iKali Singapore – begin your Filipino Martial Arts journey with this innovative, fun and breezy method of learning the Pekiti-Tirsia System of Kali designed by the iKali (indigenous Kali) branch of Tuhon Apolo Ladra who has been honored by Black Belt’s Hall of Fame as “Weapons Instructor of the Year”. The focused, structured and integrated teaching means you can pick up the learning at a much faster pace. Sign up for our free training here.

SKD Combatives – our modern redesigned learning has a simple objective which is to enable the learning and mastery of core human body combative movements used in the Chinese martial arts of Tai Chi, Wing Chun, Ngok Gar Kuen, Pok Khek Kuen and Baguazhang in a shorter time frame through skill development drills and short flow sequences.


Tai Chi – we are focused on the learning of Tai Chi that is in compliance with the principles of the Tai Chi Classics. The teaching is focused intensely around the use of intention to govern the movements of the body to execute the techniques and power. Read more of our approach to what a true internal Tai Chi is here. Please DO NOT contact us if you are looking to do Tai Chi for exercise, fitness and health as this is not the focus of our training.

Training the Kali Salute

I am not much for doing salutations unless there is a better reason to do it apart from just being about respect. Fortunately, the salute we do in Kali is not just about respect but is an application as well.

Our salute is divided into two parts – bringing up the stick to the forehead as a sign of respect and then lowering the butt of the stick to the heart to denote the respect as coming from the heart.

When we consider the salute to be an application it changes our perception on training. We firstly cradle the stick (or sticks) in our forearm. Since the stick is a stand-in for a sword we have to be mindful how we carry it.

Otherwise, if we use an actual blade for training we will cut ourselves due to the wrong habit. By adopting the correct habit we only need to train one consistent method that will work regardless of whether we use a stick, a wooden sword or a live blade machete.

Then we place the stick back on the forearm. After this the next part involves grasping one stick (if you are cradling a pair) in readiness to bring it to the forehead. Even here in this movement the correct method allows for swift execution of the next movement and the wrong movement results in a slower response.

The salute is where we bring the stick to our forehead, reminiscent of the part of the video below 0:00 to 0:26.

We interpret the raising of the stick in two ways – as a block or as an upward slashing counter attack. In actual application we would need to step as well since if you are not there it would be harder to land a blow on you.

The raising of the stick is followed by a downward diagonal slash to the neck. Again, this is similar to what is seen in the video.

We complete the salute by placing back the stick on the left forearm. All the time we keep our awareness and sense of enemy.

When you understand what is going on you will do the salute in a very careful manner. Otherwise, you may just go through it in a lackadaisical manner.

Since a blade is a blade is a blade learning Kali can help you greatly in the study of Chinese broadsword. Our Tai Chi broadsword is a simple form and not a long as some of the broadsword forms in other CMA styles. It is not uncommon for many Tai Chi students to learn the broadsword and not know how to use the strokes. The study of Kail can unlock many of the movements we see in the Tai Chi broadsword form.

When learning Kali it is important to put aside our prejudices on things not typically considered internal. I mean, you can’t win a fight by being internal. If anything, you win a fight by being functional in that you can respond correctly and in a timely manner with speed and power against what is thrown at you and return fire that the opponent cannot handle.

Sometimes to a person coming from the world of Tai Chi the training in Kali may look very different. But it is not so. Think of it instead as seeing it from another perspective. Put aside your biases and train wholeheartedly. Asking too many questions too early and making assumptions will only slow your progress.

When you learn something new it will be difficult to understand what is going on. You need time to absorb the knowledge, to teach the body to do. As long as you keep doing you will get it. And once you get it you have to keep training until you forget about it. My Tai Chi teacher said that an author of the definitive book on Chen style Tai Chi was a master because he wrote that everyday he learned and everyday he forgot. If you don’t understand this keep training until you get the point. That’s how you know that you have reached this level.

Interested in Kali training. Click here for more information.

Hit, Repeat

I bought the book “Unstoppable: My Life So Far” by Maria Sharapova when it came out in 2017.

It has been sitting on my bookshelf since. Last night I finally got around to reading it after finishing Cultish and pondering whether to read these series of books on Koryo or perhaps the biography of Dyson.

Anyway, I managed to clear 100 pages by this afternoon. It is a fun read, a book that I would want to read non-stop.

