Monday, December 16, 2013

A Short Break, Again

Time for a short break from the usual practice schedule, as I go for a vacation trip with the family. I can already start to feel that all my hard work for the past few weeks going to waste... after all, constant practice is the key to improvement. All these breaks don't help...

Sunday, December 08, 2013

Stages Learning Chen Style Taiji

This is my own take on how to go about learning Chen style taiji.

The first step is in getting the actions right. So practise all movements slowly. Pay attention to the movements, the little actions, all the details. Make sure you know what you are supposed to do, what you are doing, and make sure they are the same. This step is about knowing the form.

Next is learning how to use your kua to move. Again, practise slowly, focusing on using your kua to move your body and your arms. This step is about meeting the principles of taiji.

Once you can use your kua, next comes varying the speed of movements. This is when you use your kua to vary the speeds of your movements, to give the fast-and-slow rhythm that characterises Chen style taiji. This step is about manifesting the flavour of Chen style taiji.

Finally, as you practise your Chen style taiji routine, visualise the application of each movement. This final step is about learning how to apply taiji.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Start Teaching From the Basics

At one of my teacher's classes, the students have asked to start learning taijijian. I am helping out there every once in a while, and was about to start teaching them when my teacher stepped in.

He started off by teaching the students how to hold the sword. How to hold it using the left hand when preparing to start, how to transfer it from left to right hand, how to do a "sword greeting". How to even grip the sword hilt properly.

All these are very basic movements, things that never crossed my mind, things that I never thought of teaching them (I actually knew all these from the days I learnt wushu, long long ago). But looking at the students, seeing how awkward some of them actually are when holding the sword, I realised that my teacher was right to start from such basics.

This little incident taught me an important lesson. Start from the basics, don't assume that the students know.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Inkling: Moving While Relaxed

Another inkling... this one after my teacher told me that I am still using too much force when practising my Chen style routine. The hard part about Chen style is the mix of fast and slow, hard and soft. It may be easy to remain relaxed when moving slow and trying to be soft, but when I need to move fast, the tendency is to use more force instead of staying relaxed.

So how to stay relaxed and yet move fast?

I think it is all in the mind. Maybe if I just focus on linking the force from my feet to how it is brought to my hands through the movement of my kua? That way, speed is controlled by my kua instead of my arms. Something to work on in future practices.

Consistency Comes From Practice

I was helping a fellow student out, she wanted to take a video of Yang Style Taiji Dao, so I became the "model". We didn't have a professional studio, so it was done with one camera inside our usual practice place (a dance studio).

With only one camera, she needed me to do the routine a few times, so that she could take from a few different camera angles. She then pieced the pieces together to get a single video that showed the entire routine from the best angle for each part.

She told me that while video editing is never easy, she had an easier time because all my movements over the various times that I did the routine were very consistent. It made it easier for her to cut and paste different portions to string together into the final product.

That consistency, though, didn't come easy.

It came from lots of practice. Lots of practice means I know how much space I need for my entire routine. It means I place my feet at the same place time after time, my hands at the same height time after time. Every time I deviate from the expectations, I bring it back at the next practice, to try and close the distance between what I practice and what is the expected/standard/requirement. Basically, practice is a reduction of error (difference between actual and ideal). With lots of practice, I get close to the ideal, allowing for consistency.

The downside is that if you get the standard/requirement/ideal wrong, practice will make you consistently wrong too... so practice makes you consistent in what you are aiming for; it is up to you to make sure that you are aiming for the right thing.

Saturday, November 09, 2013

Recent Performance on 26 Oct 13 at Tzu Chi Foundation (Singapore)

My teacher, Mr Kwek Lee Hwa, teaches taiji at Tzu Chi Foundation (Singapore) every week. Twice a year, there is a performance by students who take classes (not just taiji, but also calligraphy, yoga, etc.) at Tzu Chi Foundation to let the public see what they have learnt.

The most recent performance was on 26 Oct 13, where besides a performance by the students on "Taiji for Health", there was also a Yang Style Taiji Dao and Yang/Dong Style Taiji Fast Form performance.

Watch the performances at Mr Kwek's Facebook page:
Yang Style Taiji Dao
Yang/Dong Style Taiji Fast Form

Friday, November 08, 2013

Self-Reflection: Differing Treatment

This is not really a post on taiji, but just a self-reflection that came up after pushing hands class.

I came to realise that I treat people differently. There are those whom I am patient with during pushing hands, taking time to give feedback on how to improve, what I have previously been taught by my teacher, and pushing them just enough for them to lose balance but not fall. Then there are those that I just push hands with, without much talking, not really giving much feedback, not really sharing with them what I sense or feel, and pushing them beyond just losing a bit of balance, and even locking their arms and getting a bit rough.

The question is, why the differing treatment? Is it their attitude towards learning? Their attitude towards me? Am I jealous of their progress? Or am I just inconsistent in the way I treat people?

I have been told that I am inconsistent in applying rules at work. Maybe this inconsistency goes beyond work? Maybe I am just an inconsistent person?

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

There Are No Shortcuts

In one of the interviews in the CCTV series 太极拳秘境, Grandmaster Chen Xiaowang shared that there are no shortcuts in taiji, it is all about the continuous pursuit to improve.

It reminded me about something I recently wrote, about new training methods. While new training methods may seem scientific, logical, and imply the achievement of progress in shorter time, we need to remember that in our pursuit of taiji, there are no shortcuts. It is always an endless journey of practice and reflections. After all, taiji is an internal art. One needs to internalise one's training, teachings and experiences through constant self-reflection to crystalise our own understanding of taiji. Methods are external, they provide a basis to start from, but beyond that, it is all about how much effort we put into practice and how much time we spend on reflection.

It takes time to get better. How much time depends on yourself, not on your teacher or his teaching method.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Step-By-Step: Learn To Sense Force First

Many people come and learn pushing hands, thinking that it will teach them how to apply taiji. They see progress as being able to push their opponents. After all, if taiji is a martial art, it should be able to be used in the offensive.

