Sunday, December 30, 2012

It's All In The Practice

No matter what style you do, it is still about how much you practise. No matter how well you understand the principles of taiji, it is still about how much you practise. Understanding is useless if you don't practise it; you won't be able to internalise your understanding without practice. Knowing many styles is useless if you don't practise them; you won't be able to understand what the styles are about without practice.

At the end of the day, it's all in the practice.

Only with practice will you be able to relax your kua. Only with practice will you be able to move your body as a whole, to link the movement of your hands to your legs. Only with practice will you be able to understand the different ways to apply each move in each of the style that you practise. Only with practice can you use what you learn.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Balloon, Not Concrete Ball

One of the principles of taiji is not to let your structure flatten, something which my teacher likes to refer to as "don't let your balloon flatten". But that doesn't mean you go all out to make sure that you maintain the structure as it is. If you do, it becomes a rigid structure, something very against the "relax" part of taiji.

So how do you relax, and yet don't let the structure flatten? Well, my teacher says it best. The structure is like a balloon! A balloon can be depressed, but it then bounces back into shape. So while you relax and allow the balloon to flatten a bit, you must then work towards "bouncing back into shape", regaining the original form.

So when your opponent's force comes, your structure may flatten a bit, but then you turn his force away, and while doing that, move your body to expand back the balloon into its original shape.

The thing is to be bouncy like a balloon, and not rigid like a concrete ball. With enough strength, you can push away a rigid concrete ball, but a bouncy balloon will deflect your force back towards you.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Catching Up

The end of the world (according to some...) saw me catching up with a fellow student of my teacher who has not been able to join us for practice due to personal commitments. It was great to be able to catch up, and instead of the usual practice (form practice), we did pushing hands practice instead. Great to be able to push hands again with someone who has been learning taiji from Mr Kwek much longer than I have. It reaffirmed the importance of a good foundation and learning the right things. Even though he hasn't been practising taiji for a while, because of his good foundation, he was still just as good at pushing hands as he used to be.

All the remains is for him to rejoin our practices!

Friday, December 21, 2012

Stand Closer

The other day, I noticed two of my fellow students pushing hands, but standing a bit further from each other than usual. My teacher advocates that we should stand such that our forward foot is side by side with our opponent's forward foot, at least that close to each other, if not closer. Instead, those two students were standing in such a way that their toes were in line instead.

End results? They can't really push at each other without leaning forward. Yes, standing further apart makes it harder for your opponent to push you, and gives you more space and time to react. But at the same time, your opponent will gain that same advantage (and disadvantage). In the end? You can't properly push each other, and thus you end up not learning how to properly neutralise your opponent's force too. You may not be pushed, but you end up not learning too.

So don't be afraid of being pushed. Stand closer, so that both you and your opponent can learn the right things and benefit from the practice.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Catching It... Again!

Just when I thought I was losing it, I think I have caught it again. All thanks to my teacher. No, he didn't actually answer my questions, but he was explaining something to someone else. And as I ponder over what he was explaining, and linked it with what I was thinking about, I started to see the link.

My problem is with single hand pushing hands. While I can neutralise my opponent's force so that he cannot push me, I have difficulty using his force against him. Just yesterday, my teacher was talking to another student about peng, then turn the forearm and push back. Very simple, very basic, in fact, something that I already know. Then I watched how he did it. He was drawing very small circles near the student, each moving progressively closer to the student. Yup, something that I have seen before. So I didn't think much about it.

Then today, while pushing hands with a fellow student, it came to me that progressively moving closer to the opponent is the key. The moment you sense your opponent's force, you need to peng to draw in his force and stick to it. Then, as you turn your forearm, it must move towards your opponent so that you are actually turning his force back towards him. This in effect is pushing him, but using his own force. And guess what? It actually works!

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Catching It

Just when I thought I had made some progress, I again was made to feel that I hadn't.

The other day, while doing two hand pushing hands, I was able to relax, and my opponent bounced off when he tried to use a bit of strength. I was able to repeat this a few times. It seems I am getting somewhere with using my opponent's force against him.

But today, while doing single hand pushing hands, I was not able to do so... instead, while I was able to neutralise my opponent's force so that he couldn't push me, I was not able to use it to bounce him off. I was not able to use his force against him.

Back to the pondering and practice board...

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Train As You Fight, Fight As You Train

Something which came to me while practising pushing hands. A simple principle, to train as you fight, but I came to realise how important it really is.