In Chapter 8 Sharapova wrote about her training with Robert Lansdorp.

The following would resonate with anyone who is training or has trained with Tuhon Apolo in iKali :-

Robert’s practices were pretty much the same every time. That was the point of them. He believed in repetition. Doing the same thing again and again and again. Do it till it’s second nature.

Lansdorp was not a sadist. There was a point to all that torture. Everything was done in the service of a philosophy; every drill had a reason, was taking the player somewhere. When I asked him to explain that philosophy, he laughed. “Well, you know me, Maria, ” he said, smiling. “I just hate spin on a tennis ball. That’s what most modern players use. They hit the ball hard, then put a lot of spin on it to keep it in court. It drops, like a sinker ball. I hate it. What I want is a good, hard, flat stroke. That’s what all repetition is teaching. A flat stroke doesn’t have a lot of top-spin. Flat strokes were big in the 1970s and 1980s, into the early 1990s, then a new, terrible style came in. I think it had to do with the new rackets and new grips. It changed everything. With the new grips, it’s easy to put a lot of spin on a ball. Too easy. The spin gets on there even when you don’t want it to. The kids who thrive on that can be hard to beat, but when they get to be fifteen or sixteen they hit a wall, because now they have to hit the ball harder and suddenly they can’t control the spin. You have to learn to hit flat when you’re young because you need to be fearless to do it, and the older you get, the more fear gets into your game. That’s why we did it again and again. You were learning to hit that hard, flat stroke.

Once I’d acquired what Robert considered a suitably hard, flat stroke – it was all about getting into a nirvana-like hitting groove – we began to work on my accuracy, my court placement. There was nothing high-tech or modern about his method. There were no video cameras, or lasers, or algorithms. Robert simply taped empty tennis-ball cans a few inches above the net on either side of the court and told us to hit those “target” as many times as we could. It was like trying to drive a tennis ball through a keyhole.

From Day 1 Tuhon Apolo kept urging us to go for at least 10,000 repetitions. As in the game of tennis, so it is in iKali.

The most basic technique we learn, the Broken Strike, looks simple but to do it naturally, accurately, being able to whisk it out threateningly to feint or to actually strike takes a lot of practice.

The companion technique is the Fluid Strike, the big stroke that slices the opponent from one side to the other. The big stroke that should drop the opponent if you connect. Hence, the repetitions required to make you hit accurately, consistently, with speed and power.

Broken and Fluid Strikes are found in the set of 8 drills that beginners learn. In techniques such as Entry 4 we initially do the first strike as a Broken Strike. As we go on we change this to a Fluid Strike.

However, depending on how we apply Entry 4 there is no black and white guidelines in so far as the use of Broken Strike or Fluid Strike is concerned. For example, the first thing we learn is to do a feint with the Broken Strike and follow up with a hit to the knee with the second strike.

Alternatively, we could be delivering a Fluid Strike, missing the opponent because he stepped back and quickly follow up with a strike to his leading knee.

This could also morph into a third scenario of going out first with a Broken Strike to get the opponent to return fire and making him miss. Then we deliver the Fluid Strike when he gives the opening. If we miss then we can quickly do a follow up with a strike to his knee (or even arm).

Doing the most basic technique such as Entry 4 many times, over a period of time can give a new appreciation, deeper insight into how such a simple looking technique can be versatile. And we haven’t even add in the footwork yet.

Cultish MA

Learned a new term from reading Cultish : The Language of Fanaticism which is “thought terminating cliche” which is a catchphrase meant to use to halt an argument from moving forward.

Examples would be “It is what it is”, “It’s all God’s plan”, “Everything happens for a reason”, and “Don’t think too hard about it”.

In the context of Tai Chi learning if you asked your teacher what why you can’t do a technique properly and his reply is “you are not sung enough” that’s basically a thought terminating cliche.

A non-cultish teacher would explain the why of your inability and how to work on it to get to a point where you can do it. Blaming it on your inability to sung means the teacher has no interest to teach you or he simply does not know how to get you to move forward hence the need to stop your questions from moving forward.

Other thought-terminating cliches would include :-

a) That’s how it is in our style

b) This is what is transmitted by our grandmaster (or master)

c) This is how it was taught traditionally

d) You need to be an advanced student / disciple to be taught this technique / form

e) This is a deadly skill that has been handed down by our ancestors

Reading the part of the book on the fitness industry gave me some interesting insights because in a way the fitness industry is similar to martial arts schools like are set up like a cult. I can think of two schools that I encountered in the 80s that was like that.

