Wednesday, August 09, 2017

Did Not Get Worse

Nothing makes me happier than to hear him say:
“没有退步。”

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.
1.虚霊頂頚
2.含胸抜背
3.鬆腰
4.分虚実
5.沈肩墜肘
6.用意不用力
7.上下相随
8.内外相合
9.相通不断
10.動中求静

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

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.

Why?

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!

Monday, November 14, 2016

Pushing Hands Was Never Designed For Competition

I have been watching small clips of pushing hands on Facebook often these few days (somehow, they often appear on my timeline). Most of them are clips taken during pushing hands competitions (I think there were a few recently) but there are also some clips taken during pushing hands practice sessions.

A trend I noticed is the people in these clips are all very focused on winning. Instead of the pushing hands that I know and practise, these clips look more like a mix between wrestling and judo. These people grapple at each other, try to throw each other, and basically just exert a lot of force. A lot more force than what taiji is about.

One even commented that he ran out of stamina because his opponent was much younger than him.

But if pushing hands is about exerting force and having stamina, then all those old masters, who are obviously not as strong or have as much stamina as fit young men, will definitely lose. But no, true masters of taiji do not lose with age. Instead, the more they practise, the better they get.

I find it sad that people are grappling and wrestling with each other and calling it pushing hands. No, that is not pushing hands. Pushing hands is a very specific exercise designed to teach people how to sense force. In the first place, it was never designed for competition. Turning it into a competitive sport is turning away people from what pushing hands is really about.

I hope more people can realise this, and bring pushing hands back to what it really is, an exercise designed for its practitioners to learn how to sense force. Those interested in competitive sports can always design their own system with a different name, just like sanda.

Tuesday, November 01, 2016

New Start, Again... Back to Practice

A new start.

Again.

Now to get back to practice.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Back to Practice

After a few months working at the new job and not having time to practise as much taiji as I want, I am beginning to rethink this whole thing about the new job.

Life is a balance, and is this current balance what I want?

Or should I find a new balance?

Sunday, August 07, 2016

A Short Reunion

I was back in Singapore for a very short while, and managed to squeeze in some time to visit my teacher, Mr Kwek, for a short reunion. Nothing fancy, just some time to catch up, talk about how I am getting on in Japan, and how his lessons are progressing. Then he wanted to see how much I have dropped, and so we did a bit of pushing hands. I don't think I have dropped, but neither have I improved. First time pushing hands in a year... my teacher commented that my force is not stiff, which is a good thing. And he gave some tips on what to focus on given my lack of time for practice (compared to the past).

A short visit, but a meaningful one.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Inkling: Taiji Everyday

It has been a while since I last posted. That's because I have started working on a full-time job which is quite a commute from where I stay (3 hours to and fro) so I haven't been practising much too. Still, I try to practise when I can.

And that brings me to this inkling of mine, which came into my mind when I was chatting with a fellow student, as well as some of the books that I have read in the past.

It is all about how to make taiji a part of one's life, to see how to practise taiji while doing all those mundane tasks in our everyday life. Because one can only attend so many lessons to practise taiji (unless we quit modern-day life and go full-time into taiji). So the trick is to be able to practise taiji anytime, anywhere.

And to do that, one must understand what taiji is all about, because with that understanding, one can then incorporate it into one's life. And then one is able to practise taiji anytime, anywhere. And with so much more practice, how can one not improve?

Monday, March 21, 2016

A New Place For Taiji

After many days of practising in my small room, I finally managed to go out and practise today. Found this new place by the river to practise. Nice scenery, and even more beautiful when the cherry blossoms bloom in a few days time!

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Going to be Busy

Looks like March and April will be busy months for me... hopefully, I can still find time to squeeze in some practice.

Meanwhile, I am trying to make use of whatever is left of February.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

(Almost) No Break

Since practising on my own, all that time spent practising had been quite... continuous. Each practice session may last only 30 minutes or an hour, but the practice is non-stop (almost). After each set, I maybe take 6 to 10 deep breaths, then move on to the next set; for longer sets, maybe a drink of water and then it is back to practice. Very different from the past, when I attended lessons. Each session could be one and a half hour to two hours, but in between would be breaks, small talk, or just looking at others practising.

Now, there is no one to talk to, no one else to look at. Breaks are only for myself, so no one to wait for too. Which means almost the entire practice session is devoted to practising. Which is good.

Looking forward to more practice!

Monday, January 18, 2016

Snow is Like Rain...

I was thinking: 雪后公园打太极,天黑地白太极图。
So scenic, definitely must go...
So I changed, got ready the gear I needed, and left the warm house to brave the cold as I walked to the park.

And then reality hit me.

Snow is slippery, and snow will melt. After the snow, the park is a slippery and soggy place.

Snow is beautiful, but snow is like rain... no outdoor practice when there is rain or snow.

