About Mushin

Wing Chun researcher and teacher.

New Twitter Feed

I have set up a new Twitter account here to provide insights, tips and tricks to mastering Tai Chi Chuan. The tweets feed can also be viewed on the right hand side of this blog.

Tweets will take a more sequential approach to the learning process of Tai Chi from the perspective of a beginner while posts on this blog will cover a wider range of topics.

Twitter should allow for more direct engagement if you have questions, comments or feedback.

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Foundation is the Key

When you learn a martial art you must always pay heed to the foundation. Which begs the question – what is the foundation?

Let’s take a simple example – BojiLite – my compact online learning for three basic strikes from the style of Pok Khek Kuen. In BojiLite we have three simple foundation which underlie the three strikes. They are :-

1) Basic posture (Siu Sei Ping Ma)

2) In-situ body turning (Leung Yi Ma)

3) Zigzag stepping (Leung Yi Bo)

The learning of the first strike, Yum Chui, involves all three of the above. We would begin with the simple basic posture to develop a static foundation.

This foundation is then rotated and shifted for the purpose of mobilizing the Yum Chui strike and generating the power required.

This learning is extended by studying how to strike as we step in a zigzag pattern.

When we study the second strike, Chau Chui, we use back the same basics which greatly simplifies the learning. The only difference now is how do we do the Chau Chui strike.

Now, the Yum Chui is a straight forward linear strike with a horizontal fist. It seems like a normal straight punch. However, we do have some differences, some might call these details the trade secrets of the style, yeah why not, in how we throw the fist out, small details to help us shoot the punch out real quick and powerful to boot using certain tricks of the mind and body. Without knowing the details you will end up doing Yum Chui like a normal punch sans the tricks that make it what it is.

Chau Chui is a different animal. It is not a longer range strike like Yum Chui. However, we can apply Chau Chui at a longer range, just not necessarily as long a range as Yum Chui. The second strike is better served as a medium to short range strike as shown below :-

Based on the principle a common foundation for all three strikes it should be straightforward to perform Chau Chui once you have studied Yum Chui for a while. What you need to pay heed to is how to hit the intended target precisely with power.

I know, I know, a circular movement is not easy to handle. If you are hitting a strike pad with Chau Chui its not too bad. Its when you are hitting air that you encounter the problem of how to stop the punch and quickly switch to strike with the other arm.

The difficulty with stopping the Chau Chui is due to the path the arm takes. Typically, we tend to view Chau Chui as an upward movement. So when you want to stop it you have to brake hard on your arm movement before you can switch to the other arm to strike. Now an arm moving with momentum is not easy to stop.

If you have driven a motorcycle fast and tried stopping within a shorter distance you would have to pump the brakes, let go and pump again a few more times before you can stop. If you depress the brakes really hard you would end up skidding. So trying to stop a power-laden and speeding Chau Chui is something similar to this.

So how do we solve this problem?

By thinking outside the box! Of course! Well, actually we don’t really have to do so. But when you can’t see the issue clearly then why not?

The word “Chau” is referring to an action that is akin to snatching an object and tossing it forcefully. Well, lucky for us there is a sport that comes with a movement that is similar to “Chau”. This would the sport of cornhole tossing. Take a look for yourself below :-

So there you have it. A solution to how to switch between the arms to strike hard and continuously. Hope you can see the key in the video on cornhole tossing.

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Tolerances

According to Wikipedia :-

Engineering tolerance is the permissible limit or limits of variation in: a physical dimension; a measured value or physical property of a material, manufactured object, system, or service; other measured values (such as temperature, humidity, etc.)

Do you know the amount of tolerance required for you to master Tai Chi at different levels of skill?

Before I go into this let me relate something that I heard somewhere. Apparently, in a particular school of Tai Chi you are required to first learn a short form, then a long form and after five years be admitted as a disciple before you can learn how to apply the art.

The skeptic in me just wanted to know “Why?“.

Indeed, why do you need to jump through three loops and lose 5 years of your life before you can learn the real thing? Even then how do you know you are getting the real thing?

Everyone will claim they are teaching the real thing even if they are not unless they don’t care about having students. And of course, the student not knowing what he does not know will not be able to tell if he is learning the genuine stuff or not.

As far as standards go it is still a wild, wild west out there in Tai Chi la-la-land. Anyone can claim to have the real stuff but they can’t tell you exactly what qualifies their Tai Chi as genuine. The only thing they can do is fajing the clueless, gullible beginner into worshipful belief.

In the field of engineering such practices would not be accepted. This is because there are reference standards, manufacturers’ standards and tons of ways to check and verify if a piece of machinery can be accepted for use in manufacturing. In aviation the level of tolerance would be even more stringent, up a few notches at least, because mistakes can lead to loss of lives. But in Tai Chi mistakes are OK cause no life lost, only time and money, and maybe loss of your innocence once you’ve been fleeced one time or maybe a few.