The lesson here for those who aspire to have a successful school that can potentially spin off into many branches within and outside the country is to run it like a cult. It does not necessary mean you must do evil, just that people like to be led. They hate to think. They just want to be told what they can get.

If you want to sell your Tai Chi and rip off students with never ending courses to reel them in here’s a few thought-terminating cliches that I modified from those I read about for the likes of SoulCycle, CorePower Yoga, Bikram Yoga, CrossFit etc which can also be used to promote your internal style whichever you are teaching :-

Fajing to the Max
No Chi, No Power
Keep Up the Qi-Power
Feel Your Qi, Release Your Power
Power is where the Dantian is

Connect The Dots


Thought provoking process.

Connect the dots.

It is my opinion that training in iKali can help one to learn Tai Chi better particularly if you don’t quite know what you have learned in your Tai Chi class.

For example, in iKali the first thing we learn is how to step along the sides of an open triangle. Now if you have been practicing your Tai Chi and wondering how to use it the moment you learn about he open triangle stepping you should experience an Eureka! moment.

This Eureka! moment is what Tuhon Apolo calls the thought provoking process. My Tai Chi teachers would call this insight.

The open triangle postulates a range relationship between you and the opponent. The first range we learn is the long range. As we go on we also touch on the mid range and short range. Proper use of footwork allows you to control the range.

Now what has this to do with Tai Chi?

Firstly, seeing the open triangle should trigger your mind to connect it to the technique of Brush Knee, Twist Step which is the most obvious example of the use of open triangle stepping.

However, the use of open triangle stepping in Tai Chi actually occurs in Grasp Sparrow’s Tail, which is the first technique you learn in the long form.

Tuhon Apolo said that combat is nothing but appreciation of distance. Master Leong is one of the rare Tai Chi masters who use the long range in push hands so most of the time he would get you before you can even close in.

If you do not know how to control the range or unable to do so you would soon find you opponent up close and personal at the close range. At the close range if you are quartered by the opponent then you will find yourself out of options to respond and be opened to attacks. This is why learning, understanding and mastering the open triangle is important.

Secondly, when a beginner starts off his learning of strikes we break down the entire technique into segments. So instead of saying “step forward and strike diagonally” we would break this into “step forward”, “chamber the stick” and “strike diagonally”.

The first instruction calls for the strike to happen as you are stepping forward. The second instruction calls for you to step forward, pause, prepare to strike by chambeing, pause, then do the strike.

If you have learned martial arts before particularly weapons you might find the second instruction laborious. I mean who would want to do it this way which is more for those who have never learned before. However, do not underestimate this way of learning. Why?

You may have learned how to move a weapon and have no problem carrying out a simple instruction such as step forward nad strike diagonally. However, if you are looking to further improve your skills and mastery of attributes you would do yourself a great service by examining how you actually move closely.

Most of us can see how we move. But can you see how you actually move from the perspective of good and proper biomechanics that allows you to execute a movement at optimal speed, power, efficiency and economical motion? Experts call this ability to see problem areas as having a quiet eye. You can acquire this ability by making a lot of learning mistakes, analyzing where and why you made the mistakes and learning to correct them.

In learning to step forward and executing the diagonal strike one movement at a time we are learning to fix the body position first before we move the arm to do the strike. In the beginning you will feel that the strike is not powerful because you are only moving the arm after your body has come to rest. You will only feel the power when you move the arm and body together. Or so it seems.

In terms of practicality we would move the arm and body at the same time. However, in learning there’s value in moving the body first, stop, then move the arm. The reason is quite simple – unless you have a high degree of awareness of how you actually move chances are your body and arm is moving out of coordination with each other.

Stepping first, stop, then move the arm is one way to fix the coordination problem. You do it a few times to learn how to “see” (see by using your eyes and sensing) how you actually move. Then you try to do it by moving arm and body together to see if you can achieve the same alignment. If you can’t then you correct the way you move until you can do it. And you keep doing it until it becomes second nature.

In Tai Chi practice most practitioners would move arm and body together, thus perpetuating the arm-body coordination problem. The smarter practitioner would look for a way to fix this problem.

