Monday, August 12, 2019

Inkling: Nip Force in the Bud

What is taiji really about? Why do we need to stay relaxed and calm? What is it about sensing force? Why is my teacher able to push me even though, muscularly, I am the stronger one due to age?

I think the answer comes from being able to nip force in the bud. My teacher may not be physically strong, but he can sense force the moment it tries to take shape. Force takes time to build up; 0 to 100 does not happen instantaneously, though this change takes place in a very short amount of time. Still, time is needed.

And that is when the master shines. The master of taiji is able to sense that change in force within that very short time. And being able to sense that force as it is trying to take shape means the master only has to deal with a smaller force, one that has not fully taken shape. From 0 to 100: the closer to 0 that the master can sense the force (magnitude and direction), the less force he or she has to deal with.

But sensing force early is just one part of the equation. The other part is to be able to respond to that force. Sensing force, and using force. These two sides of the same coin need to be applied in order to be able to nip force in the bud. And both require practice.

Saturday, August 10, 2019

A Visit to AMK Hilltop for Pushing Hands

For years, I have put off visiting AMK hilltop for pushing hands, because the group there is varied, and practise under a different mentality with regard to pushing hands. But the other day, I decided to just give it a try, since I will be away from Singapore for a while, and who knows when will be the next chance I have to go to this place.

Never having been there before, and based on what my memory told me about what I heard in the past from fellow students, I thought the people there are morning people. Arriving at around 10 a.m., I was greeted with the scene above.

It turns out they mostly gather around noon. I was too early. Oh... great. I needed to be home for lunch.

Still, I managed to meet a few of the early birds at around 11:30 a.m., and did a bit of pushing hands. Which basically just confirmed the impression that I had even before I went. Did I learn anything new? Well... yes. I learnt that I can hold my own against people who practise differently under different mindsets/mentalities. I also learnt that while I am able to sense force, and can easily use my opponent's force when doing taiji pushing hands (四正推手), when doing things differently with people who do not do 四正推手, I am not able to adapt and apply my understanding fully. That is something that I will have to work on.

Which can be a bit hard when I do not have a practice partner in Japan... but I guess "image training" is an option when all else fails.

Hopefully, I can find partners to practise pushing hands with in Yokohama.

Wednesday, August 07, 2019

Panting is Good... Not!

Someone told me that he pants during pushing hands because he is relaxing himself and keeps reacting to his opponent. This constant need to "keep reacting" means he has to move very fast to keep changing, and that is why he pants.

My thoughts on panting were shared before in this inkling. And my thoughts on panting remains the same even after hearing what this person has to say. Because I could see and sense for myself that he was trying too hard.

I am not perfect. I pant too. I pant too because after a long break from pushing hands, I was not confident of myself, and that hindered me from relaxing, resulting in me trying too hard. But after a while, I can usually get myself to calm down, especially as I become more assured that my pushing hands skills are still somewhat there. Becoming more relaxed, I can usually catch my breath, and become more relaxed till my breathing goes back to normal.

Panting is not relaxing. Not relaxing gets in the way of sensing and using force. Panting is probably a good sign to separate those who can relax from those who can't.

Saturday, August 03, 2019

Holding Onto Attention

I was on the plane, and there was this movie I wanted to watch. So I selected it, but a bit into the movie, I started to doze off because I was tired. In the end, I missed most of the movie.

Was it my fault that I did not watch the movie? Or was it the fault of the movie for not being able to hold onto my attention?

Similarly, if I were to perform a taiji routine in front of an audience, is it the audience's fault if they start to doze off or wander away? Or it is my own poor performance that is to blame for not being able to hold onto their attention?

Let's strive to be good enough to capture and hold onto the attention of our audiences.

Thursday, August 01, 2019

Kao靠 is not Zhuang撞

I was pushing hands with my teacher today and we talked about hitting (打) and zhuang (撞), and why these are not really taiji. It could me thinking, and I realized that while many martial arts employ these methods, taiji does not. Why?

Maybe it has to do with being accurate, maintaining balance, and doing the most damage. Hitting techniques (punches, chops, zhuang, etc.) depend fundamentally on the strength of the person executing those moves. The more muscular (heavier), the more damage can be dealt. The damage is at the contact point between the person hitting and the person being hit. There is also an opportunity for the person being hit to avoid the hit. This may cause the person hitting to lose balance, especially if he or she has overextended him or herself.

