Timing in Striking

I was explaining to my student about the use of timing to render strikes workable during push hands. The issue is this – in push hands because your arms are in contact with your opponent every move you make can be felt and read by him. Move fast, move slow, use more strength, use less strength, and so on can be detected by each other.

This means that its difficult to strike your opponent in push hands because each time you try to do so he can feel it. Unless he is slow to react most of your strikes will not land. Chances are after a while you end up disengaging arms before you throw a strike because this is the only way you can prevent him from reading you.

It is not wrong to use this method to stall your opponent’s reaction. However, it then defeats the purpose of training your ability to listen and understand through the sense of touch. This means that at some point you should still learn how to use contact to overcome your opponent’s ability to read your moves.

When we train push hands we do not only go faster to try to beat the opponent’s reaction. This is too easy. To challenge ourselves we make it a point to go slower and still be able to prevent the opponent from reading our moves and land our strike where we want it to land.

To up the challenge you can tell your training partner where you want to hit so that he can make it harder for you to do so now that he knows where you are going to hit. This is to train a traditional martial arts principle of hitting where the defense is the strongest as opposed to going for the weakest defense.

One of the key factors in being able to land a strike whether slow or fast is through the use of timing. The olden principle of timing is associated with keywords to teach you how to do the strike properly. Actually, if you train forms a lot you will be able to understand this at some point.

Sometimes when you cannot “see” the timing it may help to hear it. Listen from 0:00 to 1:10 in the video below.

This is an example of the use of odd time signatures in music. If you are my student and you can remember what I have told you about striking timing I would recommend to listen to this part of the music and you slowly think through what I said. At some point you will get what I mean about timing. This is one way to examine the topic from another angle.

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Ding!

Ding!…………

That’s how I imagined it must have sounded when my student said there was a noise in his head right after I flicked the back of my palm against the side of his head. The weird part was I had tapped the right side of his head but the noise was heard in his left ear!

I didn’t know what to make of it except to assume in hindsight that the tap must have rung his head like a bell and projected the sound to the other side. To me the more interesting reaction was how the tap caused him to stop immediately. Though, I did not intend to actually made contact, that it did inadvertently yielded this observation.

So if you ever wonder if a flick of the wrist is effective this anecdote suggests that it is. Of course, the other question would be how would it be if the target struck had been the face head-on. Silly question. A tap to the face can stun and with a bit more force can break the nose.

Fun fact to know. Just be careful when practicing this way.

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Heavy Hands

Most of the time when a Tai Chi practitioner talks about fajing he is referring to a force that has a long pulse.

In our small frame Yang style Tai Chi we focus instead on short pulse fajing because for combat use this is more practical. I mean, there is no point to push a person away only for him to get up and come at you again.

Instead, we prefer to impart a short burst of energy through our strikes to inflict internal injury. At a certain level in push hands training we learn to strike accurately where we want to hit with a certain amount of power against a resisting opponent who is putting up a defense.

This is because if you do not try it this way you don’t really know if you can do it against a much stronger, faster and harder resisting opponent.  In order to cause internal injury sometimes in our training we hit each other’s arms instead. Below is a picture of an aftermath, taken a week later. It is truly a black and blue affair.

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In our long form we learn the fundamentals of how to generate power by not learning to generate power. Instead, we focus on develop control of our body using the 3-Count and 5-Count mechanism.

Below is an example of basic fajing training using the 3-Count. You can almost feel the heaviness in the dropping of the hands. Notice how the elongated wrist and sphere holding principles are observed even as the arm is whipped gently with heft.

If you have sharp eyes you might notice a dark patch on the whipping arm – see below :-

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This is the result of us testing the palm strike on the arms to learn how a correct strike should sound and feel like.

The movement of the arm looks simple, not impressive until you see the bruises. However, when you read what is behind the movement you will understand. For those who have TaijiKinesis Vol 2 – Learning the Taijiquan Form I would refer you to pages 58-59, 89-91, 99-100 and 105-110.

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The Art of Stillness

Saw this on the back of a book cover today “…….. movement makes most sense when grounded in stillness.”

In the Tai Chi of Grandmaster Wei Shuren we see this at play. Unlike the demo of many Tai Chi masters the demo of GM Wei does not look powerful or busy with lots of obvious powerful movements.