When I teach Tai Chi to beginners I would teach it one sub-movement by one sub-movement. This is a time consuming way to teach but it checks that the arm and body is aligned properly each and every time. Then after this process is understood we can move on to learning the sub-movements as a flow.

If you do not get the alignment of arm and body correct chances are when you play push hands you will find your opponent constantly invading your defensive space. This is because the absence of proper alignment is akin to leaving your gates opened (or partially opened), inviting the opponent to enter.

This is not an easy way to learn Tai Chi in the beginning but it will make your learning of push hands a lot easier down the road.

What we learn in the form is how we will apply it in push hands. It is common for practitioners to learn a few forms but unable to apply even a single technique freely in push hands. When we learn push hands we learn to apply the techniques one at a time. In this way we have a more indepth understanding of how a technique can work.

The other way of learning is to approach push hands as a game of chess. In this way of doing push hands we have a series of positions from which certain techniques can be used as examples to understand what we can do in those positions. This is not something new but a method employed in some styles to teach application of techniques.

Learning something different is always challenging. It is normal for us to try to see something new from the perspective of something that we are familiar with. This enables us to pick up the information faster. However, we may also miss seeing certain things as we assume that what we know has already enabled us to see everything.

The generation of insights come from seeing broadly and indepth. So always keep an open mind. As the saying goes you can bring a horse to water but you can’t make it drink.

Fixing a Hole

Its a wet weekend. Its been raining since early morning, I don’t know since when. Youtube throws up videos and one video led to another and another and to the song With a Little Help from My Friends which got me listening to Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.

On the album there’s this song Fixing a Hole. For some reason I heard the following lyrics clearly this time as I was cutting up the vegetables for lunch.

I’m fixing a hole where the rain gets in
And stops my mind from wandering
Where it will go

I’m filling the cracks that ran through the door
And kept my mind from wandering
Where it will go

And it really doesn’t matter if I’m wrong, I’m right
Where I belong, I’m right
Where I belong
See the people standing there who disagree and never win
And wonder why they don’t get in my door

I know this song is about marijuana but man, all this stuff about stopping the mind from wandering and being wrong is right is so Zen-like.

Sometimes walking in the rain or even meditating under a waterfall (or a shower if you can’t find a waterfall) is a way to keep your mind focused.

I walked to the market today. I didn’t take the bus. Since the road, pavement, grass, everywhere was wet I have to mindfully take each step, basically meditation by walking, step-by-step while feeling the ground especially these tiles they put on the ground which is supposed to help stop wheelchairs from rolling freely across the entrace but can be slippery when wet.

Nothing like the rain to fix the hole in one’s attention.

Christmas Ramblings

Sometime back I posed a question what was Wing Chun in Year Zero? This was meant to make you think about the value of tradition and lineage.

I use tradition and lineage as a means to evaluate a school. Tradition and lineage should mean unbroken transmission of knowledge and practices, as well as traceability of a system.

However, in actual practice this is not always the case. Tradition and lineage can act as a reference guide but without proper setting up of standards and processes (think of ISO systems) then tradition and lineage is more of a sales and marketing tool than anything else.

Recently I saw a video on a traditional style which made two interesting points :-

a) The person who made the video said that he modified his style to have a less frontal facing when facing an opponent instead of sticking to facing frontally as how he was taught.

This is a good point except that if he had researched more widely he might have discovered that the art was never meant to be used frontally in the first place.

It was good that he discovered the point about not facing frontally. Its just unfortunate that he thought he had to modify his art to do so because an outsider might think that if his art was traditional and by implication proven in the past then why the need to modify it?

b) The person said that he used a stance with 50:50 balance because he can moved quicker than if he had kept his balance 100:0.

While this is a good point he missed out on the point that by using 50:50 he would not be able to kick without telegraphing. And also without further research he missed out on the fact that using 100:0 is unworkable without a paradigm shift brought about by the use of a body structure that enables 100:0 to be functional.

This part about the body structure is what kung fu is about, training a special skill that outsiders cannot easily access without knowing the process for learning it. Anyone can stand in 100:0 and 99% will have a hard time making it work, in the end reverting to 50:50 because this feels more natural and easier to use.

If you catch the trick in using 100:0 you will find that you can move just as fast as when you use 50:50. Even in iKali we have a drill in which Tuhon Apolo pointed out that we should keep the balance on one leg when moving forward and backward. In this way we can move faster.

