Insight 3.8 – Everything, All At Once

1. INTRODUCTION

Stand (like) Stake or ZhanZhuang (站桩) as it is popularly known is an exercise in which you stand still. In the few Tai Chi styles that I have learned only one particular style had ZhanZhuang.

This was the lineage of Yang Sau Chung —> Chu Kin Hung —> Richard Wong. None of the other Tai Chi styles (Cheng Manching style, Dong family, Nip Chee Fei, GM Wei Shuren) that I learned taught ZhanZhuang.

2. DOING ZHANZHUANG

I don’t remember much of what I learned in ZhanZhuang. I remember that the first posture taught was standing with feet parallel and both arms in front as if embracing a ball. Later we added three or was it four more postures.

I forgot how long we had to stand but if I had to make a guess it was probably about 30 minutes before we moved on to doing the form and push hands. We had our posture adjusted if it was out. Mostly it was a battle to keep the posture correct and boredom at bay.

3. GETTING SOMETHING OUT OF IT

Once I left this Yang style I tried to do ZhanZhuang on my own. Frankly speaking, to me doing ZhanZhuang was boring. After picking up the Dong style I stopped doing ZhanZhuang.

Three reasons for dropping ZhanZhuang :-

a) I didn’t get much out of ZhanZhuang in terms of skill improvement

b) In Dong style my teacher said we do not do ZhanZhuang

c) Proof of the pudding is in the eating

4. DON’T BELIEVE WHAT YOU ARE TOLD

My approach to learning is to give the benefit of a doubt to what I am told is the correct, the best, the ultimate, the secret, the whatever other accolade you can think of to heap on the method you are selling or praising.

Some methods are good, some not so. Some are good for the short term and others for longer term learning. Some are good methods ruined by bad explanations.

The best way to check out something is to try it. If it does not work out it may mean the following :-

a) The method sucks
b) The method has potential but the teacher sucks
c) You didn’t practice it long enough

For point (c) the problem is how long do I need to practice it before I give up. This is where having a standard of performance helps. Or in its absence a teacher who can act as a reference of the high standard that I aspire to.

5. RED PILL MOMENT

The decision you make today can affect the future outcome of your learning journey. If I did not walk out of the first Dong style I went to check out I might have ended up learning it. As it is, I saw it, didn’t like it, turned around and walked back the same way I came up the stairs.

The first Dong style I saw didn’t inspire confidence and I nearly bailed on checking out the second Dong style. But I didn’t cancel the appointment. Yes, for the first Dong style I just walked off the street and had a look. No appointment necessary. For the second Dong style I had to call the teacher and made an appointment to meet him in his office in the Central Business District.

One thing led to another including meeting the grandson of the founder of Dong style. This sparked my interest to learn from the teacher I met. I did so…………….. a year later after I saved enough from working a full time job and part time job. This was the first time learning Tai Chi would cost me an arm and nearly a leg if I had not negotiate for a lower fee.

Two years on I caught up with my Yang Sau Chung style teacher. His father was still learning from him. His father was a veteran of Cheng Manching style and had heavy arms, doing push hands like he was turning a stone mill with great strength.

I had a problem doing push hands with the father previously. He could stick and adhere well, applying strong pressure that made it difficult to neutralize. But this time was different. This time I came off two years of constant push hands training with my Dong style teacher.

Most Tai Chi class would spend a lot of time doing forms and very little time on push hands. My Dong teacher would spend half the time on getting the long form correct and the other 50% of the time on push hands. Because of this I spent a lot of time doing push hands with my teacher as I was his only student.

So here I was two years on facing the father. He piled on the pressure as soon as the pushing began. However, this time I had a way to deal with his pressure. The most surprising part was when I could neutralize his strong push and push him back. That was my red pill moment, realizing that I was correct not to pursue doing ZhanZhuang.

There is a postscript to this story. Many more years later I heard that my Yang Sau Chung teacher and his father attended a seminar given by the Grandmaster Dong I met. Apparently, the father tried to test GM Dong without warning and was pushed hard into the wall, banging his head against it.

The son was not happy and wanted to show up GM Dong. The son fell prey to GM Dong’s superb plucking technique (I had seen him do it against a partner putting up strong resistance), losing his balance forward, falling and hitting his cheek against the floor. This story was told to me by my Cheng Manching style teacher. Later I met up with my Yang Sauchung teacher and he was very upset with GM Dong, complaining about something but never explaining clearly what the grouse was.

6. RIGHT OR WRONG

You might think that I am anti-ZhanZhuang based on my experience. In a way I am but I constantly evaluate what I know and conclude. One good argument against ZhanZhuang is that in a fight you never stand still, you always move.

So what is the point of learning to stand still when you could spend the same time learning to move. This was the argument my Wing Chun teacher gave in arguing against the need for ZhanZhuang (note – in his Wing Chun style (its an old style, much older than the popular Ip Man style) there’s no ZhanZhuang training).

My point of contention is simply that we can look cool when standing still. The problem is when we have to move we have a problem keeping the body together as what we had trained in ZhanZhuang.

So whose argument is right and whose argument is wrong? Or could it be that we are looking at it from the wrong perspective? The hint came when I read that Yang Chengfu when doing the form would pause at certain postures and stand for a while.

7. ALL AT ONCE

In the light of what I now know about the practice of Tai Chi particularly after more than two decades on GM Wei’s Tai Chi this is what I think of ZhanZhuang :-

a) Getting a beginner to stand still is pointless; it is better to work on moving.

b) Teach the beginner what he needs to know about moving properly. Get him to slow down to a pace at which he can move as per the requirements. Later, he may need to move even slower in order to nail certain refinements in moving.

c) When the movements are properly coordinated and harmonized there will be moments at which the body feels as if it is moving as one unit. You would normally feel this at a slower speed. At a slow speed which approximates zero velocity this is when you would feel as if your entire body is moving all at once.

