On this blog I will outline a direct method for learning internal Tai Chi that should lead to progress in a shorter time frame.
2. THE LEARNING APPROACH
The learning approach is to focus on what you need to know instead of what you think you want to know.
Too much knowledge can lead to little learning. So it is best to zoom into learning what we need to make progress from one stage to another instead of trying to learn a lot.
The internal Tai Chi that I know is complex, much too complicated for quicker learning and speedy mastery. I decided to make internal Tai Chi more accessible by reimagining and redesigning the learning.
3.HOW TO GO ABOUT LEARNING
The method of learning is divided into three stages :-
a) Getting Started b) Adding On c) Refining
The objective of material categorized as “Getting Started” is the first thing you need to know.
Actually, there are many things we need to know when learning internal Tai Chi which can be distracting. To reduce the learning clutter I will keep each basic sparse and simple.
When you get this principle then you go for the next part of the learning under the “Adding On” category. This is where the learning starts to get a little complicated but still manageable.
The category “Refining” is where you go after you have grasped the learning under the “Adding On” category. The material in this category is the most complex.
Once you understand the learning of the one thing under the three different categories and put each of the one thing together with the other “one thing” learning you will end up with different levels of understanding.
4.IMPORTANCE OF BASICS
Our internal Tai Chi is built around a slew of essential basic principles.
Each of the principles teaches you one thing. Each of the principles is meant to be combined to form the entire picture of what internal Tai Chi is.
Because of this you need to know each of the basics well. It will take you time to get into each basic, get to the level where you obtain meaningful insights and move on to translating the insights into physical skills.
The basics of our internal Tai Chi at the “Getting Started” level can be learned in any order.
This is because all these basics form one singular picture of what internal Tai Chi is about.
You can start from any topic as long as by the end of it you understand each of the basics.
Each basic is multi-layered. There is a physical layer and a mental layer. Both are two different aspects of the same basic.
The first and easiest layer to grasp is the physical layer. As you keep practicing you should start to feel something; this is the point at which you start to feel the mental layer (what we call qualia – something you feel when you think and move in a certain way).
The layer to aim for is where the many basics that you have learned is reduced to a few layers and eventually to a state of being part of you.
7. MICRO LEARNING
To keep the learner from drowning in knowledge I will keep the learning to the bare minimum. Keeping the learning small makes it easier to learn.
Learning at the micro level affords greater attention to detail. When you grasped the learning of each basic then you put them together at the macro level to form the big picture.
Internal Tai Chi can be learned, mastered and transmitted with a suitable method of teaching.
In this blog I will attempt to do so with the Yang style that I have learned.
Something interesting happened last night. I picked up the double sticks for a quickie through the Double Sticks Series. Instead of the larger movements that I would normally do when executing the techniques I found that my movements were a lot more compact and swifter.
Considering that I practice the DS Series sporadically nowadays the only reason I could think of for the change in flavor is my practice of balisong flipping.
OK, I know. Most balisong flippers are not FMA practitioners. FMA practitioners might do the balisong or not. If they do balisong flipping then the practicality of application would eliminate the fancy tricks involved in the sport of balisong flipping.
So why would I do balisong flipping knowing that the majority of flipping tricks are not practical. For one balisong flipping looks like a lot of fun. Secondly, it makes for interesting study of the principles found in physics.
Thirdly, I saw that some flipping moves resemble the core movement of practical techniques and thought that it could enhance emptyhand techniques. However, since the balisong flipping community and the FMA community do not intersect I could not find out from existing practitioners and have to be my own guinea pig.
Did what I write here interest you in taking up balisong flipping? Before you think of jumping in consider it carefully for the reasons below.
Balisong flipping can be an expensive hobby. Sure, there are cheap balisongs on Amazon but I wouldn’t touch them. If you start with a poorly made balisong it might ruin your experience from the start and you give up before you even start. So its better to start with a decent model that can give you a good start. The only thing is a decent model might start around US$150 + shipping.
