SKD Training Session 1

This morning we had the SKD online training on Zoom. I wanted to cover 3 topics but ended up covering only 1 topic.

Why this is so is because of our preferred method of teaching. Basically, there two ways to teach :-

a) Mass training – this way of teaching is more on getting everyone to do drills and having a fun time. If they really get it then its a bonus. If not, keep practicing

b) Focused training – this way is more for the serious, adult learner who knows what he is looking for. Its slower paced and the training is just as cerebral as it is physical.

In SKD we go for focused training. Its tougher to learn this way but you know exactly how to do it, why you are doing it and how you can use it.

Due to the massive amount of details it is not something you can latch onto right away. You still have to do your own training which is why we only have the training every two weeks to give you the time to practice.

To get the most out of the learning each participant should test their setup first. They should ensure that their entire body can be seen and give allowance for the ground in front to be captured in the frame as well. This allows me to check their stepping. I would recommend to use a webcam and a tripod to get the best angle.

The topic that I ended up covering today is the SKD salute. The salute is divided into three parts – opening movement, salute and closing. I had planned to run the class for 60 minutes but ended up doing it for 80 minutes and covering just the opening and salute.

Embedded in the SKD salute are the key principles that define the characteristics of Chinese martial art, at least the way I learned it from a few teachers.

From practicing the SKD salute we learned about efficiency of movement, the embedded possible applications, technique changes, setting up the body to generate power, etc. All this can be realized once the elements are adhered to and eventually put into play in subsequent practices.

The use of intent from understanding what we are doing can push us along the progress curve. Participants have seen for themselves that it is easy to just move the limbs but not so easy to move the limbs in a very precise and defined manner. This is why authentic Chinese martial arts can be said to be easy to learn but a bitch to train.

I missed out on recording the first half hour. However, I managed to record the last 53 minutes and have uploaded the video to the Slack workspace for The Tai Chi Solo Player.

The next training will be on 28 Jun 2020 at 8 am Singapore time. The full schedule is listed here.

Physical Intelligence

….rationalizing won’t get the job done.”

I love this sentence in the Introduction of the book “Physical Intelligence” by Scott Grafton. Similarly, I would say that the only way to master Tai Chi is to engage in things Tai Chi i.e. you gotta practice the form, gotta do push hands, gotta learn to apply the techniques, gotta do deep study.

Complaining about how difficult it is to master Tai Chi, how you can’t seem to understand it, how it seem unattainable, and other complaints will not get you anywhere. You just gotta do it.

Do it, do it, do it. No matter how difficult it may be.

The problem always starts when you want to master the elusive fajing. The more you yearn for it, the more elusive it gets. Hence, my teacher said it best when he said the objective is just to practice daily, not master fajing, not win medals, not get ranking promotions.

When you get your priorities right you begin to move forward. As Scott Grafton writes :-

Skills such as these are informed by “physical intelligence”: the components of the mind that allow anyone to engage with and change the world.

So don’t try to think your way to mastery. The thinking has already been done in the past (hint : Tai Chi Classics); if anything you have to do it, keep doing it, and do it some more. Otherwise, you will get stuck for a long, long time in Tai Chi non-mastery hell.

Do you know why you need to practice the solo form alone, without the joys of being part of group who share the same interests, engaging in banter, shared physical interactions?

Solo form training is a way of allowing yourself to find a way to be free of internal and external chatter, of the monkey brain and of friends. As Grafton pointed out :-

Rather, the solitude provides time for reflection and an opportunity to examine the kind of intelligence that informed human action as our species evolved.

Thus, solo training allows you to focus your mind, develop a better awareness and feel for what your body is doing. This familiarity deepens with the passage of time, that if you keep working on the same movement over and over again, using the same form so as to have a consistent frame of reference, will allow you to experience the insights hidden behind the principles of the Tai Chi Classics.

Grafton also mentioned :-

1) Physical intelligence is absolutely ruthless in requiring that knowledge be gained from direct physical experience.

2) …physical intelligence reflects learning processes that constantly tinker with a person’s performance. One never stops learning to cook, to drive, or even to walk, for that matter. It is also a knowledge that is lost from disuse; without practice you will fall on ice or off ladders.

3) …physical intelligence provides the means to establish a sense of control. Humans acquire their skills and learn to solve problems through constant experimentation.

4) There is no end to the sensing, adapting, anticipating, and accommodating that must take place for a person to act intelligently. It takes practice and know-how to do even the little things in life…

The funny thing is that I have been telling students to learn push hands as well as they study the form but most of them don’t want to do it. They don’t listen as they know what they want, or so they think. Points (3) and (4) is basically what push hands is teaching and I am glad that a scientist has pointed out the importance of such learning to acquire a skill.

Maybe now students will believe me, or maybe not. People can behave irrationally, they know that they have not mastered a skill and they seek out a person to teach them the skill and by extension how to master it, but they just don’t want to listen to how to master it. Strange behavior that I would like to see a scientist write a book on.

In the meantime, life goes on. Another lunar year, the beginning of a new lunar year cycle will soon begin. What will be, will be. What won’t be, won’t be.

Basic Pole Gung 3

The third principle we can learn from the Arrow Pole posture is how to get the power from the ground to the tip of the pole via the use of concentric spirals.

OK, I know the lines shown are not spirals. No matter how I draw the spirals they will not be a good representation of what I want to convey across.

I shouldn’t even mention counter-spirals cause that would be even more confusing without some basic understanding of the Tao, physics and the workings of Nature.

Even then its much easier to just do it, feel it and understand it. Some things are just meant to be felt rather than puzzle over intellectually.