When practising your forms, it is not just about making sure you have the principles of taiji correct (such as keeping your body upright, relaxing the kua, sinking shoulders/elbows, linking upper and lower body, etc.) but also, you must keep in mind how you are going to apply each move. This constant thinking about how to apply each move is the intention (意) part of taiji. So you are constantly making sure your body moves in the manner you want, while thinking about how to use each move.

Then, when applying taiji, not only must you be thinking about how to use each move, you must still continue to make sure that your body is moving in the manner that you want (or rather, have been trained to do). Thus, while thinking about how to push someone, you still need to continue to check to make sure that you are moving in accordance to the principles of taiji.

Otherwise, your practice will be form with no meaning (just an empty shell), and when applying taiji, you may end up being overly obsessed with the end effect and not really apply taiji (end up using brute force because you are too focused on the pushing part, and not pushing in the taiji way).

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Getting Worse From More Practice

After all these years of practice, I don't seem to be getting any better. Recently, I felt that I have been getting worse, in fact. I don't seem to be making progress, and I notice myself making more mistakes. At first, I thought it was because I was not practising enough. But then, recently, a friend of my teacher mentioned to me that, the more you learn, the more aware you are of your mistakes. Maybe that is what is happening to me. As I learn more and become more aware about myself, I start to become aware of my mistakes. I start to become aware that my posture is not as straight as I want it to be, my kua is not as relaxed as I want it to be.

Of course, it could also be that I really am not practising enough. So in order to know if I am indeed making progress or not, I need to do some soul searching and ask myself, have I indeed been practising enough?

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Disappearing Force

Recently, I wrote about using my opponent's force. I then had the opportunity to talk to my teacher about it. My teacher then proceeded to demonstrate the same thing, yet what I felt was very different compared to when I was practising with my fellow student.

First, when my fellow student uses my force against me, it happens like this. When I push a bit, he would peng and it actually reminded me of aikiage from aikido. He would turn his arms slightly, and I can actually feel my arms being "locked" and my force being sent back all the way to my back leg. Then he would use his back leg to push and that would push me back.

For my teacher, I did not feel anything like that. When I push, it was as if my force was disappearing into a black hole. There is no slight turn of my teacher's arms, I don't feel my arms being locked or any force being sent back to my back leg. It was just as if all my force has disappeared. And then suddenly, it would all come back towards me and I will get pushed back.

My teacher went on to explain that the slight turning of the arm is a technique, but true use of taiji actually does not need to rely on that slight turning. Simply relax, then push. And I realised while practising my routine that it is something that I have already been doing, this "relax, then push" thingy. Relax, then use the front leg to push back so as to shift your weight back. Relax, then use the back leg to push so as to shift your weight in front. I have actually been doing this, and it remains to put this practice into use.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Learning From "After the Rain"

While watching "After the Rain", there was a scene in which a lowly samurai was facing a renowned master in a practice duel. The lowly samurai was actually trying to pull a fast one: he was going to quickly admit defeat, so as to put the master into a good mood and maybe even getting some money out of it. So he entered the duel without any intention to win, or even try winning.

To the renowned master, he was faced with an opponent that presented countless openings, yet this opponent somehow didn't seem to care that he had many openings. In the end, the renowned master admitted defeat: when faced with an opponent that didn't seem to care if he won or lost, the renowned master just didn't know what to do.

It reminded me about what I have learnt in taiji, that when we are fixated with winning, we end up losing. When we are afraid of losing, that fear of losing can be used against us. The renowned master couldn't use fear of losing against the lowly samurai; instead, he was afraid of taking any of the openings as it would fix him on a course of action and open him to counterattack instead.

Bottomline is still the same: Don't be fixated on winning, don't be afraid of losing.

Relearning Lessons

I was pushing hands with a fellow student and he was trying to teach me about how to lock in my opponent's force and then use it against him. What he told me reminded me very much about my experience learning pushing hands in Japan, and it seemed to be a repeat of those same things that I have learnt, such as having to link my hands and feet. And thinking back, maybe the same mistakes are still being made.

But it is the same question again: Is it enough to just learn this, or should I step through what my teacher has been teaching and eventually reach this stage? The first seems like the "quick fix", allowing me to quickly learn how to use my opponent's force against him. But stepping through the steps/stages seem to be more... rooted. Is there meaning in taking things one step at a time, or is achieving the end effect everything there is to this?