What are some of the issues with poorly made balisongs :-
a) Balisong flippers are normally concerned with tap and play. Well made balisongs have zero or minimal tap and play
b) Well made balisongs have good balance. Typically a balisong balance is either where the two handles and blade meet or at the end of the handles. A different balance point can affect how the balisong flips. When I started out I find that it is difficult to do a trick like the fan if the balance is at the centre. By comparison, if the balance is at the ends of the handle (what they call handle bias) the fanning movement is so much easier to pick up. There are pros and cons to where the balance is. That’s how I ended up with 11 balisongs because each model has a different feel to it.
c) Gap between handles. Some models like the Nautilus have gaps that can literally give you a painful pinch when the handles snap together at the end of a flip. The gap on models like Krake Raken and Polaris are spaced sufficiently so that you don’t get bitten.
d) A good manufacturing process (think its from the blasting) makes the handle sticky to hold. This is good if you have dry hands which makes a smoother handle slippery to hold, sometimes even flying off at the end of a flip. Models like Nautilus, Krake Raken and Swordfish have a more sticky feel. The BRS Barebones that I have is slippery.
e) Many balisong models weight more than 4 ounces but some like the Polaris and Prysma is around 3.8 ounces. If you are starting out it is easier to use a lighter rather than heavier model.
f) Handle thickness – unless you have longer fingers some balisong handles are more difficult to manipulate especially when doing tricks like the extended twirl which involves using the little finger to flip.
g) Most balisong trainers have bite indicator on the blade so that you are aware which side the sharp blade is on which is one way to prepare you if you ever want to use a live blade balisong. Though the bite indicator is pointed it won’t cut you but it can give you an uncomfortable reminder that the blade is supposed to be sharp on that side. Until you figure out how to reduce the impact of the blade on your finger at the end of a flip that reminder from the bite indicator will dampen how enthusiastic you flip the balisong.
h) Though 4 ounces does not seem that heavy, if you drop a model like the Swordfish on your feet it will hurt. More so, if the pointed blade lands first.
i) Pick a model with chamfered blade as it is less painful on impact with your fingers in the initial stages of learning.
j) Check the design of the handle. Things like jimping and grooves in the handle make for better gripping.
Balisongs can be bought on Amazon and the respective brands websites. Some of the more popular models like the Gildr Artic sell out super fast. In their most recent drop on 26 Feb most models were sold out within the first half hour of their release. By noon all the models were sold out and it will probably take two months for them to restock.
Fortunately, the Polaris is in stock so its a good one to start off your balisong flipping journey. Another model that is nice to handle is the Machinewise Prysma which I think they have a drop every two weeks, releasing 30 units each time. The gold-black handle Prysma sold out after a week but the more recent black-black handle Prysma sold out after two days.
Squid Industries models are available most of the time though new models are sold out by the time I receive their email notification. Their Squiddy is a good one for beginners, especially if you don’t want to startle or frighten people around you by flipping a knife even though its a trainer.
As far as instruction goes there are tons of videos on how to flip the balisong on Youtube. Just slow the video down if you have problem catching a trick. If you are old like me then flipping won’t be as easy to pick up. Some tricks are easier than others. Some like aerial flips I am still struggling with.
Some of the tricks that can help you with your FMA and Wing Chun training :-
a) Fan Combo 1
b) Wrist Pass
c) Behind the 8-Ball
If you can’t see how the above tricks can help your MA training fret not. With some tricks such as the Wrist Pass you should be able to spot the connection between the flipping movement and a particular wooden dummy technique.
The Fan Combo 1 movement is like the vertical rotation technique that comes in the last section of the Cho Gar SLT.
Behind the 8-Ball is a good study in accelerating at the last part of a movement to generate enough momentum to roll over the balisong. The training in accelerating by using a wrist motion can help in executing abaniko techniques (in iKali the fanning technique is called witik).
