Relatively Speaking

In terms of skill in Tai Chi it is all relative. This means that the better you can do something than the other person the more you can feel what the other person’s skill is like.

For a long time X’s hands are like the unsettled rooster in Zhuang Tzu’s story of the Fighting Rooster. At the slightest touch X’s hands would resist. It took years of training before he let go of his strength more and become less resisting and more settled enabling him to adhere and listen better.

Now X has reached a level where he said when he felt Y’s hands he could feel it resisting and he could use the resistance against Y. Before when X’s hands were strong and resisting he would not be able to say this because he can only use strength to overcome a weaker person.

With the passage of time he can feel another person’s hands so much better, so much so that relatively speaking the other person, in this case Y, seems to be resisting a lot. This is why in learning Tai Chi time put in leads to the acquiring of kung fu, meaning you can makes theories and debate all day and all night long but without putting in the practice over years the skill won’t grow.


Wake Up


If you are a Tai Chi practitioner did you get a wake up call after watching the MMA versus Tai Chi video in this post?

I’ve read negative and positive comments on this. Some are indignant and want to challenge the boxer. Will they succeed? Or they be another feather in the cap of the boxer? Stay tuned.

On the flip side others say this is a good wake up call to those Tai Chi players who have lost their way and still live in the land of the delusional. How did we get here in the first place? I found the following passage in the book The Emperor of All Maladies : A Biography of Cancer to be illuminating :-

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This is more ironic in the light of the video below which gives us some background information on the Tai Chi master who got his ass handed to him by the boxer :-

At 19:38 in the video you can see this master demonstrate power. As I would tell my students you got power so what? Are you fast enough to hit a moving opponent? So we should not be too smug with our fajing ability because ultimately it may mean nothing if our opponent does not stand still long enough for us to hit him not to mention that he will be trying to hit us back.

We should take this video as a wake up call to take a long hard look at what we do if self-defense is what we are looking for. Success in combat require certain skills. What works against one person in one environment may not work against another is a different environment.

There is no point making excuses for failure in combat. The only sensible thing to do is to move forward. Take a long hard look, examine why we failed, how we can fail, open up our mind; a punch, a lock, a submission – they are blind – get caught by any good technique and you are toast.

I had a student look at the video. I wanted him to see that he had the same habits as this Tai Chi master; habits that I have told him are not desirable and make him easier to hit. But how did he get here in the first place?

One factor is, I suspect, old habit from training xingyiquan where the way he stood made him easy to get hit if he had to step back. The learning of weaponry such as the Tai Chi straight sword is meant to help him eradicate this linear back stepping and replace it with a stepping that will remove him from the path of an attack and at the same time move into a better position.

Those time we practice jousting with the straight sword was meant to teach this lesson – step the wrong way and you end up in the wrong place, and you get poked and slashed. These principles are meant to be global, to be infused also into the application of emptyhand techniques; to be poked, examined, tested in push hands under controlled experiments to educate our responses.

Touching is a phase in learning. Not touching is another phase. That’s why I taught him Pok Khek Kuen so that he can see an alternative to not touching. However, snobbery can be problematic. Don’t look down on Pok Khek Kuen. If not for it, Grandmaster Nip’s star might not have risen as high during his teaching period in Malaysia. Pok Khek Kuen’s success in full-contact tournaments demonstrated the efficacy of Grandmaster Nip’s approach.

We should not forget this. If we do we are in danger of ending up like so many other Tai Chi schools, nice to look at but crumble under pressure. We should not shy from self-criticism. Its better to take a hard look than to see what we learn through rose tinted glasses. Otherwise, one day an opponent will shatter our glasses. It is time to wake up, if you have not done so already.


Push Hands Flow & Change

Six years ago I took some videos with the objective of using them for TaijiKinesis Vol 3 which is on push hands.

I started work on Vol 3 but for certain reasons I did not continue. Now I have started looking into Vol 3 again and dug up the old videos.

For those who have been waiting for Vol 3 I have put up the first video that I shot. This was an unrehearsed run through of some of the techniques we practice at the basic level for the first method of circling.

You would notice that all the techniques are worked off the Grasp Sparrow’s Tail posture. From this posture we could change into different techniques depending on the entry technique and position acquired after entering.

For the purpose of push hands practice we normally use a small frame posture to enable us to be nimble on our feet. We can also keep the pressure of our hands lighter so that we do not engage in strength versus strength competition in which the stronger person would invariably win. From here we can focus on working on our techniques, flow and how to change when given different pressures, angles and speed of attack.


Power Cultivation

A benefit of learning how to use the pole is that it can enhance your power within a short time frame of practicing it.

A simple exercise to develop power is the Cut and Thrust shown on page 23.

A more detailed explanation on how to perform the movements is shown by Pictures 2 to 4 from pages 31 – 32.