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Sensing Different Types of Force

Today, I was pushing hands with my teacher, after which I pushed hands with other students in the class. I came to realise that I can sense two types of force: the taiji force that my teacher uses (steady but flexible) and the rigid force that the other students were using. Relax doesn't mean to be soft, that much we know. My teacher's force is strong, flexible, but nothing rigid like the force that other students use. So what is the difference between the two? I think it is the source of the force. One is rooted and moves using the kua, the other is local and depends on pure muscular strength.

So now that I can sense the difference between the two, it is about how to neutralise both types of force, and learn how to use both types of force against my opponents.

Becoming Lazy

I used to practice taiji on Sunday mornings, going to a class of my teacher. But ever since he stopped that class, I have not been practising on Sunday mornings. I have been telling myself, I should get up on Sundays, and go practise. But so far, I have not been able to do so... I am getting lazy. When I have classes to go to, I make myself go, because it is basic courtesy not to miss classes. But somehow, I still lack the self-discipline to get myself to practise on my own. Something for reflection...

Saturday, October 06, 2012

Learning To Be Pushed

I was thinking about what learning pushing hands is about. It is about how to apply taiji, yes. But how to go about learning it? Is it to learn how to push? Because many of my fellow students seem to be focused on learning how to push each other. They seem to derive satisfaction from being able to push their opponent.

But if taiji is about being able to use your opponent's force against him, then maybe learning to push is just a manifestation? I was thinking, maybe pushing hands is actually about learning how to be pushed. Maybe it is about learning how to let your opponent push you, so that you can then use his force against him. I will be trying this mentality out for a while to see if I gain a better understanding of what pushing hands is about.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Getting Out of Tight Spots

I was pushing hands today with one of my fellow students when things got a bit too rough. I locked his arms and he try to struggle to break free, only making it easier for me to lock his arms even tighter. It got to a point in which I had to adjust my lock for fear of breaking his arm. When things got to such a rough stage, I quickly told him that the arm will break if he continues to use strength. He continued to struggle, but I was in a very good and forgiving mood today so I just tried my best not to hurt him. Eventually, I was able to adjust until I could release his arms without getting hurt myself (from his brute force struggling).

He came out of it saying that sometimes, even if it is dangerous, we should still try to see if we can get out of tight spots. To me, it is not worth it. I practise pushing hands not to see if I am better than others. I practise pushing hands not to see if I can get out of tight spots. I practise pushing hands to learn to relax, to learn to use my opponent's force against him, and thus, to avoid being in a tight spot in the first place.

The best way to get out of a tight spot is not to get in there in the first place.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Relax to Give Yourself Space

Another inkling of mine, while I was talking to another fellow student. In pushing hands, we are told to relax. Why? I think it is because only when you relax, can you actually move. A rigid person is locked in whatever posture he is in. Only when he relaxes, can he change his posture. So we are actually relaxing to give ourselves space to move.

Example: When two persons are locked together in a test of strength, if one suddenly relaxes, he is able to then divert his opponent's force to the side, causing his opponent to fall forward. This is what relaxing can do. Just that in taiji, we try not to get into this "test of strength" in the first place. We try to start off with the relaxed state, so that we are always ready to divert whatever force we encounter.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

No Stops aka Stopping Is Resisting

Just an inkling that came to mind while pushing hands today. When I peng, I stick to my opponent's force. Then I turn my forearm again to neutralise his force. In between the peng and the neutralising, if I stop, then I am using force to intentionally keep my arm in place. That is actually resisting. So this means that there is no stopping between peng and neutralising. In fact, in taiji, there should be no stops; one actions flows into the other, because once you stop, you are static, and that is resisting.

Saturday, September 08, 2012

Just Relax and You Can't Be Thrown

One of my pushing hands partners tried to throw me today. He closed in, grab hold of me, and tried to throw me. What did I do? I let him. I just relaxed. And it worked. It is not easy to try to lift up someone who weighs about 70kg. When he tried to do that, his centre of gravity shifted... and when that happened, he lost balance. And when he lost balance, I shifted my weight just a little to take advantage of that. In the end, he couldn't throw me, instead, we "danced around" as he tried to regain his balance while holding onto me.

