Crash Course Salient Points

Two cold mornings. Two early mornings. But then the early bird catches the worm.

Enter Alex from Australia who is here for a quick crash course in Tai Chi. I had planned to teach him Beginning Posture, Grasp Sparrow’s Tail and Single.

After the first lesson we had barely started on Grasp Sparrow’s Tail. OK, revised plan to teaching Beginning Posture and Grasp Sparrow’s Tail.

Learning just how to wave the hands in the air can take some effort. However, learning the principles, the details of how to control and move the body accurately takes tremendous effort because it then is not a just a matter of monkey see, monkey do but monkey must use brain power to remember and perform to a script and tune.

Thus, for the serious student who wants to pierce the veil of secrecy it is better to go for quality rather than quantity. The reason is the foundation skills apply throughout the form, application of techniques and push hands.

To help jog the memory we shot a quick video summarizing the salients point when practicing Beginning Posture and Grasp Sparrow’s Tail.

The emphasis is to remember the step-by-step process so that practicing is not about going through the movements but to train the mind to control the body to move in a manner that allows one to have dynamic balance, connect the body throughout and to the ground, configure the body structure for application of techniques and be fajing-ready.

For the beginner the emphasis for the first layer of skill acquirement is to perform each and every movement in compliance to principles, articulate the biomechanics clearly and execute each movement to their natural conclusion before attempting to execute them in a seamless and flowing manner.

In this way the learner is always sure of what he is doing. In this manner he knows what is the standard of performance to strive for. He will also know when his execution is off because then the key parameters will not be complied to. For example, when the placement of the arm is not optimized then one ends up resisting with strength, resulting in inability to neutralize and fajing effortlessly.

At the end Alex asked the one question I had expected him to ask early; that tiny obsession everyone has – fajing.

Fajing today is no longer a big mystery except to those who don’t know anything about biomechanics. In fact, the method to fajing is already built into the movements of Tai Chi. As long as one diligently practices them the ability to fajing effortless will come in time.

For illustraion I used the movement of Press to demonstrate that anyone can learn how to fajing in as little as 5 minutes. That’s right 5 minutes! Of course, I could slap on a lot of distracting and irrelevant stuff like how one must have qigong, knowledge of meridians and so on, and yeah, maybe need to baisi too.

But I’m on the wrong side of 50, every day a step closer to the end and I ain’t wasting no more time perpetuating the BS that is hampering the progress of Tai Chi.

Press provides a clean and clear cut example of the principles of classical mechanics in play. Follow the steps, setup the technique, then at the very last step is the fajing part. All it takes is one simple instruction here and you can send a person flying, maybe not as strongly at first but practice it a few more times and its not impossible to do so.

Its just a matter of put in place the conditions and pulling the power trigger and everything is ready. Then you see clearly the power that comes from the use of acceleration and momentum. Its practically effortless when you do it right and getting it right is not difficult either.

Yeah, I think the effortless part makes an unbeliever of us for no one wants to believe that its actually easy to fajing. Most people love it that its difficult to perform, difficult to attain and filled with mystery. That’s the myth of fajing. The reality is fajing is physics in application.

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.

Basic Pole Gung 2

The second thing we can learn from the Arrow Pole posture is the use of triangulation to focus our power when handling the pole.

I have added a few lines above to give a basic idea of what this means. This is not exhaustive. The actual triangulation is more complicated than this.

A series of principles are applied in order to triangulate properly. For example, we can use a body closing movement to triangulate.

Add to this the principle of the six harmonies and the plot quickly becomes complex. This is why we must drill Arrow Pole a lot so that we can add in the principles layer by layer.

If we try to dump all the principles in at one go the information will overwhelm and confuse rather than enlighten.

Basic Pole Gung 1

The Arrow Pole posture can teach us a thing or two about power.

A simple but important principle is that of perpendicularity.

Perpendicularity calls for our body to be at right angle to the pole when it is held horizontally in the striking motion known as Arrow Pole.

Perpendicularity enables us to position the pole in a stable manner. This in turn allows us to line up the body behind the pole properly to deliver a powerful thrust.

Another Pole Exercise

This week my student began another solo drill to develop an essential attack and defense technique.