This is what I feel is the critical lesson from doing ZhanZhuang – to align the body not so much by not moving but by keeping relatively still so as to facilitate learning how to move the different parts of the body together. For those of us who don’t do ZhanZhuang we are simply approaching this from another perspective. We move until we can move in such a manner that if we slow down to near zero velocity it looks as if we are not moving.

For example, when we do the Single Whip motion in GM Wei’s 22-form at the conclusion of the technique it looks as if we are standing still to do ZhanZhuang. However, this is not what we are doing. Instead, we are still moving but we are focused on using the intent while adjusting and moving the body in a very intricate way that allows us to prime the five body bows all at once. You can say that even as we stand still our mind is moving.

8. SUMMARY

When we go through the 22-form we are moving, flowing like a river. If you study the movement of water you would know that water does not flow at a constant velocity. Instead, the movement of water can slow down or speed up.

Amidst the body movements our mind is focused on the steps on how to actualize and fulfil the principles of the Tai Chi Classics. The mind is relatively still when compared to the body.

Similarly when the entire body is moving there are parts that are not moving a lot relatively. When the speed of the various parts of the body is synchronized with each other the entire body feels as if it is moving at the same overall speed. If you now slow down this overall speed to near zero velocity you approximate the ZhanZhuang condition of standing still but you are not still.

You can never be still because physics requires you to move your body in order to transform potential energy to kinetic energy. Without this you do not have the ability to fajin. When you can move in a very refined manner it will look as if you are not moving when you are doing fajin but this is not true. You are still moving but you are moving in ways that fulfil the requirement of the laws of physics. This is how I view ZhanZhuang.

Insight 6.6 – The Five Bows

To possess strong, powerful, penetrating force you must seek to develop the attribute of outside flexible, inside inflexible which traditionally is referred to as hard-soft (剛柔).

This is consistent with how a bow stores and releases energy to power the flight of an arrow through the air, yet possessing penetrating power on impact with the target.

As a 21st generation Japanese longbow maker, Kanjuro Shibata, explained in a documentary “Why Japanese Longbows Are So Expensive” on the role of the inner core of the longbow known as nakauchi which is sandwiched between two layers of bamboo and why the nakauchi is harder than the outer bamboo strip :-

If you make a bow out of only flexible materials it bends well when you draw the bow, but force to return to the original position is weak.

Japanese bows are made by combining inflexible and flexible materials and by combining bamboo and wood in this way, we can take advantage of their respective strengths.

In the human body there are 5 bows, namely :-

a) Arm bow X 2
b) Leg bow X 2
c) Spinal bow X 1

In order to train the body to behave like a bow one must understand how to open up the body, stretch it out to make it strong yet inflexible like the nakauchi. Then the arms are trained to be supple so as to be able to go with and bend with the opponent’s force, receiving it into your body’s bow string, load it onto the body bow that is used, and then return the opponent’s strength to send him off, or impart a penetrating force to injure him.

When there is no opportunity to make contact to borrow the opponent’s strength then you load your own striking limb onto the relevant body bow and launch the striking limb like an arrow.

Insight 2.4 – None to Some to Many

1. INTRODUCTION

Learning is a process of adding layers of skill to build up your expertise. In learning Tai Chi we progress from a state of not know anything to knowing something (從無到有). This is normally termed the beginner level.

As you keep drilling you become more familiar with your form. As you move through the learning you begin to accumulate knowledge and experiences. This intermediate level is where you know a lot more (從有到繁).

At the advanced level it is common to learn the high level skills of an art, stuff like secret skills, secret applications, secret forms, secret breath work, and so on. However, in our Tai Chi the advanced level is nothing but the basic level stuff refined over the years.

Instead of accumulating more and more knowledge what we do is to shave off the excess, the deadwood movements that are out of synch or do not comply with the principles. We consolidate the key principles, refine them until instead of many principles they subsume to one overall vital principle (從繁到空).

Insight 2.3 – Practice Anytime, Everywhere

1. INTRODUCTION

Time is a scarce commodity. There never seems to be enough of it in a day. Wake up, go to work, come home and at the end of the day just a few hours left in the day to do other things unless I go to bed way after the witching hour.

I miss those days where I have the time to go to class from 6.30 to 7.30 am, then have breakfast with the Tai Chi class gang and Master Leong until after 8 am, rush home and go to work by 9 am.

Then back home at 5 pm or even earlier on some days. The evenings would see me in the Old Town section at Tailor Cheong’s shop, hanging there for a few hours with Senior Ah Leong and Wanton Noodle Seller Ah Choo; both masters of Ngok Gar Kuen, learning this little known art.

Those were the bygone era when the days and nights were long. A time of little distractions with no internet, no smartphone. Today there’s too much information, too many things to do, too many books to read, videos to watch, simply too many distractions. If you want to develop a skill you need the time to train, study and reflect.

2. WORK TIME

The biggest chunk of time today is taken up by work which in a modern, always plugged-in society rarely means 9-to-5. That email, text message popping up is a distraction, demanding instant attention. And when you deal with the western countries as well their morning is our evening.

