Decoding SKD Training Sequence No. 1 – Part 1

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.

Embedding the Skill

Learning any combative art is about practicing until you get it, know it and can sleep walk it.

Someone recently told me that doing CMA should be as easy as walking. He is not talking about the practice being easy. Instead, he is saying that one should practice the chosen skills until it is as natural and as easy as walking.

More than two decades ago my Wing Chun senior was talking about being formless. But what does it really mean, to be formless?

If you look to the art world particularly to the modern masters you may note that even abstract art masters have to study classical painting before they evolve into abstract art. In the context of CMA this means that to be formless you first have to master form.

In Tai Chi we normally just work on one form for years before learning another. This is not saying that you can’t learn another form after you finish learning the first form. You can.

However, you end up with cursory understanding of the form. You need to move your practice from surface scraping understanding to beneath the skin understanding, before you ultimately reach bone level understanding. So the more forms you have to practice the less time you have to focus, to specialize.

Of course, you can also learn many forms but just work on less rather than more. The more you understand the one form the more you know its nooks and corners, not just remembering the sequence but how different parts of the form can be used to form new sequences.

In the end, your form may have say 10 sequences but by understanding how it works you can easily form another 20 sequences by combining different techniques. Normally, an easy way to help understand this learning process is by doing push hands because when you learn to apply the techniques you are forced to confront what you don’t know.

Its not just in CMA that we learn to be formless. In Kali what is termed free flow is similar to what we call formlessness. Basically, free flow is the ability to take your basics and move through them freely to make whatever meaningful combinations you want to in response to an imaginary attack.

The study of free flow in Kali begins with the study of drills, of sequences of techniques. First you embed the habit through 10,000 repetitions. Then when you thought you got the habit down you are taught to break out of the habit with ironically more drills.

From Kali we can see that more forms (not kata but predetermined sequences made up of different techniques, example an Angle 1 fluid strike + Umbrella + ……….) are necessary to break up earlier learned forms of movements. Conceptually, the learning is not difficult to understand. But when you try it it feels awkward, just like when you first learn to cycle. You get on the bicycle, you wobble a bit, then you start to move, slowly then you try going faster.

The more you cycle the more familiar you are with the act of cycling. In the interim, its not unusual to lose your balance and fall. The first time I took one hand off the handlebar I fell into a drain. Another time I took a corner really fast and ended up sliding on the road which left a scar on my knee. But its these learning pains that eventually allowed me to master the act of cycling till I could take both hands off the handle as I cycled.

Awkwardness gives way to familiarity the more you practice. When we mention the word practice we think of the act of doing. However, practice can also be in the form of thinking about how to do it. This is the mental part of practice. Its a way to embed the process into your mind. Another way is to call out what you are doing. Anything that works for you is fine.

The more I practice the Tai Chi form the more I start to see the component movements clearly. At a certain stage you can easily change the sequences around, rearrange them even as you practice. Just last week someone came to see me about learning Tai Chi and said he didn’t have the room to practice. I stood between a wall and two bicycles and showed him I could practice a long sequence within that square area. I didn’t change the hand movements, just changed the stepping to adapt to the small area.

If you keep on practicing at a certain stage you can practice the form without even practicing the form any more. You can take one technique and work it in different ways. You can string two techniques as well and do the same. This is when you can say that the skill of moving has been embedded in you, when you move “it” moves you, thus fulfilling the principle of first in the mind, later in the body, enabling you to move as easily as walking.

This is one part of the learning. The second part is to work with a partner to help you learn how to apply what you know. True flow is when you can keep moving even as your training partner tries to stop your flow by putting up resistance and fighting back. This is when you discover something interesting about attachment and detachment of the mind and body in being able to flow.

Interested to learn Kali in person for free? The iKali branch of Pekiti-Tirsia System of Kali has an excellent training method for teaching the basics that eventually allows you to free flow. The best part is that it does not take years to learn. Contact me here.

Doing It Naturally 4

Further along the form teaches how to move when using a lower stance. This also works the leg muscles for those who love a good workout.

But we don’t just use a lower stance for fitness only. A lower stance and the ability to change between a higher to a lower stance and back is part of the learning of how to carry out three levels of attack.

After this we move to the three core strikes that a beginner should know. Well, actually there is a 4th strike within the movements of Strike No. 2 and No. 3.

For now we just learn how to do the three strikes while moving laterally. Once familiarity and a degree of mastery kicks in we will move on to moving forward and backward while performing the three strikes.

And at a later stage we learn how to combine the three of them and apply in line with the strategy we are executing.

Doing It Naturally

One of the reasons Tai Chi is difficult to learn is because of the intent factor. Why?

Its because the more you move externally, the less you move internally. So in order to use your intent clearly you must minimize excess and unnecessary movements. This is why my Tai Chi teacher liked to caution against moving without rhyme or reason.

This of course gives rise to a problem – what does he mean exactly? If you have ever tried learning to cook in a Chinese kitchen or from old ladies you should get this point for its not uncommon to be told to use some salt, like a pinch, but what does a pinch means in terms of a more exact measurement. For you see, a pinch to you may be more than a pinch in my hands.

So when my Tai Chi teacher said I am having unnecessary movements it is not easy to understand what he is trying to say because from my point of seeing things I am not moving unnecessarily. But that’s my “uneducated” view.