That’s why students who are learning the pole will need to keep practicing the Arrow Pole posture over and over again. Then the gung lik of the pole will manifest in the hand.

POLErobics

POLErobics.

I woke up with this label stuck in my mind. To get this off my mind I wrote something earlier this morning on Facebook but by evening the label is still stuck in my mind. So I shall write a post here to exorcise it from my mind.

Why POLErobics?

Well, if you look at the video below this should be obvious.

By association this is a practice using the pole. If you keep moving and moving, faster and faster, non-stop, over and over, the speed and intensity of the movements will work your lungs and before you know it you will be grasping for breath.

The aerobics part is not obvious in this video because he is only moving at medium speed. Once he is familiar with the sequence he will be able to go faster. At that time the aerobics in this practice will come to the fore, and then we will be able to clearly see how pole + aerobics = POLErobics.

The pole is the first weapon I learned from my first Tai Chi teacher, hence it is my favorite weapon. However, this sequence here is not from him.

Instead, this sequence is from my Ngok Gar Kuen teacher, the late Grandmaster Cheong Fook, whom I consider to be my best teacher on the long pole. GM Cheong said that it is important to drill this sequence daily.

After years of playing with this sequence it is my opinion that the ability to apply the long pole hinges on the mastery of these three techniques that we term Arrow Pole, Killing Pole and Flinging Pole. Of the three movements I feel that Killing Pole is the most important with Flinging Pole coming second and Arrow Pole last.

Grandmaster Cheong Fook teaching the Arrow Pole

I taught my student this sequence to help him develop the skill of using the long pole form from my first Tai Chi teacher. In addition, this sequence can help to master certain key principles from the Tai Chi Classics which in turn can be applied to the practice of push hands.

Lessons of the Pole

Its nearly 3 weeks since my last post. I thought the economy is not doing that well, not that I can tell with all the work activity.

Started a third student on learning the pole that is from my first Tai Chi teacher. Its a basic Sao Lim pole but there are useful lessons to be learned.

Lesson 1 – as with solo form we must develop awareness. The length of the pole helps to expand the awareness space.

Lesson 2 – learn the meaning of the saying when young fear the fist, when old fear the pole.

Lesson 3 – again stop being obsessed with power. In using the pole power is useless if you fail to hit your opponent. Instead, if he hits you, especially with a solid pole, the pain and damage is much worse than getting hit by a fist or palm strike. So pay attention to the movement process to understand how to use the pole properly.

Lesson 4 – though the pole is heavy you must also learn to use it as if it is light. To do this you must learn the trick of manipulating the pole using proper biomechanics.

Lesson 5 – as with pole, so be with the fist. This means that the way you learn to handle the pole can be transferred across to the way you apply empty hand techniques in push hands.

Lesson 6 – don’t be long winded when using the pole. Learn to decisively move, hit and finish the opponent in 1-2 moves. Then apply the same to empty hand techniques.

Lesson 7 – enhance your body movement from learning the pole. Learn to move quickly, precisely and control the striking zone through stepping and body angling.

Lesson 8 – understand how to extend power further. Playing the pole a lot can develop wrist and arm strength. This can boost the striking techniques that is from Master Leong’s PKK arsenal.

Contact Training 6

In this clip after we got into the groove we let our body moved a little more, gyrating and bouncing gently to an inner rhythm, akin to a dance.

But not for long because as soon as my student couldn’t keep up with the rhythm he started opening up his spaces unknowingly to attack.

In the following clip we change focus to small, tight circles before letting it morph into freer circles. This inevitably led back to the pattern of movements in the clips shown in the earlier posts in this series.

Many times how your opponent responds to your movements is how your technique will turn out. You can dictate how the movements can be but it takes less effort if you just enjoy the moment and go with the flow. Then your body will respond automatically with the pattern of movements that you have etched into your body from the form training.

Contact Training 5

We can create an opening to attack or we can wait until an opening presents itself.

In the clip below my student presented a good flow with strong, sticky movements so unless I purposely created an opening there was no getting through his defence.

But as we flowed and flowed, a slight deviation in his movement flow was detected and I seized the opportunity to attack. This is why when we play hands we put 110% awareness into it.

The clip below presents a different take on how to attack. This time instead of letting the flow of movements open up the space to attack, I used pressure to crowd in, wedge and attack.

Thereafter, I used the same attack over and over again. I didn’t need to change the technique because my student could not solve the technique.

Contact Training 3

Why we do form training so much?

This is because this is one way to train ourselves to be familiar with our own movements.

In the beginning of the clip my student is attempting to apply a technique but his movement is not filled with confidence hence the uncertain feel I was getting.

When you know the movement really well you can move so much better. It is not unusual for a student to think that a lacklustre technique is acceptable. It might be when he is training with another student but it will not be if he is doing it with someone at a higher level.

When you know your movement it is like a highly tuned and sensitive instrument, so much so that a slight deviation will set off an instant response.

Otherwise, you can run round and round in circles and still cannot find the opening for your attack.

Contact Training 2

During push hands training we train the automation of our responses by learning about patterns of movements.

In form training we learn movement patterns. Through push hands training we learn how to reconcile what we learned in the form and the application of those movement patterns in push hands.

In the earlier part of this clip I highlighted a movement pattern to my student. This is a frequently used pattern in our push hands. Because he has not assimilated the lessons of the form in his mind he is not able to recognize the patterns amidst the chaos of free movement.

In the last part of the clip I showed an extension of the same movement pattern. This came about because his response triggered my counter to his movement.