Let me tell you what I know. The practice of Tai Chi can be exact. The principles in the Tai Chi Classics can be regarded as a set of reference standards. If you come across a Tai Chi teacher who does not refer to it, does not know what it means, and tries to downplay its importance to avoid having to explain it then the best favor you can do yourself is walk away, no, run away………… quickly.

The principles can only be fulfilled if you have a defined set of practices. These set of practices at the beginner level need to be exacting, in order to meet the requirements at various levels of tolerance. If you are a beginner a tolerance level of 15% can be acceptable. However, if you are an instructor you need to meet a tolerance level of 5%, for starters.

This is why it is meaningless for us to define a practice as acceptable at an absolute level particularly for beginners. You could be right at the 15% tolerance level but wrong at the 5% tolerance level. So if you think by 15% tolerance level you have already hit an absolute level then you are condemning yourself to be stuck at this level.

Those of us who want to go higher will aim for the 1% tolerance level. When you reach here then the Tai Chi Classics will make a lot of sense. On the flip side, those who read the Classics and tell you its not important or nonsense is indirectly telling you how much they really know about Tai Chi.

On a related topic though we want to be exact from the word go, chances are we will still make mistakes, tons of it, as part of the learning journey. Mistakes are your friends but only if you are made aware what is wrong, you work on the problems and you fix them. It is not uncommon for students to keep making the same mistakes even after it has been informed to them REPEATEDLY.

Yes, I know. We can be stubborn when it comes to mistakes. We say we don’t want to make mistakes but we just keep making them anyway. Most of the time this can be attributed to our unconscious action. But a number of them are due to our inability to maintain our control over our conscious actions.

This has implications on our mastery. How often have you heard that it takes years to be able to fajing. Let me tell you – this is a lie, perpetuated to prevent students from getting there too fast and losing a cash cow. If you understand standards of performance in relation to tolerances you would know that anyone can learn to fajing and be able to do it the first time they learn it. Its just that they cannot freely do it and this is because, yes you guess it, the inability to maintain the standard required of that particular movement.

Example, I taught a student to do Press and he said is that it, cause he didn’t feel powerful. There is logic fallacy here that most students and even masters fail to understand. To use an engineering logic if a motor is rattling, and running with increasing temperature is the motor running properly and within operational tolerance?

The ordinary practitioner is conditioned to think of the human body trying to fajing as huffing and puffing, swaying, shaking and jerking violently. But this is wrong. You can easily understand the reason by examining parallels in the field of engineering and natural disasters in which violent forces are at work.

When your thinking is able to make a breakthrough here you would right away understand why you can fajing the first time you learn it by strictly adhering to the requirements which are very straightforward, clear and unambiguous. It is our natural tendency to refuse to listen, to see, to stop and ponder, to rein in our natural habits that cause us to keep slipping out of tolerance that prevents us from being able to fajing all the time, all night long. Quite a tragedy, isn’t it? That something natural and easy is difficult to attain but something unnatural is regarded as correct and easier to grasp.

So there you have it, a rant, a lecture, call it whatever, on an important topic, at least to me it is, relating to mastery of Tai Chi.

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New Biography of Bruce Lee

Published on 5 Jun 2018, Bruce Lee : A Life, by Matthew Polly is a new biography on the late kung fu movie superstar.

Polly

Nowadays I don’t really have that much interest in books on Bruce Lee. I guess you can say I have outlived my interest. However, I read an excerpt from the book and I found it enjoyable.

So I ordered the book and it proved to be a compelling, enjoyable read despite its thickness (656 pages). Even the Notes contained many interesting information.

Some of the information have been published elsewhere but even then Polly managed to shed greater light on the old information. There are some information that are new such as that beginning on page 393 on Wong Shun Leung and his exchange with Bruce Lee following Bruce Lee’s visit to Ip Man’s gym where he sparred with two junior students and humiliated them to the extent that even the senior students refused to spar with Bruce Lee.

Master Wong was not there on that day but he heard about how Bruce Lee made the Wing Chun clan lose face with his Jeet Kune Do and wanted to teach Bruce a lesson. Polly went on to describe what happened.

I don’t have a problem reading what followed but if I were a student or disciple of the late Master Wong I sure like hell would be mad with what Polly wrote. Except Polly mentioned in Notes that his information came from an interview conducted in 2013 with Master Wan Kam Leung, a disciple of Master Wong, who was there and witnessed the exchange between both masters.

Both asked Wan for his opinion after their sparring and he gave a diplomatic reply that both are on a similar level of skills. In 2013 when he was interviewed by Polly he gave his honest opinion of the exchange and what followed after Master Wong and him returned to their studio. Read it. It is a good reminder to us on our martial arts journey, echoing what is written on page 135 :-

Classical methods like these are a form of paralysis. Too many practitioners are just blindly rehearsing these systematic routines and stunts.

