Embedding the Skill

Learning any combative art is about practicing until you get it, know it and can sleep walk it.

Someone recently told me that doing CMA should be as easy as walking. He is not talking about the practice being easy. Instead, he is saying that one should practice the chosen skills until it is as natural and as easy as walking.

More than two decades ago my Wing Chun senior was talking about being formless. But what does it really mean, to be formless?

If you look to the art world particularly to the modern masters you may note that even abstract art masters have to study classical painting before they evolve into abstract art. In the context of CMA this means that to be formless you first have to master form.

In Tai Chi we normally just work on one form for years before learning another. This is not saying that you can’t learn another form after you finish learning the first form. You can.

However, you end up with cursory understanding of the form. You need to move your practice from surface scraping understanding to beneath the skin understanding, before you ultimately reach bone level understanding. So the more forms you have to practice the less time you have to focus, to specialize.

Of course, you can also learn many forms but just work on less rather than more. The more you understand the one form the more you know its nooks and corners, not just remembering the sequence but how different parts of the form can be used to form new sequences.

In the end, your form may have say 10 sequences but by understanding how it works you can easily form another 20 sequences by combining different techniques. Normally, an easy way to help understand this learning process is by doing push hands because when you learn to apply the techniques you are forced to confront what you don’t know.

Its not just in CMA that we learn to be formless. In Kali what is termed free flow is similar to what we call formlessness. Basically, free flow is the ability to take your basics and move through them freely to make whatever meaningful combinations you want to in response to an imaginary attack.

The study of free flow in Kali begins with the study of drills, of sequences of techniques. First you embed the habit through 10,000 repetitions. Then when you thought you got the habit down you are taught to break out of the habit with ironically more drills.

From Kali we can see that more forms (not kata but predetermined sequences made up of different techniques, example an Angle 1 fluid strike + Umbrella + ……….) are necessary to break up earlier learned forms of movements. Conceptually, the learning is not difficult to understand. But when you try it it feels awkward, just like when you first learn to cycle. You get on the bicycle, you wobble a bit, then you start to move, slowly then you try going faster.

The more you cycle the more familiar you are with the act of cycling. In the interim, its not unusual to lose your balance and fall. The first time I took one hand off the handlebar I fell into a drain. Another time I took a corner really fast and ended up sliding on the road which left a scar on my knee. But its these learning pains that eventually allowed me to master the act of cycling till I could take both hands off the handle as I cycled.

Awkwardness gives way to familiarity the more you practice. When we mention the word practice we think of the act of doing. However, practice can also be in the form of thinking about how to do it. This is the mental part of practice. Its a way to embed the process into your mind. Another way is to call out what you are doing. Anything that works for you is fine.

The more I practice the Tai Chi form the more I start to see the component movements clearly. At a certain stage you can easily change the sequences around, rearrange them even as you practice. Just last week someone came to see me about learning Tai Chi and said he didn’t have the room to practice. I stood between a wall and two bicycles and showed him I could practice a long sequence within that square area. I didn’t change the hand movements, just changed the stepping to adapt to the small area.

If you keep on practicing at a certain stage you can practice the form without even practicing the form any more. You can take one technique and work it in different ways. You can string two techniques as well and do the same. This is when you can say that the skill of moving has been embedded in you, when you move “it” moves you, thus fulfilling the principle of first in the mind, later in the body, enabling you to move as easily as walking.

This is one part of the learning. The second part is to work with a partner to help you learn how to apply what you know. True flow is when you can keep moving even as your training partner tries to stop your flow by putting up resistance and fighting back. This is when you discover something interesting about attachment and detachment of the mind and body in being able to flow.

Interested to learn Kali in person for free? The iKali branch of Pekiti-Tirsia System of Kali has an excellent training method for teaching the basics that eventually allows you to free flow. The best part is that it does not take years to learn. Contact me here.

Flow

I can remember when I first started learning iKali I could not make sense of the flow.

Whenever I see our instructors or Tuhon demonstrate stick flow or blade flow my mind would go blank.

However, by following Tuhon’s excellent teaching program I find that I could begin to flow after the first two modules.

By the third module I actually did something I didn’t expect I could do which is to kneel while doing free flow. I had learned how to do the kneeling in the first module but that was by following a movement script.

In our progress assessment which was held after midnight (its actually early afternoon then in USA) I found myself doing the kneeling not once but twice. Normally I won’t do something I had never tried before and doing it in the midst of a free flow is risky in that it could interrupt my flow.

Here’s the first time I did it using double sticks :-

And here’s the second time using single blade :-

An excellent teacher inspires and Tuhon Apolo’s teaching definitely triggered something in me to be able to go beyond what I would normally do.

Kua Mechanics 2

Kua mechanics is also found in a Wing Chun style of an older tradition that I learned.

If you do not know what you are looking at you might not catch it. This is an example of the kua mechanics at play.

By using the kua and hip you can move quickly while unifying the body, keeping soft and being able to generate power when you want to.