So when they repeatedly fail to be able to push their opponents in practice, they start to lose interest. They start to think that they are not making progress. Eventually, they give up and go somewhere else, thinking that the teacher is not good, unable to teach them, or unwilling to teach them.

They fail to realise that the problem is actually within themselves. By focusing on pushing, they are losing sight of the aim of pushing hands. Pushing hands is about learning how to sense force, how to neutralise it, and then use it back. Pushing is only one part of pushing hands, and it is actually a manifestation of all the other parts when done properly.

There are many stages to pushing hands. Only when you make progress stage by stage, taking things step by step, will you eventually get to the stage when you can apply force like a taiji master.

The first step is very important. It is about learning how to sense force. Without being able to sense force, you cannot progress any further. And to sense force, being relaxed is very important. You must not resist force. It goes back to being willing to accept being pushed. Once you can get past this mental hurdle, you will know how to avoid resisting, how to relax. You will then be able to sense force, and slowly progress through to the subsequent stages.

So don't skip steps. Take things one at a time. Start first by learning how to sense force. Everything else can wait, and will come when you get there.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Pushing Is Not the Aim, But the Aim Leads to Pushing

Pushing hands is the foundation for pair practice. But we should not be misled by the name "pushing hands". It is not about learning how to push. It is about learning how to sense force, how to neutralise force, how to use your opponent's force.

You push, so that your opponent can learn how to sense your force, neutralise it, and then try to use it against you. Then when he pushes you, you try to do the same thing. The "push" in pushing hands is for you to help your opponent learn and vice versa.

Pushing is not the objective, it is the method. To become obsessed with pushing becomes detrimental to learning. Because you don't need to be good in taiji to be able to push. But you need to be able to relax, to be able to fulfill the fundamentals of taiji, before you can sense force, neutralise it, and use it back against your opponent.

So don't confuse the method with the aim. But the aim will lead you to the method too. In the end, it is a cycle, by learning how to relax, to sense force, to neutralise it and use it back, you also learn how to push.

Sunday, October 06, 2013

太极拳秘境 TV Series

I found this on Youtube, it is a TV series by CCTV put together through a series of interviews with masters from the various taiji styles. There is a bit about the differences between the various styles, but also a lot of taiji theory that is common, about how taiji should be practised and how to apply taiji's force.

Episode 1
Episode 2
Episode 3
Episode 4
Episode 5
Episode 6
Episode 7
Episode 8

Thursday, October 03, 2013

Teaching As You Learnt It

I look at the way my teacher teaches taiji, and how some others try to teach taiji, and have some thoughts.

My teacher teaches taiji the way he learnt it from his teachers (Grandmasters Lim Bo Yan, Hu Yunhua, plus Chen Xiaowang and Zhu Tiancai, though the latter two consider him contemporaries rather than teacher-student). He passes on the same taiji theory that his teachers taught him. He doesn't try to come up with his own theories, instead assimilating his own understanding into the theories taught by his teachers. He spent years learning taiji, and even more years practising what he learnt, as he learnt it. This got him to where he is today. His training is effective, as shown by his achievement.

There are some teachers who try to come up with scientific theories behind taiji. They no longer teach taiji as they learnt it; instead, they have used their understanding from their learning to derive their own theory, trying to base it on modern science to appeal to the modern student. In so doing, they hope to shorten the learning curve, to make training more efficient.

But is efficient training the same as effective training?

If I spend 30 years doing what my teacher taught me, I should be able to achieve close to what he did.

What remains unknown is whether using that same 30 years to train under a modern scientific method will yield the same result. After all, the person who came up with that method did not reach where he is using that method. He trained under his teacher using the good old traditional way.

One is a proven method. The other sounds right to the modern scientific mind, but is unproven.

To be effective? Or to be efficient? Can wit really replace hard work?

Keeping Things Simple

I was driving back from taiji practice when a thought came into my mind. I was actually talking to my teacher about his fellow student, when it reminded me of a video clip that I saw of his fellow student performing a Praying Mantis routine. While the movements are the same when compared to what my teacher taught me, his fellow student's presentation of the routine is more flashy, mimicking a praying mantis more closely.

It got me thinking: these animal styles, are they supposed to look like the animal that inspired them, or is the inspiration a concept (something inside) rather than in action (something outside/external)? In other words, is the Praying Mantis style supposed to look like a praying mantis? Or is it based on the concept of how a praying mantis attacks it prey? One is literal, the other conceptual. To me, one is flashy and showy, the other is down to the essence.

Do we put more energy into looking like a praying mantis? Or do we put that energy into fighting like one?

The movements my teacher taught me are simple and straightforward. Each move has a use, and there is nothing extra to try to make it look more like a praying mantis (we don't bounce/spring, crouch low and draw needless circles, etc). To me, martial arts are practical skills, they were designed for a specific purpose, and anything beyond that is unnecessary. It is like competition wushu nowadays, the actions are flashy/showy but a lot of energy is spent on making it look good, rather than making it effective in defeating an opponent.

It also reminded me that in my taiji practice, I need to get rid of all that extra stuff, the extra movements, the extra force. Strip down everything to the bare minimum, keep things as simple as they can be. Keep to the essence, everything else is a waste of energy that can be better used.

Friday, September 27, 2013


Self-confidence is one thing, but being overly confident of oneself can lead to self-conceitedness, which blinds one to his own weaknesses, and ultimately prevents one from becoming better.

As we become good in something, we start to gain confidence in our skill. We know we are better than others. But if we stop at that, if we only know that we are better than others but do not realise that we still have weaknesses that need to be improved upon, then we have reached a wall in our development.

It is a wall that requires a lot of effort to climb over or break down. Because self-conceit feeds itself; each victory makes us more conceited, and when things don't turn out as planned, we start blaming every other thing except ourselves.