Things are not always what they seem in the world of martial arts. Some things are documented so you can easily discover the things you have a misconception about. However, many things are undocumented and passed on verbally and not always to everyone so many times we will have a hard time finding out what they are unless we are lucky to be in the right place at the right time.

Another example, I saw a post where someone wrote that he preferred the Wing Chun butterfly swords over FMA weapons because the butterfly swords have a guard. This would make sense if by FMA you think of the use of rattan sticks. But if you do some research you might discover that FMA swords do have a guard and their guard is cleverly designed to allow for stabbing and slashing. I was just fortunate to listen to Tuhon Apolo explain about this much earlier. Google “Filipino Weapons” and you’ll see what I mean.

Getting back to thinking of what was Wing Chun in Year Zero I am reading a book entitled “Coders : The Making of a New Tribe and the Remaking of the World” by Clive Thompson that could help us to think about this.

Here’s the first thought – if Wing Chun was founded by a woman and some make a big deal about this then why are there not many female practitioners within the first two to three generations of the lineage of those who are from Yim Wing Chun.

Its curious, right? Maybe the answer is that females do not practice martial arts back then. Or maybe Wing Chun was a secret art so access was limited (but why would a female teach a potent self defence art to a stronger male is another question; OK Yim was said to have taught her husband and he taught to other males (but why not females?)). So this was back then but even today the number of male practitioners outnumber female practitioners.

Computer programmer.

What comes to mind? Male or female?

Chances are you would say male. You would probably think of a nerdy, unkempt, unsociable white male, right?

In Coders there is a chapter “The ENIAC girls vanish” in which the author found that the earliest programmer in history was a female. This was long before the computers that we think of as a computer came along.

Then the modern computer came and the first generation of programmers were predominantly females. The nerdy white male programmers came a lot later in the 80s. How a field that was largely dominated by females got taken over by males make for interesting reading.

The point that I found interesting is that males were not interested in hardware in the early days and programming the hardware became the lot of the ladies (there are other factors, read the book for yourself). It was only later when salaries for programmers rose that males started to enter the field. This plus other factors led to a decline in female programmers.

So a field essentially founded by a female had many female practitioners in the first generation. But in Wing Chun we don’t see something similar. OK, its a different field.

In Japan in the age of the samurai (I am generalizing here, you have to do your own research to find out the specifics) the females weren’t exactly helpless. I read that the ladies learned to defend their village by learning the naginata (specifically ko-naginata or onna naginata). There were even schools led by female headmasters which was rare. The video below is a documentary on naginata and includes its practice as a sport :-

The point is while I don’t see many female practitioners of the katana, I do see many female practitioners of the naginata. The video below is of a school, Yoshin Ryu Naginata Jutsu, headed by a female headmaster. Look at how vigorous the techniques can be beginning at 0:45 :-

Take a look at 5:30 in the video above – the naginata practitioner charged forward, only to find that her range is restricted. She threw the naginata at the opponent, rushed in and grabbed the opponent’s short sword and used it against him. I

I read the comments for the video. One person thought its a mistake but it is not. This is an example of strategy. I saw that in one naginata school they also used the short sword against the katana. I suppose this would be the response when for whatever reason the user dropped the naginata or perhaps the naginata was cut in half (you can see in the video where a short stick is used; some said that this represented a bladeless naginata).

Funny aside – one Wing Chun teacher told me that in the old days the practitioner should carry three butterfly swords. In the midst of using you could throw one at the opponent as a surprise attack, then quickly grab the other one and continue the attack.

In iKali Tuhon Apolo said that GT Leo T. Gaje Jr. said to carry three blades and give one to the opponent if he does not have one. Then you have justification of pulling a blade out to defend against an opponent with a blade.

Man, if I had known about naginata earlier I might have tried to learn it. The techniques are much easier to understand than Jodo which I learned at the urging of my Wing Chun senior.

Jodo practice is slow and exact. 64 katas for each side (that’s 128 katas in total) can be a lot to remember. However, the real issue is that it takes many years to learn how to use the jo properly. Funny thing, when you reach the end of the journey they would teach the original five techniques which are supposed to be very simple.

I have not seen them but my teacher, Maloney Sensei, said that they would demonstrate it once every ten years in public (not sure if this is still true). Another Jodo master said that when he learned it he was taught one technique a year and he would be shown it only once! Did reading this make you realize something?

