Wake Up


If you are a Tai Chi practitioner did you get a wake up call after watching the MMA versus Tai Chi video in this post?

I’ve read negative and positive comments on this. Some are indignant and want to challenge the boxer. Will they succeed? Or they be another feather in the cap of the boxer? Stay tuned.

On the flip side others say this is a good wake up call to those Tai Chi players who have lost their way and still live in the land of the delusional. How did we get here in the first place? I found the following passage in the book The Emperor of All Maladies : A Biography of Cancer to be illuminating :-

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This is more ironic in the light of the video below which gives us some background information on the Tai Chi master who got his ass handed to him by the boxer :-

At 19:38 in the video you can see this master demonstrate power. As I would tell my students you got power so what? Are you fast enough to hit a moving opponent? So we should not be too smug with our fajing ability because ultimately it may mean nothing if our opponent does not stand still long enough for us to hit him not to mention that he will be trying to hit us back.

We should take this video as a wake up call to take a long hard look at what we do if self-defense is what we are looking for. Success in combat require certain skills. What works against one person in one environment may not work against another is a different environment.

There is no point making excuses for failure in combat. The only sensible thing to do is to move forward. Take a long hard look, examine why we failed, how we can fail, open up our mind; a punch, a lock, a submission – they are blind – get caught by any good technique and you are toast.

I had a student look at the video. I wanted him to see that he had the same habits as this Tai Chi master; habits that I have told him are not desirable and make him easier to hit. But how did he get here in the first place?

One factor is, I suspect, old habit from training xingyiquan where the way he stood made him easy to get hit if he had to step back. The learning of weaponry such as the Tai Chi straight sword is meant to help him eradicate this linear back stepping and replace it with a stepping that will remove him from the path of an attack and at the same time move into a better position.

Those time we practice jousting with the straight sword was meant to teach this lesson – step the wrong way and you end up in the wrong place, and you get poked and slashed. These principles are meant to be global, to be infused also into the application of emptyhand techniques; to be poked, examined, tested in push hands under controlled experiments to educate our responses.

Touching is a phase in learning. Not touching is another phase. That’s why I taught him Pok Khek Kuen so that he can see an alternative to not touching. However, snobbery can be problematic. Don’t look down on Pok Khek Kuen. If not for it, Grandmaster Nip’s star might not have risen as high during his teaching period in Malaysia. Pok Khek Kuen’s success in full-contact tournaments demonstrated the efficacy of Grandmaster Nip’s approach.

We should not forget this. If we do we are in danger of ending up like so many other Tai Chi schools, nice to look at but crumble under pressure. We should not shy from self-criticism. Its better to take a hard look than to see what we learn through rose tinted glasses. Otherwise, one day an opponent will shatter our glasses. It is time to wake up, if you have not done so already.


Push Hands Flow & Change

Six years ago I took some videos with the objective of using them for TaijiKinesis Vol 3 which is on push hands.

I started work on Vol 3 but for certain reasons I did not continue. Now I have started looking into Vol 3 again and dug up the old videos.

For those who have been waiting for Vol 3 I have put up the first video that I shot. This was an unrehearsed run through of some of the techniques we practice at the basic level for the first method of circling.

You would notice that all the techniques are worked off the Grasp Sparrow’s Tail posture. From this posture we could change into different techniques depending on the entry technique and position acquired after entering.

For the purpose of push hands practice we normally use a small frame posture to enable us to be nimble on our feet. We can also keep the pressure of our hands lighter so that we do not engage in strength versus strength competition in which the stronger person would invariably win. From here we can focus on working on our techniques, flow and how to change when given different pressures, angles and speed of attack.


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.




A, B or C

Being able to instantly respond correctly will help you to master push hands.

Some students take too long to react. When pressure is applied they instinctively resist instead of responding. Their hands are too “kayu” (wooden).

To simplify learning sometimes I take a simple decision mechanism approach. If you have scenario A then you react this way. If scenario B then another way.

So the student must learn to recognize the scenarios right away and respond correctly. However, having two scenarios is too simple and does not train the mind to process input signals faster.

We do this by learning how to handle three scenarios instead, what I would term as A, B or C decision making. Students tend to find the A, B scenario easier to handle since the probability of each occurrence is 50%, thus they either respond one way or the other. But when there are 3 scenarios it is more difficult to react quickly.

This is where the learning trick comes in. To master the ability to react quickly you first learn not to resist but to just listen, in essence you must give yourself up in order to be able to read the other person correctly. Then when you get an input signal you don’t have to decide what to do because your opponent will tell you what to do. If you have to do it then you are not listening to the input and you then have to wait for the signal, interpret it, hopefully not misread it and react accordingly.

In this manner you can change at will and create techniques out of what is offered to you. Otherwise, each time you have to quickly find the right response and if the scenario is slightly different to what you are used to then you may respond incorrectly and instead of prevailing you end up giving away the game.


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.


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.


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?