And that is why I like pushing hands with my teacher. Because every time I push hands with him, I am able to remind myself that I still have a long way to go. I may have started to get an inkling of how to use force, how to neutralise force, but I still have a long way to go before I can really relax and use force like a true taiji master.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Pushing Hands Is About Practice

Actually, not just pushing hands, but everything is about practice. Practising taiji routines, practising pushing hands, using pair practice, practising with a partner on how to use each move, these are all practices that will help you become better and better.

And that is what I like about the pushing hands class in Japan that I went to (a few times only, though...)

There is a lot of practice there. Because it is not a class but rather a gathering of like-minded individuals. Yes, there is a pushing hands master there, who gives his advice to the rest, but everyone there is there to learn from one another, to practice with one another. They are all there with the right mindset, and there are many of them. So there is no lack of practice. You can practise with different people, each with his strengths and weaknesses, his own experiences to share. Instead of learning only from one teacher, in a way, everyone there is a teacher and you learn from all of them. (In fact, quite a few of them are actually taiji teachers teaching taiji classes of their own.)

I guess it means that each time I go for class, I should maximise the time for practice. And maybe one day, who knows, Singapore will have a pushing hands group that is big and with people of the same mindset (there to learn, rather than there to push) that I can join to further my learning journey.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Same Mistakes...

I talked about "not following through" some time back. I thought I had gotten a better understanding of how to push, yet my body still does not react the way that I want it to. When I push, I still follow through. And end up using brute force towards the end.

I think the reason for not following through is that the force is just enough to move your opponent. Move in, then stop before he can use your force against you. If you continue to follow through, he can use your force as a leverage and eventually use it back against you. Or just simply use your force as a counterweight to avoid falling.

So by not following through, once his centre of gravity has been upset, he will start to fall, and has nothing to use as a counterweight to hold on to, to prevent himself from falling.

But still, even though the theory is in my head, I can't get my body to behave.

Back to form practice...

Wednesday, September 04, 2013

To Be Strong, Know Your Weaknesses First

In our learning journey, I think this is one principle that remains true. In order for us to become stronger, first, we need to know our own weaknesses.

But knowing our own weaknesses is not enough. It is about accepting them that the journey to becoming stronger actually starts. If we don't accept our weaknesses, we will not work to overcome them; instead, we run away from them, hide them, push them aside, pretend not to see them. That doesn't make those weaknesses go away. Not acknowledging our own weaknesses does not make them go away, it only makes them stay on.

So it is about finding our what your weaknesses are, accepting them (taking ownership of them), and then working to overcome them. That is the path to growing stronger.

In taiji terms, it means being willing to accept being pushed around, because that exposes our weaknesses. Then we think about why we were able to be pushed; that is about accepting and understanding our weaknesses. After that comes practice and practice and practice, to overcome those weaknesses.

Do you have the courage to face up to your weaknesses and then work to overcome them? Do you have what it takes to be strong? Can you face up to the fact that you are not as good as you think you are?

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

Shifting Weight and Keeping Kua Relaxed

A common mistake of mine is to think too much about using the back leg to push, to the extent that my back leg's kua becomes stiff towards the end of the push. Too much power is generated by the back leg and that actually upsets my centre of gravity, resulting in something that can be exploited.

Stances are always about how much weight to put on each leg. 40% on front leg, 60% on back leg; 70% on front leg, 30% on back leg, and the list goes on. Every time, it adds up to 100%. Weight, in this case, is actually the amount of force being generated by your legs. What this means is that as you shift your stance, the force generated by each leg changes, with one leg using less force while the other using more.

My mistake is to use one leg to take up more of my weight, while using the same force from the other leg... which means the resultant force is more than 100%, which means there is a resultant force that continues to move my centre of gravity (instead of maintaining it within my two legs) and thus something that my opponent can exploit to upset my balance. Especially in pushing. When pushing, as you push with the back leg, the front leg will take up more weight. Which means you are supposed to push with less force from your back leg as the front leg takes up more weight. If you don't, you end up overextending the push (which is my common mistake).

Another thing that arises from this mistake is the kua of the back leg won't be able to remain relaxed if your back leg continues to push with the same force even as your front leg is taking up more weight. The back leg's kua becomes stiff. So as you push, focus on keeping BOTH kua relaxed; that would take away the force from the back leg as you shift your weight forward, keeping your centre of gravity within your two legs.

Monday, September 02, 2013

Sharing An Article On Peng

Found this blog article on peng, which offers great insight into what peng is about, and consolidates understanding about what peng is. I think it is a very well written article that summarises everything that I understand and have written about peng so far.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Stages In Pushing Hands

I think there are a few stages to pushing hands.

Stage 1: Using brute force, still don't know what is relax. This is the beginner stage. There is a chance of injury if both you and your opponent play rough.

Stage 2: Start to relax and can sense force. However, still cannot use your opponent's force against him. Still got some chance of getting injured if your opponent plays rough.

Stage 3: Start to be able to use your opponent's force against him, but still not able to fully return his force to him. This is usually the case when you are able to be more relaxed than your opponent. Less chance of injury because you are better able to protect yourself now when your opponent plays rough.

Stage 4: Like a mirror, returns whatever force is thrown at you. This is actually the most dangerous stage in training, because there is a chance of you injuring your training partner if he plays rough.

Stage 5: Able to control force exactly. You can control what you actually return. No one gets injured because you control everything.

Just my thoughts...

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Inkling: Between Want and Don't Want

My teacher was sharing that the key to being able to use your opponent's force is "between want and don't want, between have and don't have (在要与不要之间,在有跟没有之间)". It is very similar to the rest of taiji principles, about how to use force. To be too focused on the intention leads to rigidity. To lack intention, however, leads to a void that can be exploited. So there must be an intention, but it is not strong and can thus be changed when needed. There is something there, but it doesn't take shape; and when it has no shape, it cannot be easily discerned by your opponent and thus he finds it hard to react.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Pair Practice

When I was in Japan two years ago, I joined a pushing hands class there. Although they practised a different style and did things a bit different, I think I can now see the benefit of their training too.