To understand how to issue power using the pole refer to :-

a) Power Generation 1 – this is how power is generated using the Cut movement

b) Power Generation 2 – explains how to generate power using the Thrust movement

To put the Cut and Thrust into practice do the partner practice for Drill 1 from pages 116 to 119. Just remember to take care to hit the pole rather than your partner’s leading hand when doing the Cut movement.

Application 1 from pages 70 to 72 shows how to use the Cut and Thrust.

The Cut and Thrust is one of the bread and butter techniques in using the pole so you should study it well.

To read the TaijiKinesis Official Handbook Vol 4 – Learning Pole eBook order your access by reading the information here.


Kaihe & Kokyuho

My student was telling about some of the exercises he learned in Aikido. They are familiar to me as I have seen them in Aikido books.

He got around to talking about seated exercises for learning connection. For the fun of it I held his arms and made him try to do it on me. He couldn’t do it on me because he was basically still trying to go head on against my strength.

So I explained how the principles of Tai Chi can be used to improve his Aikido practice. We worked through some examples standing up and later seating down on chairs that a religious group had left in the void deck. We didn’t try seating on the floor as we weren’t trying to do Aikido, merely examining how to overcome someone holding your arms firmly.

Some of the exercises we talked about are similar to what is shown in the video below :-

Mostly if someone is trying to hold both your wrists you can use the Yang style 108 raising hands movement to break the power and send the training partner back. This is simple and straightforward.

The more interesting and difficult one would be where the person is holding and pressing your wrists down. When you are sitting down this would mean the your hands would be pressed against your thighs, making it more challenging for you to lift your arms.

When this is the scenario the way you would resolve it is by arching your body back so that you can use your entire upper body to raise your training partner’s arms to break his holding strength. You can see this exercise beginning 0:58 in the above video – the only difference is that they did not do it with the hands being pinned against the thighs at the start. The screenshot below shows how the upper body is used.


When my student tried to do it by arching his back he could not unify his body and ended up trying to forceful push my arms back. Since my weight was on top of his writst and pressing down this made it difficult.

I told him to imagine that his entire body is welded together so that he cannot move one part without moving the rest. Then all he has to do is arch his back and his arms would follow gently, making it easy to break the hold, and issue his power. Oh, in Tai Chi we do not need to breath in and out purposely when doing this. All we have to do is to use our intention.

It sounded easy but still took a few tries before getting it right. In Tai Chi we train this particular movement in the Wu (Hao) form. We call this movement Kai He which means open – close. If you do Kai He properly you can arch your back a lot lesser than shown in the above picture – in fact so little that if you didn’t look carefully you may not even notice it. The reason why we need to pay attention to this is that if we over do the arching movement we risk hurting our spine.

Plus, if you arch too much your training partner may let go and follow up by moving in and attacking you. So its important to bind your opponent to you by connecting to him such that he cannot let go without you attacking him the moment he tries to release his grip. Its when you can do it this way that you are connecting properly.

You will also be amazed at how this simple concept can amplify your power instantly. I say this because my student is still struggling to master the Yang 108 form. Yet, it was possible to get him to use a principle from the Wu (Hao) form correctly within a few minutes of testing. Now I only hope he can retain it and go back to his Aikido class to have some fun training.


Tai Chi Swimming

Years ago a swimming coach was interested to learn Tai Chi as he wanted to incorporate Tai Chi principles into his lessons. He tried one lesson. However, he was too impatient to learn Tai Chi properly, thinking it can be learned quickly and in a hurry.

Cut to the present. Now I have a student who is a swimming coach and he has tried to incorporate what he learned in Tai Chi into the way he swims and teaches swimming.

I’m not much of a swimmer so I can’t say for sure that Tai Chi can be incorporated successfully in swimming. However, my student said that the principles are similar.

He then showed me what he was looking into doing. It was how the arm would move during a swimming move known as the crawl. Here’s what it looks like – the part my student is looking into is at 1:30

Here’s a video that goes into more detail :-


After looking through the videos I can see where he is going by wanting to apply Tai Chi principles to swimming. After looking at what he did I can only say that if that was a Tai Chi movement then what he tried to do may look powerful but its not really.

So I offered myself as a weight for him to work against and he had problem moving me by using the swimming stroke. I explained to him why it was not powerful. Once he got the hang of it he could use the stroke to pull me off balance very strongly.

Tonight I thought I would look a bit further into this topic. I dug through my books and found the following in a book on biomechanics I bought back in the mid 80s :-


So my student was mostly correct but not entirely correct. The way I would do the pull (this is what the stroke is called) is powerful because the proper positioning and alignment of our body allows us to anchor ourselves strongly against the ground enabling us to tap the ground force strongly.

However, in swimming we cannot really use the ground because there is none to speak of. We can only act against liquid and as you can read above there are different considerations.

