The confounding thing about a technique is that their application can look obvious.
However, when we go into it we can discover that it is not so. In a big class it is easier to teach one technique, one application.
However, a technique can be used in different ways. A technique is basically a series of sequential movements. The sum of all the movements is the technique.
We can use all the movements to create an application. If we changed the focus slightly the outcome can be different.
And if we use only some of the movements we have yet a different take on how to use the movements.
When we first learn how to use Wild Horse Parts Mane we focus on the obvious application which is to enter and throw.
Once we develop a better feel of each of the movements we might focus on how to use some of these movements instead of in their entirety.
One example of this is to use the entering movement to do an arm lock instead.
The easiest way to learn how to use Wild Horse Parts Mane in many ways is to do push hands. Use push hands as opportunity to explore.
Don’t be stuck on only one way of applying the movement. Test out whatever you can think of. This is how I learned to do push hands, not by pushing in predictable patterns but in free flowing format, try whatever I can do to push my teacher out or put him in a lock.
When given free rein you can either be creative or mind goes blank. Use the form as a reference textbook to inspire you to apply your techniques freely. You might be surprised by what you discover.
Grasp Sparrow’s Tail – 2nd sub-movement fell a bit short because it did not mirror the application. This is important – you don’t just move. You move because you are doing a technique.
When you do it right at the end of the movement your right hand should be grasping my right wrist and your left forearm on my body and your left leg in a position that is checking my right leg.
In the 3rd sub-movement this week I added in 3 steps for the following :-
a) How to move the right arm to close the right side of your front door. A good test of correct biomechanics is when I give your some strength when my left arm is on top of your right arm you should be able to close your position. This is an illustration of the principle of not going head-on against the opponent’s strength. So there are three steps here – i) thumb movement ii) arm movement iii) waist movement
b) Raising the right arm to form the cross involves three steps at the learning stage. Once you get it all three steps merged into one smooth step. The steps – i) Right thumb move right wrist up to left wrist ii) Use shoulder to guide right wrist into position iii) Finally, use hip to get the right wrist into final position
c) I didn’t touch on the third sub-movement of getting the right leg to step out which is another three steps. The purpose of this is to train the single leg balance, feeling the ground and training the leg to be able to kick in accordance to the principle of every step hides a kick
From Grasp Sparrow’s Tail to Ward-off a reminder on using the left hand to properly do the scooping action. This allows for the left hand to defend the left side properly depending on whether the opponent’s right hand is attacking high or low.
Press – revisited how to change from Rollback into Press. The function of the left hand to check and control the opponent’s right hand. How to properly align the right hand to control the opponent’s left arm and be able to issue power easily.
Common mistake is the right elbow misalignment in Press. When the right elbow is not positioned properly you allow the opponent to counter your Press attack.
A misaligned elbow also makes it difficult to issue power not to mention the ability to follow up easily. When you position the right arm properly you can change easily from one attack to the next and counter opponent’s attempt to get away or defend against your Press attack.
From Press to Push – the transition calls for the passing of opponent’s right arm from your left hand to right hand. This sets his right arm to be sealed against his chest, then you can apply Push attack.
If opponent tries to pull his right hand back to strike you the position of your left hand in Press should allow you to instantly attack him before he can hit you. If he is fast and has his strike coming back quickly then you use Separate Hands on the inside to intercept, pull and apply Push strike.
The lesson of Separate Hands and Push can be applied to the first sub-movement in Grasp Sparrow’s Tail. Instead of intercept, turn to neutralize and attack, you can just use the same right arm to intercept, neutralize and attack. This is how understanding the basics can translate a multi-step movement into a singular movement, making it efficient.
Lesson Number 4 this week. No fidgeting in Beginning Posture. Good beginning.
Alas, I spoke too soon. The stance and hand characeteristics took on a wushu flavor. Why would this happen? There goes my plan to teach Single Whip.
From nothing to something. From simple natural standing we can form a basic stance with attendant arch.
Shift the weight and we have a forward or backward stance depending on whether the weight is forward or backward. However, he did an arch-less stance which weakens the stance and cause the connection to the ground to be lost.