In their training, they take turns to be the one who pushes. Draw a circle, then another, and then push. But both sides try to be as soft as possible. I see the benefit as:
- It trains the one pushing on how to push with as little brute strength as possible.
- It trains the one being pushed on how to relax so as to neutralise force.
Such pair practice is actually useful in learning how to use force.

I actually came to realise this when I was pushing hands with my teacher the other day. He was teaching me how to push, and it became a pair practice with me trying to push him. It struck my mind that this was very similar to what I did in Japan, not in terms of the actual movements, but the form of practice.

To learn to apply taiji, pair practice is thus very important.

Pushing hands teaches you how to sense force and neutralise it. It will also teach you how to use force. Repeated practice trains up a reflex action that automatically neutralises force when your body senses it.

Practising the application of the taiji movements (with a partner) allows you to feel for yourself how the force that is applied feels like. Repeated practice also helps train up reflex action, in terms of reacting in a certain way in a certain situation.

But never forget that the foundation lies in the routines. Without a strong foundation, everything else is nought.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Master Kwek Lee Hwa's Facebook Page

This is the link to my taiji teacher, Master Kwek Lee Hwa's Facebook page.

Those interested in learning taiji can check the page for updates on classes. The page is actually maintained by his students (myself included). While I post taiji thoughts there using my own name, some of the other admins sometimes post their own thoughts using my teacher's name. Please don't take it that those are my teacher's thoughts. As far as I know, he doesn't post anything on that page.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Relax When Pushing, Not Stiff When Pushing Revisited

In a previous post, I wrote about the need to be relaxed when pushing.

The thing is, it is not just the upper body that needs to be relaxed when pushing. Even though the force comes from the legs, the lower body needs to be relaxed too, in order to be able to push correctly.

Relax, then push. But I had misunderstood the part about pushing with the back leg. Yes, the force is generated by the back leg, but in the process, the legs must still remain flexible and the joints relaxed.

I came to realise this when pushing hands with my teacher. No matter how much I relax my upper body, every time I try to push him, he will tell me that he can sense my force, that I am still stiff when pushing.

His words got me thinking. I thought about how I am able to push my fellow students when they use brute force, but when they spring back and push me back, I lose my balance too. Now I know that it is because when I push, even though my upper body is relaxed, my hip joint actually stiffens at the end of the push. This locks me into place, making me rigid and thus susceptible to retaliation.

The key to pushing is to relax every joint in the body, and then move in the direction of the push. And the key to being able to achieve that is to keep practising it when practising routines. And then keep putting it to use during pushing hands.

Friday, August 09, 2013

Inkling: Keep Moving

I have been telling other fellow students to keep moving when they are pushing hands. I told them that to stop is to become stiff.

And I was told the same thing today by my teacher.

Relax is about staying flexible. Once you stop moving, you have a fixed posture, which is thus rigid and not flexible. Relax means to keep moving, but not to directly go against your opponent's force. Relax doesn't mean to collapse, it doesn't mean to run away.

Keep moving, keep up the flow and ebb. It is about keeping the balance, and thus when your opponent uses force, you draw it in; when his force is at the end of its exertion, you move in with your own force.

Keep moving, keep the balance.

Sunday, August 04, 2013

Finding My Own Place For More Practice

I used to practise a lot of taiji. I mean, compared to the average Singaporean, of course. Most people here turn up for classes once a week, and that's about it. Some may practise a bit at home, maybe 2 times each week outside class, totalling 3 times a week. For me, I used to regularly turn up for 5 taiji classes and 2 pushing hands classes each week. The peak (which lasted about 3 months) was 9 taiji classes (turning up for 2 classes each day on the weekends) and 1 pushing hands class each week.

Nowadays, I turn up for only 2 taiji classes and 2 pushing hands classes each week. That's a sharp drop in practice for me. And even when I do turn up for classes, a lot of the time, it is for my own practice; I don't get a lot of instruction from my teacher. But these classes are still important, since everyone once in a while, he will notice something about my routines and tell me.

What I need now, though, is a place of my own for my own practice. Because I don't practice enough, I keep making the same mistakes, and thus there is nothing new for my teacher to tell me. I need to practise more so that I can correct those mistakes and move on to the next stage. Some place where I can practise on my own, near where I stay (so I cut down on travel time and maximise training time), sheltered (so that I don't have to cease training because of rain), public (so that I don't have to pay) and yet not crowded (so that people don't interrupt the training, especially when training with weapons).

Wish me luck in finding such a place!

Monday, July 29, 2013

Different Types of Pushing Hands

There are actually many types of pushing hands, because different martial arts may have different ways to practise pushing hands.

When people talk about pushing hands, we usually think about taiji pushing hands, because taiji is something that is most commonly associated with pushing hands. Taiji's pushing hands is about learning how to sense your opponent's force and how to use it against him. The basic methods are more about how to sense force, while the moving methods progresses towards limited application.
But although taiji pushing hands is probably the most common and also the oldest type of pushing hands, other martial arts also have developed their own type of pushing hands for their training.

For example, yiquan has its own type of pushing hands, that looks different from taiji's. The emphasis seems to be in finding an opening, though I can't say for sure since I don't practise yiquan.
There is also pushing hands in baguazhang. It seems to be a mixture of taiji's and yiquan's pushing hands, with a lot more emphasis on footwork, the trademark of baguazhang.
Even less commonly known is the pushing hands in xingyiquan. I haven't been able to find something about this, but it is probably similar to yiquan's pushing hands.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Must Be Fast When Pushing

My teacher was sharing that in order to push, you need to be fast. Fast in terms of reaction, in terms of being able to relax, and once you sense that your opponent's force has all been absorb, to quickly push back gently.

Relax so that you absorb his force, and once you sense that there is no more force, quickly but gently push back with the back leg.