That’s why I don’t always switch on the data line. When I do training I just do training. I don’t want that message notification distracting me. You can try to ignore it but the more you ignore the notification the more you will end up wondering about it, wondering if its something important

So the best thing to do is put the smartphone far away if you can. Or flip it over, have the screen facing down. Know that the data line is off and you can check for message once you have put in a certain number of reps or training time. Until then put 100% of your focus on the training. Be in the now!

3. LEARNING CHALLENGE

Learn. Practice. Reflect. Study. Refine.

Do it. Do it again. Then do it again and again.

The 22-form is short but demanding to practice. Learning it can be challenging if you are not used to remembering a ton of verbal instructions. Yes, it can give you a headache in the beginning and you will keep forgetting the instructions. It is just a matter of working at it until you can remember the information.

4. PRACTICE CHALLENGE

My teacher said the 22-form is easy to learn, difficult to practice. What he meant is that the challenge lies in reconciling what you thought you know about the verbal instructions and what they actually mean in practice and application.

For example, you think you know what relax (sung, ) means because you feel that you are soft in form practice and in pushing hands. However, in the context of GM Wei’s art sung carries with it a more precise definition, what we call in economics the necessary and sufficient conditions for something to be true.

In the context of our Tai Chi to be soft (rou, ) means we must be sung as a necessary condition. The sufficient condition for relax is disperse (san, ). Thus, to be soft the necessary and sufficient conditions for being soft to occur is Sung and San (松散) which we typically denote as Sung-San.

In this sense when we do our Tai Chi we do not just be Sung. Instead, we must be Sung and San at the same time. This is because the causation for the condition of Sung to occur is San.

5. LEARNING EXAMPLE

We first learn Sung and San in the Beginning Posture (起式). In fact, the Beginning Posture introduces us to the 13 key attributes of our Tai Chi (refer Insight 4.2 – Basics). Running through them is the requirement for Sung-San.

For instance, it is necessary to have the Bell Body (身如鐘) because you cannot create this body structure without Sung-San. As such, we pay close attention to the process of how to perform and achieve Sung-San. Then and only then can the attributes truly be achieved.

In the beginning we learn about Sung-San as a theory. Why is Sung-San so important? How does it work? How does it differentiate our approach to Tai Chi as compared to other fellow Yang styles? What is the underlying principle governing Sung-San? How does Sung-San relate to the ability to apply Fajin? These are examples of how we learn about Sung-San.

6. FROM THEORY TO PRACTICAL

Knowing about the theory is one thing. The more important consideration is how to bridge the gap between theory and practical. This is the part that makes the learning interesting.

This is also the part where the not serious students will start to drop out once they begin the learning and realized that they have bitten more than they can chew. This is also where if you are in a hurry to master Tai Chi then you would reevaluate your choice of interest.

If you stay then you are in for a fantastic learning journey, the likes of which I have not encountered in the other Yang styles that I have learned before. You learn the instructions on how to use the intent to trigger the physical movements. You learn what is meant to be internal, why we need to have a separation between mind and body. Then off you go, taking a leap into the rabbit hole.

7. OBSESSION

You must practice the 22-form as if it is a lifelong obsession, an obsession to discover the implications of the principles governing the art.

This obsession is not just a 5 minutes practice a day or every few days. An obsession is where you spend a lot of time practicing the art, thinking about your practice, challenging what you thought you have learned versus what you have actually grasped.

The ideal is to train for 8 hours a day. If you cannot do so then at least 2 hours in the morning, an hour in the afternoon and 3-4 hours in the evening. Or worse come to worse try to do 2-3 hours in the evening.

I understand that for many this is difficult. So you do the best that you can. When you cannot afford big blocks of time then you steal a moment here and there to practice. This is where I like the Beginning Posture because to us Beginning Posture is not just about raising and lowering the hands.

Instead, Beginning Posture teaches the formulation of the key attributes. So if you are at the bus stop waiting for the next bus you can practice Beginning Posture mentally because the entire chunk of instructions is about how to visualize. Part of Beginning Posture involves moving the hands (the part where the 3-Chi Rings (三道氣圈) are formed) but you can practice this part without moving your hands; just visualize your hands moving instead of actually moving them.

If you are sitting in the bus you can also practice Beginning Posture sitting down. Or if the seats are full then practice Beginning Posture mentally while standing up. If you are driving and need to pay attention to the traffic you can focus on doing Sung-San. There are so many ways you can practice anytime, anywhere. Don’t be afraid to try different ways of practicing.

8. SUMMARY

Using your intention takes practice. If you visualize well then qualia will follow. Feel the sensations. They will help you to progress.

Tai Chi as a physical exercise does not require lifelong learning. However, Tai Chi as a mental and physical exercise is a lifelong journey. The more you venture along this path the more you will discover.

Tai Chi is not a team sport. It is a lonely journey that few can last the distance because it is demanding of your time. My teacher said the true cost of learning Tai Chi is not the amount of fees paid but the time put into it (economists can put a dollar value on it by treating it as an opportunity cost).

My teacher also said that to master Tai Chi you must focus on doing it and nothing but it. It does not mean you cannot learn other arts. It just means that if you do not focus you will never get the essence, forever not understanding it properly.

If you want to do other arts by all means do so but do it after you have grasped the art and mastered it. The advantage of this is that you will be able to use your foundation to help you to learn other arts.

For example, training how to move in a minimal, precise manner will help you to acquire a quiet eye. With a quiet eye you will have better observation skills, seeing things with better clarity, enabling you to focus on the non-obvious but more critical parts of a technique. This will help you to learn something new faster.

With the passage of time your devotion to attention honed from training anytime, anywhere will pay dividends. You will be able to do every attribute all at once. Then you will be able to use the techniques fast.

