size will grow. Because a single teacher can only teach that many at a go, especially if they are all of varying levels. But the more helpers (senior students) that he has, the more people his class can accommodate. And when you are able to customise your class to meet individual (or almost individual) needs, people will stay because they feel that they are learning/getting something out of their time spent.

The question then is how to get the senior students to help. They need to stay committed (they need to turn up for every class), and sometimes, that is a hard thing to do. Especially since the teacher is obliged to turn up for class (he is being paid to do so) but the senior students are not obliged to teach (they are obliged to turn up for class being they need to respect the teacher's time for showing up).

Saturday, June 19, 2010

One (Hand) Versus Two (Hands)

Sometimes, when you are doing single-hand pushing hands, do you inadvertently use the other hand as well? Ending in you using two hands against an opponent who is only using one hand?

Being a guy who likes to observe the rules, I would say that using two hands when doing single-hand pushing hand is against the rule and thus is a no-no. But at the same time, I don't think it is fair to say that we should totally avoid it. Because sometimes, we can't.

For example, sometimes your opponent is a bit rough and uses more dangerous moves, and the only way to counter him (and avoiding getting injured) is to use two hands. In such cases, I think we should. Pushing hands is after all a practice and it is not worth getting injured.

But if the reason for using two hands is because we cannot avoid being pushed by our opponent (who is using one hand), and we want to avoid being pushed (aka losing), then I feel that it is wrong to use two hands. After all, pushing hands is practice, we should not be afraid of losing. If our fear of losing (or our need to win) is so great, maybe we shouldn't be pushing hands.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Important To Be Correct

I was thinking through what my teacher said, and plus a bit of inferring from past experience. The result? I realised the importance of being correct when teaching.

What am I trying to say?

The important thing when teaching is not being able to demonstrate the difficult moves. It is in being correct in every move that you demonstrate. Because your student will imitate your every move, it is all the more important that their example is correct. Thus, a teacher/instructor must be able to perform each move, simple or difficult, correctly. That is so much more important than being able to do difficult moves. For example, being able to perform the basic stances correctly (meeting all requirements with regards to body, distance between the feet, etc), rather than being able to jump and flip. It is important to be able to correctly perform each move, big or small, rather than being fanciful.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Nervous (aka Lack of Confidence)

I tried again today, but still failed. And after thinking about it, I think I know why I failed.

It was not because of lack of practice. I had a year to prepare.

It was not because of lack of guidance, my teacher provided plenty of that.

It was because I was too nervous during the actual exam. Even before I entered the grounds, I was feeling nervous. I was so nervous since last night, I had difficulty sleeping. I was so nervous, I couldn't find appetite to eat until I grew so hungry I had to grab something. I was nervous when entering the exam ground, I was nervous in front of the examiners. I was nervous and rushed through my routines, wanting to get out of there as soon as I can. I was so nervous, I forgot the most important thing about taiji: staying calm.

My teacher said my routine was so different from what I usually do during practice, that he felt nervous for me watching from the side.

The cause of this nervousness? Lack of confidence, that is the conclusion I came to after reflecting.

I never suffer from this during practice. I am confident in front of my teacher because I know I have put in effort to correct the mistakes that he pointed out. I am confident that I have not let his teachings gone to waste.

But in front of others, I lost confidence. I lost confidence because I wasn't sure if what I am doing is acceptable to others, I am not sure if they appreciate what I am doing (I know this has some link to the need to answer to myself and not to others, but I will leave that discussion to some other day). I didn't have confidence in myself, in what I was doing. I was so concerned about passing that I lost sight of the need to be ready to lose. And thus, the nervousness.

The way ahead? Practise practise practise until I am so good, even I cannot dispute my own worth. Continue to seek the guidance of my teacher. And also, find opportunities to practise in front of others, to perform, so that good or bad, I put myself up for criticism, that I learn to accept criticism and from there learn about how others view my routines. In summary, practise a lot, follow my teacher's guidance and listen to the criticism given by others.

Hopefully, in a few years time when I try again, I would have gained the confidence in myself and remove the nervousness.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Neutralise and Move In

My teacher was telling us about how he moves in while neutralising his opponent's force. I was thinking, how do you do that without resisting? After all, if his force is moving towards you, how do you neutralise his force, yet move in towards him at the same time?

Maybe it has to do with the spiralling of the arm? As his force comes in, you spiral your arm so that you draw his force in. As he tries to prevent himself from being drawn in a direction that he doesn't want to go, he will pull back a bit. That may be the chance for you to move in. Or so I think...