When you relax, his force gets absorbed, but if you are slow and don't push back in time, his force continues to build up, you continue to relax and end up flattened instead.

So everything is in the timing... that split second determines if you are able to use his force against him, or end up being overwhelmed by his force.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Inkling - Don't Follow Through

Okay, the title for this post sounds weird. After all, we have always been taught to follow through on what we do, right?

Well, for this post, I am talking about using force. It is still an inkling, something that I haven't been able to fully pursue down through my thoughts yet.

When we push, we continue to apply force until we achieve the effect that we want, that is to say, when the person we are pushing loses his balance. That seems like the way to push, right? We follow through with our initial push until we achieve the end state.

Well, it seems that the right way to push, or rather, to apply force in general, is not to follow through. Instead of pushing all the way until he falls over, we use just enough force to cause him to move. Then we stop. So instead of following through (which usually results in us stiffening up and using brute force), that short and sharp use of force seems to be able to achieve the end state using less force.

There is probably some science behind this too, just that it is probably a bit too confusing for me right now.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Equal And Opposite Force

Physics tells us that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. I think that is actually part of the physics behind taiji.

When you push with your arms, there is an opposite reaction that works to push you backwards. I think this opposite reaction is that force is can be used against you when you push using brute force. How? It probably has to do with direction. When you push in one direction, and the opposite reaction moves in the opposite direction, there is balance and thus no resultant force working on your centre of gravity. But if your original force is being redirected somewhere else, the opposite reaction still works in the opposite direction of the original force, which could thus end up creating a resultant force that works on your centre of gravity, thus affecting your balance.

I think it can also be used to explain why we use the back leg to push. When you use your back leg to push, the original force moves backwards. It creates a reaction force in the opposite direction, ie. forward. Since nothing is going to change the direction of the original force, the equal and opposite forces are somewhat in equilibrium and is thus controlled by you. It allows you to move your centre of gravity, and the opposite force generated is the one that can be used to push towards your opponent.

I am not a physics expert and thus can't say that this is definitely the scientific theory behind force in taiji, but this is just an inkling that I got when talking to a fellow student.

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Finding Mistakes 8 Years On

After 8 years, I am still finding mistakes.

When my opponent tries to push upwards, I have a tendency to stiffen my back leg's kua, which actually allows him to use that opportunity to lift my centre of gravity upwards. The consolation is that my upper body and front leg's kua is usually still relaxed, and I am thus able to still somehow neutralise his force. But that is a mistake that I need to correct. I need to continue to remind myself that I need to relax my kua at all times. All the more when his force goes upwards, I need to sink downwards.

Relaxing the kua is still a big issue.

I sometimes still find it difficult to link the hands with the feet.

Often, I am not using my kua to move my upper body. Instead, the lower half and the upper half are actually moving independently. But because they are both moving at the same time, it looks like they are linked, but they are actually not.

Many years more to correct these mistakes...

Friday, July 05, 2013

Relax When Pushing, Not Stiff When Pushing

In taiji, we are always told that the power comes from the legs, and we need to push using the back leg, channelling that strength from the legs up to the hands where they can be applied.

However, that does not mean we stiffen our upper body, then use the back leg to push. Because when you do that, your force has taken shape, and people can easily deflect it or avoid it.

Instead, it is about remaining relaxed. The upper body is still relaxed as you use your back leg to push and shift your weight onto the front leg. When you sense an opening, that is when your force takes shape and goes in. Otherwise, remain relaxed and search around for openings.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Closing the Distance

A thought came into mind today. It is about closing the distance. In martial arts, in order for us to strike our opponent, we must get within range to use our weapons (hands, elbows, shoulders, knees, etc.) Closing the distance to our opponent then becomes very important, because if he is out of range, then there is nothing you can do to him.

Different styles and schools of martial arts have different ways to close that distance. Some move straight in, some circle around, and some wait for him to close in. At the end of the day, what is important is to know how to close that distance so that you can put him within range of your "weapons".

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Warm Up Exercise

This is the warm up routine that my teacher, Mr Kwek, usually does for this classes.

1)原地走 (walking on the spot, to loosen up the body)
2)大鹏展翅 (raising of arms front and back)
3)排肩 (tapping the shoulders)
4)转肩 (turning the shoulders)
5)伸手 (stretching out the hands)
6)转脚 (ankle rotation)
7)侧伸腰 (side stretch)
8)转膝盖 (knee rotation)
9)伸屈膝盖 (bending of knees)
10)弯腰压腿 (hamstring stretch)
11)半蹲 (half squats)
12)抱球 (rolling of a "ball")
13)踢脚 (front kick)
14)侧蹬 (side kick)
15)深呼吸 (deep breathing)

Playing Rough... Again!

I hate it when people play rough during pushing hands. After all, the purpose of pushing hands is to learn how to discern force and redirect it. But people play rough because they see pushing hands as a competition, in which the objective is to push and win. That is so... misguided.

Today, I managed to lock my pushing hands opponent's arm. So I told him, "Your arm will break if you keep doing this (using so much force)." To my surprise, he replied, "Try and break my arm if you can." Wow! So fierce! I mean, I don't come and practise pushing hands so that I can have someone break my arm, so I don't go around breaking other people's arms too. But it goes to show his mentality, that pushing hands is about winning and losing, about who is better than the other. That, to me, is the wrong way to approach training.

Things got quite out of hand, with him using lots of force, and me trying my best not to. I elbowed him a few times because that was the only way to use his force against him (he was pulling my arm away to the side, and inadvertently drawing my elbow into his chest). There were times when I put my hand on his chest, and he pulled back at my elbow, causing my hand to move up to his throat and choking him. And he asked me, why do I keep choking him? I had to tell him that he needs to stop pulling at my elbow because he is choking himself, not me.

Still, in all, it was a good experience. At least I know I can stand my ground against someone who plays rough, and that I can still control my force (and his) so that no one really ended up getting seriously hurt.