Friday, September 07, 2012

Don't Push Too Much

When I push hands with others, once they lose their balance, I won't pursue anymore. I won't try to take advantage and continue to push and make then fall. To me, it is enough that they lose balance. But some of my fellow pushing hands students do not think the same way. Even when they have lost their balance, once I stop pursuing, they will instead take advantage and try to push me back. And that is usually when they will start becoming more rough. And then it becomes a vicious cycle: I use their brute force against them again, they lose their balance again, then they try to spring back, and the cycle continues. In the end, I either let them push me (if I know I won't get hurt), or I will use rougher methods (like arm locks, or really pushing them away) to get out of the situation.

One of them told me that I should not push too much, that once I have the advantage, I should stop pursuing. I was like, huh? That's what I did... just that he took advantage of my "void" to spring back and tried to push me instead. Things got rough not because I wanted it to be so, but because he didn't stop when he lost his balance. Well, I just smiled and shrugged it off. In the end, as long as I stick to my training philosophy, as long I stick to learning what I want to learn, as long as I benefit from the sessions, they can say what they want. If they don't learn, it is because their cup is full. I will continue to drink from my cup to make it empty for more to pour in.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Light Is The Faster Way

Some time back, I wrote about 清能早达, this time, I am going to write about an inkling, that 轻能早达 (read in the same way, but meaning being light is the faster way). Yes, we need to be clear about our path in order for us to reach our destination faster. But in taiji, we also need to be light in order for us to achieve our aim faster. Only by being light, can we be able to sense our opponent's force, can we then use our opponent's force again him. We are all able to use brute force; we all start out being "heavy like stone". Only through training can we become "light as a feather". But when we are light as a feather, we can still become heavy like stone. It gives us a full range of options. The lighter we are, the broader is our range of options for response.

So let's first be clear about the path that we want to take. And then, we need to be as light as we can in order to get there.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Being Modest

The more we learn, the more modest we need to be. For example, just because I have learnt pushing hands for a few years, if I push hands with a newcomer and tell myself, "I have learnt for so many years, I cannot let this newcomer succeed in pushing me," then I will have the "afraid to lose" mentality, which will cause me to tense up, use brute force, resist, and ultimately, lose.

So the more we learn, the more we need to recognise that we are not there yet, there is still a long way to go, and thus even if a newcomer manages to push us, there is nothing to "lose face" about. It just reinforces the "I am not there yet, there is so much more to learn" mentality.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Too Rough!

I almost broke someone's arm yesterday during pushing hands practice.

I was pushing hands with a new student (he has learnt taiji from someone else, apparently, so he is not new to taiji or pushing hands) but his arms were very stiff. During one of the rounds, I managed to get his arm between my arm and my torso. I was going to give a slight twist to see if I can lock his arm... except that when I twisted softly, I heard a crack. I was so shocked; oh no, what if I had broken his arm? I immediately broke off... good thing his arm was okay. I didn't realise that his arm was that stiff, that a simple turning of my torso actually did more than lock his arm... while his arm "cracked" because he was too stiff, I still think it is a manifestation of my inability... that I still have some way to go, because I was not able to discern exactly how stiff his arm was and thus I was unable to use just enough force to lock his arm, without making his arm "crack".

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Just Move Right In

After a few occasions in which one of my pushing hands partners kept playing rough, I got a bit of advice from my teacher. Basically, it is nothing new, he just reminded me that it is most important to continue to be relaxed, all the more so when your opponent is tensed up (like when he is playing rough). Then, once you sense his brute force, relax some more, then move right back in at him.

It was good advice. I tried it, and it worked. I could neutralise his force and use it again him. But it only made him more rough, and became even more tense. And the more tense he became, the easier it was for me to neutralise his force and use it against him. In the end, it was a vicious cycle, and I had to break off in order not for anyone to get hurt.

Lesson? Staying relaxed (mentally and physically) is key. Not overly focused on winning (and thus, not overly concerned about losing) is key.

Saturday, July 07, 2012

Relax, Listen, Know, Follow, Use

Relaxing is important. Because only when you relax, then you can listen, and then you can know your opponent's force. Once you know the force, you can follow it, and ultimately use it against your opponent. It all starts with relaxing. Once you are tensed up, you cannot listen, and then nothing else can take place.

And relax is not just a physical state, it is a state of mind as well. Same as being tensed up. If you are mentally too focused on something, you are mentally tensed up... and then you cannot see things for what they are. Your judgment becomes clouded. So, let's go in relaxed, both physically and mentally.