This is what you might suspect – the original Jodo was made up of 5 techniques. From reading the story of the founder this is what I am guessing – he made a connection between using a shortened Bo (Japanse 6 foot pole) to prevent Musashi from trapping his Bo using a long sword and short sword which he did in their first encounter.

However, a shorter Bo would not be able to use the techniques of a normal Bo effectively. The second connection was in adapting katana techniques to that for the shortened Bo.

Since the founder knew how to use a katana as well he only have to experiment to see how he can use the shortened Bo with a combination of katana and Bo techniques. Knowing it is one thing. When it came to teaching it as a system a person who get taught the 5 original techniques would also have to learn the Bo and katana techniques, and then make the connection in order to have a similar understanding as the founder.

I am guessing that to solve this problem of teaching the use of the Jo in a more orderly and systematic manner the founder (or perhaps his students) organized the learning by strategy and used short katas to teach how to use the 12 basic strikes to carry out the strategy.

I am making this guess based on what I know of the Ngok Gar Kuen pole. We have core postures, an example, is where we hold the pole pointing to the sky. This posture is found in a form in which my teacher, Master Cheong, said is for the purpose of fighting multiple opponents.

It took me years before I understood what this movement could be used for to address the question of multiple opponents. There are various ways to fend off multiple opponents – a popular method is by wielding the pole over the head to draw a circle which is similar to what is shown below :-

The Ngok Gar pole pointing to sky posture makes it easy to hit in any direction. You have to try it to see. Without asking how to solve the problem of multiple opponents from multiple angles you would not think of it this way.

I have written a long post here. I will end it with another thing I read in Coders. In the early days of coding how does one learn how to code? Neither schools nor universities teach the subject. Many coders learn by themselves. Eventually, some universities offer it but then those who had learned to code by solving problems found that they knew a lot more than what was taught. One coder dropped out when he found that they weren’t teaching how to apply coding to real life applications. However, the staff in his faculty was using a program this dropout had written and they hired him instead. They had to get a waiver to hire a dropout for a position that required a degree.

If you take this example from the coding world you might ask whether Wing Chun was ever a complete system from the very start. Perhaps it was like how coders learned to code, by having a programming language and trying to get the code to do fun things by trial and error. Yes, codes rarely run properly the first time.

In the world of coding a lot of traditions and lineages spawned. Many coders share their work. Many do not even sign their work. Could this be a reason why many movements in Wing Chun (Cantonese art) resemble the White Crane system from Fujian and Foochow? Wing Chun hand movements also resemble that of Hakka Mantis.

This is where some wise-guy will jump in and say but in Wing Chun we use centreline when our hands are placed on the centre but in those styles they position their arms to form an inverted triangle. This is where I ask and how do you do that movement in the 1st section of the wooden dummy after you do the “wrong” Bong Sao?

OK, I have an issue with the name of this technique called “wrong” Bong Sao. In my opinion, it is not a “wrong” Bong Sao at all. It is more of a case of misunderstanding the usage, somehow forcing an explanation on it to make a fit and ending with a funny explanation. Then the mistake gets passed down and voila we have a “wrong” Bong Sao.

Tradition makes our life easy when it comes to learning. Without the tradition it does not mean the end of the world. Look at how ground grappling was pulled into Judo only to have it sidelined. Then Grandmaster Helio Gracie turned this aspect into a distinct art, giving birth to Gracie Jiu Jitsu.

Thanks to UFC and the numerous competions Gracie Jiu Jitsu has become super popular and well known. Nowadays we sometimes refer to Gracie Jiu Jitsu as Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. However, a book I read recently pointed out that BJJ is not quite the same as GJJ due to the rules of competition.

The author’s writing on how he learned GJJ from Rorion Gracie at the very beginning of the start of GJJ in United States is very informative. Listen to the podcast below :-

This clip introduces the book :-

Read the book. It is super informative and funny but many good points are made. I was surprised to read about what the author said about his encounter with Gene Le Bell, Bill Wallace and the brother of Benny the Jet. I won’t tell you about them but its an eye opener and not quite what you may think.

Well, this is the end of my Christmas rambling. I wanted to talk about how the traits of a high level coder, the unicorn programmer aka 10X coder, has lessons for us on how to learn and master Tai Chi. I thought of making a short clip to illustrate what I mean but I ended up spending too much time on this post so maybe another time.

