Lockdown Learning 2b

Continuing from the previous post Lockdown Learning 2a here.

The 3rd sub-movement is explained below :-

The study begins by learning how to step out of the way. The first movement teaches out to step out of the way by using a triangle even as we are using our left hand to either gently guide (or forcefully parry in actual application) a linear strike out of the way.

A more detailed learning of this part would involve :-

a) How do we train our ability to accurately parry?

b) How do we parry with power when we need to?

c) When and how do we step to get out of the way of the attack?

In this section I mentioned the rationale for the name of the techinque aka Grasp Sparrow’s Tail. The concept bears close examination as it teaches us how to stick and neutralize. At this point this is something we can keep in view and not worry too much about the learning.

What is important however is to practice a technique in the way that we would actually use it. Only then is the practice of form useful and meaningful.

Finally, the concept of hidden kicks is mentioned. I highlighted this to bring the point across for our fussiness in learning how to control the vertical axis in the first post here.

Lockdown Learning 6

The last movement sequence to learn is Single Whip.

Below is an introduction to how to perform Single Whip :-

I have not tried to explain the more difficult cultivation of the 5 bows in Single Whip. Sometimes its best to keep things simple.

Single Whip contains the techniques of :-

a) Two handed uprooting pull

b) Grind and repel

c) Hold-detain and strike

I have not really discussed much about the two handed uprooting pull in the video. There are two ways we can do this. In the video I just showed one way.

The movement of grind and repel is more like a variation of Press. You use a 2-speed movement with gravitational drop to obtain a heavy grinding feel in the right arm movement.

Hold-detain and strike is what we normally view as the technique of Single Whip. The hook hand is the control hand, used to detain opponent’s arm and prevent it from trying to strike you. The left palm movement is shown here as a palm strike but it can be expressed as a palm cutting strike also.

Lockdown Learning 5

The last technique is Push.

I feel that Push is a mistranslation of the Chinese term An but that’s another story.

Here’s how to do Push :-

Push is often perceived as a double palm attack but it can well be a single palm attack.

Separating the hands comes before Push. This is a neutralizing movement and can be used whether on the opponent’s side gate or inside gate.

The hands after separation on the side gate can attach to the opponent’s arm to repel him. Alternatively, if on the inner gate you can attach the hands to the opponent’s crook of the arm. There you can jerk him off balance, followed by the double palm attack.

The energy of the double palm attack is like that of a pouncing tiger. To generate this power you must learn to coordinate the movement of the wrist-elbow-shoulder and waist-leg in the manner of a hammer hitting a nail.

Lockdown Learning 3

Grasp Sparrow’s Tail is followed by four important techniques that we use a lot.

The first of this is Ward-Off as explained below :-

The energy of Ward-Off is like water lifting a boat from underneath. We can easily model this by rotating an imaginary sphere with our hands.

Within the movement of the hands are :-

a) Left hand to twine, compress and lock

b) Right hand to generate rotational power in upwards direction to uproot and impart shocking momentum

You learn to use intent to turn the sphere to initiate the movements of the hands. Take your time to feel how various spirals move between the arms, body and legs.

Lockdown Learning 2a

After Beginning Posture we move on to Grasp Sparrow’s Tail. This is the sub-movement 1 and 2 of Grasp Sparrow’s Tail :-

The first sub-movement in Grasp Sparrow’s Tail is the principle of intercept, connect and neutralize. To perform intercept, connect and neutralize properly we need to examine the importance of distance and range.

Our ability to control distance and range also depends on timing. This in turn is a function of our ability to get where we want to be when we want to be.

Though it appears that we require contact for the technique to work this is not really the case. This will become apparent as you continue to study the movement of the feet in Grasp Sparrow’s Tail.

After we have made contact then we learn how to use rotation to get the opponent’s attack off us. There are two ways to do this – a) use a robust structure to remove the opponent b) move ourselves out of the way.

In this instance we learn how to use a robust structure. It may appear to be using strength to spin the opponent off us. However, this is not the case. By not allowing ourselves to sit back and turn we force ourselves to examine the question of how to use small movements to neutralize when we cannot move the body out of the way.

The study of turning requires us to examine in detail :-

a) How do we turn exactly?

b) When do we turn?

c) How much should we turn?

d) What is the exact process involved in turning to neutralize?

e) What is the logic of the neutralizing turn?

After neutralizing we move into control using a grasping movement of the right hand. The left hand is used to feel and probe before we make contact.

In this section we are introduced to the principle of moving the body by using the hand to lead the stepping. This movement control mechanism allows us to step nimbly like a cat.

In this practice you can observe the principle of how one moving thing leads everything else to move and then on arrival everything stops at the same time.

Feel, Connect, Expand

A teaching emphasis this week is the use of the movement of turn body, left heel kick to learn about slow compression, sudden expansion to utilize fajing in the heel kick.