Insight 2.1 – Fixed vs Flexible

1. INTRODUCTION

In Tai Chi we learn the techniques by learning them through a form. You can think of a form as a physical textbook containing a collection of techniques strung is a certain arrangement and sequence imparting lessons in coordination, timing, biomechanics, and so on. Sometimes a form can be thought of as a form of shadow boxing.

However, a common criticism of form learning is that it is unrealistic training because no one fights in exactly the way a form would lay out the sequences of techniques. A form may also breed inflexibility in moving.

2. TEXTBOOK LEARNING

Learning a form is not simply a matter of remembering the techniques in their order. Instead, form training is much more than that. If we do not go deep enough into form training then form training has little value.

A form is a reference textbook, one that we constantly review and revisit to improve our understanding of the breath and width of the lessons contained within whether obvious or hidden. We can track our learning progress by comparing our performance and understanding as time goes by.

Suffice to say your performance of a technique in Year 1 should not be the same as that in Year 10. There should be changes in how you do a movement. The changes could be cosmetic and the changes could be deep. A beginner’s rendition of the same technique as a seasoned practitioner may look the same outwardly, however, the veteran would have a certain “it” in his movements, the “it” of which is the expression of the attributes and characteristics of the style being demonstrated.

3. PERCEPTION PROBLEM

When you first see a style such as Tai Chi your perception would be that of a soft style. Is this true? What you see, what you feel in the early stages of learning and your understanding years on will be different if you train diligently.

Perception is a problem of seeing things as they are. We see a technique, we imitate it, perhaps even try it on a compliant partner and think we understand it. However, things are not always as they are. This is the problem of perception. What we think is, is not always it.

4. LONG VS SHORT

A short form is a condensed version of a long form. It meets the needs of the modern society’s time starved practitioner. The other benefit of a short form is that you can practice it a few more times in the same duration of time that you would spend going through a long form that is about 4 times the length of a short form.

For a form with complex lessons within it the 22-form is a good form to begin one’s journey in GM Wei’s Tai Chi. You could go for a longer form but struggle to go through the many more movements in a long form. Sometimes not biting off more than we can chew makes for better digestion.

5. HOW WE LEARN

Most of us learn a form by imitation, basically monkey see, monkey do even if there are verbal instructions. We struggle to see, to copy what is shown. Then we try out on our own and we struggle to remember. Our mistakes are pointed out, we try to correct them, probably correcting only some of them properly and many not, and many more not corrected.

As time goes on we remember better, we flow better and think we know what we are doing. Pass a grading test and you can move on to the next form. Many more forms learned later and we end up being a collector of forms.

We can remember the forms but we are not doing it full justice. We basically wave our hands in the air, we think they have meaning but our movements betray our mastery. We can see a disparity between our movements and our teacher’s but we accept that this is the state of affair and life goes on.

6. ONE FORM

Practicing one form can be a bore. This would be the case if you are just going through the motions. Not so if you are mentally working through the principles.

If anything the 22-form makes for stimulating practice. The form may be short but the search to reconcile knowing, understanding and mastering makes for an exciting journey through the years.

You keep working on the same one form over and over again. As you become more familiar with the movements your performance will become smoother. When you are able to successfully integrated the 13 attributes (refer to Insight 4.2 – Basics) into the form the flavor of your movements will change yet again. This is a long term learning process. You can try to rush it but some things just takes time.

7. THE DOORWAY

The successful partial infusion of the 13 attributes into your performance will bring you to the doorway of mastery. To enter it you need to integrate all the 13 attributes properly into each and every technique in the 22-form.

Once you are through the doorway you begin again, this time to go beyond your understanding of the integrated 13 attributes. At this stage you can play the same techniques differently each time, not just physically but with emphasis on different principles.

It would not be wrong for you to play the form more freely by switching and substituting a different technique in the original sequence. You could also swap around the order of the six routines of the 22-form. Consider these as lessons to check and test your understanding.

This is when you go beyond being fixed and becoming flexible. This is when a form is no longer a form, where your practice can be on doing the same technique moving along a straight line or turning to face different directions or even doing the technique in a small space.

When you reach here you can pick up the 37-form or the long form if desired. You may realize that despite the different arrangements the attributes, the characteristics, the principles, the strategies remain the same.

8. BEING FREE

The 22-form is a means to an end. Do not become obsessed with it. You put time into it for the skills that you learn and not for boasting rights.

A form not practiced properly is like a book half read or skipped through. You know some, you know so many more not.

To be free of the form make it your slave and not be its slave. The key is consistent and diligent practice to uncover its lessons and make them become part of you.

Insight 6.1 – Physics

1. INTRODUCTION

Force generation in Tai Chi is a function of the use of biomechanics consistent with the laws of physics. The core basis for force generation is the conversion of potential to kinetic energy and vice versa.

How to convert potential energy to kinetic energy in a recurring manner, a constant process of store and release is a topic that is studied physically when you practice the 22-form.

2. LEARNING

Various mechanisms strewn throughout the form whether in the form of an actual physical motion or mental imagery is to train the use of intent in tandem with biomechanical actions to generate force.

An example of this would be the palm strike at the end of Brush Knee, Twist Step whereby :-

a) Physical motion – the body moves towards the arm to initiate the potential energy storing motion. Then the hand comes out to strike. This is powered by kinetic energy which has been converted from the stored up potential energy.

b) Mental motion – since we move at a slow pace when practicing Tai Chi this makes it difficult to initiate a sudden shock force through the physical palm strike as this requires the ability to suddenly accelerate the arm and perform the strike like a whip.