A backward stance with a straightened front leg is bad because it makes it easier for a takedown to be used against the leg. A simple hold at the ankle and press at the upper thigh and down he went, after clearing his leading arm out of the way.
A proper forward or backward stance has traceability, like a son has matching DNA with the mother. No matter how we move we can always revert back to the basic stance. So in essence we are just practicing one stance throughout. What differentiates each of the stances is where the weight is and how the unweighted leg is positioned.
In turning or in stepping the characteristic of the basic stance is ever present. The shape of the stance when the weight is forward can be applied as an uprooting technique like water floating a boat.
Because of this we have to keep the mind full focussed. We have to do the process carefully so that at the end of the movement we have a proper stance. It is easy to get the 2nd sub-movement of Grasp Sparrow’s Tail wrong and end up with an improper stance once we lose track of what we are supposed to do.
This time to make it clearer I added another component to the process. This breakdowns the movement of the hip, knee and foot so that it can match the movement of the arm more closely such that they move in a coordinated manner.
The same logic applies to the 3rd sub-movement where we end up in the posture of grasping the tail of a sparrow. A wushu like stance makes it difficult to control the amount of strength to use. When we fish we want the bait to move like a living worm to invite the fish to take a nibble.
In using strength we shouldn’t be applying peng jing indiscriminately to all and sundry. Some movements require a lot less strength whereas some require more. Calibrating the amount required is what the training of form is partly about.
A proper technique allows you to entice and lead the opponent’s strength to land on empty space. As this is happening you enter with your response. Place it at a good angle and the movement itself takes care of the neutralizing and issuing.
Again, using the leading hand to come up to the bottom of opponent’s arm like water supporting it but not carrying his strength, then floating his arm to unbalance his body. This leads to the opponent’s closed arm position to open up allowing you to enter to attack.
Done properly you do not feel that you are trying to carry the opponent’s body weight. Instead, you feel as if he is floated up by an energetic force. This is the role of the arch in the stance to neutralize and return the opponent’s force using the principle of Newton’s 3rd Law of Motion.
Visualize a point in space. Fix it in your mind. Now point your left index finger at it.
Next, move your left index finger towards it. As you move let your left index finger pull your left arm and your left leg towards the target.
Keep moving your left index finger towards the point in space even as your left foot lands on the ground and you shift your weight from your right leg to your left leg.
At the end of the movement check if your left index finger is still pointing at the point or is it pointing somewhere else.
If you didn’t get it the first time try again and again until you get it. It is not a difficult thing to do correct or is it? How many tries did you go through before you got it. Did you get it within an hour or take a few days to get it?
If you did not get it what was the reason why you couldn’t get it?
Most of the time you would think you got it. So it is good to use a video or get a spotter to help you check if indeed you are doing what you think you are doing.
You may find it easier to actually hang an object for you to point towards. Try it if this is what works for you. Once you can do it with an object try going back to doing it without an actual physical object.
Most people who do this think they are able to point to the point in space when they fail to do so. It is easy to deceive ourselves to think we are doing what we are not.
To be able to do this simple thing you need to be able to keep your mind on your left index finger all the time first and foremost. When you can do this then you need to assign some of this attention to the other parts of the body that is involved in the movement chain. All this while you must keep your mind still trained on your left index finger so that the entire body coordination is still whole.
You keep practicing until the entire movement chain is smooth outwardly yet on the inside you can feel how each part of the chain is moving in its turn in terms of changes in velocity, getting the relevant mass lined up behind each other in preparation to be able to trigger the mass to move sinuously like the rising and falling of a wave.
The better your body control the less outer movement you need to use, to the point where a slight downward movement will be like an ocean floor suddenly caving down to displace a body of water to create a tsunami, in this case an energetic wave consistent with rising (Peng) and falling (An) characteristic of an actual wave.
The movement in this experiment is the second movement after Beginning Posture that leads up to Grasp Sparrow’s Tail. Though this movement can be used to learn how to generate power, we must never divorce it from the application. If you do not keep the application in mind then what happens is that you will end up exaggerating the wave motion in an attempt to generate more power.