We start off by turning the body 180 degrees nice and gentle. Left arm closes in, right arm follows with the same.

Feel the movement, feel the timing, feel the body closing.

Now open up by expanding the body, feel the unity, the connection. Nice and easy. Do it slowly first to feel.

After a few tries its time to do it the way we usually do it. Turn body, close arms……………… now suddenly expand body, arms and away the left kick goes.

Is it correct?

Let’s do a test.

Both arms closing in. Slowing down. Partner puts each hand on each of trainee’s upper arm. Apply some pressure, hold the pressure constant.

On completion of arms closing, the trainee suddenly opens up both arms and kicks. If the arms opening are correct the power will be strong and send the partner off balance. If not, nothing much will happen. The trainee will struggle to knock the partner off.

Tai Chi Boost

A warm day today. But in the current Covid-19 crisis every little precaution we can take to protect ourselves helps. While we should remember to do things like wash hands more frequently, avoid touching face and so on, we should also remind ourselves to do our daily exercise.

So for me this would be playing the Tai Chi form. A Tai Chi form a day helps keep the doctor away. The slow, gentle pace helps give our internal organs a nice, warm massage. You can literally keep a warm glow diffuse throughout the body.

The Tai Chi form is versatile as far as practice goes. If we have the space we play it the way it is organized as demonstrated by Grandmaster Dong Yingchieh below :-

If not, we adapt and play wherever we are. For example, if I want to video it myself then I have to play in such a way that I can fit into the screen and be in front of the screen rather than wander off or turn my back.

So I keep an eye on the screen as I play it ad-lib. I basically go through the entire form sans a few repeat movements here and there, not so much to keep the form short but to prevent the taping from stopping when the phone rings as what happened on an earlier attempt to video.

Dong the form freely does not mean you discard the principles out the window and do some sort of weird, fast paced, wriggly, butt shaking, fajingy bunch of moves. To reap the benefits of practicing the form we must still adhere to the principles such as using minimal strength, stay relax, keep the shoulders and elbows down, back rounded, etc etc.

When we adhere to the principles we can get a nice feeling when playing the form as if we are flowing and rolling, meandering sinuously like a river, whilst tracing cycloid spiral motions in space. Within the natural curves of nature we can tap them to generate power using the minutiae of rising-falling to generate momentum allowing us to fulfil the requirements of F = ma with minimal outer motion and barely breaking stride.

This is why Yang style is frequently misunderstood to lack power generation. It is hard to discern power when it is happening inside the body through the constant compression-release of the 5 points as we move through the techniques. Unless you have a hand on my body when I am doing the form you can’t tell when I am using for example open-close throughout the entire form.

I guess you can say this is the challenge of practicing Yang style. It is not easy but it can be fun trying to grasp something that eludes most practitioners because you can’t get it by simply doing brute practice. You have to use your brains to study the art, apply the little grey cells too.

If you keep at it eventually you will be able to achieve the internal small frame flavor of Yang style Tai Chi. It looks very ordinary, sans impressive powerful fajing. But then when a tsunami is moving along the ocean towards a beach there is very little outer movement until the body of water nears the beach.

Wordless Understanding

Metaphorically you need to make 99 mistakes to find the 1 right way. This is because mental understanding is different from physical understanding.

You can say you have understood an explanation. However, this does not mean that your mental understanding can translate into physical understanding.

For this reason, you should always assume that you do not understand until you can actual demonstrate the understanding. When you reach this point of understanding then the story of the wordless Flower Sermon of Buddha will make sense.

I saw a documentary that mentioned that forms were created as a means for solo practice because it is not always possible to have a training partner. It is common for students to lament that they do not have a training partner.

However, I would caution them that with a wrong training partner they will not improve. So they need to take care when selecting a training partner. With a form it is only themselves, their state of mind, their diligence, patience, doggedness that is important to working the form to extract the lessons embedded within.

A form has many layers of learning. When you thought you know something you may be surprised that there are a lot more you didn’t know. There are things obvious and a lot more not obvious.

When a student has made the 99 mistakes and now has a more awakened mind then it is possible to bring out and highlight the things that are in plain view. For example, the movements of White Crane Spreads Wings has ton of stuff there and took more than an hour just to cover the many areas, adjusting the movements, the angles, the timing, the coordination.

With the unveiling then it can be seen that there are a lot more ways to use the movements of White Crane Spreads Wings. Ways to do huajing and fajing are all there. One just has to reach the stage of being able to see.

Many students cannot see because they keep saying that its too difficult to understand. They sabotage their own learning before they even begin. Nothing is ever easy at the beginning. This is why we need to practice over and over again until we start to get it. This is why in Zen there is a teaching which basically indicates that the more you rush to learn something the harder it is to get it.

The lesson here is to keep practicing, always, don’t ask too many questions first. Instead, keep doing until you are familiar, then keep going until you develop a heightened awareness. And then keep going further until you are ready to step through the inner gate. Then you will experience something interesting.