Also, if you do the wrist motion incorrectly your wrist will become tired fast and even sore after a few repetitions. You will experience the same thing if you do abaniko incorrectly. Understanding what makes a proper wrist motion that can allow for good control, ability to generate momentum and mitigate the stress imposed on the wrist when doing Behind the 8-Ball can help you with the abaniko in which the larger movement and manipulating a longer stick amplifies the stress on the wrist.
Being counter-intuitive seems to run against what is considered to be correct. One of my counter-intuitive approach is not to practice zhanzhuang.
Well, actually its not really my approach so much as the TC styles that I got the skills from do not teach zhanzhuang nor see the need to have it. Even one of my WC teachers said that you don’t learn to fight by standing still.
It is very surprising that many are adamant that zhanzhuang is a must to obtain internal skills ala the movement started by Wang Xiangzhai. Granted I can see some advantages but there are also disadvantages that may not be apparent.
This is what I call sit left, see left; sit right, see right perspective. What this means is that if I sit on the left side of the bus I tend to look out the left side and see things on the left predominantly. This makes me ignorant largely of the view on the right unless I make it a point to sit on the right side on another journey.
This is the same for the zhanzhuang advocates. They didn’t get anything from not doing zhanzhuang and got something from it so the natural conclusion is that this is the right approach. For me it was similar in that I got nothing from not doing zhanzhuang, got something from it and only when I didn’t do it any more that I receive much more from it. So it becomes a sit left see nothing, see right see something, now sit back left see much more.
Sure, I have heard the arguments that zhanzhuang is traditional training as a reason for having it. But there are many more “traditional” styles that don’t practice zhanzhuang than practice it.
So why should I not practice zhanzhuang?
This is a case of the advantage gained from it may be a disadvantage unless you understand what the disadvantage is. The irony is that you would not know what the disadvantage is unless you are prepared to go beyond it by letting go.
Some weeks back I came across a 400 years old Koryu style. This style is unique in that it has many approaches that run contrary to what I have learned about Koryu styles (at least from what I have read in English, maybe the original Japanese writings would point to something else or maybe the indoor approach is different, I don’t know…..) and the way the weapons particularly the katana is used.
Today I saw a new video. This video advocated the use of the katana by using one hand to hold it rather than two hands. What???
Most styles teach how to use the katana by holding it with two hands unless they are using two swords at the same time in which each hand holds one sword. However, this old style advocates using one hand as an advantage. Crazy, right? Until I heard the arguments and saw the katas and partner practice they developed to teach this one hand approach.
Towards the last part of the video the master presented a partner practice. The host of the video who is a newly joined student of the school who has learned other katana arts before noticed that the master was using an unstable stance and asked him about it.
The master is aware of this fact and said to the effect that the use of an unstable stance is a purposeful training device to teach the use of the body’s natural reaction when affected by an external force acting on the body. This plus the use of one hand also made it easier to borrow the impact force of the opponent to amplify the speed and power of your own response.
And there you have it – an explanation from a traditional style that goes to the heart of what I do in TC in the use of small stances and not practicing zhanzhuang.
Our use of small stances make it easier for the body to react, adapt and adjust to an external force acting on us. And our non-practice of zhanzhuang is similar in reasoning to the use of one hand rather than two hands to hold the katana. So what students think of our TC as a counter-intuitive approach is not really so. At least in this 400 year old style they already have it and thus in this instance counter-intuitive = traditional!
In conclusion, a key to learning to use the techniques could lie in understanding the body’s natural reaction by using a moving form to teach the body to go through the process of receiving, adapting, adjusting, recalibrating and retuning in a split second in the transition from defence to countering techniques (internal snobs would want to use the term “energies” rather than “techniques” except that you can’t fight with energies but require techniques as a means to contain and deliver the energies). This does not require the learning of zhanzhuang because when learned too early the advantages acquired also come with disadvantages which typically is not understood until they are pointed out and no advocate of zhanzhuang will want to point out the disadvantages even if they know it.
Under the broad sky there are many approaches. I seek not the traditional but the path that leads to results for me. This is journey so far for me.