There is a trade-off between power and speed. In application we need to be timely when the need is there. If you are too slow to get into position then you will not be able to get into place to generate power. And when you get into position you have a split second to issue power before the opponent fights back.
So between speed and power you should go for speed because speed is basically a matter of change in velocity. The change in velocity is termed acceleration which is found in the formula for Force = Mass X Acceleration.
The form trains us to move in the manner of an imperceptible wave, controlling the rate of velocity and amount of mass that should be used in various techniques. Sometimes you need a hammer to do the job but sometimes you need to use a thumb.
Training the form is not about training fajing only. Training the form is training the use of techniques and understanding how various force models can be used with their attendant timing, angles, position, etc.
Training the form is the beginning of the study of the means to an end. Push hands is another piece of the study puzzle. When you have learned how to move like the wind, execute techniques like the falling of incessant autumn rain, pound with the force of a wave, and flow like a river then you can learn to apply the techniques more freely.
Added two movements on the third lesson – Separate and Push.
But before that did a review. The fidgeting is still there, not as bad, so I left it at that.
Grasp Sparrow’s Tail – added one detail – after pluck to get the body weight behind the grabbing hand. Emphasized not to lose this control when moving the left hand and shifting weight from right to left. Reason – do not lose control once you have grabbed the opponent’s hand otherwise he can exploit it against you.
Oh, a problem with navigation when moving the left hand and left leg out. The movement is to be linearly to the side. However, at the last minute the linear motion became a curve.
It is a slight deviation in the movement path, however, that is enough to leave room for opponent to grab your left hand when your arm enters his space, enabling him to throw you instead of you throw him. Root cause – awareness not 100% throughout, inattention to the entire process; mind not kept on the lead hand causing the off course steering at the last moment.
Step forward into Grasp Sparrow’s Tail. And the stance is too narrow. This is an issue with traceability.
Went back to basics as defined in Beginning Posture. How is a stance formed. How do we actually shift weight. How to keep the stance strong and primed to fajing.
From lower body to upper body. Need to keep the left hand guarding properly. How can the left hand be used?
Two possibilities in how to use left hand in push hands to guard and open up opponent’s door for you to enter with your own attack.
How to dissipate opponent’s strength when he intercepts your right arm. Option of not changing to another Ward-off by using neutralizing energy or by changing to Ward-off.
How to use position of posture to neutralize, intercept, open door and enter. Softer response to neutralize first then attack vs faster, more aggressive counter to continuously attack like wave pounding.
Addressed the question of the opponent’s left hand response. How to preempt a counter-attack by delivering a stinging strike. Example of how a light strike can work instead of relying on heavy, fajingy pushing.
Had to explain how to do basic push hands by just doing horizontal circling. How to use the movements of Grasp Sparrow’s Tail for meaningful learning instead of meaningless pushing. Going back to the use of just Grasp Sparrow’s Tail, Ward-off and Rollback for a simple game of push hands to learn strategy and change.
I read an interview with James Dyson in last week’s The Sunday Times entitled “No Such Thing As A Silly Idea”.
Whether you agree with him or not, his comments can nevertheless be useful to us in learning Tai Chi.
Comment No. 1 – “Knowing what has worked in the past really doesn’t help you at all now. In fact, it does always the opposite. It’s a hindrance.”
Opinion No. 1 – Its a no-brainer to say that the most obvious example is this was when BJJ met the striking arts in UFC and we see strikers being defeated left and right.
However, I will talk about this in the context of Tai Chi instead. The thing about knowledge is that it can be a double edge sword. It is easy to fall into the trap of thinking that we know a lot just because we learned a lot or is learning from a knowledgeable / famous master. However, until we know the boundaries of our knowledge we cannot really say that we know a lot and by extension what we had learned may not be as helpful as we thought.
Nowhere is this more obvious than when I switched to learning the Yang style of Grandmaster Wei Shuren’s lineage. If you look at some of the videos of people playing the forms from GM Wei’s style you might think that in terms of flavor there is not much different though the same techniques are played differently from that in Yang Cheng Fu’s descendants’ style. This typically is the problem of making the mistake of thinking that you can bring your previous learning experience from other Yang styles to GM Wei’s style.
