Mind the Push

Slowly, mindfully does it. This is how we train Tai Chi in general rather than wave hands, look graceful devoid of intent, qualia and biomechanics.

Here is how one student does Push with deep awareness :-

Overall, it looked acceptable but to us being acceptable is not good enough. What we want is compliance to the principles of the Tai Chi Classics that enables us to have health, fajing abilities and control of our body so that we can apply the techniques.

To achieve this we must stringently and rigorously work towards compliance. How to do so? By making sure that each time we move we do so in accordance to prescribed steps as shown below :-

It goes without saying that part of learning how to rectify problems goes hand-in-hand with knowing what the possible problems are. Some problem areas identified are discussed below :-

Tai Chi is a multi-layered art so there are many layers of refinement that we go through to get there, very much like how a katana is created by folding it many, many times.

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Everyday Kung Fu

Today when we learn kung fu its not uncommon for punching pads to be trotted out. And if we are in a gym there would be even more toys to play with.

Yet, traditional kung fu took some inspiration from everyday life. In this way, a normal everyday move becomes a movement for training Gung Lik.

A versatile movement is one which allows you to extract more usefulness or skills from it. In push hands using the palm to vertically slam the chest is not out of place.

As such, in the absence of a striking bag to train power and condition our palm all is not lost. We can milk the posture White Crane Spreads Wings for another skill we can train as shown below :-

When not trained well the technique looks powered by arm movement. But add in the right ingredients and you can use gravity, compression and whipping to train heavy, fast strikes. Below is an example of how this is done :-

The details for training the general principles of moving the body is already in the form. Its just a matter of getting it right. Below I touched on what my student did not get correct :-

After you know what you are supposed to do you can train the small details without having to lift up your arm. You can do this in public and no one will be the wiser.

If you feel like putting your arm up just like what is shown here you can also do so in plain sight. This is how I managed to train my Tai Chi a lot even when I don’t appear to be training – by using an everyday movement to do so right in front of everyone.

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Anatomy of a Fajing

Here’s a fajing demo I did to explain something about something :-

Watch the demo and listen to the sounds. Noticed anything about the fajing demo?

Yes? No?

Take a look at another example from a different Tai Chi style :-

The fajing is powerful too. But noticed that the mechanism employed is different? This is what we term the back leg thrusting fajing model.

Its too bad I didn’t managed to tape whole body as I just propped the phone on a chair and ended up with half body. But all is not lost. By using screen capture of the video we can also get a better idea of what is happening. You’ll have to click on the picture to get the full view

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After you have a look or a few more looks then I will give some comments.

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Knowing How to Correct

In learning Tai Chi one of the more important factors that contributes to your success in mastering the art is knowing what you don’t know, what you are doing wrong and how to correct for it.

It is for this reason that we only teach on 1-to-1 basis because each student has their own specific set of problems to solve. Take a look at the picture below of Bend Bow, Shoot Tiger :-

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Outwardly, the posture looks fine but there is a small point that is off. Here is the same posture after correction. Can you spot the differences?

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I took these pictures to show my student what he was doing wrong. Now, we don’t say something is wrong just because we don’t like the look of it.

In this case, we did a test of pressure – whether the posture can hold up. Next we tested if the posture can be used to fajing. If the posture only fulfills one requirement but not the other then the posture is wrong.

Most readers will probably spot the two main differences but fail to spot the more important difference, the one that I actually corrected. Even my student commented that it is minute, difficult to see if he didn’t know beforehand what it was that was changed.

But this is how the study of Tai Chi is. We do not gloss over things we don’t understand or find difficult to do. We work on them again and again until the postures, the form can meet all the requirements of the principles of the Tai Chi Classics.

If the photos of Bend Bow, Shoot Tiger is difficult to analyze try looking at Right Hit Tiger posture. The correction here is the same as for Bend Bow, Shoot Tiger. This is the “before” photo :-

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And this is the “after” correction photo. Spot the difference?

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Sometimes a movement can look correct. However, the moment you try using it is the proof of the pudding. If the energetic connections are off then your structure won’t be strong and robust. Under such circumstances you will have a problem overcoming the opponent’s resistance.

The video below touches on corrections for Brush Knee, Twist Step. There are a few things that was discussed.

Some of the things discussed may not make much sense and seem unnecessary, that is, until you use the movements in push hands where your partner will do his best to stop you from applying your techniques.

When your movement is wrong even a simple downward sweeping block will not work. You will find the moment you try to sweep the opponent’s arm you cannot move it. Other things such as timing also matters because the wrong timing means you are too late to reach your opponent.