Friday, June 07, 2013

The Fundamentals Are The Same, But Style Can Be Different

Sharing a post from my other blog. It is just as applicable to taiji as it is to my work.

"The fundamentals are the same, but style can be different"

Tuesday, June 04, 2013

Inkling: Relax, Balance, Push

An inkling: relax, then balance the force, and once the force is balanced, push with the back leg.

Relax to absorb the force, after which you can balance it. Once the force is balanced, you can then push.

And relaxing is peng, I would say. One and the same. When you relax, you are in effect also doing peng. Which means you can then stick to his force, follow it, and redirect as needed. And that is why you can balance it, to bring it somewhere else where it can be used.

Many more inklings to go as I journey along...

Sunday, June 02, 2013

8 Years and Going

It has been 8 years since I started learning taiji under Mr Kwek.

Looking back, I learnt the following:
Chen Style Old Frame First Routine 陈式老架一路
Chen Style Taijijian 陈式太极剑
Yang Style Taijiquan (Yang Style 108) 杨式太极拳 (杨式108)
Yang Style Fast Form (Dong Style Fast Form) 杨式快拳 (董式快拳)
Yang Style Taijijian 杨式太极剑
Yang Style Taijidao 杨式太极刀
Sun Style Taijiquan 孙式太极拳
Fixed stance single hand pushing hands 定步单推手
Fixed stance two hands pushing hands 定步双推手

I think I have enough to last me a while, for me to continue to practise and improve on them before I pick up anything new. Especially since I am spending less time than before on practice. I need to push myself to find time for practice. Cannot be lazy.

Friday, May 24, 2013

The Importance of Form Training

So why do we even do form training in the first place? Can't we just keep pushing hands and learn how to use taiji from there?

I think form training is still very important. It provides the basis, the foundation, for taiji. Taiji's force comes from the legs; form training is about how to manifest that force into something that we can use.

In form training, power comes from the legs. We use the power to turn the kua, which must be relaxed in order for it to turn, and through the turning of the kua, the torso turns too. The turning of the torso then brings about movement of the arms, allowing us to utilise the force generated by the legs.

Through such training, we learn to relax our kua, we learn to push with our legs, we learn how to link our arms to our legs, our hands to our feet. We learn how to move continuously without breaks. We are actually learning about some of the basic principles of taiji. And this will then help us during pushing hands. It allows us to practise taiji and get better at it without a partner. And I guess that is why form training remains an important part of taiji.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Using Circles To Return Force

I like to tell my fellow pushing hands students that pushing hands is about moving continuously, to keep turning and moving. It is about being dynamic; once static, it is resisting, you are being rigid.

This reminded me of two previous posts:

When you feel force contact you, turn it back towards your opponent. That was how I used circles to return force towards my opponent. For example, when my opponent pushes my forearm, I peng and turn my forearm outwards, maintaining contact with his force and turning it back towards him.

Relax to draw his force in and stick to it. Then turn it back towards him to use his force against him. I am going to experiment with this idea for a while.

Friday, May 03, 2013

Relax Kua to Relax Shoulders

My teacher used to tell me that the key to relaxing the shoulders is actually to relax the kua. I have always wondered why, but I stuck to his teaching and focused on trying to relax the kua. Today, I have an inkling of why.

For us to move our arms, we usually end up using muscular strength, which starts from the shoulders. But if we can relax our kua and use that to move our torso, and use the moving of our torso to move our arms instead, then we can move our arms without having to use muscular strength. Instead, the movement will originate from the legs, using the torso as the transmission medium, to end up at the arms.

And in order for us to be able to use the torso as a transmission medium, first, our kua must be relaxed, so that we can then use our legs to turn our torso. And therefore, once you can relax your kua, you can use your legs to move and that movement will be transmitted by the torso to the arms, allowing you to move your arms without muscular strength, which means your shoulders won't be tensed up.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Connecting Force

During a pushing hands session, I got an inkling of how to use my opponent's force against him. It is not just enough to relax, but there is also the need to connect with his force. I have read before about "bridging" and I finally think I felt something close.

But still, the first step is to be relaxed. No relaxed state, no connection. Once relaxed, I kind of felt his force connecting to me, from the point of contact at the hand and then travelling down all the way to the sole of the forward foot. And once I got that feeling, all I did was use my back leg to push my kua forward a bit, and my opponent moved. He was only resisting a bit, but I was still able to use that small bit of force to cause him to move.

I shall try to focus on this inkling for a while, to see what I can make out of it.

Monday, April 15, 2013

What is Authentic?

I was reading a book on the history of Chinese martial arts by Peter Allan Lorge. Inside, he discussed about authenticity, about how people try to say their martials arts is authentic by tracing it back down its lineage. It reminded me about what I had thought about lineage before in this post and this post.

This quest to trace back lineage can actually hinder one's progress. Why? Because while forms are passed down the generations, there will always be changes, as students alter what they learn based on their experiences, their skills, their knowledge and their own understanding. While you may be able to trace lineage back to some founder of the school two centuries back, it does not necessarily mean that the form being taught now is the exact same thing being taught two centuries ago. In the quest for authenticity, in the quest for lineage, we may be overlooking the important things.

The important thing is to find a teacher who can help you learn what you want to learn. It is like the "coffee in different cups" story. What you want is good coffee, don't get distracted by what cup it comes in.

The 4 tigers of Chen style can all trace their lineage back to the same founder, but look at their forms now. So which one is authentic?

It is not important in what form the forms survive, what is more important is the set of techniques that gets passed down the generations. These are the techniques that have stood the test of time.

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

Take Your Time 2

I have written about the need to take your time when learning taiji. It is important to reaffirm this time and again, because I keep seeing fellow students who keep wanting to progress faster. They keep asking others to point out all their mistakes, and when you only tell them one or two same ones, they keep demanding for more. They want to know everything so that they can work on everything at once, thinking they can thus shorten the learning time.