Expanding on Song of Chaos

Here’s something I posted to Facebook on 24 Dec 2021 :-

is the cross you talk to
in your mind as the
Dragon courses through
the nine crooked pearls
as you connect to
heaven and earth
while opening and closing.
Energetically you feel
even as you seem
to cease to exist and
You inside be as one
with the outside so that
No you, no me

In the book on the Yang family long form by GM Wang Yongquan he presented his version of the Song of Chaos. I like this better than the Yang family’s Song of Chaos.

This is because GM Wang Song of Chaos explained the concept of how to apply fajing against a moving opponent. He also explained the keys to mastering the fajing that is unique to his lineage of the Yang family Tai Chi Chuan.

Unfortunately, GM Wang does not explain what the attainment would be like once you mastered the keys of 松散通空 that unlock the ability to fajing.

Though I call them keys they are more like a process as far as actual learning is concerned. Chapter 2 Learning Stages in TaijiKinesis Vol 2 : Learning the Taijiquan Form presents the same information in a more general fashion that allows other Yang stylists to understand what the keys are about.

What I wrote in the FB post is the feeling you should have when playing the 22-form of GM Wei Shuren after attaining the 4 stages of 松散通空 if you follow the steps as taught by my teacher.

Though I presented it as a block of lines, it should properly be written as :-

is the cross you talk to
in your mind …..

…..as the
Dragon courses through
the nine crooked pearls

as you connect to
heaven and earth

while opening and closing.

Energetically you feel
even as you seem
to cease to exist and

You inside be as one
with the outside so that
No you, no me

Commentary :-

BLOCK 1 – this is how you train to merge with the opponent in order to be able to efficiently surge your power into and through his body. There are two methods mentioned in this block and the methods are found throughout GM Wei’s 22-form

BLOCK 2 – this enables you to open up your body like an inflated balloon, basically enabling you to use the 5 bows of the body

BLOCK 3 – this is the key to rooting while retaining mobility

BLOCK 4 – this is part of the process of using the 5 bows to issue power

BLOCK 5 – this is an extension of BLOCK 1 on a more advanced level

BLOCK 6 – this is when you have achieved BLOCK 1 and BLOCK 5. When you are here the moment you touch the opponent he will feel as if your energy is enveloping him. This is the stage at which you can generate power from a short distance at short notice without having to go through an elaborate process of setting up

Summary – the most important to made is that everything mentioned in the 6 blocks must work together i.e. you must do them at the same time instead of separately. This is one reason why the 22-form is like a physical koan that you work on daily until you can perform everything together.

When you reach here then you can explore the use of the power using the various techniques found in the form. You can also refine how you use the core power by using the examples of power generation models mentioned in GM Wei’s book on the 22-form.

As you keep moving forward you might come back to just using the core power as it is without having to worry about the various power generation models. This keeps things simple so you never have to think about which model to use. When things are moving fast during push hands you have but a split second to decide how to issue the power. It would be best if you let it happen on its own, just like how you would bounce off a trampoline depending on how you land on it.

The Internal Principles of Abakada

In my previous post I wrote about Abakada.

What I left out is that Abakada is a good exercise for learning and discovering the physics that we commonly think of as associated with the internal arts.

Here is how I look at it – whether you want to classify your art as internal or external is irrelevant to the question of optimizing body motion for the purpose of speed, power and change in the application of techniques.

It is because different practitioners have different beliefs, viewpoints and understanding that we end up with different models. But if you cast aside the whole style / system argument and just examine the question as one of how to move then you will probably find more consensus than disagreements.

For this reason I prefer to look at books on physics, biomechanics and anatomy cause they are martial arts style free. What matters is that they talk about the body in motion rather than the “my style is better than your style” argument.

What do you find in internal arts that you will also find in Abakada?

Hand leads the body, body leads the hand is a common internal arts principle. In Chen style Tai Chi they say that the first routine is body leads hand and in the second routine the hand leads the body. In Yang style we do both separately at first. Once your practice reach a certain level of skill you will find that you can do both within the same technique.

In Abakada strike number 10 is an example of stick (or sword) leads the body at first then body takes over and lead the stick. Why is it this way?

To move fast the hand (or stick or sword) must lead the body which is what happens at the beginning of the movement. However, to generate power one must use the waist / hip / legs. So towards the end of strike number 10 the body takes over and does a gravitional drop to generate power for the downward slashing motion.