Step 1 – Begin with your right hand in open palm position holding imaginary ball.
Step 2 – Visualize the ball shrinking in diameter as if the ball is deflating at a constant rate.
As this is happening your right fingers adapt to the changing size and end up as if curling around the smaller ball. At the end of the ball deflation its shape is irregularly round.
b) From Hollow Fist to Open Palm
Step 3 – To change from fist to open palm imagine the ball inflating back to its original size at a constant rate.
Step 4 – As the ball is inflating your right fingers open up. The ball will inflate until your right fingers are holding it with your finger tips.
Note – when you do the exercise keep the back of your right hand lined up to the wrist in a straight line. Avoid bending your hand at the wrist whether by flexion or extension.
3. LEARNING OBJECTIVE
The purpose of Fajing Exercise No. 5 is how the imaginary ball changes size and shape as we form a hollow fist from an open palm.
Learn to keep the structure of the open palm and hollow fist energized as the ball changes shape. Use the feeling of imagined fullness to maintain the hand structure.
This is a good exercise to learn how to use your intent. To get the most out of this exercise be sure to separate the intent from the movement clearly.
What this means is that you must first visualize it, then do it. Then you can distinguish properly what is mind and what is body.
When you have grasped the exercise properly the boundary between mind movement and body movement will be so close it is as if they are both moving together. But this is not so, the intent is always ahead of the body in the learning and practice phases.
Fajing Exercise No. 5 trains your mind to always be mindful of the imaginary ball and how it changes to affect the movement of your fingers and hand.
Step 1 – Hold the imaginary ball in your right hand at your chest and carry out the arm to body integration as per Fajing Exercise No. 3.
Step 2 – Bring your right out and forward as you turn your right palm from facing your chest to facing down. When you have the right fingers facing forward see the + sign in your mind, aim and release the imaginary ball as per Fajing Exercise No. 1.
Step 3 – Repeat.
b) Variation 2
Step 1 to 2 – follow instructions above. However, instead of receiving the imaginary ball on its return with your right palm facing downwards you follow the method outlined in Fajing Exercise No. 2. This calls for you to receive the imaginary ball on its return with your right palm facing upwards.
Step 3 – Bring your right palm that is facing upwards back to your chest.
Step 4 – Repeat Step 1 to 3.
3. LEARNING OBJECTIVE
The core lesson in Fajing Exercise No. 4 variation (a) is how to load, target, release using the imaginary ball.
Variation (a) is a start-stop exercise in that you do the exercise, reset and do it again.
Variation (b) adds in an additional movement to allow you to keep repeating the movement in a loop.
By learning how to repeat the movement in a loop you are learning how to fajing consecutively using the same hand.
At a later level Step 3 in variation (b) can act as a defensive movement or an open-and-enter technique.
An example of the use of Fajing Exercise No. 4 occurs in Brush Knee, Twist Step technique in Grandmaster Wei Shuren’s 22-form.
In Fajing Exercise No. 4 we isolate and learn the movement of the arm and hand in controlling the imaginary ball.
The principle of moving the arm and doing fajing using the imaginary ball in Fajing Exercise No. 4 is part and parcel of the learning of how to use the arm bow which is part of the body’s five bows.
We learn how to use the arm bow first as this requires a lot more movement than when we use the spinal bow and leg bows.
Fajing Exercise No. 3 teaches you a method to connect up the upper body to the hand holding the imaginary ball.
Step 1 – Your right palm is facing upwards. It is holding an imaginary ball.
Step 2 – Bring your right palm up to your chest and press the imaginary ball against your chest. Feel the imagined pressure of the ball pressed against your chest as your chest is resisting the pressure.
Step 3 – In your mind let the resistance go and allow the ball to leave your right hand and go through your body to bounce against your back. The ball then bounces right back out through your chest and into your right palm. What do you feel in your right hand and right side of your chest / back?
3. LEARNING OBJECTIVE
Fajing Exercise No. 1 and 2 focused on the relationship of the open hand to the imaginary ball.