Friday, May 07, 2010

Another Inkling

How to absorb an opponent's force and use it against him? Maybe the key lies in drawing him beyond the force provided by the legs, such that he uses local muscular force (ie. the arms muscles) instead of moving his body as a whole. Maybe the key is to draw him in, and once he stops using the force from moving his body as a whole and relies on the local muscular force of his arms, that is the time to return his force?

The Learning Process

The Chinese verb for acquiring a new skill is 学習, which comes from the word for learning (学) and practising (習). The important thing in not just to learn, but to practise as well. Sometimes, it is not that the teacher is not teaching, but because the student has not been practising, there is nothing new for the teacher to teach. Thus, if you think you are stagnant in your learning, maybe it is time to ask yourself if you have been practising enough?

Sunday, May 02, 2010

Firm Base, Relaxed Body

My teacher again emphasised the importance of a firm base (strong stance) but warned against being rigid. The stance must be firm, but the kua must be relaxed so that the body can move in response to an outside force.

Still, the important thing is a pair of strong legs to achieve that strong stance. And strong stance doesn't mean low stance, though it starts out that way.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Relax Is The Key

I think I have been told this many times. Relaxing is the key. The harder you try to achieve something, the harder it becomes for you to relax, and thus the harder it is for you to achieve your goal (because taiji is all about relaxing). So sometimes, it is better to just be accepting of whatever is thrown your way, accepting of what things are at the present. Don't push yourself, you might just move ahead on your own.

Sunday, April 04, 2010

Don't Play With Your Food

I haven't reached a certain skill level in pushing hands, and thus continue to use some brute force whenever I push hands. However, because I am able to use less brute force than my opponent, I can still discern his force and thus am able to deflect or lead it away. However, I still use force because I usually let him come in too close, and once he is too close, I can no longer ward off his force without having to use a bit of my own. The moral of the story? Don't play with your food. When you can sense his force, immediately relax and then peng to ward off his force. Don't let him come in too close.

But if you always do this, you will only learn how to ward off using peng, which is not everything. Once in a while, you need to learn to let him in so that you can learn to stick to him and lead him away in a direction of your choice. When doing so, you need to realise that if you are unable to lead him away, you should just let him push you, so as to avoid using brute force.

By the way, the title is not meant to demean practice partners in pushing hands. Just that it is a common idiom and makes it easier to remember this point.

Friday, March 19, 2010


What this means is that if you are clear about the process, you will be able to attain your goal earlier. Applied to taiji, if you are clear about what the principles of taiji mean and how it can be applied, you will be able to improve in taiji and attain a certain level of mastery earlier than those who don't fully understand the principles.

And maybe it is not just about being clear about the principles. Maybe you also need to be clear about your mistakes and your own weaknesses.

What Was I Thinking?

Wonder what I was thinking. When your opponent pulls, you follow. When he pushes, you peng. Wonder why I would get it messed up?

Saturday, March 06, 2010

Relax Is Not Surrendering

A mistake that I make is in not making a distinction between relaxing and going limp (aka surrendering). When my opponent pushes, in order not to resist his force, I try to relax. But my form of relaxing is wrong, it is taking the strength out of my arm and going limp, thus allowing my opponent to come in. In a way, it is surrendering to the opponent.

Relaxing is not about going limp. If the contact is at the arm, relaxing is not about taking the strength out of the arm. While going limp means you are not resisting your opponent, you are surrendering to him, which is wrong as well. So how do you relax, and without letting your arm go limp, still avoid resisting your opponent's force?

I think the key is to relax the joints, such that when your opponent's force comes in, the different joints move in various amounts to absorb his force, and at the same time, the joints turn together to deflect his force and direct it towards a direction of your choice. There must always be peng at the point of contact so as to maintain contact. Even though your peng is outwards at the point of contact, yet because your other joints are moving to change the direction of your opponent's force, you are not resisting his force. Guess I will be paying more attention to this in the future.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Expressing Your Movements Revisited

My teacher is able to express his taiji movements very well. Each move is soft, yet you can see that there is meaning behind each move, that each move can easily turn into something that can be applied. While soft, each move hides the hardness inside. It takes a lot of practice to reach this stage, since you must have a strong foundation, understand the principles of taiji and study the application of each movement.

To reach there, you need to practise. While practising, imagine there is an opponent that you are shadow boxing with. Imagine how each movement is supposed to be a counter to your opponent's attack, how his attack/force should feel like and then imagine how each movement will affect your opponent.