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Strong Push From Practising Correctly

One of my teacher's students has recently started pushing hands training as well. He has been with my teacher for a few years already, practising taiji. The other day, when we were practising pushing hands, I came to appreciate that his push is actually rooted, not like the floating push that beginners usually have. Even some people who claim to have practised taiji also has this "floating push". But not my fellow student. His push was rooted, and I attribute this to his effort in practising correctly. By being diligent in his taiji practice and making sure that he practises correctly, he is able to move as a whole instead of relying on muscular strength. So while he may be a beginner in sensing his opponent's force, he is no stranger to applying his own force. It makes me remember my experience pushing hands with my teacher's assistant and once again reaffirms the importance of practising correctly.

Sunday, July 01, 2012

Why Paying Is Important

My teacher once shared with me why he doesn't like people to come and observe his taiji classes before they decide to join. Taiji is something that beginners can't really understand by just looking. By just looking, these people will not understand what is going on, and are unlikely to become interested enough to sign up. By making them pay for the classes, even if they cannot grasp much from the first lesson, because they have paid, they are unlikely to waste their money; they will thus continue to turn up at least for the remainder of the course run. Hopefully, by then, they would have grasp a bit more to become interested enough to continue the class. This is a bit of psychology that my teacher has picked up in the more than 40 years that he has been teaching taiji.

Anyway, the taiji classes at community centres are very competitively priced. The price for 10 lessons is similar to what you would actually pay for one session with a private taiji teacher. My suggestion? Just pay it, try it out for 10 lessons, and who knows, you may discover that taiji is what you have been looking for.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Pushing Is Important, But...

A fellow student (who also trains under another teacher besides attending Mr Kwek's pushing hands class) was sharing that his other teacher taught him that to learn pushing hands, he needs to push so that the partner learns to neutralise. Which sounds right, except that when he proceeded to push, he was using quite some force. His force was strong, but not rooted. It was stiff and it was not difficult to just relax and neutralise his force. But he seems to think that his other teacher is right.

I think there is truth in what his other teacher says. After all, if we don't push, our partner can't learn how to neutralise our force. The thing then is how to push. My teacher Mr Kwek teaches that to push, you have to relax, listen to your opponent's force and follow it in. His push can be slow and soft, yet strong. Trying to neutralise this slow but soft force is so much more difficult compared to the hard, fast but stiff force. And the soft push is not necessarily slow; it can be as fast or as slow as you want it to be.

So yes, during pushing hands, it is important for you to push so that your partner can learn to neutralise your force, but it is important to push correctly so that he learns how to listen to your force and then neutralise it. You can give him a discount and make things easy for him by using brute force to push him, but he is not going to benefit much from that, and you won't learn how to push correctly as well. Lose-lose. Push correctly, and your partner learns how to listen and neutralise. Win-win.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Pushing Hands and Taiji Practice

Before I went to Japan, I was worried if I could find a pushing hands class in Japan to continue my practice. But my teacher advised me not to worry. He told me that instead of trying to find a place to practise pushing hands, I should just focus on my taiji practice during that one year in Japan. He really knew what he was talking about.

Just the other day, I was told to try pushing hands with my teacher's assistant (who has been with my teacher for about 30 years now). He doesn't practise pushing hands, but he has been diligently practising taiji for the past 30 years or so. The moment our hands touched, I can sensed that he is someone who knows how to relax, and as we are pushing hands, I can sense that he knows how to push properly as well. So here is someone who doesn't practise pushing hands, but because he has been diligent in his taiji practice, he is able to meet all the requirements of taiji (like relax, linking hands and feet, turning the kua, etc) and thus can straight away pick up pushing hands easily. Each year of practice really counts; it all adds up.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Taiji Classes by Mr Kwek Li Hwa (Updated Jun 12)

Updated as of 14 Jun 12.

My teacher is Mr Kwek Li Hwa, and he teaches taiji at a few places in Singapore. Below are some of those places.