In Fajing Exercise No. 3 we broaden the relationship by extending the qualia to the upper body in the initial learning stage.
If you relax and stand without unnecessary movement the lower body will also connect up to the upper body without you having to do so.
This enables you to connect the hand holding the imaginary ball to the entire body and not just the upper body as mentioned in WHAT above.
I have broken down the basic learning for how to use the imaginary ball (or Small Chi Sphere to use its proper name) for fajing purposes.
This is just a microscopic view of the process which I have divided into several steps to make the learning more comprehensive.
Once your body has grasped how to do it all the different exercises will collapse to become just one exercise which we can go through either in the form or in the neigung exercise sequence.
Step 2 – This time instead of having the right hand in the same position what you do is as follows :-
i) Right fingers release the imaginary ball towards the target.
ii) As soon as the ball is released let your right palm trace clockwise the arc of the imaginary ball that you were holding. The will lower your right hand and turn the palm to face upwards.
iii) The moment your right palm reached the position of palm facing upwards the imaginary ball will arrive back at your fingers.
Step 3 – Turn your right palm downwards again. Do it by tracing anti-clockwise the arc of the imaginary ball that you were holding in Step 1. Repeat the exercise.
3. LEARNING OBJECTIVE
In Fajing Exercise No. 1 you learn how to release the imaginary ball and let it come back to your right hand.
In Fajing Exercise No. 2 you learn how to receive the imaginary ball as it comes back to you by turning your right palm to face up.
The palm facing up position in Fajing Exercise No. 2 represents readiness to generate force whereas the palm facing down position in Fajing Exercise No. 1 denotes the phase in which you are about to release the power.
This exercise is derived from Grandmaster Wei Shuren’s 22-form Beginning Posture.
The ability to generate power is a process of moving between potential energy and kinetic energy.
Fajing Exercise No. 1 and 2 teaches the cycle of moving between both energies.
Fajing Exercise No. 1 is part of the learning on how to use the open palm that is holding an imaginary ball to fajing.
Step 1 – To do this exercise we will be using the open palm shape information here. If you have forgotten what it is about do a review before reading the rest of the steps.
Step 2 – Pick a wall and pin a paper with a huge + sign on it that you can see from 10 feet away.
Step 3 – Stand back 10 feet away (that’s 3 meters for those who grew up with metric system). Hold your right palm in front of you. The fingers holding the imaginary ball will be pointed forward at the target.
Step 4 – We are going to use intent to do the exercise. Point the imaginary ball at the target. Now I want you to imagine that the ball is charged with kinetic energy that makes it want to pull away from your fingers and fly off forward. What’s the feeling like? Visualize and feel for a while before you do the next step.
Step 5 – Feel the ball wanting to fly off? Good. Now release the ball by opening up your fingers, just enough to release the ball. In your mind’s eye see the ball fly forward to hit the target.
Step 6 – After the ball hits the target it will fly back to your right hand. As the ball reaches your hand quickly grasp it with your fingers. What do you feel? Throughout Step 5 and 6 your right arm and rest of your body stays at rest. Let your imagination do the work and your right fingers seek the qualia.
Keep practicing until you can release the ball and it can come back to your right hand as if it is really happening with a real ball.
Practice with your left hand too. When you can do it easily try doing the exercise with both hands at the same time. This fajing exercise is extracted from the Beginning Posture of Grandmaster Wei Shuren’s 22-form.
3. LEARNING OBJECTIVE
The objective here is to learn how to use intent to move the body subtly to fajing.
In this basic exercise you learn to use the hand first. However, as you progress you will find that even though you appear outwardly to be moving the hand you are in effect moving the whole body.
This ability normally comes from learning the form. However, we can also take any technique from the form and train it for this purpose.
The training of visualization conforms to the internal Tai Chi principle of “intent comes first”.
In the beginning you may not feel anything but a few more repetitions in you should feel something.
This something feeling will grow and change and be refined. Do the training and find out the amazing discoveries that await you.