In another chapter on page 147 there is another quote from Bruce Lee :-

Teachers should never impose their favorite patterns on their students. They should be finding out what works for them, and what does not work for them. The individual is more important than the style.

This reminds me of what my student, R, asked me last week about teaching a group class. I said that in a group class I would not be able to teach Tai Chi on a detailed level. I have found that in a group class everybody is basically monkey see, monkey do. The small details matter for our personal development of the art.

No two persons are alike. So some can move in a similar manner but more often than not, most students are not able to do so. We can only use a form as a template to teach principles and along the way prompt them to discover different principles by understanding how a different tempo, a different angle, a different alignment and so on can lead to a different result. Thus, a movement like White Crane Spreads Wings might be a throw to one student, a hand strike to another but a kick to a third.

In discovering the general principles we can then understand what makes each style of Tai Chi great. We can also understand how other styles work. After all an arm movement is an arm movement in the context of anatomy unless you are someone like Troy James below.

Today, in Tai Chi and in many other styles we have a great divide. This divide can have a useful purpose taken the right way. However, in reality the divide has caused us to be blind. I am sure Bruce Lee is not the first person to know this or even to bring it up but he is certainly the first to be in print saying on page 203 :-

Styles separate men, because they have their own doctrine and then the doctrine becomes the gospel truth. But if you do not have styles, if you just say, ‘Here I am as a human being. How can I express myself totally and completely?’ Now this way you will not create a style – because a style is a crystallization – this way is a process of continuing growth.

We are guilty of this in many ways. Some of my students would say isn’t that punch with a vertical fist a Wing Chun technique without knowing that in Yang style we use a vertical punch. The vertical punch is also found in Pok Khek Kuen and many other styles. In a way it shows their ignorance, in a way it shows their discriminatory mind and in a way they seem to value style over practicality.

This is wrong. Styles are an outcome of the gathering and consolidation of information to create a style for ease of teaching. It is a means to an end. If you even wonder why you are stuck in your progress check your values. No one forced you to worship a style except that you willingly do it and end up imprisoning yourself in a mental trap of your own making.

Knowledge is important to free ourselves and advance our learning. If you do not know and more importantly you do not know what you do not know that you potentially will end up in a rut. Jesse Glover is quoted on page 201 about Bruce Lee’s skill :-

The thing that made him so effective was the fact that he could pick up a potential movement before it happened. Many of his advanced concepts were based on this type of detection.

Glover’s statement reads like the truth except that the part about advanced concepts. Anyone who practiced contact type of skill in styles such as Tai Chi, Wing Chun, Southern Mantis, BJJ, etc would know what this is just a basic skill, the skill of quieting yourself to listen to the opponent, a basic skill honed to a sensitive level such that it feels magical to the lower level person encountering it.

We can choose to be fooled or we can choose to learn the truth. For those of us who are seeking the truth in the combat arts there are many nuggets of gold in between the politics, the backstabbing, the frustrations, the sex, the lies behind the remarkable life and death of Bruce Lee in between the pages.

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Labels Bad & Good

Labels are good and labels are bad.

The trick is not to be caught up with labels. What this means is you may like a style, love it to death with your constant obsession. However, the value of a style lies in what you get out of it rather than your love affair with it.

If you keep doing a style but your skill barely improves except in your own perception would that be a good style? How would you know if you are constantly in your own little cocoon, sleeping wide awake in your Matrix world.

It seems like with my newer students and even my FB friend Stanley I have been talking to them about labels. This is because I see labels as the main cause impeding their advancement.

It is useless for me to just write or just talk because many of us can do both competently. But the sense of touch won’t lie. This is why masters like to touch hands because through contact, through movement, they can gauge your skills.

To evaluate someone’s skill we check their sense of touch, the sensitivity of their touch, their control of movement, angle, position, space and power. A well trained arm-hand set is so sensitive that the Tai Chi Classics use the analogy of a feather not being able to alight on it.

To the modern practitioner this reads like tautology. To the traditionalist, this skill set is real, it can be trained, it can be realized. The question is do you have the patience, the eye for details, the persistence to see the training to the end. If you cannot conceive of this skill then you kill your ability to master it before you even begin.

So don’t label learning as impossible. Don’t label such a skill as not real. Just try. Failure is fine. Try again, again and again. The Gods smile on those who see failure as another step closer to achieving success.

Thursday night. Tea house. No, not really. More like a coffee, eggs and toast corner in a shopping centre. Me. Stanley.

Tea house kung fu talk. Me doing the talking mostly. Probing Stanley’s understanding. I know he loves Bajiquan. Who doesn’t? Great art. As I said you can love the art but does it love you back? Did it give you some love and more interestingly skill? If not, then its a one way love.

