Kaihe & Kokyuho

My student was telling about some of the exercises he learned in Aikido. They are familiar to me as I have seen them in Aikido books.

He got around to talking about seated exercises for learning connection. For the fun of it I held his arms and made him try to do it on me. He couldn’t do it on me because he was basically still trying to go head on against my strength.

So I explained how the principles of Tai Chi can be used to improve his Aikido practice. We worked through some examples standing up and later seating down on chairs that a religious group had left in the void deck. We didn’t try seating on the floor as we weren’t trying to do Aikido, merely examining how to overcome someone holding your arms firmly.

Some of the exercises we talked about are similar to what is shown in the video below :-

Mostly if someone is trying to hold both your wrists you can use the Yang style 108 raising hands movement to break the power and send the training partner back. This is simple and straightforward.

The more interesting and difficult one would be where the person is holding and pressing your wrists down. When you are sitting down this would mean the your hands would be pressed against your thighs, making it more challenging for you to lift your arms.

When this is the scenario the way you would resolve it is by arching your body back so that you can use your entire upper body to raise your training partner’s arms to break his holding strength. You can see this exercise beginning 0:58 in the above video – the only difference is that they did not do it with the hands being pinned against the thighs at the start. The screenshot below shows how the upper body is used.

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When my student tried to do it by arching his back he could not unify his body and ended up trying to forceful push my arms back. Since my weight was on top of his writst and pressing down this made it difficult.

I told him to imagine that his entire body is welded together so that he cannot move one part without moving the rest. Then all he has to do is arch his back and his arms would follow gently, making it easy to break the hold, and issue his power. Oh, in Tai Chi we do not need to breath in and out purposely when doing this. All we have to do is to use our intention.

It sounded easy but still took a few tries before getting it right. In Tai Chi we train this particular movement in the Wu (Hao) form. We call this movement Kai He which means open – close. If you do Kai He properly you can arch your back a lot lesser than shown in the above picture – in fact so little that if you didn’t look carefully you may not even notice it. The reason why we need to pay attention to this is that if we over do the arching movement we risk hurting our spine.

Plus, if you arch too much your training partner may let go and follow up by moving in and attacking you. So its important to bind your opponent to you by connecting to him such that he cannot let go without you attacking him the moment he tries to release his grip. Its when you can do it this way that you are connecting properly.

You will also be amazed at how this simple concept can amplify your power instantly. I say this because my student is still struggling to master the Yang 108 form. Yet, it was possible to get him to use a principle from the Wu (Hao) form correctly within a few minutes of testing. Now I only hope he can retain it and go back to his Aikido class to have some fun training.

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A Key to Push

It doesn’t take a genius to figure out what’s wrong.

It takes even lesser to confirm the finding.

I took one look at how my student was performing Push and pointed out that its not strong.

A simple test of the power of push on a partner soon proved the veracity of my observation.

The posture is a problem, rendering the power weak and potentially can cause one to lose balance.

How to fix it?

If there is a problem with power generation and balance the root cause inevitably lies in the stance. This is why I would advocate careful study of Beginning Posture because the key principles are there.

Once the primary principles are understood then one can move about when playing the form with good nimble balance and power.

The same principles that I taught can be seen in the screen shot below of Grandmaster Dong Huling in the Push posture.

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The posture of Grandmaster Dong exhibited compliance not only to the principles of the Tai Chi Classics but also to physics. If you are not sure what I am referring to just refer to any textbook on Physics particularly the chapter on mechanics.

You can view an example of how mechanics is used to analyze movement in sports here – not to worry if you have a problem digesting the article as fortunately in mastering Tai Chi we do not need to understand the mathematical models underlying human movement. As long as you can feel your own body you should have no problem feeling what is the right thing to do.

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Micro Learning

I was just telling my student that the findings of the new science of expertise on how to learn a subject successfully confirms what practitioners in traditional martial arts have known all along which is study the basics properly, crack the application code of the forms, develop the principles that characterize the art and master them.

The finding is encouraging for those who are struggling to master Tai Chi and find that at times the ability to perform or apply certain movements elusive. However, with consistent correct practice mastery will come somewhere down the road. To accelerate learning it is helpful to micro-analyze how a movement should be performed to comply with the principles of the Tai Chi Classics and physics.

The pulling motion which is part of the transition from Push to Single Whip (see below) is not easy to grasp particularly when attempting to generate power using the 5-Count model. The procedures involved are simple enough but it is the quality of the movement, the precise timing and control required which makes it difficult for students to catch it easily.

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The use of 5-Count can actually simplify the application never mind the initial hurdle in catching it. But for some reason students today somehow have a hard time putting their finger on it. I would say this is because they did not spend enough quality practice on the intricacies of doing the 5-Count.

Sticking to the old ways of teaching is not always good for students because if they fail to master the art then the art cannot be carried forward. Moreover, the shortage of practice time in today’s fast paced society will only worsen the success rate for mastery.

To address this situation we can take a leaf from the findings discovered by researches in the science of expertise to improve how Tai Chi can be taught so that we can improve on the mastery rate and reduce the time required to acquire practical skills.

Coming back to the transition pulling movement – the key difficulty encountered by students in executing this movement is largely due to the inability to define the Rollback path clearly, differentiating full and empty in the arms and mixing up the timing of each arm. By do doing, the typical mistake is to try to pull the training partner off balance using strength wrongly.

