Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Force Skips One Point

I am not a real fan of Chen Zhonghua, but I wish to share something that I saw on one of his videos on YouTube. It is about force skipping a point.

The points here refer to the hand, followed by the elbow, the shoulder, then the waist. If your force is at your hand, your elbow will be weak, and there will be force in your shoulder, and your waist will be weak. If instead you relax your hand, the force will be in your elbow and it will be coming from your waist.

This is just a case to point out that we should relax the hand and shoulder, but I thought I would share it anyway.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Unbelievable Theory (off-topic)

I am reading a book written in the late 1990s by Japanese researchers of martial arts. One practised karate before moving on to Chinese martial arts, while the other has stuck to Japanese martial arts, focusing on traditional ones like ju-jitsu.

This traditional Japanese martial artist actually thinks taiji theory came from Japanese martial arts, proposing that Yang style taiji came from something with a similar name in Japan. He also thinks the founder of Chen style taiji came to Japan and brought back martial arts theory with him that led to the creation of taijiquan.

The researcher of Chinese martial arts was trying to debunk his theories. I mean, taijiquan originating from Japan is a totally unbelievable theory. The simple fact is that when taijiquan was created, Japan was shut off from the world; the Tokugawa Shogunate did not allow contact with the outside world. That alone would have made it impossible for outsiders to enter Japan to learn Japanese martial arts. There are many other facts pointing out how this theory cannot be true, but I rather spend time pointing out facts to support a real theory, than wasting time on debunking something as unbelievable as this.

Talk about egoistic... I almost wanted to stop reading, but I told myself that I should continue so that I am aware of such extreme (and untrue) views out there in the world. There are people who choose to believe in their own beliefs rather than open their eyes to facts.

Okay, this doesn't really have anything to do with taijiquan. I will try to steer back to talking about my taiji journey from my next blog post onward. Bear with me for this one post.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Complementing Taiji Practice

Taiji is a complete martial art by itself. My teacher always advocates it is enough to just practise taiji alone, going through the traditional 108 form, the quick form, balanced with pushing hands and the practice of basics. I too agree that taiji is completed in itself. But I also think taiji practice can be complemented with other martial arts. The two very obvious ones, which I have partially brought into my own training, is xingyiquan 形意拳 and baguazhang 八卦掌.

How do these two complement taiji?

I see xingyiquan as complementing the fajing portion of taiji, so I weave wuxingquan 五行拳 into my practice. Baguazhang is being brought in for the footwork. This is not new; Sun style taijiquan founder Sun Lutang was himself an expert in taiji, xingyi, and bagua. But I do not seek to be an expert in all three; I just wish to better my skills in taiji. Ultimately, the aspects from xingyiquan and baguazhang brought into my training is just to help me get better at taiji.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Practise Slowly As It Helps To Build Up Muscle Memory

Recently, while practising routines (especially Chen style) and single moves, I realized my fa jing has significantly improved. It is no longer stiff, it doesn't feel like I am overly trying, it is just a natural transmission of force from legs to where I want to express my force.

I think this is due to the way I have been training, focusing on imagining how the force is transmitted from my legs to the hands and arms every time I practise. We all know that muscle memory comes from training. But there is a theory that says that muscle memory comes from the amount of time that the brain tells the body to do a certain action. What this means is that practising 100 times of the same movement quickly in 10 minutes is the same as practising that same movement slowly for 10 times over 10 minutes. Which is basically what taiji training is about. Instead of practising the same movements quickly for many many times, taiji is about practising those same movements correctly more slowly and therefore less repetitions. But the amount of time should work out to be the same. In fact, given that you are not over-exerting yourself, but taking those movements more naturally, you probably end up training for longer periods of time than if you had been practising those movements quickly.

The important thing is to focus on getting things done correctly. In taiji, that means thinking about how the force is transmitted from legs to arms and hands. About the brain sending that same message to the body over and over again in the right way, linking up the legs and arms in the right manner. I am going to continue on this track for a while to see how far it leads me.

Wednesday, August 09, 2017

Did Not Get Worse

Nothing makes me happier than to hear him say:

It was my main worry. After all, I am practising a lot less than what I used to. So there is no way I could have improved. My main aim was to maintain at the same level, and slowly work into a rhythm that will allow me to improve from there.

So after 2 sets of Yang 108, and hearing my teacher say those words to me, at least I know that the effort spent in getting myself to practise while on my own was worth it. I managed to maintain even in his absence. Which means, if I do more, I will get better.

So now, I need to work into a rhythm that allows me to practise more.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

The Ten Principles of Taijiquan 太極拳十要

These are the ten principles of taijiquan, according to Yang style grandmaster Yang Chengfu.

These principles deal with the movements of taiji, how taiji should be practised. They also affect how taiji is actually used. I will try to find time to explain each of them in more detail.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Breathe Naturally

A lot of the time, I hear or read about people who say that we need to link our actions with our breathing when practising taiji. Inhale when opening, exhale when closing; inhale when drawing in, exhale when pushing out. And so on.