Why we avoid doing this is because to do so would be turning this into a fast form practice. We would also be missing out on other ways of training such as the use of imagery to optimize the speed for moving the striking hand from Point A to Point B.

3. ENERGETIC FORCES

In GM Wei’s Yang style Tai Chi we study six fundamental energetic forces (,,,,, ) that is augmented by additional two forces (,) for a total of eight energetic forces. These forces can be represented by mental spherical lines outside the body that tracing the path of the particular force in space between the point of origin of the force and the convergent point that the energetic forces are targeted at. Yes, you read this correctly – forces. Not force. Forces.

We normally read of how Peng Jing is used to fajin. When we do fajin we use not just Peng Jin but An Jin and Ji Jin together; at the same time (we call this Jin grouping as Peng An Ji (掤按擠); the other grouping being Cai Lie Lu (采列捋)). The term for this mixing of energetic forces is Blending Energy Method (混合勁法).

We use a trio of forces instead of a singular force because this makes it more difficult for the opponent to counteract your force when they are coming from three different directions simultaneously. When you add in the augmented forces you can have a total of four or five forces directed at one at the opponent.

Insight 4.2 – Basics

1. INTRODUCTION

The fundamentals for practicing GM Wei’s Tai Chi reside in the inseparable internal-external mind-body attributes known as Internal Power Theory (内功理法) as listed below :-

a) Crown (所謂懸頂)
b) Eyes Spirit (眼神)
c) Armpits (所謂虚腋)
d) Elbows (肘墜腰圈)
e) Convex Wrist (鼓腕)
f) Energy Source (勁源)
g) 3-Chi Rings (三道氣圈)
h) Bell Body (身如鐘)
i) 2-4 Points (身中垂直線與二四點)
j) Bell Hammer (身中垂直線鐘錘)
k) Chest Character Ten (胸前十字)
l) Use of 3-Passes (三關的運用)
m) Fist, Palm, Hook (拳, 掌, 勾)

2. PRACTICE

We learn how to do the 22-form with the 13 attributes from the first day. The learning of the 13 attributes are inserted throughout the form to make it easier for a beginner to learn in bits and pieces instead of one overwhelming chunk. It takes time, a long time and much practice, to becoming familiar and more important, to extract the understanding and insight as to what the 13 attributes mean in terms of the performance and application of our Tai Chi.

In practicing the 22-form we should know how to move exactly, what principles and which attributes we are working on. There should not be any movement that is without a guiding intent. If you practice in this manner you will understand how the 13 attributes when put together transform our techniques into movements bearing the hallmark characteristics of our Yang style.

3. DISCUSSION

Below is a brief discussion on the 13 attributes from the perspective of how I learned them. For a more detailed treatment of the subject you should refer to the book on the 22-form by GM Wei entitled “Yang Family True Transmission : Authentic Yang Style Tai Chi Chuan” (楊家眞傳 : 楊式太極拳述真)

i) Crown (所謂懸頂)

The head is upright as if suspended from the ceiling (懸頂). This is achieved by gently tucking in the chin so as to bring the back of the neck towards the back of the collar. The feeling is as if your crown is pushing upwards (虛領頂勁). The adjustment of the head is part of the process of adhering to the requirement of the 3-Passes (三關的運用).

An additional benefit of this requirement is that it will force your eyes to look constantly ahead otherwise you will lose the head suspension feeling which happens when you look at the ground. This is a habit common to beginners. They feel insecure as to where their feet are landing so they have the urge to look down.

In our training we must control the urge to look down. Instead of looking at the feet to know where they are learn to feel instead. It will not be easy but if you keep working at it you will eventually get rid of this habit.

From the perspective of combat looking down at your feet is a bad habit because you are momentarily taking your eyes off the opponent. When we practice the 22-form we keep our eyes on an imaginary opponent at all times.

I can understand why this point is not properly understood by practitioners. This is because without a training partner to act as the opponent in front of them they do not feel the threat of an imminent attack if they fail to keep their eyes peeled for it.

I see this habit also during push hands practice. The best way to fix this problem is to do it right from the first day of learning the 22-form. The teacher can only nag the student so many times during training. So the onus is on the student to want to fix this problem and constantly check himself (or herself) during practice whether in class or at home.

I am guessing that the threat posed by an opponent is not felt so keenly in solo form practice or in doing push hands hence the tendency to keep forgetting not to look down. In weapons practice this point is easily understood because a mistake resulting in accidental contact is painful.

This point is emphasized a lot in Shindo Muso Ryu Jojutsu which I once learned in the afternoon on Saturday in between my kitchen shift work. My teacher, Sensei Maloney, would say to keep our eyes on the opponent at all times. We do this when practice the 12 basic techniques as well as when going through the katas.

If that was not difficult enough Sensei Maloney told our training partner to keep going when moving linearly across the room while feeding us a strike to counter. The training partner was not to stop when he saw our backs reaching the wall. We have to know ourselves when we reach the wall and we do the stopping. If we don’t stop then our training partner would keep going, smashing us into the wall. In this way we learn to quickly gaze behind us and assess how far we have before we begin the partner drill, mentally keeping track of the remaining distance as the drill progressed.

Once Sensei Maloney brought an actual samurai sword to class. He practiced with each of us in turn with his sword. His reasoning was that an actual sword would give us a better sense of the threat then when our training partner used a wooden sword. He was right. On seeing the real sword we became more attentive and wary of the training partner during the practice.