All we see are simple movements grounded in stillness of the movement, expressed by the intention as captured in this video.

This is what makes Tai Chi, particularly the style of GM Wei, a truly internal art in the sense of the word “internal” as opposed to other arts slapping the term “internal” on what they do but its painfully obvious that what they are doing is not internal, just soft.

If you are like me and looking for an art that is truly internal in every sense of the word I think you will agree that the search ends at Grandmaster Wei’s style of Tai Chi*. After more than a decade of practice I will say that the use of intention conforms to the rules of physics. However, it is subtle enough that it is not immediately obvious how it works.

So if you are looking for a biomechanics explanation for some of the things you see in this video you will be in for a hard time. However, if you know how the intention model works you can say that it conforms to the rules of physics. The only question is how exactly.

And for that you have to learn the intention model to find out for yourself. Nothing like drinking the water to know what its like.

*Disclaimer – I just want to point out that today there are a lot more teachers of GM Wei’s style of Tai Chi. I have seen some that have proper lineage and teaching students, yet they cannot even perform the basic 22-Form properly.

So if you want to pick up this style don’t just look at the lineage. Instead, ask for a demo of form and intention power. Compare the teacher’s form performance to that of GM Wei. Those of us who learned the form properly will be able to demonstrate a flavor that is like what you see in GM Wei’s demo. The rest are just moving their body rather than their intention.

A demo of power will show if the teacher is using ordinary biomechanics or the intention model of GM Wei. Normally, if a teacher cannot do the form properly the chances are high that he will not be able to demonstrate power using the intention model.

Though it is good that the Tai Chi of GM Wei is gaining more exposure I am also concerned that there are more teachers who are teaching based on them becoming disciples of a master rather than based on the fact that they have mastered the art. Such teachers are basically selling dog meat but calling it beef.

Ultimately, their lack of understanding of the intention model will cause outsiders to think that the style is over-hyped and has nothing substantial, even labeling the intention model as fake when it is the over eager student becoming a teacher too early that is besmirching the good name of the style.

As a service to readers I can only offer a simple advice when it comes to learning Tai Chi – caveat emptor.

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A Plan to Win

I hate repeating myself. But its a necessary evil if I am to drum what I want to teach into my student’s head.

I learned that he is going to meet his buddy again for push hands. He is not optimistic that he will be able to do well since his bud has learned longer, taller, bigger and more skilful. He expects to be able to perform better than previously that is before learning from me. But not expecting earth shattering results.

Its my opinion that if you do not believe that you can do something you will never be able to do it. A first step to being able to do something better is to know what you are doing.

Once I had brought this question up – how to be better and start winning at push hands. I think my student has forgotten what I said. At that point in time previously and this time again I asked him the same question “so what’s the plan to win?” and he still cannot answer.

Note – we use push hands as a training tool so mostly the winning is not the most important thing. Actually, you can learn more by losing. However, at a certain time you must learn how to win too. This is because if you ever have to use it for real your push hands training can be an asset but only if you train it properly in the first place. Of course, it goes without saying that in a real situation you don’t want to be on the losing side.

Coming back to the topic on another occasion I had explained to my student a plan to win at push hands. That he still cannot answer means that my explanation had gone in one ear and out the next. Which was good because now I can have some fun showing him what I meant, all over again.

So yeah, Game 1. Then Game 2. And he resisted and tried to push back. But his less than stellar grasp of the basics and absence of a game plan meant that he could not control his position and he ended up like a boat rocked by a wave. Like I told him a game is needed if you want to come out tops.

He tried to fight against my Game 1 and ended up in a place where I could use Game 2. Like a ping pong game I moved between Game 1 and Game 2 until in trying to defend against them he created the opportunity for me to use Game 3. This is what I meant by having a game plan.

You cannot win if you cannot think and move at least 3 steps ahead. And you can’t do this if you don’t know your own movements well enough. Knowing them well means you must know what to do even before you can think about what to do. You need to train to the point where true intention manifests in the form of no intention. Its like a computer program that can predict what you want to do next before you even thought of what you want to do.

The inability to move when playing hands is what some of my teachers referred to as a stunted hand. This is why in the days of yore a lot of our training was on doing the form again and again, so that we understand the nature of change and in time change becomes us. Then we can start learning how to win.

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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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