But you also need to be careful not to focus too much on expressing your movements. If the application of each movement becomes too explicit, you end up showing too much hardness and lose the softness of taiji. You end up locking yourself into a certain application, rather than keeping your options open for flexible responses.

Moving Together Revisited

While on of the basics of taiji is to move the whole body together, which is usually best seen in the timing of the movement of the upper body tied in with the movement of the lower body, I think that is not enough. When I first started learning taiji, I was told that my hand and my leg must reach together. Once the leg stops moving, the hand must stop moving too. Once the leg changes direction, the hand must change direction too.

The aim of moving together is so that the force generated is the sum total of all the force generated by all the moving parts of your body, rather than just being limited to that force generated at a local part of your body. Which means that the force generated is the sum of the force generated by your legs, waist and arms, rather than just your arms.

However, even though my hand and leg reaches together, I still feel that my upper body and lower body are disjointed, that even though the appearance is that they are moving together, in actuality, they are not. I think the problem is because I have not been paying attention to how I can move my body together as a whole to generate the force that I need. The outer appearance is for hand and leg to reach at the same time. But the way to practise is to pay attention on how to channel the force generated by the different parts of the body towards a single point. I guess this will be something to work on in the practices ahead.

Losing Details

A common mistake that all of us make is losing details along the way. As we become familiar with our routines, with the movements, the small little moves, we start to grow complacent and skip details. After a while, we become used to not expressing those details (because they require too much attention) and end up losing them. But it is the details that makes taijiquan a practical art of self-defence, so when we start losing details, we also lose the ability to use taijiquan. So it is good to have someone (usually your teacher) point out to you that you have skipped some of the details.

Force On a Line, Force At a Point

Yet another inkling... this one is on how to lead your opponent's force away or use it back against him. When your opponent's force is not focused correctly, it is spread out over a line (or area) rather than at a point. When that happens, I think you should be able to use it against him by contacting his force at a single point, then rotating that contact point (so that you maintain contact at a single point at all times) in the direction that you want to lead him. In a way, your force is always focused at a point (ie. the point of contact) and you use that point of contact to decide on the direction of movement, while you use your opponent's force at that point of contact to maintain contact and decide the magnitude of the movement.

If his force is focused at a point, then you use that as the initial point of contact, and then you rotate that point of contact in the direction of your choice, bringing him to change his point of focus of his force along the way. The thing is to use his force to maintain contact and use his force to determine the magnitude of movement, while you are the one who decides on the direction of movement.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Inkling - Spiralling In and Out

Yet another inkling while walking home from taiji class... spiralling. To neutralise my opponent's force, how do I use spiralling? When he pushes, how do I spiral his force down from my arm to my legs and to the ground? When he pulls, how do I follow his force and spiral out?

Friday, February 05, 2010

Don't Grab

Another point brought up by my teacher. In pushing hands, we don't grab hold of our opponent. For example, we don't grab his wrist and pull. Instead, we use our hands to lock his arm and roll back. Why? Because when you grab, your hand becomes stiff, and that force can then be used against you. At the same time, you are unable to sense your opponent's force.

For example, if your opponent grabs your wrist and tried to pull you, all you need to do is relax, go with his force and at the same time, peng.

A Strong Stance

My teacher talked about the importance of having a strong stance today. In pushing hands, your legs must be strong so that you can achieve a strong stance, yet at the same time, your upper body must be relaxed. That way, you can sense your opponent's force, yet avoid being pushed around.

Of course, the important thing here is that your kua must be relaxed. Else you will end up being led around because your legs, though strong, are stiff.

Strong legs, relaxed kua, relaxed upper body.

Thursday, February 04, 2010


Yet another inkling... it is still about the always important question about how to peng. We have been told that power is generated from the legs, is controlled by the waist, and takes form in the arms. When we try to ward off our opponent's force, I guess this is the same. We need to use the force generated by our legs to ward off the opponent's force. I guess that this means that when his force comes, we need to move our legs (either forward or backwards), turn our kua accordingly to bring the force to our arms, and ward off his force. In order to do that, we cannot stop moving, for if we do, we will end up resisting.

So what does continuously moving mean? As we move our legs, our kua must move, and our arms must move. In a way, our forearm continues to turn outwards together with us moving our legs/kua. And it is not just our forearm, but our shoulder, our elbow, our forearm, our wrist, our hand. As we move our leg (for example, pushing from back to front), our whole arm spirals out. That may be the way in which neverending movement allows us to let the force generated by our legs to take form in our arms. Guess I will try this out and pay a bit more attention to this over the next few practices.