If you watch any Youtube video on Japanese koryu systems particularly the partner katas you can observe that both participants never take their eyes off each other from the start of the kata until the end. The sense of enemy is always present on heightened alert. This also applies when a solo kata is practiced.

For example, Japanese Iaijutsu katas are normally solo forms. Watch the eyes of the practitioner in any Youtube video; observe how his eyes are always looking at an imaginary opponent from drawing the sword out, cutting and thrusting, shaking the blood off the blade and returning the sword to the scabbard. Never once would the Iaijitsu practitioner look anywhere except where he should be looking.

ii) Eyes Spirit (眼神)

In Tai Chi the eyes see what our mind is visualizing. Think of it as having a VR headset on that is playing out a scenario with you reacting to whatever it is that you are seeing. Except in this case the headset software is our imagination playing out the set of instructions on how to play the form and the headset the screen in our mind.

As you become more and more proficient in visualization your body starts to feel what you are imagining and your body reacts to the mental stimuli. When the visualization begins to feel more real that is when even your eyes begin to see outside the mind at the space in front of you, seeing the imaginative examples being played out in space as if they are real and you react to it by seeing and feeling them affect you.

An external observer would see that your eyes are animated, having a spirited look, reacting to something that only you can see when you are going through the form. This is why sometimes it is helpful to practice by sitting down and not moving, totally relying on your visualization to go through the movements in your mind whilst carefully feeling how the imagery is affecting your body. Bringing imagination to reality is the key that enables to various fajin models to be applied.

iii) Armpits (所謂虚腋)

The arms are held away from the body such that it is as if they are not held too far from the body nor too close to the body. The correct way to hold the arms away from the body is to imagine that you are trying to use your upper arm to clamp a hot bun to your body.

I do not expect that you will actually try to experiment clamping an actual hot bun to your body because you risk burning your skin. So if you really want to try it do wear a shirt with thicker fabric to protect your body and upper arm.

An alternate way to understand what this means is to hold a hot bun between two hands (imagining that one hand is the body and the other hand as the upper arm). Since the bun is hot you will not be able to hold it firmly with constant pressure between both hands cause the heat will burn the palms. So you have to hold it gingerly, alternating between holding and not holding the bun so that when a part of the hand cannot bear the heat you quickly transfer the contact part to another part of the hand.

This attribute is essential to keeping the arms away from the body so that the qualia is like an inflated ball allowing you to use the arms out like a strung bow. However, at the same time your arms are not pushing away from the body causing you to resist the opponent’s strength which would violate one of the principles of the Tai Chi Classics.

iv) Elbows (肘墜腰圈)

However we position our elbows whether near or away from the body, high or low they must always be connected to the Waist Chi Ring.

This mind-body connection is a way to keep the arms connected to the body. It also allows us to sink the elbow without having to keep it close to the body to physically sink it.

v) Convex Wrist (鼓腕)

I had previously translated the term for our wrist structure as Elongated Wrist. I think the more accurate term should be Convex Wrist since the illustration for this in GM Wei’s book on the 22-form clearly shows the outline of a convex line on top of the wrist.

Sometimes our Convex Wrist structure has been compared to the Fair Maiden Hand structure in Cheng Man Ching style Tai Chi. However, I would say that other than the similarity in outer appearance our Convex Wrist is not the same as the Fair Maiden Hand. This is based on my learning of the Cheng style in 1977 and GM Wei’s style beginning in 1997.

In writing this section I had a look at Benjamin Lo’s translation of Cheng Man Ching’s book particularly the description of the Open Hand aka Fair Maiden Hand and nothing much of significance is written on it. By comparison, GM Wei’s book has a detailed explanation on the wrist structure.

The importance of the wrist structure is that it enables us to achieve a necessary and sufficient level of sung (鬆開) that is necessary to enable the release of internal force through the hand. This is possible by ensuring that the hand structure is not an obstruction to the release of force by attaining a condition as if the hand no longer exist and in its place the end of the hand is like a stump as described by GM Wei by the use of the phrase “no more hand, wrist is like a bare stump” (沒有手,腕是禿肢).

Another way to look at this is by thinking of our hand-wrist-forearm section as a pipe. If the wrist is bent then the flow of water will be choked. Similarly, if the inner part of the pipe is full of sludge built up the flow of water will also be obstructed, slowing it down.

The practice of Convex Wrist is to maximize the flow of energy by removing the choke point of a bent hand-wrist-forearm and clearing up the energetic block posed by the muscular tension sludge of the arm. With the right mental focus any beginner can do this even on the first lesson. What they cannot do is to hold on to the skill or apply it freely in push hands practice. That requires a longer period of practice until the phase of “no more hand, wrist is like a bare stump” is attained.

vi) Energy Source (勁源)

The Energy Source is a concept that is unique to GM Wei’s Yang style lineage. This refers to the point of origin of internal power hence the term “Energy () Source ()”.

In the human body there exists two Energy Source. The first one is at the base of the middle finger and the second one is on the back in between the scapula.

The training of handling the small Chi sphere (小氣球) in the hand is for the purpose of learning how to issue force in a sudden instant using the hand. This method of changing between palm to fist and vice versa is a unique training method of our Yang style.