SKD Learning Routine

We don’t have forms in SKD. We have drills.

Our drills can be organized into a sequence for daily training to ensure that we do not miss out on working on an essential drill.

This is an example of a single handed drill :-

This part illustrates what our learning routine looks like :-

This comes from the last part of the learning routine. The expecation is that the learner will be able to move like fast flowing water while attacking powerfully like a tiger.

Tai Chi Form Applications

In this video I am explaining where some of our SKD applications come from :-

Our Yang style Tai Chi form can look simple and non-aggressive.

However, a lot of applications are concealed within the unassuming movements.

In this video I point out how the movement of Single Whip and Cloud Hands are applied.

Axe Chopping Principle

In this week’s SKD I delved into the principle of axe chopping to deliver a strike.

Interestingly, in a non-mainstream Wing Chun that I learned we have a punch called Tup Chui which is literally Hammering Punch in which the punch is not straight out but delivered in a downward curving manner. My final Wing Chun teacher also punched in this manner and he is able to punch really fast and powerfully using this process.

I had also encountered this way of punching in the Biu Jee form of the Ip Man style when my senior taught me this version from one of Ip Man’s lesser known disciple. This punch is performed at the end of every section.

The video below is an introduction :-

Here is where I mentioned the axe chopping in relation to Xingyi’s Pi Quan :-

In SKD this is how we use arm swinging to develop the chopping power :-

To be able to apply the chopping strike we use Tai Chi principles to learn how to relax and control our arm and body acting in concert to deliver the strike.

The arm-whole body movement is my adaptation of Grandmaster Wei Shuren’s Step Back Repulse Monkey from his 22-form. The arm rolling into backfist movement is the final movement in Repulse Monkey.

Not Thinking 2

Another interesting info from “The Power of Not Thinking” :-….. imagining an action without executing it activates the same neural pathways.

Simply put, thinking of performing an action shows up in the brain as if the action had actually been performed.

I first read about this in a book, I think it was called Mind Gym. This explains why sometimes a good way to train arts such as Tai Chi is by sitting there and going through the movements mentally.

By constraining your outer physical movements you are forced to feel your inner physical movements. For example, the concept of Jing Yuen (劲源) is not easy to understand mentally but by stilling your body and using your imagination to do the movement process you can easily feel the Jing Yuen move and voila! suddenly a few more insights will come to mind.

I carefully observed Tuhon when I first learned iKali because certain things are different from what I had learned in CMA. I could ask questions but it would be more interesting not to ask and tried to learn by observing.

This book validated this learning approach in the story of how apprentices learn to build a minaret in Yemen without formal instructions or allowed to ask questions freely. One anthropologist called this “stealing knowledge with their eyes”. Tuhon Apolo said something similar about his learning from Grand-Tuhon.

Not Thinking

Here is a book that explains very well the method of learning via 10,000 repetitions that Tuhon Apolo advocates.

In the chapter “Experiencing the World” the author wrote :-Typing out a text message is not explicit or even conscious – it’s a skill that is embodied and arises from a familiarity so deep that no thought is required for the successful completion of the task.

In everyday life we have much such knowledge in our hands. It emerges from the repeated practice of a ‘skill’, a prime example of what I am calling ‘embodied knowledge’.

2021 Day 1

Day 1 of 2021 was a quiet day.

Quiet day is good. Best thing to do in the morning is practice Tai Chi.

Just kept going with the form practice until I decided to stop. As my teacher said the objective is to practice.

Once done with the mentally intense practice of Tai Chi I thought of doing something more physical.

I haven’t touched the pole for a few months. So let’s get some practice in if only for short time.

Pole practice especially with the focus on just doing a few simple, repetitive techniques is good for practice speed, power and stamina.


We don’t work on one factor at a time. We work on all of them at the same time. Power is only useful if you are fast enough to use it.

And the ability to use power depends on whether you can get to the position you need to be when you need to be there.

That’s why in SKD we will at a later stage learn the long pole that Master Leong taught. It is a very short sequence but that’s good because we don’t have to burden our mind with trying to remember too many movements.

Chair Training

Before the SKD Zoom class started today one student said that he was sick. However, he would attend but not participate fully.

Instead of doing our normal standup practice I had them do the entire class sitting in a chair. In this way the sick student can participate fully.

In this regards there are some things that can be learned easier when sitting down rather than standing up.

What would be a limitation on the ability to move becomes an advantage to learning how to economize movement in the light of the constraint imposed by the chair frame.

I focused on teaching the things that can be practiced while sitting down. To start off while I showed how one of the basic arm swinging exercise can be practiced not as a regular arm loosening and power development exercise but as a means to train the application of a technique.

We examine how this one swinging arm exercise can be trained a few ways. Then we added in other components to deepen the skill.

Basically, everything that is taught today is the foundation for how to make our Charp Chui come alive.

This is achieved by using the exercises to develop our ability to flow like water, darting in quickly like a snake’s tongue and changing swiftly like the wind.