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.