By tweaking the sequence to incorporate on additional movement to mobilize the body backwards the student has an easier time to move the body as an integrated unit. However, this advantage can be nullified if the arms are not controlled to act in concert with the body. A typical mistake is to use arm strength to attempt to pull the training partner off his base. This will only cause the training partner to resist back.

This tendency to use strength in the wrong manner can be fixed by imagining the arms to be a yoke that enables you to connect to the training partner. You use the 3-Count device to fix the arms in the manner of a yoke before applying the backwards body mobilizing movement. If both the additional movements are used properly you will be able to get the training partner off balance into your sphere of rotation from which you can then pull him forward into your empty space before discharging him sideways.

Note – despite making it easier to learn this movement without having to do the 5-Count properly we must not forget to continue working on the 5-Count. The reason is because when the movement is applied with a less than accurate 5-Count the change from Yang to Yin is not as clearly differentiated thus allowing the training partner an opportunity to escape.

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Get It

Some get it.

Some never get it.

But if you have faith and dare to try then you will get it, that is how to use minimal strength in Tai Chi to fajing.

Students keep thinking that to fajing they must develop thigh muscles to fajing but this is a misunderstanding of how physics work. It is also a lack of understanding of strategy especially the part where your opponent will try to hit you back.

I divide fajing into 3 types :-

a) Using localized muscles

b) Using entire body muscles

c) Using muscles still but with minimal exertion

 

The phrase “use no strength” in Tai Chi principles refer to (c) because your body will collapse if you use no muscles.

The (a) approach is inefficient and will tire you out fairly quickly especially if you are doing vigorous push hands. This is why students find the idea of doing push hands non-stop continuously for an hour because they know that its tiring and they cannot last for more than a few minutes.

Yet, when I was learning from one of my Tai Chi teachers we used to do push hands like that. If you don’t learn not to conserve strength and use your entire body you will tire out fast and end up with sore muscles.

Approach (b) is better but there are implications that will affect your balance and speed. You only have to think carefully about Newton’s three laws of motion to know what they are.

One immediate implication is that if you miss and lose your balance your opponent will have an easy time counter-attacking you.

Approach (c) sounds wimpish and ridiculed by those who misunderstand it. I call it the high heel approach because a woman’s high heel shoes embody efficient use of the physics of power. If you don’t know what it is ask a lady to wear a high heel and “gently” stomp on your foot.

When you use strength intelligently you can play longer because you are not wasting strength. Its common knowledge that a bigger guy will typically beat a smaller guy. This is why we learn martial arts, to learn a way to use what we have, max our strengths versus the weaknesses of our opponent. If we don’t we lose. Its that simple.

Lucky for us, not everyone is good at everything so we have some play. Push hands is where we learn what the plays are. So for example, you can learn how to make your training partner do something without realizing that he is doing it. You also learn how to get a position from which you can easily make him lose his balance with the use of little strength.

All this takes careful learning after you believe its possible to do so. Rome was not built in a day and neither push hands learned in a lesson. You first have to understand the problem and what the solutions are especially the why of a solution. Then you have to learn how to implement the solution, paying attention to all the nuances required to make it work like magic. If not, the technique will fail. The solo form is where we learn the controls necessary to move ourselves in certain manners.

Once you have everything in place you should get it. If not, then maybe Tai Chi is not the art for you and its better to move on to something else.

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Let Go

Let it go. Take a leap of faith.

To break out of our self imposed prison sometimes we have to let go that which is holding back our progress.

Not hard. Not soft. Where is the in-between? The middle path where soft meets hard. Why is it that we have trouble finding it?

Mostly, the problem lies in lack of practice of form. If so, our mind will lack the mental cultivation necessary for us to break through the self doubts to a zone of awareness and the beginning of a new feeling, that of the mind clearly separated but yet with the body.

Wanting to fajing is a grave error. It will hold back your progress instead of accelerating it. When you fajing you infused your body with strength. You feel strong and think you can break through your opponent’s defenses.

But what if your opponent is in a state of void, of emptiness; such that when you try to exert your power there is nothing for you to issue against. The mighty wind blew hard against the willow to no avail as it gently bent with the force of the wind and turned it back on itself.

When you hold on to your strength you cannot feel properly, you cannot follow and you will move in error. Let yourself go, no strength, no ego, no mind. Be the willow. Accept the blowing of the wind. Go with it. Bend, absorb and return the force of the wind back to it. The form shows the way to do this.

To discover the secret you have to immerse yourself into its study. Knowing and not practicing will lead nowhere. Neither will hanging on to your own view and not taking the plunge. Let go of the past, let go of preconceptions, let go of your ego. The grand mystery awaits.

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Push Hands Fun 3

Okay, he’s had his fun. Now I will try giving him some resistance instead. Not too much, just enough to make it hard for him.

Giving him stronger pressure helps to check his structure. If he cannot control his structure it will buckle and crumble.

When this happens the root cause is almost, always the inability to keep the structure linked correctly throughout the playing of a form. Hence, we need slowness to train this type of old ox stubborn power.

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Push Hands Fun 2

How to take a breather and do push hands?

Idea – lean on the wall.

Then I can rest and do it at the same time. I can also take out the use of body weight and see what it feels like to be pushed against a wall. Now my student has a better advantage.

Unfortunately, he failed to exploit the advantage. I could see one technique which could prove to be useful against someone backed against a wall. Its rather obvious isn’t it?

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