In conclusion, knowing how to correct what you are doing is important because more frequently than not its the fine details that keeps you outside the gate of mastery. Pay more attention to these little things and you will see a big improvement.

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Punch Koan

It was as if he was immersed in a koan.

Instead of practicing the form as he would normally do I found my student standing in front of one of the shelter’s post tapping away, trying to work out the mechanics of the punch that I covered the previous week.

The post is hard, painful to the knuckles but it was an itch that had to be scratched to uncover the solution. So there he was picking away like a woodpecker.

Yeah, well, I’m no Iron Fist so I did one tap, not as hard as I did last week. Yeah, just dial back a bit on the mechanics.

Bones can be hard but tendons and ligaments I don’t think so – perhaps one reason why those who practice hard conditioning have problem holding small objects.

Having power is but one part of the equation. Having the means to deliver it is just as important so we should pay just as much if not more attention to the main details and nuances of how to perform Step Up, Parry & Punch.

Its one thing to hit with power. We should remember that our opponent will also try to hit us back. So learning how to perform Step Up, Parry & Punch is just as much about studying the means to defend, counter and deliver the power.

Though the performance of Step Up, Parry & Punch makes it seem as if it is but one technique, in reality there is more than one technique inside the sequence.

For example, when stepping diagonally after twisting the step the right fist can be changed to a palm to grab the opponent’s wrist and pull it towards him while using the left arm to bar the opponent’s arm just above the elbow.

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Alternatively, the twisting of the right leg can be a heel kick. The right fist then becomes a block whilst the left palm becomes a strike.

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This is the reason for taking the practice at a slower pace so that we can develop a feel for the hidden and derived techniques.

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Learning Details

A Tai Chi form can be a wonderful toolbox from which you can learn all sorts of stuff.

In our Tai Chi learning we can use White Crane Spreads Wings to train soft, heavy hands. An example of how to do this is shown by my student :-

What he is doing here is to borrow the transition right arm movement when we change from White Crane Spreads Wings to Brush Knee, Twist Step to train how to relax the arm and move it diagonally across his body using the 6-harmonies principle in tandem with the 5-Count mechanism that is covered in the eBook TaijiKinesis Vol 2 : Learning the Taijiquan form.

However, his movement is not precise enough so the power is not expressed at the optimal level. You can tell this from the sound of his palm striking his body. Before this he also tried hitting a solid post to check his power as can be seen below :-

Below is my demonstration of how to do it correctly :-

The correct application of the principles will allow you to have heavy, relaxed arms – you can hear the sound of light striking on the post below :-

The videos here do not explain how to do this arm movement to obtain this result. So how do you do it?

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Crazy About the Jing

Bang! Bang!

Bang! Bang! Bang!

More Bang! Bang!

I should not have shown my student how to do a penetrating punch on the shelter’s post. Now we are stuck here, in front of one of the metal posts supporting the shelter, our temporary striking dummy, learning how to align the body to hit hard.

The post is hard, unforgiving on the knuckles if you hit too hard. We are not trying to knock it down, just “tapping” and listening to the acoustics of what a proper punch sounded like as compared to the sound of a punch that pushed rather than exploded onto the target.

At the base level, a strong penetrating punch is a function of a properly, aligned, body getting the forces to converge on a singular target. It sounds easy but when I observed how my student punched some problems were obvious :-

a) The arm and body were not moving in-synch

b) The arm was rattling the wrong way, causing the force to be dispersed instead of concentrated

c) The fist was held wrongly; the curling motion when forming the fist just before striking was wrong

d) The arm-body positioning and alignment was wrong

e) Certain movements were excessive and not required, like this little flick of the wrist that I typically see Wing Chun practitioners do

In addition to the visual feedback, the sound of bones landing on the metal post helped to diagnose the impact that the punch was having. It was a good sounding board, giving good feedback as to whether the punching power was optimized.

Along the way, I pointed out why the Peng Quan that he had once learned isn’t correct. The mechanics were wrong, the principles were wrong, the optics were wrong, the sound was wrong.

When you get too many things wrong then the Peng Quan wouldn’t be the fabled technique that it was. I forgot if I mentioned the spear connection. I know I didn’t mention the Little Seven Star Fist in our Yang style Tai Chi Chuan that is a lot like Beng Quan.

We must have spent at least 20 minutes tapping the post. Fortunately, the folks upstairs didn’t complain. Whew………..

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