Tampines Changkat CC on Mondays, 8pm to 10pm
Toa Payoh East CC on Tuesdays, 8pm to 10pm
Poh Khiu Temple on Wednesdays, 8pm to 10pm (Mr Kwek has not been teaching at Poh Khiu Temple for some time now because the new management there has discontinued his class.)
Hong Lim Green CC on Thursdays, 6pm to 7:30pm
Toa Payoh Lorong 1 shed between Block 96 and Block 98 on Fridays, 8.30pm to 10pm (This class is for his students from other places interested in learning more about the basics of taiji. Focus is on foundation training.)
Kreta Ayer CC on Saturdays, 11am to noon and 7pm to 10pm (see link)
Ang Mo Kio Ave 3 Blk 323 multi-storey carpark (top floor) on Sundays, 7:30am to 9am (Due to circumstances, Mr Kwek no longer teaches at the carpark in Ang Mo Kio.)
Kampong Ubi CC on Sundays, 10:30am to 12noon
Tampines Changkat CC on Sundays, 7:30pm to 9pm

Pushing hands classes are:
Kreta Ayer CC on Thursdays, 8.30pm to 10pm
Kreta Ayer CC on Saturdays, 5.30pm to 7pm
Tampines Changkat CC on Sundays, 6pm to 7.30pm

Most of them are at community centres, so do feel free to sign up for these courses if you are interested. For some photos and videos of his classes, you can take a look at the blog for the class at Kreta Ayer CC.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Share What Is Appropriate

I believe that it is okay to share what we learnt with others, to help each other learn. However, we must also be careful about what we share. First, we need to be sure that we are not sharing the wrong things. We need to be correct in what we share. Next, we need to know if what we are sharing is appropriate for the person we are sharing with. Will he understand what we are trying to say? Has he reached that stage in which he already has a foundation to understand the more advanced stuff? Or is he still in the beginner stage, and sharing with him too much may end up confusing him instead? Just like teaching is done is stages, if we are to share what we learnt with others, we must also be aware of the stage that he is in, so that what we share is appropriate to his stage of learning.

Friday, June 08, 2012

What Is The Aim?

What is your aim when you do pushing hands? Because your aim shapes the way you learn, the way you practise.

Is your aim to learn how to push your opponent?
Is your aim to learn how to neutralise your opponent's force?
Is your aim to learn how to use your opponent's force against him?

I had thought that my aim should be the second... until today, when after my pushing hands class, I asked myself what is it that I should really be striving for. Interestingly, I came up with the third answer. I will be letting this aim guide my practice for a while.

Monday, June 04, 2012

It Takes Time... And Conscious Effort

I have talked about the importance of being correct. But in taiji, it is difficult to be correct from Day One. Otherwise, we would all be taiji masters. So that means we are start out wrong. What is important then, is to know what is correct, and make conscious effort towards being correct. So being wrong is okay, as long as you know you are wrong, and are making effort to correct yourself. One day, you will achieve what you set out to do. It just depends on how much effort you put in.

So firstly, know what is correct and what is wrong. Then, continue to put in effort to right that wrong. Otherwise, you will just stay in the realm of "knowing what is wrong" and never getting into the realm of "being correct".

Saturday, June 02, 2012

Inkling on Pushing... Again

I don't know the science behind this, but somehow, when I push, if my opponent resists, all I need to do is relax, then push again, and I will be able to push him. I can't seem to figure out the science behind this, since it doesn't make logical sense. After all, if he is resisting, once you relax, shouldn't he be the one moving in towards you? But instead, once you relax, you can move in towards him even more.

Well, I may not understand the science, but I guess taiji is about faith as well. Have faith in doing what you have been taught, have faith that it works. You will eventually get there.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Using Elbows and Shoulders

Pushing hands is different from learning how to apply taiji moves. Pushing hands is about learn how to sense your opponent's force, about how to neutralise it and use his force against him. That is why in pushing hands, we do not play rough, we do not use some of the more dangerous moves like using the elbow or shoulders to hit.

It is not that I don't know how to use my elbows or shoulders, it is just that I choose not to during pushing hands. If my opponent is really rough, I do use my elbows and shoulders when I have to in order not to get hurt myself. But it is not an option that I choose when I am practising pushing hands. Because that is not the purpose of pushing hands.

We need to remember that our pushing hands partners are here for us to learn how to sense force, how to neutralise force, how to use a person's force against him. Our partners are not for us to abuse, not for us to try out the moves in taiji. Learning how to apply the moves in taiji should be something separate, though it is a required part of training. Abuse your partners at your own risk; you may be the one ending up injured.

