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.