If anything, your previous learning can be a hindrance to learning GM Wei’s style. I had to practically relearn GM Wei’s Tai Chi style from the ground up once I realized that what I had learned from the Yang styles of Cheng Man Ching, Dong family, Yang Sau Chung and Nip Chee Fei was of little help to mastering GM Wei’s style, if not an obstacle.
It is only when I go back to the beginner’s mindset that I could change my physical habits. GM Wei’s style is not just about outer movements but how what you are thinking of can affect the way your body moves and reacts. Once you know what this is you can read the Tai Chi Classics and things that do not make sense will now make a lot of sense.
So Dyson’s comment can be taken in this manner also, that your past is a hindrance to your present and therefore future. This is especially true in today’s fast changing technologies that look set to change a lot of things across many fields of knowledge and industry.
Comment No. 2 – “I think naive curiosity, naive questioning, wrong suggestions, are good ideas.”
One reason why I don’t join many forums is because people that flock together tend to be of the same feathers. They have a tendency to agree with each other, shouting down those that they don’t agree with.
Innovation comes about because of questioning the status quo. If we agree with everything we will still be living in caves and hunting with stones. You will be surprised at how closed minded Tai Chi people are. A number of practitioners have told me that they consider zhanzhuang to be super important. One of my friends even told me zhanzhuang is the secret to mastering Tai Chi.
They are so super assured that zhanzhuang is the way that they have never considered the alternative argument that zhanzhuang is not the way (or not the only way). They never thought to ask me why. They never asked why the Dong family, GM Wei and some masters don’t have zhanzhuang practice yet these masters have superb skills. In fact, I doubt anyone who considers zhanzhuang to be the way can explain how GM Wei did his fajing but for us what zhanzhuang people do for fajing is so obvious that to call it a secret is doing a disservice to those who want to uplift the practice of Chinese internal arts.
Comment No. 3 – An experienced person will only put forward a sensible suggestion, which might work, whereas a native person, or a young person who is unafraid to make mistakes, will ask the wrong question, will make an outrageous suggestion, which might actually be a very good idea.”
I am relatively new to learning FMA. I was taught that we can hold the blade with a forward grip or an ice-pick grip. We could also switch from one grip to the other while we are wielding the blade.
At one point I thought why not hold two blades in one hand? Wouldn’t this eliminate the need to switch from one grip to another if I want to switch the way I am holding the blade? The question why anyone would want to switch grip is another matter.
This is not a new idea. In fact, there is a weapon from the style of Yin baguazhang called Judge’s Pen (goggle it) that sparked off my thinking (past experience can matter sometimes…….) in this direction. I played around with it while holding two knives in one hand. Seems like a good idea.
However, the reality is that unless a real blade is made this way this idea is not practical. Why?
Firstly, a real knife handle may be thicker and oval shaped, making it difficult to hold two knifes in one hand. Secondly, how will you carry the blade in a concealed manner? How will you draw it out quickly when required without cutting yourself? So what seems like a good idea is not a practical idea. But who knows, maybe someone will make this into a practical idea, which begs the question how does a Yin style baguazhang practitioner carry a Judge’s Pen?
Comment No. 4 – “Being very open to every suggestion and not ever saying ‘that’s a silly idea, don’t be so stupid’ – that’s my style. I like the unobvious suggestion…I get very worried when someone says they’re an expert.”
There’s nothing wrong with being an expert. The problem is when their mind is closed even when they are obviously wrong. They want to argue until a corpse can come alive, to use a colorful Chinese saying.
The basis for creativity is to not be afraid to ask what to others would be obvious stupid or even impossible questions. Remember the assumption that things heavier than air can’t fly (Lord Kelvin said that heavier-than-air flying machines are impossible). So for a long time if someone brought up the idea of flying they would be laughed at. Yet birds can fly. So obviously the assumption that things heavier than air cannot fly is not true.