In contrast, in taiji, even techniques like elbow (肘) and kao (靠) are executed when already in contact. This takes the "avoid" aspect out of the equation. Damage is caused by the person being attacked losing his or her balance and then hitting into something. This means the force is that person's own weight, plus whatever force is used by the attacker in executing the move (which can be up to the weight of the attacker). The total force that results can thus be more than the attacker's own weight. The damage is at the contact point between the person being attacked and whatever object he or she hits when his or her balance is off. Thus, while the contact point between the two persons can be at the arm or torso, the damage can actually be at the head if it is the head that hits the ground. Also, as long as the move is executed correctly, the attacker is not overextending, and thus does not lose balance.

However, this requires the taiji practitioner to be able to effectively close distance to come into contact with the opponent so as to be able to execute these moves and techniques. This "closing the distance" is a topic by itself, which I shall touch on separately at another opportunity. For here, suffice to say that it can be slow or fast; fast enough to make kao look like zhuang. But kao is not zhuang; zhuang is a single move, while what looks the same is actually a "closing the distance" followed by a kao.

Monday, July 29, 2019

Long Time... Bad Feel

It has been a while since I actually practised with a sword or broadsword. And the weight felt... heavy.

While in Japan, I have not really been practising weapons. So that I do not forget the sets, I have been going through the motions, but never really used an actual sword or broadsword for practice. At most, wooden ones, but most of the time, it is just going through the motions.

So when I had to actually pick up a sword and a broadsword last night for practice, the weight felt... heavy. It wasn't really foreign, just not used to it. Still, I think I should be able to get back the feel with a bit of practice.

My thighs are burning, though... as I have not been practising so intensely while in Japan. 😅

Wednesday, May 08, 2019

Swinging, Pretending... Respect?

As a martial arts practitioner, I respect anyone who respects the martial arts. Practising martial arts is a lifelong journey. It is not something to be taken lightly.

So I really hate it when people play around, pretending to be martial artists. Pretending to be the warrior they are not.

It takes a lifetime of commitment to be a warrior. Pretending to be one is, at best, an insult to everyone who has devoted him or herself to such a path.

So when I saw someone recently pretending to be a martial artist... I really wanted to go up there and show him that he is not.

But I did not.

I did not need to prove anything. Not to him, not to myself.

And because I understood this, and held myself back, I think I have grown.

It is a lifelong journey, a lifetime of commitment.

Friday, March 29, 2019

Another Post About Learning

I like to talk about learning. Because learning taiji is a lifelong journey, a never-ending endeavour. Actually, learning itself is something that should not end. For if we stop learning, we stop growing.

The learning process is a cycle. It starts with accepting ideas, concepts, knowledge that one does not currently possess. This can be from people, from the environment, even from existing ideas, concepts, knowledge that is within oneself. The keyword here is "accept". One must be receptive; otherwise, it will pass in through one ear, and out through the other. To be receptive, one must not criticise; this is not the stage for that. This is the "absorb" stage, just like a sponge soaking up everything, be it water or oil.

The next stage is to understand what was just absorbed. Again, this is not the stage for criticism. It is about finding out more about what has been accepted into our minds. What is its purpose? What does it mean? How is it applied? What are the underlying assumptions? What are the enabling conditions? The keyword here is "understand".

Then we can move on to make that "new" idea, concept, knowledge into something that we truly own. After understanding that idea, concept, knowledge, we need to then ask ourselves: how does it fit into what I already know? This allows us to draw links between existing knowledge and new knowledge. And it is through these links that we own that "new" idea, concept, knowledge, and become able to apply it eventually when the situation arises. The keyword here is "assimilate": to make it into our own, because we can never truly apply what we do not own.

Wait. So when do we criticise? Well, in this process of mine, there is no such deliberate act. When we try to assimilate a bad idea, concept, or knowledge, we may find that it doesn't really link with anything that we currently "own". We can then proceed to put it in a separate "box" in the corner of our knowledge realm, along with other bad ideas, concepts, knowledge that we have assimilated in the past. Even these bad ideas, concepts, knowledge have a place in our learning. They teach us what doesn't fit in with what we have. And who knows, these may one day form a component of something else that does work, that does fit in. Maybe we just haven't found the missing link to link them with our existing knowledge.