Saturday, May 05, 2012

Inkling on Pushing

An inkling on how to push... once you sense your opponent resisting, relax, then imagine that the force is coming up from your front leg and traveling up to your hands as you move forward and push. The key is to relax once you feel him resisting... that draws out his force, so that you can use it. Then, when you link your arms to your legs, you can move as a whole to push him without using brute force.

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Pushing Hands, Neutralising Hands

Sometimes you wonder why pushing hands (tui shou 推手) is called thus, since the aim of pushing hands is to learn how to sense and then neutralise your opponent's force. So why isn't it called neutralising hands (hua shou 化手)? By calling it pushing hands, people misunderstand it, thinking that the aim is to push; they end focusing on how to push people, instead of learning how to neutralise their opponent's force. The "push" in pushing hands is for your partner to learn how to neutralise it.

Then again, there is this concept as well, that neutralising is pushing (化就是推) and also that only when you can neutralise, can you really be able to push (能化才能推). Maybe this is why it is still called pushing hands, since at the end of the day, neutralising your opponent's force also means being able to push him. Yet we must not confuse this with just pushing; neutralising your opponent's force and being able to push him are both the means and the ends. Focusing only on one (usually pushing) is to lose seeing the forest for the tree.

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Don't Grab (Again)

My teacher always likes to tell us that in pushing hands, we should not grab/grasp our opponent. Why? Because when we grab, we are using brute force. Taiji is about sticking to your opponent; if you can stick, you don't need to grab.

Some of my pushing hands partners like to grab. The other day, my forearms (especially around my wrist) were bruised and sore from them grabbing me. It reminded me again of what my teacher said: don't grab. Because everytime they grabbed me, I could feel the brute force, and I knew I could use it, but I didn't, because most of the time, they used a lot of force, so much so that it would have been dangerous to try to use such force against them. In the end, I thought that if they like to grab, I will let them grab. It is better for me to suffer a bit than for someone to get injured.

I grab too, but I grab my partner only when I don't want him to fall. When I push him and he loses balance, I will grab him so that he doesn't fall down. I would think that is an acceptable time to grab.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Step By Step

I have yet to learn moving stance pushing hands. Instead, all my pushing hands lessons are fixed stance pushing hands. It is because my teacher has yet to teach moving stance pushing hands, even though I have been learning from him for years. Not because he cannot teach it, but because he feels we are not ready.

To him, fixed stance pushing hands is the fundamental. If you can't even get the fundamental right, there is no point moving to moving stance pushing hands, which is more about application. Why? Because why moving stance pushing hands allow you to escape (by moving away) if you are unable to neutralise your opponent's force, you do not have that luxury in fixed stance pushing hands. In fixed stance, you really need to be able to neutralise your opponent's force.

So he feels that if he teaches moving stance pushing hands now, people who are unable to truly neutralise force will never be able to pick it up. They can just run away. They end up learning the wrong thing. They end up learning how to push, but not how to neutralise. Against a true taiji practitioner, they will not be able to hold their ground. That is why he continues to stress on fixed stance pushing hands, so that we get our fundamentals right, so that we learn how to truly neutralise force, before we learn more on application.

It is step-by-step, but that is the only way we will get anywhere. If you try to move on to the next step without properly taking the current one, you just lose your balance and fall.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Low Stance, Correct Stance

My teacher advocates us to use a low stance when pushing hands. I try to do as low a stance as I can, because it helps to train up the strength in my legs and because a firm base is important. But one must not forget that the low stance is a method to train a firm base, yet it is still important to be correct in your stance. You must be able to turn your kua, and you must be facing your opponent. If your stance is low but incorrect, you are just training your legs to be strong; it is like stance training, you are better off just standing in a horse stance and not moving. Your stance must be low and correct, in order for you to be able to translate your force from the legs up through the body to the arms.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Turning the Force Away

Coming back to practise after a long break is very rewarding. Back in Japan, I could only practise by myself, without a teacher to guide me or an partner to practise pushing hands. Now, it is time for me to recognise my problems again, with the advice of my teacher, as well as the issues that surface when pushing hands.

