The Baseline

In engineering we have the concept of a baseline measurement. The purpose is to allow for comparison “before” and “after”.

For example, how do you know if a vendor has performed a repair on a machine properly? How do you assess his work?

By taking a set of measurement before the repair you can establish a baseline reading. Then after the repair you can take another set of reading to check if the repair has been performed satisfactorily.

This week I had the opportunity to take a baseline video of a new student. That he has learned the same form will allow for meaningful comparison.

This video shows the second time he performed the form the way he learned it. The first time he demonstrated it I did not video it.

I only made a recording when I wondered if he knew what he looked like when playing the form. The video below just showed him doing the Beginning Posture.

Thereafter, we spent most of the lesson working on how we do Beginning Posture. As you can see below, in terms of physical movement it is exactly the same! Yet there is a difference!!! See for yourself…..

The difference lies in the use of intent on mobilizing the arms. If you perform a Tai Chi movement without intent the coordination may look acceptable but the connection will look off.

It is only by using intent that the entire body’s coordination will be together even when you are not moving a lot.

At this point, I would say that saying that it is so does not make it so. We should test out the connection and coordination with a load test to check if he can apply the principle of leverage to move the load with minimal effort. Unfortunately, I did not video this so you will just have to take my word for it.

I posted this for the following reasons :-

1) To show that it is possible to improve your skill in coordination even after one lesson

2) You can learn how to use leverage and power to move a person by following step-by-step procedure. It is not a mysterious energy that take decades or demand that you become a disciple before you can learn it

3) Tai Chi is not a difficult nor impossible art to master. It can be taught via a logical, step-by-step procedure

4) Anyone of average intelligence and coordination can learn it as long as you are willing to put in the effort and be open to change

5) Tai Chi is not a mysterious art. It is grounded in physics. If you know where to look you will find the same (or similar correlation) as I did in science



Of Small Chi Sphere

Yesterday I wrote about Large Chi Sphere. Today I will write about Small Chi Sphere.

If you have read TaijiKinesis Vol 2 : Learning the Taijiquan Form you will find under 5.6.1 Palm on page 46 a beginner’s introduction to this topic.

In some Tai Chi styles / schools you may be required to be a disciple or be willing to cough up the big bucks to learn about such secret principles. However, I teach this from Day 1 because it is part and parcel of what makes Yang style works.

Mind you, knowing about a principle and being able to make it work are two different things. You need a lot of practice to assimilate the Small Chi Sphere principle into your movements.

Beginners tend to keep losing the sphere in the early years of their practice. This is expected. You just have to keep at it until you get it.

To keep the learning simple we just have to keep plugging away at three steps, day in, day out, until it sticks. This means that everytime you use a palm in the long form you must abide by the following :-

i) Step 1 – round the tiger mouth

ii) Step 2 – round the Palmar region to activate the Laogong (劳宫) acupuncture point

iii) Step 3 – round the fingers’s structure

Holding a palm this way when playing the form can intensify the power of your strikes and I’m not just referring to palm strikes here.

This is particularly when students undertake the learning of the Kai-He form because by this stage they would have spent a lot of time cultivating the Small Chi Sphere palm structure.

The Small Chi Sphere is part of a process of training power generation in Tai Chi. It is not the only process but it is one method that can pay dividends if you take the time to cultivate it.


Energetically Yours

There are numerous fajing models in Grandmaster Wei Shuren’s book on the 22-form. You can say that its practically raining fajing in the chapter entitled Internal Work, Force Methods (内功劲法).

My favorite fajing model is the Large Chi Sphere method which is shown below :-


I feel that the Large Chi Sphere fajing model is the easiest for beginners to pick up. The best part of the news is that they do not even have to learn Grandmaster Wei’s technically super difficult 22-form to get this skill.

So far I have taught this model to my current students who are learning the Yang Chengfu 108 form. The Large Chi Sphere model is not even gender bias – both ladies and gentlemen can do the fajing as long as they remember the step-by-step procedures.

Below is a photo of a student applying the Large Chi Sphere model in Ward-Off posture from the 108 form :-


Can you see it? No?

Let’s add in the Large Chi Sphere into the picture and see what we get…….


Clearer now?

Such intent models used to be kept secret and taught only to sons or close blood relations. In order to keep the art of Tai Chi vibrant and relevant today I am passing such information on.

Learning the model is but the first step. Assimilating it into your movements and learning to use it naturally and instinctively are hurdles to overcome to master Tai Chi.

As I say mastery of Tai Chi is not impossible. You just have to know what Tai Chi is about and it begins by asking the relevant questions to move your learning and understanding along.


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 :-


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?


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 :-


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


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.



Learning To Be Soft 3

Oh, there is one more thing. R said he was told he has a problem with Nikyo, specifically when bending the body to apply power.

There are a few ways to do Nikyo, the version we examined begins at 2:34 in the video below :-

I offered my right hand to R. He grasped it. OK, one problem area.