So my learning process is:
1. Absorb
2. Understand
3. Assimilate
4. Go to 1

Of course, this is a simplification; in the process of understanding, we may happen upon new ideas, concepts, knowledge too, which branches off into a separate absorb-understand-assimilate cycle elsewhere. Still, it does provide a base model for better understanding my learning process.

Other posts about learning:
How I Learn
A Little About Learning
Learning From A Teacher
The Learning Process
Listen and Learn
Continuous Learning

Thursday, February 07, 2019

Pushing Hands in Yokohama

It has been a while since I moved to Japan, and I have yet to find a pushing hands group to practise.

So, rather than try and find one, I am thinking of starting one.

If anyone is interested to join a taiji pushing hands group in Yokohama, I am proposing we meet at Odori Park (大通り公園, the stretch between JR Kannai Station, and Isezaki-chojamachi Station on the Blue Line; specifically, the portion in front of the Fureai Hospital). The place is relatively quiet at night, yet not so inaccessible (JR or municipal subway), and there is the Yokohama Ginobunkakaikan just beside it. The kaikan offers rooms for rent for classes and meetings and such, so if the group ever grows big, we can rent a classroom or something at the kaikan. Of course, since the park is open air, we won't be able to practise when it rains.

Interested parties, please leave a comment (include preferred days of the week and time). I will respond with a comment too about specific time (which will be weekday nights) to set up an initial meetup at the park.

For those totally new to taiji pushing hands, no problem, I will guide you. 😃

Thursday, January 31, 2019

The Teacher and the Student--A Teacher and a Student

I have written about learning attitude before, but I want to take some time today to revisit this topic. A person, when learning something from someone, would do so with previous knowledge in many different fields accumulated over time. Some of that knowledge may be relevant to what is being learnt, and some may not. So when a teacher teaches something that is contradictory to our prior knowledge, there is the urge to question the teacher's knowledge: are you sure? Because that is not that I have previously learnt.

And that is when a person stops being a student. He or she has just raised himself or herself to become an equal to the teacher.

I am not saying the teacher is always right. But in a learning situation, there is always a teacher and a student. And yes, those roles are not mutually exclusive; in fact, in a learning situation, both parties are teachers and students at the same time. When I teach taiji to someone, I am the teacher, but at the same time, my student is teaching me something: how to teach. In that, I am the student.

But that does not make us equal. There is always a "power" difference in the relationship, although that difference flows in different directions depending on what we are talking about. That is how knowledge is passed.

Because when we start out by questioning the teacher, we have stopped being the student, we have stopped learning. From my years of taiji, I think the trick is this: do not question (challenge the teacher's knowledge) right from the start. Do not let your previous learning cloud your current learning journey. Take time to absorb what is being taught first. Have faith, and stay faithful to the new knowledge being taught. Spend time to practise it, to understand it through practice and pondering. Because I have found that, what originally looks to be counter-intuitive at first, will over time become assimilated into our knowledge to broaden our knowledge base. And when we broaden our knowledge base, we will have a bigger foundation on which to build a higher pillar of knowledge.

Do not be too quick to judge. Give your teacher a chance to show that he is not wrong, and yourself a chance to learn something new.

Wednesday, January 02, 2019

Tracking My Training For 2019

Continuing the practice in 2015, carried on till 2018, I have been tracking my training, and will also do so for 2019.


For 2018, I practised:
54 sets of Chen style Old Frame First Routine
54 sets of Yang style 108
98 sets of Sun style taijiquan
(total 206 sets of taijiquan in a year)

135 sets of Chen style taijijian
135 sets of Yang style taijijian
(total 270 sets of taijijian in a year)

225 sets of Yang style taijidao

And also many hours of basic exercises and single moves.

Total number of practice hours in 2018: 259.5 hours

I have not been keeping my training log, though... 😅
Guess it is a... goner.
But the amount of practice has increased slightly from 2018.
And I am looking forward to increasing the amount of practice in 2019!