Monday, January 25, 2010

To Continue Or To Change

My teacher told me not to be afraid of using a bit of strength and resisting a bit when trying to peng. But when I follow what he said, my arms started to get tired again whenever I push hands with an opponent that uses more brute force. Yes, I am able to ward away his force, but I feel that I am missing something, that I have not fully grasped what my teacher meant when he said that it is okay to resist a bit when learning to peng.

When I push hands with my teacher, my arms get tired (he is able to draw me into using brute force). When I push hands with someone who uses brute force, my arms get tired. Only when I push with someone who is trying to relax, my arms don't get tired. Something must be wrong. My arms shouldn't get tired no matter who I push hands with. After all, taiji is about using the least amount of strength to defeat an opponent.

I have been following this advice for some time now, yet I don't seem to be making progress. Why? Is it due to a lack of practice? A lack of a good partner to explore with? A lack of reflection on mistakes? Am I not thinking hard enough? Or am I thinking along the wrong road? Do I continue to follow the advice in hope of a breakthrough in understanding? Or do I adopt a different approach, since this advice is not getting me anywhere?

Lost... wandering around in search of the truth...

Monday, January 11, 2010

Conserving Energy

No, this is not a post about saving the environment. It is about using the least amount of energy when applying taiji.

Taiji is about using the least amount of force to counter a larger force. It is not about not using force at all. If you don't use any force, you cannot move except to fall by gravity, though using zero force (aka falling by gravity) is also part of taiji since the least force you can use is zero.

How is that done? It means moving each muscle just the right amount to achieve the effect/movement that you desire, and not using those muscles that don't need to be used. Naturally, because we are not used to it and also because our joints are not very flexible, whenever we move a part of our body, some other part of the body will move along with it. The aim of practising taiji is thus to learn how to control our muscles and move them only when needed, and independent of each other, such that when one of them moves, it doesn't cause unnecessary muscles to move as well.

For example, when you turn your wrist, there is a natural tendency for you to move your shoulder as well, resulting in not just your wrist turning but your elbow moving inwards (if you are turning your wrist outwards). But with practice (actually, just conscious effort, which is 意), you will be able to turn your wrist without causing your elbow/shoulder to move. You are thus able to turn your wrist without wasting unnecessary energy (and thus you conserve your energy for other movements).

The more energy you conserve, the more energy you have for other things, which means you are able to wear down an opponent if you want (using little energy over a long period), or throw a stronger punch at him (using more energy within a short period).

It also means that we don't beat around the bush. We get straight to the point. We observe. Then we choose a course of action and move in. Even when we move to test an opponent's reaction, it is not a random move but a calculated one, in which we already know in our mind what reactions we are looking for, and once the opponent has reacted, we straight away move in. In this way, no energy is wasted doing anything that is not related to defeating the opponent.

I guess that's conserving energy at the tactical and strategic levels.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Expressing Each Movement

Yet something that I thought of when seeing my teacher do his taiji routine. Again, it is about adding meaning to the movements.

Each move has a meaning to it. Each circle has a meaning. Each circle is either used to ward off an attack, or divert force back at the opponent. Thus, even when it is a simple turning of the wrist, you must imagine yourself warding away your opponent's force. Even when you are opening your arms out to draw a circle, you must imagine being able to draw your opponent's force away. Every move in taiji must be given meaning (because every move has a meaning), else it will be an empty move and your routine will end up looking empty (lacking substance and meaning, what we call 空架).

Once you are able to instill meaning into each move, then you need to go into not being explicit about the meaning. Express the meaning behind each move without being too explicit as to what you are trying to achieve. Each move thus becomes a possibility rather than a fact, because you have opened up options without committing to any.


Another phrase that came into mind recently. "方中带圆,圆中有方", translated, it means "circles within straight lines, straight lines inside circles".

For example, even when pushing in a straight line, your hand spirals out, thus it is circles within a straight line. And when you use a circle to neutralise your opponent's force, looked at from the side, it is actually a straight line.

But looking it at an even higher level, there are circles within circles. For example, when neutralising your opponent's force with a circle (which is a straight line when viewed from the side), if you add in spirals within the circle, your circle will have a straight line that contains even more circles (spiral).

And thus taiji is all about circles.

Now to get down to really understanding and applying this...