It takes time to learn a skill. But there are many things that we start out not being able to do well. While the fundamentals of taiji are simple (there's only 10 of them), being able to do them is not. It takes time and effort to be able to achieve them.

So if it takes a year of practice to be able to correct a mistake and achieve one fundamental, it will take 10 years to achieve them all.

You can takes things one step at a time, work on one fundamental/mistake at a time, and make one achievement every year until you finally reach your goal at the end of 10 years.

Or you can work on all 10 of them in parallel, make no achievement along the way but at the end of 10 years, finally get them all right at one go. The former gives you a sense of progress along the way. The latter can be difficult to manage (too many things to watch out for each time) and demoralising (no noticeable progress).

My advice (which was actually what my teacher used to tell me) is to work on one thing at a time. And that is what I try to tell my fellow students, but somehow, they want to learn everything at once. They want to know how to improve in all areas at one time. My only fear is that, they may know more, but they won't be able to work on them all at the same time, and end up being frustrated with the lack of progress and end up giving up on taiji.

One step at a time. That's how people got to the top of Mt Everest. That's how people got to the South Pole.

Sunday, April 07, 2013

Kua and Relax

Another inkling on what it means to relax and how the kua fits in.

Some weeks back, a friend of my teacher told me that I looked a bit stiff when practising my routine. He advised me to relax a bit more. I then tried practising with a more relaxed upper body, but it seemed like I was just swinging my arms around. Instead of being relaxed, I was soft and just throwing away my arms.

So I thought, maybe it is because I am too focused on getting rid of force in my upper body. Maybe the key is not about how to move the upper body as softly as possible, but how to use the kua to move the upper body. So I started focusing on my kua instead, on how to link its movement to move the upper body and the arms and hands. It seems to work. At least for Yang style. Chen style seems okay too, though I think I am a bit rusty due to lack of practice. It is harder to try to link the movement of the kua with the upper body in Sun style, because the movements are smaller and the stance is higher, but I think I will be able to do it with time. Wish me luck!

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

Watching Others

I had a chance to see others (practising at another location under another teacher) practising today. While the details of the routines were slightly different, the principles of taiji are the same and thus, to me, it was still a meaningful learning experience, just by looking.

I saw common mistakes like straightening the joints (elbow mostly, but sometimes the knee too), the arms still continuing to move even after the legs have stopped moving (which means the hands and legs are not linked in their movements), leaning forward, and drooping hands. It was a good reminder for me to watch out for these common mistakes during my own practices.

Also, some of the details in the movements were different. While I do know that different teachers will have slight (sometimes big) differences in how they teach the movements, each movement has a meaning. For example, 山通背 is about throwing the opponent, so when the throw does not get manifested in the practice, it brings me to think, is there a mistake here? In our learning journey, I think we need to be able to challenge authority too. Our teachers are not always right. So when our teachers teach us something that doesn't look right, we need to have the courage to ask and clarify. Blindly following what your teacher teaches does not make you good, it just makes you make the same mistake. I think that's another big lesson that I learnt today watching others.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Style Versus Strucuture/Form

There are many styles of taiji, though there are 5 main styles, each unique in its own way. For example, Chen style taiji has a good mixture of fast and slow, and the signature silk reeling. Yang style taiji has big movements and uniform rhythm.

The structure/form of each style usually serves to highlight these characteristics. The movements in Yang style routines are big. The movements in Chen style routines have a lot of silk reeling.

By practising the forms, we are eventually able to realise the styles.

But sometimes, we try to use form/structure to cover up our deficiencies in style. We are not there yet in style (because we don't practise enough), but we add in a bit more silk reeling into our Chen style routine to make it look like we are good. We deliberately practise our Yang style routine slowly to make the movements seem big and the rhythm uniform. But these are just movements without substance. It is not true style. We look good not because we are skilled in the style that we practise, but because the form that we practise looks good. We end up being satisfied by appearances and not true skill. We can't bring out the flavour in our styles through our practice, and instead make it up by adopting movements that duplicate such flavour.

So a question to ask ourselves when we learn our forms: does practising the form help you in learning the style, or is it just that the form looks like the style?

Friday, March 22, 2013


Everything in taiji starts with peng.

Need I say more?

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Rigid to Flaccid to Relax

When we first start out learning taiji, we still use a lot of brute force, there is a tendency to be tense and we end up resisting a lot. We tend to be rigid in this starting stage.

Then we are told that we need to stop resisting. To stop using brute force. As we slowly get rid of the habit of using brute force, we have a tendency to swing in the opposite direction. In order not to resist, we end up having the tendency to let go. When faced with force, we run away. We end up being flaccid.

And then we are told to stop running away, to stop letting go. In taiji, just as it is taboo to resist, it is also taboo to let go. There is a fine balance in between in which you do not use brute force, but you are not totally lacking in force. That is when we start to know what relax is all about.

Not too hard, not too soft, just enough to maintain structure.

Saturday, March 09, 2013

Passing On Knowledge

I never try to act like I know a lot about taiji. When my fellow students ask me about taiji or pushing hands, I do my best to share with them what my teacher told me. I pass on the knowledge given to me. That is why I am very reluctant to share with them my own inklings.

And whenever I answer their questions, I will find opportunities to talk to my teacher about those questions and how I answered them. Just to make sure that the answers I gave were what my teacher would have said. After all, he is their teacher, it is his knowledge that should be passed on to them, I am just a conduit.

Saturday, March 02, 2013

Win, Lose or Draw

Actually, in pushing hands, I don't think there is any win, lose or draw. Of course, in a pushing hands competition, there is always win-lose-draw, but in pushing hands itself, there is no such thing.

Being able to push someone doesn't mean you win. It just means he was unable to neutralise your force. Being pushed doesn't mean you lose, it just means that you are unable to neutralise your opponent's force. Not being able to push each other doesn't mean it is a draw, it just means that neither of you are able to use the other's force against him.