He held my right wrist against his body. Noted second problem area.

R applied pressure. OK, I saw what his instructor meant. Simple problem to fix.

Before fixing the body bending problem it would be more fruitful to fix R’s grip and fixing of the fulcrum point. These two areas can amplify the effectiveness of Nikyo.

R’s grip is not precise enough, hence when he gripped my hand I couldn’t feel the pressure. No pressure, no pain. I showed him how to modify his grip to that upon gripping his wrist will be locked and twisted strongly, straightaway sending signals of pain to his brain. I wrote about this grip in a past blog so I won’t repeat here.

Grip done, fulcrum to go. The second key to a painful Nikyo is to immobilize the entire arm so that its range of motion is restricted, thus not allowing the pressure that is exerted on it to escape. Hence, pain.

Finally, once the above two issues were solved we examined the final part – how to bend the body. Specifically, where to bend so that a strong force can be applied. This is where the use of imagery from our Tai Chi form training is useful. Fix the imagery, play it out, now let the body do it.

And the problem of Nikyo is solved.


Learning To Be Soft 2

For R’s second lesson I offered alternative insights to solving combat problems on top of learning a few more movements of the Tai Chi long form.

I am not a great fan of using a vertical chop to practice techniques against but for the sake of having a common understanding it would do. So would a committed straight punch for the purpose of discussion and testing.

What could be R learn in Tai Chi that could help him improve his Aikido, right now, right here?

A problem is his entry, raising his arms and moving to the side. It was clear what the problem is. While R’s movements looked visually acceptable, the feel, the contact didn’t. Part of the problem was coordination, another timing. Not an impossible problem to resolve.

I used the 5-Count mechanism to break down his movement, defining how he could move faster, more accurately, better to manage distance and space. I find that his entry to my side left him wide open. Well, with a more practiced practitioner this opening would not exist because he would flow to the next position.

But it could be years before R reach this level of competence. Using the 5-Count he could improve his entry, close up the opening and be able to carry on using what he had learned.

R mentioned that in Aikido they advocate not making contact. This is correct though for learning in Tai Chi we go through different phases from making contact, increasing the pressure on contact, using the contact to flow, to eventually turning, shifting and to a state of using mental targeting to minimize if not eliminating the need to have contact before countering.

The reason why we learn this way is because you can never tell when you have to deal with an opponent who is suddenly upon you, made contact, shoving you, trying to hit you, maybe even wrestle, try to take you down. So it would be useful to learn to deal with pressure, be comfortable with it, and learn to detach yourself from the situation in order to find a solution.

In Aikido they tend to offer one dimensional strikes so that trainees have a chance to learn but too much of this can lead to false self-confidence. For example, boxers don’t punch and leave their jab out there. Neither would a trained Chinese martial artist who would send multitude of strikes your way, borrowing your reaction to strike more times.

Learning how to apply the techniques of Tai Chi will give R a different perspective early, so that he can keep in mind what could happen outside of the dojo with other styles, especially those he has never seen before. Even with those that are common there could still be deviations and variations for common techniques.

In this sense, we learn Tai Chi for its principles, especially the soft and internal aspects, that can be applied broadly to many styles. I suspect this is why so many masters go into Tai Chi despite their accomplishments in their primary style. At least, this is why Tai Chi has become my primary style, because I enjoy the journey ahead into territory unknown to many, the fun of an ongoing journey.


1st BojiLite Training Challenge Completion

Yesterday was the last day of the first BojiLite training challenge.

Participating members did their best to keep up even though life and work intruded on their busy schedule.

As I expected, those who took part showed improvements even though no member managed to complete all 7 days. The nearest was 6 days. Previously, when they did sporadic practice over the last 6 weeks or so minimal improvements were the result and sometimes problem areas could still not be improved even after 2 weeks.

I am happy to report that a number of these problem areas have been addressed and improved upon. In some cases the improvements came 2 days after members took the advice on where to improve and worked on them.

Below is a sampling of the practice. I have selected three drills to highlight.

a) Drill No. 1 – in-situ body turning
This drill trains basic body movement, torque and foundation for power generation


b) Drill No. 2 – side parry
This drill builts on Drill No. 2 by adding in a defensive movement, the side parry, to train how to intercept and divert an opponent’s straight punch


c) Drill No. 3 – Yum Chui
The third drill adds to the first two drills. The member is taught to deliver a counter-attack in the form of a straight punch after neutralizing the opponent’s attack


This challenge is a good example of the importance of daily practice. The average challenge video is 10 minutes per clip per day. Members probably spent more time trying to understand my comments and thought through what they needed to do to address the areas that needed correction, putting in some practice before filming their challenge video. And the result of their effort shows.

I only hope that after the challenge ends they will keep up the practice. I will continue putting up training material and perhaps the next challenge will be on improving on stepping and speed of punching. Some members are already able to put some snap into their punches. They just need an extra push to become better.