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...