Waiting for a Girl

If it had been a movie we would hear the Foreigner song “Waiting for a Girl like You” play in the background, perhaps the following part would play a bit louder :-

I’ve been waiting for a girl like you
To come into my life

This part of the song would be synchronized to play at the moment that my student said that he was glad that I made him wait for a long while before teaching him Fair Lady Works at Shuttles more than 2 years after he first began learning the form. The Fair Lady Works at Shuttles section is some 2/3 into the 108 form.

The average student can learn the 86 movements of the 108 form in a year. Despite his previous Tai Chi background it took this long to get here with my student because I needed him to get rid of his old habits and replace them with new habits. Learning a form fast for the sake of it is a waste of time. To learn good skills takes time; its a process that cannot be rushed no matter how fast we want to go if we are not up to the task.

The Fair Lady Works at Shuttles is a good section to learn how to turn quickly without losing balance and be able to face the direction turned to with precision. We moved from moving with a few more steps to using a few less steps. Since he has learned Aikido and Baguazhang before I mentioned that the turning learned here can easily improve one’s Aikido or Baguazhang.

Turning the body is one part of the learning. Other stuff we can learn from the maiden would be :-

i) Entering with unified body using the 5-count

ii) Generating power using the 1/2 step (my student said it felt like wave power when I demonstrated it on him) in the third movement

iii) Turning as opposed to rotating for keeping the body aligned during defence and power generation

iv) Stepping with precision over swinging the leg when stepping

v) Use of descending curve to power hand strike, similar to Xingyiquan’s Piquan; this can be practiced slowly without the curve being obvious or quickly with sudden power


After I explained about how to work the defence in Fair Lady Works at Shuttles my student finally grasped the importance of what I have been saying all along about having a game to do push hands. This is because once we gain the position using Fair Lady Works at Shuttles there are a few changes we can apply depending on how the opponent reacts. So knowing how the techniques in the form can change from one to the other is an advantage.


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From Dead to Alive

Is it your experience that you can play the Tai Chi form in a beautiful flowing manner but cannot use the techniques in push hands?

Or perhaps you can but only if your training partner is not resisting and the moment he tries to resist the techniques fly out the window and you revert to doing boxing-like techniques.

To learn how a technique works particularly the principles involved that bring it alive we break down the learning into a few parts. What is important to us is not looking nice and fluffy. Instead, we value precision in moving to fulfill various principles, objectives and strategies.

Apparent Close-Up is a technique that follows Deflect, Parry & Punch in our Yang 108 form. It is typically used as a counter to prevent our punching arm from being controlled. It is a fairly easy technique to understand but ask your training partner to block your punching arm and follow up with using strength to control your punching arm. See if you can get out of it. You will be surprised how easily your use of Apparent Close-Up falls apart when the resistance is stronger.

After jamming the opponent’s attempt to control our punching arm and recovering our position we next follow up with a controlling cum attacking technique. The way we do this is different from that typically seen in other Yang styles.

My student was just asking me about it last night. I said that we could do it the way we normally see other Yang stylists do it. However, our way is actually easier to use the technique.

This is not because our way is better but the physics and exploitation of the natural weakness of the human anatomy make our method easier to apply. This is immediately obvious to anyone who tries to apply the double palms pushing attack at the end of Apparent Close-Up against a resisting opponent. Just do the research and the whys will be explained.

LogoDo you understand why you are doing what you are doing? Does it work against a resisting training partner? If you are keen to discover the answers click here.

How Not to Progress

Once upon a time there is a movement in a form that one of my teachers taught me. The way its done seems impossible to do.

I tried and I tried to figure out how to do it but to no avail. The movement is impossible to do given the laws governing balance. After a while I gave up and just did it the way most practitioners would have done it.

Except that was one troubling little fact – my teacher could do it.

So why couldn’t I do it?

What did I miss?

Tried to figure out what it was that I missed? Poured through books. Thought about it a lot. Still couldn’t do it. What was I missing?

My students today are going through a similar learning experience as me. It is common for them to try to figure out how to do something. This is why they could never really get it no matter how much figuring they tried to do.

In learning Tai Chi there are some things you can figure out on your own and there are some things you can never figure out. Yang Chengfu was not kidding when he said that certain things cannot be figured out even after ten lifetimes of learning if the information was not revealed.

In the end I managed to do what I teacher did. And I didn’t need to figure anything out. After a while I just realized that I did not have to crack my head over how my teacher did it. I only have to follow his instructions on how to do it, never mind how it really worked as this was not the issue here. As I would say sometimes when it comes to learning Tai Chi its better to err on the side of stupidity then be overly intelligent.

The answers can be laid before you but if you refuse to look at them and instead choose to follow your own way even though you do not know what that is then it is your decision to impede your progress. There is a reason for knowledge to be transmitted. If you don’t understand what transmission of knowledge means then you are depriving yourself of the full benefit of learning.

Example – my student pinpointed one learning issue correctly when he said he was trying to figure out how to shift his weight the way we do it in order to apply the techniques effectively and efficiently. The point he missed is that he already has the knowledge. One part of the knowledge is in the procedures on how to perform the form.