The method of using the second Energy Source on the back relies on the use of the Open-Close (開合) mechanism. This also relates to the training of the Arm Bows. The different method of moving the arms in this style as compared to that in the more popular style propagated by the Yang Chengfu style is to use the Open-Close principle to facilitate the loading of the Arrow to the 5 Bows for force generation purposes.

vii) 3-Chi Rings (三道氣圈)

viii) Bell Body (身如鐘)

ix) 2-4 Points (身中垂直線與二四點)

x) Bell Hammer (身中垂直線鐘錘)

xi) Chest Character Ten (胸前十字)

xii) Use of 3-Passes (三關的運用)

xiii) Fist, Palm, Hook (拳, 掌, 勾)

Insight 4.1 – Overview

1. INTRODUCTION

I do not have a time machine but if I were to be able to go back in time when Tai Chi was first conceived I would probably not find any form, nor an extensive number of techniques. Instead, I am more likely to find a handful of techniques, unpolished, perhaps a technique or two which might be linked, and usage that is specific to the situation encountered.

Practice would revolve around drilling each technique one at a time. Application would be against an imagined, simulated attack. At a certain time combinations would be discovered; the list of techniques would also grow from practice and with each subsequent real life encounters.

2. BIRTH OF A FORM

As the list of techniques grow someone discovered that stringing them together in a form makes for easier remembrance. A form is also a convenient way to group and store sequences of combinations.

A form then was probably a constant work in progress with additions, deletions, revisions and enhancements by the current generation and later generations of practitioners who would draw on their respective practice, experience and insights to make their art better.

3. ORGANIC VS DEAD

I do not know when it started, who started it and why it started. I will never know. But at some point in time the obsession with old, unchanging forms began.

Current practitioners would claim that their form is traditional, unchanged, old, perhaps even slap a label to give it a royal connection while some would accord street credence with a badass ancestor.

Along the way practitioners forget that a form is part of the range of learning means to an end. If a form loses its function then it becomes ornamental transforming into a dance, an exercise, a impractical relic from the past.

A form is organic, a living collection of techniques that is meant to teach strategies, principles, biomechanics, applications and a host of many more topics that is related to the art of combat. As such, a form is like your personal notebook. You use it to learn, to practice and to refine the same technique over and over again, over the years.

As such, the form that you have learned, your personal rendition of the form, is never fixed nor unchanged. As such, it will always change in many different ways.

4. LIVING KNOWLEDGE

Some systems of martial arts have many forms, each a living depository of knowledge containing a catalog of techniques. Some systems would be built around the concept of a few core, essential forms with additional supporting forms that each highlight a specific specialty skill of the style.

Forms do not all land at once in a completed manner. They are built up, accumulated over time. In some cases, forms are lost over time. In this way a system, a style, no matter how authentic the tradition is claimed to be, is never unchanging.

Today with the proliferation of Mixed Martial Art and ease of cross training we are already seeing some of the traditional styles transformed in the way they are applied, tempered by their encounters with the functionality of MMA.

6. PRACTICE FORMS

When GM Wei learned this Yang Tai Chi from Master Wang he was only taught the long form that is known as the Old Six Routines (老六路). Three years before Master Wang passed away he confirmed that GM Wei had mastered the teachings of the style.

GM Wei extracted a number of techniques from the long form and created a shorter version of the Old Six Routines which we refer to as the 22-form (22式老六路). To aid the transmission of this form GM Wei initially released a book detailing the practice of the form.

Later GM Wei released another book explaining the more advanced aspects of the practice. This second book was accompanied by a teaching VCD.

At a later stage of his life GM Wei created another form, the 37-form (37式老六路). This form is largely spread by his daughters.

By having three forms the art could now be organized along the lines of :-

a) Basic Level : 22-form
b) Intermediate Level : 37-form
c) Advanced Level : long form

7. DEMONSTRATION OF FORMS

Demonstration of the 1st section of the long form by GM Wei :-

Demonstration of the 22-form by GM Wei :-

Demonstration of the 37-form by Master Wei Shiping (GM Wei’s eldest daughter) :-

8. PRACTICING THE ART

Even though there are now three forms in the style, however, to master the art you do not need to learn all the forms. If you are looking to start a school based on the style then it makes sense to learn all the forms.

But if your objective is to master the art then you can learn any of the forms. This is because the essential and most important principles are found in all of the three forms.

If you have time constraint for practice then learning the 22-form will be the best because you can put in more practice in the same amount of time.

For learning of applications the arrangement of the long form makes more sense in terms of gradation of technical difficulty in how to apply the techniques.

My teacher’s advice on the amount of time to practice the 22-form daily :-

a) 1-hour : good for exercise and maintaining healthy body

b) 2-hours : the least amount of time for attaining a minimal standard of performance

c) 3-hours and above : to acquire ability to fajing and skills in application

Additional advice from my experience :-

a) Practice at least 6 days in a week

b) Practice non-stop. For example, if you want to practice the form 5 times over 3 hours then practice without stopping to answer messages or even for a drink. OK, if you have an urgent need for No. 2 in the toilet then that’s a valid excuse 🙂

c) Keep drilling the basics over and over again. You can never get enough of the basics until you begin to experience changes. At this point you need to keep on doing the basics in even greater detail and depth to reach the next level

Foreword

Master Wang Yongquan

A special transmission outside the scriptures; not dependent on words or letters; by direct pointing to the mind of man, seeing into one’s true nature and attaining Buddhahood – Bodhidharma on Zen

There are many lineages of the popular Yang style Tai Chi Chuan. Most of these lineages trace their transmission back to the third generation inheritor, Yang Chengfu.

I have learned different lineages of Yang Tai Chi beginning with the well known style of Cheng Manching before moving on to the styles passed down through the lineages of respectively Nip Chee Fei, Yang Shouchung and Dong Yingjie.

However, the style that made the biggest impact on me in terms of mastery, the one that I continue to practice today is the style that was first made accessible to the public by Grandmaster Wei Shuren.