Assumptions can be wrong. What is today correct may also be wrong tomorrow (flat earth versus round earth argument). So it is this way with the argument with zhanzhuang being the secret to developing fajing skills in Tai Chi. I say that this is not true because any beginner can learn to do fajing without having to learn zhanzhuang. They don’t even need to learn forms or to put in years of practice.
There is a difference between being able to use freely (requires years of practice) and being able to do fajing in controlled environment (does not require years of practice, just a few minutes of instruction and tinkering the movements for proof of concept). The latter is proof that it is important to know what you are doing clearly and not be caught up by outdated dogma that is enslaving you.
So in this sense when an expert, someone who proudly tacks a sifu before his name, tells you that you take years to learn how to fajing take it with a few spoonful of salt because it is not true. Even if I don’t tell you the basis of my argument you can figure it out easily with the help of a physics textbook and a partner willing to be your guinea pig. Once you figure it out you will probably slap your head for not seeing it for the simple thing that it is.
A week passed by very quickly. Lesson 2 came and passed for new student.
First a review of Lesson 1. Correction number one – eliminate unnecessary movements in the hands before raising hands in Beginning Posture. Root cause – slight hunched back leading to palms facing unnaturally.
Correction number 2 – hand lead the body in sub-movement 1 of Grasp Sparrow’s Tail, differentiating joint movements and strength usage clearly. Also, how to shift the vertical axis from one side to the other without compromising balance. Mindfulness in left hand grasp and control.
Correction number 3 – fingers in left parry hand at commencement of sub-movement 2 of Grasp Sparrow’s Tail. Control body angling. Importance of positioning to remain offensive even when parrying. Right arm closing movement re-emphasize again the holding hinge concept, aligning the right wrist to body to facilitate neutralizing, closing the posture. How to properly raise the right wrist to form cross with left wrist, passing the imaginary opponent’s right fist to land into space, as you open up a space to enter for your right hand. Again, not to lose balance by unneccessary moving of vertical axis causing sway and tilt. Showed student how to move without causing axis sway and tilt after he tried but could not move if I impose a restraint on his left shoulder to check his vertical axis. Correct placement of right palm on target area and left hand on guard after completion. The how and why of this application, addressing loop holes in posture, how to set up for a follow up movement from the start, possible strikes in this position. Check correct holding of sphere in right arm, sphere holding between left hand and right hand.
Correction number 4 – sphere rotation in Ward-off, control superfluos body turning, how to rotate properly to apply movement as a technique. Left hand curve, wrap, bind and control, contribute to unbalance attack and power issuance. Beware of elbow to body disconnect, define appropriate elbow-body connection.
Correction number 5 – defining the physical path for Rollback in the mind – visualize it, map it, move and feel. How to maintain structure and pressure while relaxing before neutralizing, avoiding collapsing of right arm structure or opening up space for opponent to enter. Proper structure of right arm in Rollback, proper timing to change from Rollback to Press. Mother-son relationship in right arm-left arm movement correlation. Whip palm attack in Rollback, if required. How to use elbow position to control opponent’s left arm when attacking without creating a gap for opponent to counter.
Correction number 6 – changing right arm structure at end of Rollback to beginning of Press. Left arm control – definition, process and applications. How to issue power using momentum from application of stance shifting for instant result, no waiting for years of training to master or having to learn secret qigong method or complicated fajing processes, merely using intuitive method most people already know as they are likely to have performed before at home. Using a spiral movement to neutralize, bind and control before issuing power throgh the same right arm. Single arm power generation for better control and defence; illustration of how facing wrongly in Press and using two hands leave student exposed to a counter.
I just glance at the topic of a Youtube video “Israeli Study of Natural Immunity vs Vaccine” and my immediate thought was natural immunity earns big Pharma nothing but vaccine brings billions and opportunities to earn more in other ways.
This also reminds me of those Tai Chi masters who would sell you that secret Qigong packaged training, that secret meditation practice, the secret small frame fajing form, that secret this, that secret that.
Why can’t they sell you one form that teaches you how to use the techniques, how to push hands, how to fajing, how to meditate and so on?