This is basically a covering and uncovering motion. The drill is also good for developing whole body power to generate power through a sudden, small movement.

Below are some key pointers when doing the drill :-

Dim View of Dim Mak

Is Dim Mak for real?

None of my Tai Chi teachers ever talked of dim mak. Does this mean its not real?

I once got the opportunity to meet George Dillman, that Karate chap who was at the forefront of the movement to popularize dim mak, but he didn’t turn up. As it turned out he was not even registered for stay at the hotel where we were supposed to meet.

Years later I found out that before our meeting Dillman had demonstrated to the Shaolin guys and they showed him up. Bummer.

The next time I saw dim mak for real was when Master Cheong Fook taught me the dim mak forms. He explained that it was more of a delayed death touch in that you strike at a certain point, cause a blood clot and tomorrow the opponent dies.

Except there is a little bit of a logic issue here. In the meantime, if the opponent is still moving does it not mean that he still has the opportunity to continue hitting you?

So unless you can hit the person so hard or in such a manner that you can KO him on the spot then dim mak wouldn’t be of much use. But then if you want to KO a person wouldn’t the time spent learning dim mak be better spent on perfecting say Mike Tyson’s devastating hook punch?

I mean there are a lot of videos of Iron Mike knocking his opponents out so there are tons of proof that it works. But I have not seen any master actually do it against someone who was actively fighting back. And best of all, you don’t have to remember what the points are, their names, points to hit in sequence, and time to hit what points.

Master Cheong was famous for his fighting ability. However, it wasn’t for his ability to use dim mak even though he was giving me a demonstration of how it would work. No, he didn’t knocked me out. He just showed that there is an actual logic to it by demonstrating that if a certain point was touched it would affect another part of the body, kinda like if you depress a water hose on one end the flow on the other end would be slower.

If dim mak is that effective why have we not seen masters of dim mak get into a ring to show that it can work on a resisting opponent? Or maybe its a case of it would only work on a believing, complying dummy.

Master Lo Man Kam, the nephew of Ip Man, once explained why dim mak would not work. He said that its one thing to hit a particular spot on a non moving arm and another to hit it on a moving arm.

In the meantime, I would give a benefit of a doubt, a wee bit to those who say it can work, but I am not holding my breath waiting for a convincing demo against a resisting opponent.

P.S. – I wrote this after reading the account of someone who recently attended a dim mak seminar by a famous master. The cronies tried to work the dim mak magic on the attendee but it didn’t affect him. Maybe they need to brainwash him first………

Go Slow to Go Fast

Why do we put emphasis on form training?

I can think of two simple reasons :-

a) Form is about the cultivation, maintenance and putting in place appropriate principles at the right time during a sequence of changing movements, which through a period of time naturalizes, automates and allows us to call up at will easily the right principles to apply

b) It provides opportunity to cultivate and maintain key principles in great detail during movement without the distraction of pressure. The logic is that if you can’t perform without pressure, you can certainly not perform under pressure

If you don’t understand this logic you will see form as useless training. Form training is unfortunately not something you can breeze through. It takes time to see beyond the obvious, to tease out those things that you read about in the Tai Chi Classics but do not understand.

You do not understand not because it is complicated but because you have not trained to the point where you can understand what is written. Form training is one of those things where you want to rush through but you just can’t rush through. Try running from Point A to Point B as fast as you can. Now describe what was on your left side as you were running from Point A to Point B.

Did you have any problem describing in detail what was on your left side? How about describing in greater detail? Why do you think you are not able to describe better?

So this is the issue with form training. It takes time. My teacher said that time is the real price we pay for mastery.

I try to teach my student how to do a 4-step neutralize, trap, realign and issue technique. Its a simple, short move, nothing fancy, no leaping in the air and turning 270 degrees. But its not easy to do it quickly, under strong pressure.

Yet, the same movement is readily found in Rollback, in that innocuous little arm movement that most people don’t pay attention to. Yet, if you practice the form long enough to flesh out the details you will eventually reach a point where you will wonder about this movement.

There is a Zen story about the faster you want to learn something, the slower your learning will be. The moral is if you want to learn faster, try learning slower.