Years later when I got it I understood what he meant then. Now when I see students move I want to pull my hair out when I see them moving excessively. The point here is that you don’t want to move less or more but to move such that you can be quick, powerful and able to use your techniques.

To borrow a concept from game theory, MinMax, we want to minimize what does not contribute to our gain and maximize what adds to our skills. To me this is easy to understand but try explaining it to others and I see this glazed look come over their eyes.

The traditional way of learning is to practice. Don’t worry about the rank or how fast you want to make progress; just practice and little by little clarity will come. Certain things you can rush, certain things just take time.

For example, this morning I was watching the Kali class video for last week and I saw something that I did not notice before. Mind you, I have looked at this same movement done countless times for months. Since this is a key basic I keep practicing and relearning it many times.

In our practice we have a target time to do one whole sequence of movements under 60 seconds. Now when you want to complete a sequence within a certain time the logical thing to do is to go faster.

The problem is what if you can’t go any faster and you have hit a wall in terms of speed. What else can you do?

The logically approach is then to take out unnecessary movements or to minimize excessively big movements. There is a catch though, you can minimize a movement but you have to be aware of not altering its DNA too much when you start cutting out or shortening movements.

There is always a trade-off. For example, you can do a big movement which is good for power. The trade-off is that a bigger movement is slower than a small movement. The idea of MinMax is how do I minimize the movement without losing too much power.

Similarly, if you use big movements to apply your Tai Chi techniques you will find that you are always a step slower than someone who does Wing Chun which uses much smaller movements. However, if you are following the older Tai Chi way of using Small Frame then speed-wise you are not slower than a Wing Chun guy.

This gives rise to a misconception that practicing Tai Chi is about doing it slowly. In the beginning going slow is necessary due to the complexity involved. But at the advanced level a student shouldn’t have to go slow for the sake of doing so. If anything, the student must be able to move through the techniques very quickly because in combat no one is going to go slow and if you can’t catch up or respond super fast when you need to then you are waiting to be beaten.

COVID-19 is a bad time. So many things have to be put on hold or cannot do. But hitting the pause button also gives me more time to practice, think and review what I know (I hope my Tai Chi students are taking this opportunity to revise everything they have learned before). I took this opportunity to consolidate, reorganize and revamp my approach to learning and the first area I applied it to is in SKD.

Tai Chi Form Applications

In this video I am explaining where some of our SKD applications come from :-

Our Yang style Tai Chi form can look simple and non-aggressive.

However, a lot of applications are concealed within the unassuming movements.

In this video I point out how the movement of Single Whip and Cloud Hands are applied.

Axe Chopping Principle

In this week’s SKD I delved into the principle of axe chopping to deliver a strike.

Interestingly, in a non-mainstream Wing Chun that I learned we have a punch called Tup Chui which is literally Hammering Punch in which the punch is not straight out but delivered in a downward curving manner. My final Wing Chun teacher also punched in this manner and he is able to punch really fast and powerfully using this process.

I had also encountered this way of punching in the Biu Jee form of the Ip Man style when my senior taught me this version from one of Ip Man’s lesser known disciple. This punch is performed at the end of every section.

The video below is an introduction :-

Here is where I mentioned the axe chopping in relation to Xingyi’s Pi Quan :-

In SKD this is how we use arm swinging to develop the chopping power :-

To be able to apply the chopping strike we use Tai Chi principles to learn how to relax and control our arm and body acting in concert to deliver the strike.

The arm-whole body movement is my adaptation of Grandmaster Wei Shuren’s Step Back Repulse Monkey from his 22-form. The arm rolling into backfist movement is the final movement in Repulse Monkey.

Intent is the Driver

In the practice of Tai Chi we say that the mind comes first.

In this context the mind refers to the use of intent. Intent is our desire to do something, in this context, the wish to move in compliance with the principles of Tai Chi.

In Grandmaster Wei Shuren’s Yang style Tai Chi we use the intent to practice the process that he wrote about in his book on the 22 form.

The demo above is a segment from the 22-form showing Cloud Hands, Single Whip, Separate Hands to Kick and Strike Ears with Both Fists.

Grandmaster Wei Shuren is demonstrating this segment from 8:16 to 9:59 in the video below :-

The form does not look impressive nor powerful. However, if you try to do it yourself by copying the movements you will realize that it is a lot more difficult than it seems to constantly issue power in a concealed manner while moving calmly as if pulling silk continuously in a movement efficient way.

For example, in the movement of Single Whip the whip hand itself is issuing power 4 ways before moving into the left palm strike to complete the movement. In practicing the form we define the four movements clearly but we can also perform the movements with barely perceptible outward movements once we have grasped the essence of the movement.

At this stage you would need to be in command of your ability to use intent otherwise you will not be able to reduce the outer movements to the bare minimum required.

2021 Day 2

It started to rain last night.

It kept on raining throughout the day. I woke up to a dark, cold and gloomy day.

Practicing Tai Chi is a good day to get the blood circulating. Some say to circulate the Chi.

Playing the Tai Chi form is a good way to train your ability to concentrate, develop awareness of how your body is moving in response to your mind.

When you can quiet down your mind you can focus so much better. In this way you can reduce the outer movements, concealing the movements that are happening inside your body. This is what we mean by being internal.

Good control of the body allows you to tread like a cat. At the same time your body is moving like a series of gears to rotate and spiral to connect to the ground to generate power.

While it does not seem like it but within the slow, seemingly gentle movements we are working the power generation process.