I have recently written about the basics of peng, turn and push. Today, I again realise the importance of the kua in turning away my opponent's force (that is to say, neutralising his force). After peng, if I just turn my forearm, I am only able to divert away my opponent's force if he is using brute force. And I somehow feel it is using my own force. Today, I realised that the kua has a very important part to play. If I link the turning of my kua to the turning of my forearm, I am able to divert away my opponent's force, no matter how big or small it is. It is a basic principle that I am rediscovering after the long break, and a very important principle too.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Peng, Turn, Push 棚转按

It is very basic, but something that we tend to forget after a while. Yet it is the basic that is important. It has always been peng, turn and push. Peng to contact the opponent's force and stick to it, turn to neutralise it, push to change its direction. Miss or overlook any step, and it becomes brute force. Sometimes we forget to peng properly, and then we cannot stick to his force. Sometimes we forget to turn, and we end up pulling. However, we usually remember the pushing part... but without the first two, it just becomes brute force.

Sunday, April 08, 2012

Drawing Circles With the Knees

After a year away from Singapore, I am finally back and going to Mr Kwek's classes again. Due to insufficient practice over the last year, my legs are no longer as strong and I am a bit raw when pushing hands. But with hard work, I think I should be able to get back to where I was before I left.

One point that Mr Kwek brought up that still left me a bit confused. He mentioned that in silk reeling, the legs (best seen in the movement of the knees) turn in circles, 180 degrees out of phase. For example, both knees should be turning out, one after the other. And vice versa. I can understand this for certain silk reeling movements, but I wonder how it coordinates with two-hands silk reeling. For example, while the right hand may be turning out, the left hand is actually coming in. So should the knees still be drawing outward circles? It then becomes awkward for the left hand. But getting the knees to draw opposite circles seem weird too.

Back to basics as I try to regain strength in my legs, and it should give me time to try and figure this out.

Thursday, March 08, 2012

Starting Again

I will soon be returning to Singapore after my sojourn in Japan. I am really looking forward to being able to train under Mr Kwek again, though work would be quite busy for a while. It is also time to see how much my skills have degraded during this time in Japan without a teacher and without constant practice. Especially in pushing hands. Before I left for Japan, my teacher told me that I don't have to worry about pushing hands, just work hard at practising my forms and basics. Let's see how effective such practice is for pushing hands.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Just a Practice

As part of my calligraphy lessons, I have to submit 2 pieces of work each month for grading purposes. Basically, I write the same thing many many times, and choose the best pieces at the end of the day for submission.

As I practise, the pieces get better and better, but there are times when I make mistakes (instead of improving), and I know that the piece can no longer be submitted. But I still continue to finish that piece for practice sake. And it is at times like this that the piece actually turns out better than the rest. My calligraphy teacher likes to remind me that it is just a practice, there is no need to be frustrated over a small mistake, at the end of the day, each piece is just for practice.

I guess that is very true for taiji as well. Every time I practise, I am always looking out for my own mistakes, trying to make sure I am able to achieve all the principles of taiji. Maybe it is time to give myself some slack, and treat each session as what it really is, a practice. There is no need to be perfect. It is, after all, just a practice.

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Classical Works on Taiji Theory

I have been trying to find classical works on taiji theory in Chinese, if anyone has a good website to share, please leave a comment! Thanks!

Background: Classical Chinese is slightly different from modern Chinese, written in less words (characters) which can have a wider scope of meaning compared to modern Chinese. While the great taiji masters of old are no longer around, I think they have left behind important lessons in their works on the theory behind taijiquan, and it is up to us to try and decipher what we can from the classical Chinese works.

Sunday, January 01, 2012

Summarising Matsuda Ryuchi's "拳法極意-発勁と基本拳"

As mentioned, I was reading Matsuda Ryuchi's (松田隆智) newest book, "拳法極意-発勁と基本拳" (roughly translates into "Secret of Martial Arts - Generating Force and Basics"). In the book, he talked about 5 martial arts styles and their basics, which he felt is the essence of martial arts. I have taken the liberty to list the various basics in each of the 5 martial arts styles that he mentioned in his book.

八极拳 Bajiquan

形意拳 Xingyiquan
三体式,劈拳,崩拳(and 钻拳,炮拳,横拳)

心意六合拳 Xinyi Liuhe Quan

翻子拳 Fanziquan

陈氏太极拳 Chenshi Taijiquan

Matsuda-sensei is focused on his search for the strongest punch, which is why his book focuses so much on punches and how to generate force for the strongest punch. It is not necessarily about the strongest/best style of martial arts, or which is better than which. If you are already a practitioner of any of these styles, it may be beneficial to focus on these basics. And if you are not, and wish to broaden your base, these basics from these 5 styles may be something good to work on while remaining dedicated to your own central style.