Cause you earn more by breaking the knowledge up and selling them. That’s why.
Its more exciting for the consumer, I mean student, to know that there is a secret spinal whip, chakra fire or is it water qigong (or maybe call it tummo to sound more exotic, nah that’s Tibetan), tree hugging, tree rooting, bricks hanging from the balls methods that they can salivate after. The more money they pay the more they buy into the secret and defend it even they found out that they have been conned. That’s the psychology of the victim.
Telling a student that he’s got it is a downer. Whatdaya mean I got it? Already? Where? Like a horse he needs a carrot dangled in front of him to chase after cause the fun is in the chase rather than the getting there.
That’s why in big classes they need a common identify, to reinforce the brainwashing cause you know cultish behaviour leads to loyalty even if contrary hard evidence is presented. This is a kind of attachment, a reason why Tai Chi is difficult to learn. You have to let go of your attachment to resistance if you want to be able to flow like water. To be attached means the opponent’s pressure will cause your mind to be stuck and your body to freeze.
That’s why Tai Chi is easy to learn, difficult to master as you have to deprogram your habitual, instinctive reaction to mental and physical stimuli.
This week I restarted teaching Tai Chi. I am taking this one student at a time. I have lost track of time but I am guessing that its at least a year since the last lesson.
This time I changed my teaching approach in that I aim to get a student moving first before finetuning his movements. To do this I held back some details. Its not something I would do in the past but it certainly made it easier to teach a bit faster.
It was all I could do to stop myself from saying more. I kept to straight forward corrections like remember to stretch out the fingers, point the thumb up, thumb touch the center and index point forward to apex, grab-hold-bring to waist level, secure as if pressing a big ball while squeezing a small ball, etc.
Despite the cut down in the number of details it was still not easy for the new student to remember every step in the process. Sometimes its the little things that are easy to forget. The mind just keep forgetting. But never mind, we will just keep at it until all the details fall into place.
Sometimes it is better to just enjoy the learning and keep at the practice rather than to rush it. As long as the student practices regularly while keeping the steps and details in mind he should get it.
In SKD we mostly use simple drills to develop speed, strength, body movement and body intelligence. However, for learning how to change we use short sequences.
When we string together some of these drills and training sequences we have our Training Sequence No. 1. Our training sequence is not a locked down, not allowed to change, type of form.
Instead, we use the training sequence to begin our learning journey. The movements inside can be changed, modified, subtract or added to as our understanding and mastery changes. In this way we don’t have to keep learning more forms to learn new stuff.
The first part of Training Sequence No. 1 teaches basic strategy and change within the movements of the salutation. So when learning the salutation we can consider the usage of the 4 key movements from the aspect of long, mid and close range from striking to control via locking and throwing. We have also designed the movement to be iKali ready in that the techniques of iKali can be plugged into SKD movements easily with little or no need for modification.
The second part of the Training Sequence starts with the learning of how to stand and use the stance to generate power. The power generated is transmitted out through the arms by the use of natural swinging motion. For this learning we have three double arms swinging drills.
We could use just one arm swinging drill but we have three. The reason is because the arm swinging drills also teach basic attacking techniques and how to change between the three swinging strikes. Just before we begin the three swinging drills after the salutation we have a 6-movement sequence that teaches the workings of the 6 harmonies in governing direction when used in striking. This 6-movement sequence is meant to be used together with the three arm swinging movements.
The attributes that we want to develop with the 6-movement sequence and three arm swinging drills is fast, non-stop, circular striking using whipping power generated from the use of hip, waist, leg connection. The arms must be relaxed yet heavy like a whip, moving non-stop like water overcoming an obstacle.
To extend your understanding learn to use these techniques with the movements in the salutation. The salutation sequence has two obvious stepping movement and a hidden stepping. Breakdown the 6-movement sequence and three arm swinging drills into digestible movements and pair them individually or in combination with different parts of the salutation sequence. Drill the breakdowns until you can easily change between them, giving rise to spontaneous sequences that arise from the input you are getting from your training partner.