Kelam Kabut

Kelam kabut. Its a Malay term that means muddled. Or as Singaporeans would say it simply “blur”.

This is how I would typically say students hands are when they are attacked in push hands. They can be composed when doing the form but when under pressure in push hands they tense up, their reaction freezes; its as if they have never learned anything.

Why does this happen?

The most obvious root cause is that even though they have memorized the forms they do not truly understand the forms nor transcend the movements. Hence, they are still enslaved by the form. However, I do not blame them.

A form is like a textbook in a specialized field of study. If you pick up most textbooks in a specialized field you might be able to make sense of some words and phrases but I’ll bet you will soon be lost. This is why you need a lecturer to explain and guide you through the contents of the textbook. It is no different when it comes to learning Tai Chi except that most explanations I have seen and heard are superficial, at times contradictory and even practically useless for push hands much less for combat purposes.

Take a simple practice in push hands for beginners – the horizontal circling motion. Most of us know how to do this single hand pushing motion. Might even enjoy the flow and sense of achieving something. However, can you still maintain the flow when your training partner increases the pressure or try to push you off-balance with a variety of attacks? How should you react? What techniques do you use?

Would I be wrong if I say most trainees would just tense their arm in their attempt to fight off the attack. Any pretense at using a technique would have been long gone, the sole mode of response being to push back hard; in essence becoming a hard strength shoving match. Why do we react this way? Whatever happened to the claims about Tai Chi being a soft art, borrowing strength, applying strategy, yada, yada. Is it the norm that when push comes to shove pushing back hard in a technique-less manner or resorting to wrestling is the way to go? Or is it a case of us not looking deep enough into our art to be able to use the techniques in the form. Which is which? Should we accept that the techniques are not really practical or should we suspend our disbelief and make an attempt to investigate more closely what we have learned?

What do the forms teach us? What are the principles of motion? Power? Attack? Defence? If we accept that forms teach us the principles of combat then the question to ask is what are they and where in the forms exactly do we find the teachings. If we do not know what they are and we are not practicing them then what is the value to us of practicing the form with a view to bettering our push hands?

The answer is no value. Instead, we are better off doing physical exercises like pushing a wheel barrow, flipping truck tires, lifting weights, exercises that increase our leg strength and enable us to push really hard. The forms then become a lie, a liability, something we should not hang on to; better to discard the forms.

But if we do not believe that the forms are useless, how do we extract value and benefit from training them?

If we want to Master Tai Chi Today perhaps this is something we should give some thought to.


Want to learn Tai Chi in Singapore? At Singapore Tai Chi Yang Style (TaijiKinesis) lessons covering forms, weaponry, push hands, fajing and applications are offered. Lessons are conducted in English. Send enquiry today

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