Which may seem to make a lot of sense, since taiji practice is slow. But when you think a bit further, and remember that taiji is not an exercise but actually a martial art, this linking of breathing with action seems to lack a sense of practicality.

My teacher, Mr Kwek, has always told me that in practice, just breathe naturally. Think a bit more and we can see why. In a fight, you need to be able to open and close, draw in or strike out, regardless of whether you are inhaling or exhaling. Things are going to be happening a lot faster than during practice, and there is no way to match your breathing with the speed of actions. Your opponents are not going to wait for you to inhale before they come at you, so you need to be able to punch and strike even when inhaling. Things cannot be inhale (wait), exhale (punch), inhale (wait), exhale (punch)... You need to be able to take the most appropriate action, at the most appropriate time, whether you are inhaling or exhaling.

Another thing is that different people have different lung capacities. By controlling your breathing when practising, you may end up either breathing too fast, or holding your breath in between actions. And holding your breath is especially bad, since it tenses up your body, which is one of the things that you should never do in taiji.

Oh, and in pushing hands, if you link your actions to your breathing, you are giving your opponent an extra source of information to know what you are trying to do.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Learning to be Put in Disadvantageous Positions

Pushing hands is a form of training. And as a form of training, there is no winning or losing. The important thing is to reap the most benefit out of the training, to know what the training is for, and how best to use it.

And pushing hands is about learning how to sense force, and how to use your opponent's force against himself.

So instead of trying to push your opponent, the best way to reap the maximum benefits from pushing hands is to let your opponent push you. This allows you to discover for yourself the limits to which you can and cannot neutralize force. Up till which point can you allow someone to push you and still neutralize his force? Up to which point can you still be able to use your opponent's force back against him? Up to which point will you no longer be able to achieve either?

Use pushing hands as an opportunity to be put into various disadvantageous positions to learn how to get out of them. Because life is not a bed of roses, a real fight may not start equal or fair, and a true martial artists must be able to get out of any sticky situation.

Friday, May 05, 2017

Martial Arts Are Not Sports

Martial arts.

These are arts with roots in the art of killing. Their original aim was to kill another human being, in the most effective and efficient way.

Controlled portions of martial arts training has been adapted for competitive sports, but these are limited to certain aspects of the martial arts that has been adapted, and is not representative of its true potential. For example, boxing is an adaption of bare-handed fighting, with very strict rules on what can be used, and where can be hit. There are similar adaptations, such as in karate, and even in taiji (pushing hands).

But that is what sports is about. You isolate a limited portion of something, and compete in that limited aspect to see who is better. The thing is, it is not a representation of who is better overall, but just in that limited aspect.

Yet the art of killing is not about being limited. It is about being effective and efficient, using all available means. So when martial arts is turned into a competitive sport, we must remember that as a competitive sport, it only represents a limited portion of the original martial art. We are isolating a certain, limited portion just to see who is better in that particular aspect. It does not, however, represent who is the better martial artist, since attempting to compete in such an aspect will most probably lead to fatalities.

In sports, a person trains within certain rules, learns how to excel within those boundaries, and gets better over time with training. That invariably makes him or her better within those rules compared to someone new to the rules. And that is all competitive sports can show: who is better in a certain aspect within the boundary of certain rules.

At the end of the day, martial arts were not developed as systems for sports, but were developed as systems for killing. While adapting martial arts for sports allow us to see who is better in certain aspects under certain rules, it does not guarantee us a way to see who is a better martial artists, since there are no rules in the art of killing.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Pushing Hands is Not About Pushing Your Opponent Out

「推手时要细心揣摩,不可将对方推出以为笑乐。务要使我之重心,对方不能捉摸,对方之重心,时时在我手中。」  董英傑《太極拳釋義》

A reminder by a taiji master. Let's not forget what pushing hands is for.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Inkling: About 粘黏连随


I think this is about the stages of contact.

First is establishing contact, then remaining in contact. These two stages are more in the physical realm.

After which is becoming connected, and moving together. This is more in the conceptual domain, although moving together manifests itself in the physical realm too.

Thursday, April 06, 2017

Inkling: Force from the Legs, Control from the Waist

An inkling I got while reading a book written by a Japanese martial artist, who was explaining about aikido's use of force through aikiage. The feeling described by the author kind of like struck a bell in me, and I could see how it is similar to my own experience with taiji and pushing hands. It helped me to better understand force and gives me a new focus for my own training.

Basically, the force comes from the legs, which moves the body's centre of gravity, and the waist area is actually where that centre is, and moving that centre of gravity (using the legs) allows one to achieve more force that can be applied to the point of contact (such as the hand), compared to just using muscular force from the arm acting on the hand.

Will be focusing on understanding this better during my own practice.