In Chen style Tai Chi this is normally done as a stomping motion. In Yang style our stomping motion is very subtle which is why you can’t really see it. In many versions of Abakada this is performed as a body drop via a squatting motion.

Since I practice stomping in my Yang style I do this as a stomping motion, however, I do not stomp the ground hard. Instead, I use what looks like a stomping action to create an accelerated downward motion. Depending on how I manage the time lag between the movement of the waist, upper body and arm it can either be like a chopping movement or a whipping motion.

The other motion that is used a lot in Abakada is opening and closing of the body. When we do Abakada we have a motion of the hand holding the stick and a motion of the other empty hand. If I practice Abakada at a much slower pace then this opening and closing will be obvious particularly in strike number 7 and 9.

A lesser motion is that of the spiral which is quite obvious in strike number 8. If you take away the stick strike number 8 would resemble Xingyi’s Heng Quan.

Strike number 11 and 12 highlights the use of momentum by massing the body, moving the different parts and stopping the body at the same time. To make the movement stronger for strike number 11 we add a sudden acceleration towards the end of the movement.

Alphabet for the Broadsword

I like this exercise called Abakada in iKali. Abakada means ABC, that is the beginning of words in the Filipino alphabet.

Sometimes Abakada is also called Abecedario by other PTK teachers. I understand that Grand Tuhon taught different versions of Abakada at various times.

A version I always see is this one below :-

When I first saw it I was surprised that it didn’t resemble what I had learned. Then I looked again and realized that the strikes are the same. Its the body structure and footwork that is different.

This popular version looks very smooth. I can understand why it makes for a good introduction to basic strikes.

The version we do in iKali is more dynamic, more aggressive in feel especially when I do it fast.

I find the iKali version a good companion study form for the Tai Chi broadsword. This is what I like about the Abakada exercise :-

a) Good exercise for basic thrusting and slashing attacks

b) Teaches the role of the empty hand in helping to defend, attack and counterattack

c) Rapid stepping and body angling for defence and getting into range to deliver the strikes

d) Smooth transition between strikes even when the strikes are performed with power

e) Good exercise for learning how to use the body and footwork to generate power in the strikes

Do Till You See

Can you see what you are doing?

Sometimes we can, many times we can’t.

There’s a counter movement called Pawitik in this iKali exercise called Sabayan which calls for a flick and a cut in quick succession.

I can see what I am doing when I do it. However, there is a problem related to time lag. The problem goes this way – I do the witik movement and then I do the slash. Seems simple enough.

The problem with this simple 2-step movement is this – the witik is easy to do. Its a quick flick of the stick using a quick turn of the wrist. The stick flicks out, comes back and then I do the slash.

The problem is that there is always a time lag between the ending of the flick and the beginning of the slash. I think of this as the braking effect.

The braking effect problem is this – you drive fast from point A to point B, then you turn and drive back. The faster you drive, the harder you have to apply the brake when you get to point B, then only you can turn back.

If you drive slower you will not have to brake as hard. But then you won’t be able to get from point A to point B as fast.

In combat if you hit the opponent’s wrist with the flick and then you take the time to do the slash chances are by that time his wrist would have been gone.

So you need to do the flick fast and the slash just as fast. And you need to do it in a way that there is power otherwise it would not hurt like a bitch.

Scientifically speaking, every action has a reaction, a consequence. A quick flick of the wrist to flick the stick out and back will place a lot of stress and strain suddenly on your wrist (whether from the braking or twisting of the wrist) during the transition from flick to slash.

If you have injured your wrist previously then you will feel pain when you do witik. If you don’t have pain to begin with then train the movement carefully. If you go too fast, too strongly you could end up with pain.

To solve this problem one way is to study the movement carefully by doing it slowly. I did many times but still the same flick, lag, slash would occur. I did a lot of this series of movements in an exercise called B-24. In explaining how to do the witik in free flow Tuhon Apolo mentioned something.

As it turns out this thing he mentioned is the solution to doing the flick and slash quickly without the time lag. Once I could do it I can see the movement path in my mind. It basically comes back to solving the problem of how to drive fast from point A to point B, brake less hard, and turn back quickly. Now it is possible to do a flick and slash with minimal stress but without sacrificing the power.