GM Wei Shuren

The style of GM Wei goes beyond just mere training of the physical. To discover the essence of this unique method of Tai Chi we have to detach ourselves from that which enslaves our body and mind with the mundane.

Mastery of this particular Tai Chi as dictated by the principles of the Tai Chi Classics requires that we seek that which utilizes the mind to train the body to optimize its own movements with minimal outer motions.

The story of GM Wei’s style began when Yang Jianhou transmitted his family’s art to the Wang family (father Wang Conglu, son Wang Yongquan) in the residence of Pu Lun Bei Zi, a Manchurian Prince for whom the elder Wang worked to run the operations of the household.

In later years, Wang Yongquan taught Yang Tai Chi publicly in Beijing. He taught the popular Yang Chengfu version to the disciples that he accepted early in his teaching career. He did not teach the secret art to them.

It was towards the end of his teaching career that old master Wang finally revealed the art that he had learned from Yang Jianhou. It was during this period that a number of new students joined to learn this fascinating art. One of these new students was GM Wei who had been learning Chen style Tai Chi for a long time.

At the time of this writing GM Wei would have passed away for nearly nine years (11 June 2013). He had been instrumental in transmitting the art to 50+ disciples. At the time of his retirement GM Wei formally designated two disciples to transmit the art. Since then, the number of practitioners of this style has grown but remain low by comparison to other Yang styles.

My teacher said that learning this art is easy, but practicing it is challenging. To succeed in the learning you must really want to learn it, want to master it and is prepared to keep practicing it, gnawing away at the learning difficulties until you get through them. There’s a saying, one in a thousand, which means that out of a thousand students learning this art only one will master it.

The information I have written here is to give a better idea of what the art is about. It is not meant to be instructional because there are many subtleties to the art, subtleties that you will only realize when you have put in enough practice to get the basics correct enabling you to go beyond them.

THE TAI CHI JOURNEY

Featured

1. INTRODUCTION

A journey begins with the first step; a practice with the first repetition.

More than four decades after the first foray into the study of Tai Chi it seems that the more I know, the more I do not know.

2. IMPORTANCE OF INSIGHTS

The beauty of the internet is the wealth of knowledge that is available. But there is such a thing as too much of a good thing for too much knowledge can confuse even as it enlightens.

Yangstyleintention

In the old days my teachers did not look at my progress by the color of my belt for I had none save a leather belt to hold up my pants. Instead, they were interested in the insights that I had gained from the practice of what they had taught.

3. SOURCE OF INSIGHTS

Insights can come from practice.

Insights can also come from unexpected sources be it during the course of a conversation, of reading a book, of watching a video, of pondering a problem, and so on.

4. USING INSIGHTS

Insights can modify our practice and give rise to a new practice. An insight can be valid until it is not.

Insights are a means to an end. Do not get too hung up on them. Know them, use them and move on.

5. THE JOURNEY SO FAR

Last week I unpublished the 980 odd posts that has been posted on this blog since 2015. This is something I do regularly when I have a change in direction, interest, idea, and so on.

To move forward one must let go of the past. I work for a boss who would freely share knowledge. Customers may be appreciative of this but their appreciation does not result in more business. But then the business is run more on the lines of an interest than on a business.

I once asked the boss why she would do this. Her reply was there is plenty more knowledge where it came from and if one does not let go of existing knowledge then new knowledge cannot come in.

So I have decided to unpublish the old posts, throw open the window and let fresh posts come in. I have also closed some of the other channels of information so if you find that you can no longer access an app you now know why.

6. NATURE OF KNOWLEDGE

Most knowledge are organized. The depth of a subject matter can be such that the more well known, popularly presented knowledge is not doing it full justice. There may be other hidden aspects that we do not know of.

We can simplify knowledge. We can present complex knowledge. It depends on who we are catering to. It also depends on how much we want to inform the reader.

Some knowledge are intuitive, others counter-intuitive. Most of us will only ever scrape the surface of a topic. If we are lucky we might stumble onto a more in-depth version of the topic along the way.

Knowledge is not by nature linear. Knowledge though organized can be chaotic. Knowledge can be obviously linked or indirectly linked.

7. THE REVAMP

Over the years I have written the following eBooks for the general public :-

i) TaijiKinesis Vol 1 : Navigating the Taijiquan Maze
ii) TaijiKinesis Vol 2 : Learning the Taijiquan Form
iii) TaijiKinesis Official Handbook Volume 2 – Background
iv) TaijiKinesis Official Handbook Volume 4 – Learning Pole
v) The Ip Man Questions : Kicks, power & strategies in the martial art of Wing Chun
vi) 2-Dots : Six Learning Steps for Mastering Wing Chun’s Kicking Model

At one point I wanted to write down as much as I could of what I know but it has not gone beyond the planning stage as writing can take up a lot of time.

I am now trying to do this by using this blog to do so. I will not write in a linear fashion, in the order in which I want the information to be presented. Instead of writing an unlimited number of posts I will write a number of major posts with each post supported by minor posts that delve deeper into the main topics.

All the topics will be organized via an Index folder which you will see as a separate tab on this blog.

Some of these posts can be expected to be revised or even re-written over time until I consider it final in which case you will see a FINAL word after the topic name, for example, Insight 123 – Hitch Hikin’ (FINAL).

The only thing I cannot control nor anticipate is the life span of a blog in particular the hosting company, WordPress. If WordPress were to ever close then I will save all the information. Until then I want to keep it as a live book, one that keeps changing with the coming and going of knowledge.

8. SUMMARY

Insights.

Generate your own to move along the progress curve in your learning journey.