Labels and perception. Knowing how to learn. How to think. How to analyze. These are essential tools to mastering any style. There are so many aspects to consider, such as the following :-

  • Where does external ends and internal begins? Why do some insist on labelling internal what really is externally soft? What is the difference in feel between soft externally and soft internally? Is there a true difference or semantics?

 

  • Why do we become attached to an idea, a perception causing us to fail to see the obstacles that are holding back our progress?

 

  • How do we know if we are doing something right? How is the lesson of Musashi’s awakened insight on the quality of the opponent’s he defeated before he was 30 applicable to our mastery?

 

  • Why is it that no style reigns supreme forever and every style has its day under the sun?

 

  • Why do we claim a style is soft when what is shown is hard? Is today’s Wing Chun predominantly soft or in reality hard? What is soft Wing Chun? What does it feel like?

 

  • Are the self-defense techniques we see in videos realistic or will fail when used under pressure? Do we based our techniques on the premise that the opponent is stupid or does not fight back or will hold the arm out long enough for us to do our techniques?

 

  • Why do we do what we do in BojiLite? Why the peculiar punching action? Can it be used? Can the punch be stronger by spiraling it? (answer is no)?

 

  • How is Boji useful against a boxer’s guard? How do we use the longer range advantage?

 

  • Is our insitu body turning method of punching weak or powerful? Can the turning be used?

 

  • What is a taunting song? What is its usefulness to learning? Or is it just rude provocation?

 

  • Why do we learn Chinese martial arts in particular sequence? How does this help us to understand application?

 

  • Is Ngok Gar truly great for self-defense? Why is it ideal for ladies self-defense? What are its advantages?

 

Talk, talk, talk. Two hours. From the inside to the outside. Fortunately, it was dark as the shopping centre was closing up. Passersby must be wondering who two adults are doing these funny movements in public.

And the next day have to do an audit. Man, how time flies when one is having fun.

No videos, no pictures. So maybe it never happened. Snooze on in the world of the Matrix.

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Wisdom of Carnegie

My student, R, asked a question which I had filed away. Then this evening I read a passage in a book which reminded me of his question. This is what I read :-

I believe the true road to a pre-eminent success in any line is to make yourself master in that line. I have no faith in the policy of scattering one’s resources, and in my experience I have rarely if ever met a man who achieved pre-eminence in money-making – certainly never one in manufacturing – who was interested in many concerns. The men who have succeeded are the men who have chosen one line and stuck to it.

The above is a quote from Andrew Carnegie. If you do not know who he is read more about him here.

How Carnegie’s quotation is related to my student’s question is this – he asked if he should continue learning in the other Tai Chi public class. Since its his time and money I said its really up to him. The really pertinent question is what does he want to get out of what he is learning.

This reminds me of one student who came to learn Tai Chi with the idea of improving his Wing Chun. I brought up the question of learning dilemma back then. In his Wing Chun class he had to keep the elbows tight but when this is applied in push hands he ended having his structure rocked for obvious reasons (hint – Newton’s third law of motion).

But should he try to use Tai Chi’s elbow positioning without mastering it properly he would get clocked in his Chi Sau. He would be told that the kind of opened elbow position we use is wrong.

So poor chap – go to Wing Chun class he is told his Tai Chi habit is wrong. Come to Tai Chi class he is told by me that his Wing Chun habit is wrong. This is one of those instances where you cannot be smart and try to straddle two boats. You really have to make a decision as to where you want to be and stick to it.

This of course depends on what you want out of your learning. This is especially relevant if what you learned from one teacher contradicts the teaching of another teacher.

I know, I know, I want to have my cake and eat it too but sometimes we can’t. That’s life. This is the relevance of the point made by Andrew Carnegie.

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Secret of Finger Power

On the first lesson with my student, R, I showed him my hand. I compared it to his hand where the knuckles are darker from the few years he learned Muay Thai. Then I jabbed him with my fingers to demonstrate to him the power that can be developed using the Tai Chi hand shape.

After the second lesson this week I was making a point about something and again “tapped” him with my fingers. Then he asked again if I had learned Iron Palm and I showed him my hand.

Today I have decided to unveil the secret of how to project power to your fingertips. The picture below is self-explanatory!!!

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So you see sometimes we shouldn’t laugh at keyboard warriors because there is a benefit to all that typing after all.

Am I kidding?

Yes and no.

Typing a lot can help you to control your fingers and the amount of power needed to hit the keyboard. However, to practice projecting power to your fingertips you really need to practice your Tai Chi form properly using the correct hand shape.

To quote the famous Russian painter Karl Bryullov who said “Art begins where the tiny bit begins“.

Do not neglect the small details when you practice your Tai Chi form. Today you may think its inconsequential but it will affect the quality of your progress so do not, I repeat, do not overlook the small details.

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