From Raise Hands changing to White Crane Spreads Wings we do rollback. I pick on my student’s left arm movement. Wrong I say. Why?

With a wishy washy way of moving he missed out on possibilities. The first possibility is the correct movement allows for a strong strike in a movement that does not look like a strike. With the wrong application it is not a strike; with the right application that is a strike.

But if you are not doing it properly even if you suddenly recognize that you could strike in that particular scenario your strike would be powerless. So get the movement right and the power will be there.

Then the downward arm movement becomes a circling movement to lead the left hand back to the right side of the body. The rotation of the left hands is not just a turn of the arm but the application of the body movement that is a vital part of the rollback process.

When the small movement here is proper than it is easy to lift your left hand up. If you are using the left hand to twine and trap the opponent’s arm then you need to get the palm angle correct and the turning timing spot on otherwise you will lose traction and the opponent’s arm will escape.

Otherwise, the application could well be to regain a better position and open up a different window for you to counter-attack. This is why the left hand has to move to an exact position at the right side of your body and your right arm then circles clockwise to a position on the left.

When a student does not study this closely and practice until they can maintain discipline when moving they will always have a problem when applying this movement. They always end up becoming attached to wanting to make contact and lose the ability to stop when they are supposed to. They end up locking into a position that looks favorable to them but is actually exploitable by an experienced opponent.

So the form trains the discipline to move how you need to move, how you want to move, to achieve the position from which you can change to the technique that you desire to use. Otherwise, you react blindly, with emotion instead of using calculated motions to seek the optimal position that can allow you a range of responses.

So many valuable lessons that can be learned from a form. Yet, how many understand the true value of a form today. Too many are in a rush, thereby missing out on many valuable lessons.

Physical Intelligence

….rationalizing won’t get the job done.”

I love this sentence in the Introduction of the book “Physical Intelligence” by Scott Grafton. Similarly, I would say that the only way to master Tai Chi is to engage in things Tai Chi i.e. you gotta practice the form, gotta do push hands, gotta learn to apply the techniques, gotta do deep study.

Complaining about how difficult it is to master Tai Chi, how you can’t seem to understand it, how it seem unattainable, and other complaints will not get you anywhere. You just gotta do it.

Do it, do it, do it. No matter how difficult it may be.

The problem always starts when you want to master the elusive fajing. The more you yearn for it, the more elusive it gets. Hence, my teacher said it best when he said the objective is just to practice daily, not master fajing, not win medals, not get ranking promotions.

When you get your priorities right you begin to move forward. As Scott Grafton writes :-

Skills such as these are informed by “physical intelligence”: the components of the mind that allow anyone to engage with and change the world.

So don’t try to think your way to mastery. The thinking has already been done in the past (hint : Tai Chi Classics); if anything you have to do it, keep doing it, and do it some more. Otherwise, you will get stuck for a long, long time in Tai Chi non-mastery hell.

Do you know why you need to practice the solo form alone, without the joys of being part of group who share the same interests, engaging in banter, shared physical interactions?

Solo form training is a way of allowing yourself to find a way to be free of internal and external chatter, of the monkey brain and of friends. As Grafton pointed out :-

Rather, the solitude provides time for reflection and an opportunity to examine the kind of intelligence that informed human action as our species evolved.

Thus, solo training allows you to focus your mind, develop a better awareness and feel for what your body is doing. This familiarity deepens with the passage of time, that if you keep working on the same movement over and over again, using the same form so as to have a consistent frame of reference, will allow you to experience the insights hidden behind the principles of the Tai Chi Classics.

Grafton also mentioned :-

1) Physical intelligence is absolutely ruthless in requiring that knowledge be gained from direct physical experience.

2) …physical intelligence reflects learning processes that constantly tinker with a person’s performance. One never stops learning to cook, to drive, or even to walk, for that matter. It is also a knowledge that is lost from disuse; without practice you will fall on ice or off ladders.

3) …physical intelligence provides the means to establish a sense of control. Humans acquire their skills and learn to solve problems through constant experimentation.

4) There is no end to the sensing, adapting, anticipating, and accommodating that must take place for a person to act intelligently. It takes practice and know-how to do even the little things in life…

The funny thing is that I have been telling students to learn push hands as well as they study the form but most of them don’t want to do it. They don’t listen as they know what they want, or so they think. Points (3) and (4) is basically what push hands is teaching and I am glad that a scientist has pointed out the importance of such learning to acquire a skill.

Maybe now students will believe me, or maybe not. People can behave irrationally, they know that they have not mastered a skill and they seek out a person to teach them the skill and by extension how to master it, but they just don’t want to listen to how to master it. Strange behavior that I would like to see a scientist write a book on.

In the meantime, life goes on. Another lunar year, the beginning of a new lunar year cycle will soon begin. What will be, will be. What won’t be, won’t be.