Ultimately, pushing hands is not about being able to push someone. It is about learning how to sense force, understand force and use force. Just because I can push someone doesn't mean I am good; I could be using brute force and he just was not able to neutralise my brute force. Similarly, just because my teacher is able to push me doesn't mean I am not good; it could just be that I have not reached my teacher's level of being able to sense, understand and use force.

The important thing is to remember what pushing hands is about, and continue to work towards that end goal, instead of being bogged down with the winning and losing.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Move Together With Relax

Something that came into my mind today during pushing hands practice. When we first start pushing hands, my teacher kept stressing about "relax". People tend to become limp when told to relax; that's actually wrong. Also, I tend to separate the "relax" from the "push" (or "move"). It was "relax, then push" or "relax, then move".

But actually, I think it should be done together. It should "push together with relax", "move together with relax". As you relax, you are moving/pushing. It is not one followed by the other, but rather, they should take place together. I think this realisation is a small step towards the right direction. And this realisation came because I was watching a fellow student trying to "relax, then push".

So there is value in watching others. Just to see if you are making the same mistakes.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Being Pushed

Part of pushing hands practice is to help your partner to learn too. So sometimes, you need to use a bit of brute force and resist, or become limp and let go, so that your partner has a chance to learn how to use these opportunities. This is especially so when your partner is still new and uses a lot of brute force himself. In order to draw circles with him, you may end up needing to use some brute force yourself; otherwise, the moment you sense his force, you end up using it against him and he doesn't get a chance to learn anything much. This is called 喂招 in Chinese.

My teacher is very good at this. He can draw circles with us, let us take the advantage but still neutralise whatever we can throw at him eventually. But because I am still not that good yet, if I give my partner some chance, I may not be able to avoid being pushed by him. But I guess that's still better than not giving him a chance at all; it becomes frustrating for him to be the one always being pushed.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

One or Two Moves

Today, my teacher was helping me improve on my forms, spotting small little mistakes here and there which I usually overlook. After all, it is not easy to try and focus on getting every detail right all the time, and when I am watching out for A, I make mistakes with B, C and D. Like when I try to relax my kua, I end up leaning slightly forward and my backside sticking out.

So my teacher, knowing that I don't have a lot of time to practise with him, recommended that I take one or two moves which I like, and focus on getting that one or two moves correct. Keep practising them, until I get it right. The principles are the same; if I get that one or two moves correct, I should be able to apply that to the rest of the routine.

I guess that's what I am going to do for my daily morning short practice sessions at home from now on.

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Moving The Kidneys

I wrote about moving the whole body the other day. Just read a book, it talks about moving the kidneys. Maybe this is something to focus on that will help.

Basically, the focus of one's attention should be on moving the centre of gravity, which is usually along the spine, in between the two kidneys. So that becomes the focus of attention when moving, when shifting your weight. So how to turn? The hint is in focusing on moving the kidneys with the spine as the pivot. Something to try out in future practices.

Friday, February 01, 2013

Taiji Weapon Forms

The other day, I was watching some other students practice weapon forms. Most are not newbies to taiji, having learnt some form or other, and do know the basic principles of taiji. But their weapon forms show many mistakes, very basic mistakes. Like standing on the same line (which means they easily lose balance), straightening the elbow, etc.

I think we need to remember that taiji weapon forms are an extension of taiji forms. The principles are the same. The things to watch out for are the same. So when practising weapon forms, do remember to apply the basic principles of taiji into the practice, else it just becomes a waste of time.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Which Is Better For Training?

Which is better for training pushing hands? To have partners that play rough? Or those who try to push properly using the techniques of taiji?

First, to get better at pushing hands, you must train with the right mentality. If the mentality is "I must not lose", "I must not let him push me", it matters not who you partners are. You will still not reap the benefits of training. So first, you must go in with the mentality, "I will let them push me." That said, which makes for better training?

Actually, there are things to learn from both. When your partners play rough and use brute force, you learn how to relax and use their force against them. When your partners push properly using the techniques of taiji, you have to relax even more than them to sense their force. So in both cases, you do learn more about pushing hands.

However, when your partners are rough and use brute force, all you need to be is more relaxed than them, and you will be able to use their force against them. In a way, you just need to make less mistakes than them and you will be able to use their force against them. But when your partners use the techniques of taiji, then you must not just learn to relax, but you must not have any mistakes in order to be able to sense their force. So while you can learn from both, you learn more from the latter.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

The Whole Body Must Move

Something that my teacher told me today during a practice session. I was telling him that I still feel breaks in my movements, in how force is moving. Somehow, I am still not able to move continuously, to flow from movement to movement.

He went on to explain that I am still not moving my whole body. Yes, my legs are moving, and the movement is translated to my arms. But my body, as in my torso, is not moving enough. The "gears" that move are not just the main joints like the knees, hips, shoulders and elbows, but even the muscles and organs in the torso needs to move. I guess this is one area that I will be working on for my practices.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Power From the Feet

My teacher mentioned a small little point today that I thought I should share. When shifting your weight around, such as when you are pushing with your back leg, the power comes from the sole of the feet, and not from the hips. A lot of the time, the kua is not relaxed, the muscles around the hip area thus become tensed and power cannot be properly transferred from the feet up to the rest of the body. I think what he means is ultimately, relax the kua so that the power from the feet can reach the rest of the body, to where it is needed.

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

It's All In The Kua

The other day, I was pushing hands with my teacher, when I was able to feel that it was my kua that was allowing my teacher to keep pushing me. Every time I was unable to turn my kua properly, I was unable to neutralise his force, and instead there was a slight resistance on my part that allowed my teacher to use it against me.

In the end, it's all in the kua. Whether you can neutralise your opponent's force and use it against him, or not, it all depends on whether you are able to relax and turn your kua. I guess that is one area that I will be focusing on in 2013.

Saturday, January 05, 2013

Difference Between Good and Great

The difference between good and great is, one trains until he is tired, the other trains even when he is tired.