Friday, January 01, 2016

Tracking My Training For 2016

In a previous post, I tracked my training for 2015.

For 2015, I practised:
71 sets of Chen style Old Frame First Routine
140 sets of Yang style 108
127 sets of Sun style taijiquan
(total 338 sets of taijiquan in a year)

156 sets of Chen style taijijian
125 sets of Yang style taijijian
(total 281 sets of taijijian in a year)

185 sets of Yang style taijidao

And also many hours of pushing hands and basic exercises.

Total number of practice hours in 2015: 342.5 hours

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

Looking forward to more practice in 2016!

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Maintaining Balance

I know I am not there yet, because I lose my balance. When doing some of the single-leg stances (like kicks) in the routines, I sometimes lose my balance. Which may seem like a small thing, since I practise on uneven ground and sometimes in strong winds. But after seeing a video on some people practising pushing hands, I got an inkling that maintaining balance is a very important part of training.

Two persons pushing hands. Pulling and grabbing at each other, one trying to throw the other, the other struggling to keep his balance. Not exactly my idea of pushing hands, but still, this thing about balance kept me watching. Yes, there seems to be something in there about maintaining balance.

Then I think back about myself, losing balance sometimes when I practise my routines.

Taiji is practise slowly, because it is only by practising slowly can you pay full attention to all the details. And one of the details is balance. About sensing how you shift your weight, how to maintain balance at all times. With practice comes proficiency, and with proficiency comes confidence. And with confidence, you can relax. You won't be tensed up when facing an opponent, because you have confidence in what you can do, because you know you have put in a lot of effort into training.

With training, everything becomes second nature, including maintaining balance while moving. Knowing your own centre of gravity becomes second nature. Knowing how to keep that center of gravity stable becomes second nature. No matter how you or your opponent moves, you are able to maintain your balance. That is half the battle won.

And that is why I practise. And practise.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Keeping a Training Log

Besides tracking my training in terms of hours and sets each month, I have been writing down the details of my training in a notebook. Not just how many sets of what routine, but also how many repetitions of basic exercises too.

This not only helps me track my training, but also serves as motivation to train too. I am more motivated to train daily so that I have something to write in the notebook. And when I don't train for a day or two, I am reminded of this whenever I flip open the notebook (all entries are dated). Guess this is a habit from a career that worked with logbook entries.

But it is great motivation, so I am going to keep this up for a while.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Chinese Martial Arts by Peter A. Lorge


I just finished reading this book, and thought I would introduce it.

It doesn't talk about how to train, there are no pictures on styles, but this is a good book to read to understand how martial arts in China evolved into their current shape. Martial arts in China is very much a part of China's history and its evolution was heavily affected by the times.

For the serious practitioner who is interested in history, this may help provide some hints on how to go about improving your own practice, by understanding how things became the way they are now.

The Mind Knowing is not Enough

I was at an event and someone was giving a speech. While it had nothing to do with taiji or even martial arts in general, what he said was quite applicable in all aspects, and I have tried to see how it can help in my own taiji journey.

He said that just knowing something in one's mind is not enough. Your heart and body must be able to do it for it to be meaningful.

Thinking back to taiji, I think what this means is that just knowing how the movements are like, and how they can be applied, these are all in the mind. But if these do not come out naturally, if these are not part of your heart and body, then they become just empty talk. Yes, it is important to know something, but mental exercises can never replace actually physically practice in developing skills.

Practice leads to better understanding. Understanding leads to better practice. Both must go hand in hand in order to grow.

Sunday, November 08, 2015

Practise to Understand

Read somewhere that you practise not just to improve your skill, but to improve your understanding.

Totally agree. I was practising the other day when I discovered yet another way to apply one of the movements in Yang style 108. And how it is but yet another variation of the basics of taiji.

As you practise, you understand more. As you understand more, you realise that they are all the same.

Thursday, November 05, 2015

Why So Many Styles?

Why are there so many styles out there?

Because everyone is different. What works for one may not work for another.

So when someone finds something that works for him, he practises it. And passes it down. If it suits his student, that student passes it down too, forming a style. And because everyone is different, we have so many styles. Even within the same style, every practitioner is different, adapting small portions to suit him or herself.

Which brings us to the question: is there an authentic style?

People claim that what they practise is authentic. "This is how the founder practised it." "My teacher's lineage is so and so, right to the founder himself."

Yet, do authenticity and lineage mean something is practical and can actually be used?

Maybe styles that are passed down are just broad systems. Each style works for people within a certain category. But in order to be effective, the style still needs to be assimilated into oneself, and adapted to one's needs, characteristics, strengths and weaknesses.

So maybe authenticity and lineage are important, but what is even more important is to eventually bring everything within oneself to create something that works for oneself.

Because we are all different. And that's why there are so many styles. Because there are many categories of people.