On the surface it looks like a motion being a motion should be similar but the objectives being different would probably require a different tactic for each application. Below is what the crawl stroke looks like :-

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Looking through the book I found that there already exists different ways to do the crawl stroke. So yes, the wheel has been invented. Several wheels in fact. The different approaches would merit investigation before trying to reinvent the wheel. For example there is presentation here on it. Or a video on use of the crawl :-


I found a chapter on swimming here from a book on applied biomechanics – worth taking a look. I like the picture below from the book because it reminds me of something else that I was teaching my students this week in relation to not using too much strength.


Quite nice what knowledge could be picked up by taking a peek into swimming.


Crash Course

Teaching a crash course in Tai Chi can be a challenge.

First, there is the student challenge – how fast can the student learn bearing in mind the constraint of how many hours and days the student is prepared to spend learning.

Second, the teacher challenge – how much to teach and whether the student can handle the knowledge or get lost in the knowledge jungle.

My current crash course student hit the nail on the head when she said she has to get rid of old habits even as she is struggling to remember new learning, not to mention try to pick up new habits.

Despite learning the same movement, OK, the apparently same movements, everything is not really the same. Outwardly, same name, same arrangement, somewhat same movements but when it comes down to the nitty gritty details totally not the same. And this was just the first layer of the basics.

The third challenge confronting the student is that learning a form now is not just about learning how to move the hands, turn waist and step. Instead, she has to deal with the applications. My reason is that if the application is not there then the timing can be off, the position can be wrong and one will be none the wiser. In short, the applications keep the form alive and relevant, the body structure true and strong.

Challenge number four would be to get the details in each movement. Yes. Details. In. Each. Movement. Flying elbows. Out. Eyes looking in the wrong direction. Out. Unrelated coordinated movements. Out. Overly bent wrist. Out. Why put the hand here? Why not here? Why step this way? Why not this way? Many technical considerations.

Yes, I am a detail Nazi when it comes to playing the form properly. Even reading this won’t give the sense of how it really is. Its during the actual learning that I sometimes wonder if the student is already regretting learning cause its not the wavy, feel good, Chi-Chi type of Tai Chi. Nothing moves for no reason. Nothing. If there is an effect there is a cause. A beginning, a middle and an end.

Perhaps the most difficult part, the fifth challenge is how to teach the student to use intention. OK, I am under no illusion that its extremely difficult to teach the way we normally use intention in playing the form. But no harm trying first the traditional way. Or if it does work to use a simpler way; it matters not what as long as the message gets through and of course, the mind can be engaged.

Intention is important because it develops awareness. Awareness is important because it develops the sense of not moving excessively, not moving when one should not be moving, moving when really required – no more, no less. It is difficult to restrain oneself from over-moving. It is too easy to move without even being aware of it. But to move just enough, just right, aye, that is the key. Teaching awareness is the sixth challenge because awareness requires one to be constantly mindful of a thousand and one things. It is too easy for the mind to slip, to momentarily lose focus, to let a hand over-move, losing the alignment, the position.

Stopping the cliches is the seventh challenge. Tons of teachers love to say relax, let the Chi flow. I don’t like to say that. OK, maybe sometimes I do. But mostly I don’t because I think these phrases are really meaningless to the student. Relaxing is a feeling, an intangible, something difficult to put a handle on. Using cliches just made Tai Chi more difficult to master even though it probably made the student feel good; yeah man, I am relaxing, the Chi is flowing, so on Cloud Nine now, wheeeeeee…..

But one test of structure and the house of Chi comes tumbling down. Throw out the cliches. Procedures. That should be the way. The science of expertise have found that old established bodies of knowledge have tangible procedures. Why not Tai Chi? So if you ever wonder why your mastery is not coming along here’s a prime suspect.

The eighth and last challenge is to open your eyes wide when learning something, anything. Don’t believe what I tell you. This is why we need to know the applications because if you do a nonsensical movement you will see the knuckle sandwich eyeing you. Get the movements right, one little movement by one little movement, one tiny step at a time and the intricacies that underlie the movements, the principles of the Tai Chi Classics will reveal itself.

In our style there is no monkey see, monkey do. Students who learn this way cannot last because they won’t see the results they desire. No one said its easy. If one is not prepared to change then one will never get the chance to experience the possibilities. Just last week I explained an intention model to make the body heavy and resist unbalancing attempts during push hands. Barely five minutes had passed and my student’s arms were tired and sweating a lot more than normal after we had a go at it going fast and strong.

Its a simple model – this is what it is, the rationale, how to instantly be able to apply it (yeah, use the intention) – and your opponent can feel like he just tried to carry a sack of bricks. Why? Why? Why? Learn by asking, learn by testing. Learn slow, learn fast; crash course learning, long term learning matters not. Its getting there that matters.