Monday, April 03, 2017

Explaining Taiji with Modern Science

The human body is a complex mechanical and chemical system, so it is no wonder that people try to explain taiji in terms of modern science. I am not against it, although I think it is a difficult thing to do (see other blog post here). But I do think in terms of modern science. I believe that taiji is really about how to move your body in the most efficient manner, using the least force to achieve the biggest effect.

But trying to use modern science to explain taiji is not easy, because our bodies are just too complex. We learn about levers in mechanics, but the human body is not a simple set of levers. We have so many levers interconnected, working together and against each other, that it is very difficult for the human brain to grasp.

So while using modern science to explain taiji can help us to better understand taiji, understanding the science behind it does not mean we can actually put it into practice. The only way to do that is to actually practise, and feel it for ourselves. Only through practice can our bodies actually move in the way that taiji requires so that we can achieve the biggest effect with the smallest force.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Taking the Next Step, or Not?

Should I take the next step?

That is the question.

I have been practising on my own, but I know that is only good for maintaining my current level, to retain what I have learnt over the years.

In order to improve further, I need to teach.

But that is not an easy decision. Although my teacher, Mr Kwek, has given me the go-ahead to teach in Japan, teaching taiji is not a decision to be made lightly.

Because teaching is a long-term commitment. When I look at my teacher, his commitment to teaching, I ask myself if I am ready to live up to the same commitment. Turning up for lessons week after week. Students may take a break every once in a while, when they are sick, or have other commitments, even just to take a break and go for a vacation. And classes will still go on.

But the teacher cannot just take a break like that. When the teacher doesn't show up for class, the students are left to themselves. A teacher can't just disappear like that. Falling ill is not an option. Going on a vacation, or even any trip, is something that needs to be carefully planned so as not to disrupt the learning of the students.

So while I want to teach so that I can continue to improve, I am apprehensive about whether I can make such a commitment now.

Meanwhile, it is back to regular practice, and reading widely.

At least until I can make that commitment towards the next step.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Different Sources of Impact

Somewhere (I forgot where, since it was some time ago), I read that in a fight, it is not about how hard you can punch or kick, but rather how hard the impact is on your opponent.

This is a bit hard to explain. You must be wondering, what's the difference?

The key difference is this: the impact on your opponent may not come directly from you.

Direct impact on your opponent caused by you will come from the strength of your kicks and punches. But there is a limit to how much force you can generate, and how long you can sustain generating that type of force.

At the same time, your opponent also suffers damage when he hits something other that you. Like when he bangs against a wall, or falls on the ground. In some of these cases, the force is not generated by you and therefore not limited to your stamina/muscles. Such as when your opponent falls: the force is gravity. When your opponent overexerts himself, loses balance, and bangs against the wall: the force is from his own exertion.

So the key is not just what you can do to your opponent, but how you can use the entire environment, including your opponent, against him.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

The Need For Martial Moral

武徳--this is the set of moral ethics that a martial artist should have, is expected to have, and should always strive for.


I think it is because, at the end of the day, martial arts is about killing or be killed. In a real fight, one does not pull punches, and there is no "you cannot hit here" rule. Anything and everything is fair game. And we all know (or rather, can imagine) what it is like to have an arm broken, or have someone dig into our eyes, or hit our windpipe. We know the damage that can be caused to the human body.

So, are we ready to put ourselves at the risk? Because once we close range into a fight, we can hit and be hit. We can deal damage, and we can also be damaged. So in a fight, we must be mentally able to face this risk.

And at the same time, we must have the mental strength to live with dealing such damage onto another human being. Are we ready to deal such damage onto someone else, and live with the consequences? For it will forever be a fact of our lives, and will it bite into our conscience?

And so we train, so that we are confident that we are ready. And we also must keep ourselves on a moral path that prepares us to live with our actions, should we ever need to put our skills to the test.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Using Elbows (from watching "Ip Man" and "Ip Man 2")

My son (and I) is a huge fan of Star Wars, and we went to watch the latest Star Wars movie on its opening day. Donnie Yen was in the movie, so I decided to show my son some other movies with Donnie Yen. So we ended up watching both "Ip Man" and "Ip Man 2".

I didn't really notice the details of the fighting scenes before, at least not in such great detail, but this time, I was kind of like studying Donnie Yen's moves. And one thing I noticed was the way he used his elbows once he got "inside". And it all made sense. Using the elbows when one has gotten inside is fast and powerful.

I guess I am going to have to rewatch a lot of movies...

Sunday, January 01, 2017

Tracking My Training For 2017

For 2016, I practised:
25 sets of Chen style Old Frame First Routine
58 sets of Yang style 108
50 sets of Sun style taijiquan
(total 133 sets of taijiquan in a year)

59 sets of Chen style taijijian
59 sets of Yang style taijijian
(total 118 sets of taijijian in a year)

88 sets of Yang style taijidao

And also many hours of basic exercises.

Total number of practice hours in 2016: 141 hours

I have also been keeping a training log to note down the exact details of what I have been training on.

Looking forward to increasing the amount of practice in 2017!