The other part is waiting to be revealed to him once he makes a breakthrough in certain of the principles he has learned. As my teacher said skill is dependent on time. If you don’t put in enough practice then you will need get it. There is one other factor that my teacher mentioned but I won’t write it here since not many students will believe it today.

LogoHave you cracked the Tai Chi puzzle or are you still in the dark? If you are ready to make good progress by learning instead of figuring things out yourself click here.

A Plan to Win

I hate repeating myself. But its a necessary evil if I am to drum what I want to teach into my student’s head.

I learned that he is going to meet his buddy again for push hands. He is not optimistic that he will be able to do well since his bud has learned longer, taller, bigger and more skilful. He expects to be able to perform better than previously that is before learning from me. But not expecting earth shattering results.

Its my opinion that if you do not believe that you can do something you will never be able to do it. A first step to being able to do something better is to know what you are doing.

Once I had brought this question up – how to be better and start winning at push hands. I think my student has forgotten what I said. At that point in time previously and this time again I asked him the same question “so what’s the plan to win?” and he still cannot answer.

Note – we use push hands as a training tool so mostly the winning is not the most important thing. Actually, you can learn more by losing. However, at a certain time you must learn how to win too. This is because if you ever have to use it for real your push hands training can be an asset but only if you train it properly in the first place. Of course, it goes without saying that in a real situation you don’t want to be on the losing side.

Coming back to the topic on another occasion I had explained to my student a plan to win at push hands. That he still cannot answer means that my explanation had gone in one ear and out the next. Which was good because now I can have some fun showing him what I meant, all over again.

So yeah, Game 1. Then Game 2. And he resisted and tried to push back. But his less than stellar grasp of the basics and absence of a game plan meant that he could not control his position and he ended up like a boat rocked by a wave. Like I told him a game is needed if you want to come out tops.

He tried to fight against my Game 1 and ended up in a place where I could use Game 2. Like a ping pong game I moved between Game 1 and Game 2 until in trying to defend against them he created the opportunity for me to use Game 3. This is what I meant by having a game plan.

You cannot win if you cannot think and move at least 3 steps ahead. And you can’t do this if you don’t know your own movements well enough. Knowing them well means you must know what to do even before you can think about what to do. You need to train to the point where true intention manifests in the form of no intention. Its like a computer program that can predict what you want to do next before you even thought of what you want to do.

The inability to move when playing hands is what some of my teachers referred to as a stunted hand. This is why in the days of yore a lot of our training was on doing the form again and again, so that we understand the nature of change and in time change becomes us. Then we can start learning how to win.


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Carry The Boat

When you come to a river how do you cross it?

You could swim or you could use a boat, assuming you can get your hands on one.

After you cross the river do you continue to carry the boat with you?

I guess it depends on whether you are going to cross another river sometime soon.

What if you need to scale a mountain first before you will come across another river? Should you bring the boat along?

This is a philosophical question but it’s relevant to our learning of Tai Chi. For example, how long do you keep working on a form?

For some the answer is simply as long as you need to whereas for others it could be indefinitely. What’s wrong with both these answers?

Well, they fail to address a critical question – what’s the objective or is there none?

For some teachers the basics from the form should be learned properly before going on to applications. This is a reasonable requirement for those time when society didn’t have the distraction of television and now the internet.

Today most students won’t have as much time or the inclination to train as hard with so many competing distractions in their life. So does this mean that they should not be able to master the art?

I looked at my student. For the short time she spent learning punching in a self defence course she can move reasonably well and even copied the flavor of how to move the body to throw certain punches. But she could still not do a good enough imitation of how we move in Tai Chi that can imbue her with the skills.

If I impose a strict linear learning requirement this would mean that I cannot teach her any self defence applications or push hands. If so, would I be failing her should she ever have to use the art?

This is where some teachers don’t give a hoot about it. They are too caught up in preserving what I see as a useless tradition which might have meant something once but is becoming increasingly out-dated today.

The way I see it the objective is competency is using the art whether for demo, self defence or playing physical chess. The requirements are one and the same. We should not keep a double set of accounts such that what you do in push hands is useless for self defence.

To get to this stage each form is a vehicle to bring us to a different level. We work it to the point where the returns are marginal then we move on. Don’t carry the boat along to climb the mountain.

When you eventually come to another river perhaps one more raging than the previous one then you may realize that the old boat is useless for crossing this river. Had you carried the boat along you would have either wasted your time or if you are lucky you can still modify the boat to handle this new river.

Since the learning is non-linear this means we can approach it from different directions. If you can’t see it from the perspective of doing a form perhaps learning the application will help you to see it.

Stuff like timing, how much to bend, angle, twist are not immediately obvious when doing the form. However, trying to apply the technique will make this more obvious.

For example, if you block wrongly you open more doors for your opponent to attack you. You may think your response is correct but your opponent’s ability to follow up or not with another attack will answer your question.

Carry the boat if you like to but know when to set it down, when to come back to it and when to leave it behind and walk on. There is a time for everything and knowing when is a key to your successful learning of Tai Chi.

It would be a great pity if you one day discover you had wasted your time pursuing a way that took you off the path just because you were fixated on a way. Some teachers can be well intentioned but as experience sometimes prove the road to hell can be paved with good intentions.


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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 :-

File 3-5-17, 18 58 21

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.