Lessons of the Pole

Its nearly 3 weeks since my last post. I thought the economy is not doing that well, not that I can tell with all the work activity.

Started a third student on learning the pole that is from my first Tai Chi teacher. Its a basic Sao Lim pole but there are useful lessons to be learned.

Lesson 1 – as with solo form we must develop awareness. The length of the pole helps to expand the awareness space.

Lesson 2 – learn the meaning of the saying when young fear the fist, when old fear the pole.

Lesson 3 – again stop being obsessed with power. In using the pole power is useless if you fail to hit your opponent. Instead, if he hits you, especially with a solid pole, the pain and damage is much worse than getting hit by a fist or palm strike. So pay attention to the movement process to understand how to use the pole properly.

Lesson 4 – though the pole is heavy you must also learn to use it as if it is light. To do this you must learn the trick of manipulating the pole using proper biomechanics.

Lesson 5 – as with pole, so be with the fist. This means that the way you learn to handle the pole can be transferred across to the way you apply empty hand techniques in push hands.

Lesson 6 – don’t be long winded when using the pole. Learn to decisively move, hit and finish the opponent in 1-2 moves. Then apply the same to empty hand techniques.

Lesson 7 – enhance your body movement from learning the pole. Learn to move quickly, precisely and control the striking zone through stepping and body angling.

Lesson 8 – understand how to extend power further. Playing the pole a lot can develop wrist and arm strength. This can boost the striking techniques that is from Master Leong’s PKK arsenal.


Requiem for CMA

Such sad words from Adam Hsu :-

Six years ago, after an almost twenty year absence, I moved back to Taiwan. As I got to know the younger generation in Taiwan, I made a shocking discovery. Teaching these students turned out to be extremely difficult because they’ve lost their roots: their Eastern roots. Many young Asians are westernized, you could almost say Americanized. To pass down the art I needed to reach the younger generation, and then what a shock, what a culture shock, that was!

Today, western culture dominates the world. We Asians have willingly given up our roots. We wanted to learn from the West and we gained science and democracy. These are very very important. But then our whole lifestyle, way of thinking, and goals in life have also undergone major changes.

(source https://www.adamhsu.com/articles/frenchinterview.pdf)

I find that those with western education have too rigid a thinking. To them learning must progress in a certain sequence but CMA learning is not like this. When you can see it, the art is simple. When you can’t the art seems complex, complicated, confounding.

Its like last week when I present a paradigm shift on what ground force means and the accompanying mind shift to generating power. Its kinda like same but not the same.

The shift in mental outlook is where most students fall by the roadside because their thinking is stuck, they cannot free up their thinking. In this sense learning CMA particularly Tai Chi can sometimes be like trying to achieve Zen enlightenment.

Everyday Skill

Seemingly meaningless tasks are not always what they seem to be. The following insightful passage appeared in “The Meaning of Rice : A Culinary Tour of Japan” by Michael Booth.

This passage describes the apprenticeship of a sushi chef :-

For the first two years they didn’t even let me touch a knife. I only did washing up and ran errands. But you do this to study the tableware, which is very important in Japanese food. I did the cleaning which is also a learning experience: when you vacuum a room you understand the space. Towards the end of that I began to sharpen knives. During the third year I did basic things like skinning squid, and waiting on tables to understand the communication with the customers.

How many students practice the Tai Chi form to the point where they gain insights that are not obvious; to the point where practice gives way to skill and eventually becomes a part of life? Most cannot enter the skill level and even lesser assimilate the skills to the point where there is no separation between martial art and everyday movement.

Many times the desire is there but the mind is weak. Too many distractions, too many excuses not to practice. Everything that we learn teaches us something. But we must practice to gain the insight. Knowing the form is just knowing the form.

The insights only come when you practice, ponder, practice some more, get corrections and keep practicing. Recently, I pointed out to a student the relationship between the pole form that I taught him and the techniques we were practicing.

At first glance the connection may not be obvious. However, once I explained it the relationship is obvious. This is the reason why I teach forms in a particular sequence. However, if students don’t practice the weapons they will miss out on an important part of the learning.

This is why my student failed to make the connection between the empty hand and weaponry. This is why his empty hand techniques still lack something. This is why his empty hand movements cannot coordinate closely.

True learning is learning in-depth and learning widely. Don’t just see one side of the picture. Instead, see from the other side as well. Learn to assimilate within and without.

When your mind is mentally prepared your body will obey. At that point there is no you, there is no me. Then your push hands skill will improve and your techniques will seem simple yet magical.

Woodpecker’s Tongue

Just finished reading the biography of Leonardo da Vinci. The heavy book makes for good lifting exercise for the arm.

Anyway, the very last chapter is on the woodpecker’s tongue. After putting the book down I found and read additional information on the topic.

Some videos particularly this one has good information that can help us to understand about the nature of forces.

Watched the video and think through its implications. It will help to understand some of the teachings that are found in Grandmaster Wei Shuren’s Tai Chi book on the 22-form.

Power Training 4

A detail such as measuring out the right distance may seem inconsequential. However, without the right distance you will not be able to have sufficient time to generate power. So yes, every little details count.

Close up of the proper distance to generate power easily :-

Once you find the right distance then you need to be sung before you can transmit your power into the opponent. The video below shows zero-inch distane in fajing. As you can see the pain is really. It is not a push!

We can use the Wu (Hao) form to train the body’s opening and closing to magnify the penetration of the power as shown above.

The entire Wu (Hao) form can teach us how to gather and release the power as illustrated in the video below :-

Power Training 2

Our power training starts when we learn how to practice the 3-Count.

This simple training tool teaches a few important controls that are relevant to the topics of classical mechanics viz velocity, acceleration and momentum. A more detailed explanation is on page 58-59, TaijiKinesis Vol 2 : Learning the Taijiquan Form.

The video below shows the relevance of the 3-Count in increasing the power of a strike by controlling momentum.

Power Training

Fajing training involves not just speeding up a movement in the form, gyrating the hips and shaking the striking arm.

Instead, fajing involves more than just power generation. You see, when you exchange techniques with a live opponent chances are he will not be compliant and he will not let you fajing him without him attempting to defend and do likewise to you.

We can start the fajing training by getting the basics right. An example of basic training with a partner is shown below :-

We train our fajing using small frame posture as this makes for a more mobile stance and facilitates quick hand movements.

Knowing that momentum is a key basic ingredient in getting the power out is not enough. You must know how when to accelerate and when to decelerate so as to optimize your body collision.

If the variable factors are not well controlled you end up with a push. When the variables are in place you can issue a crisp fajing that bounces and imparts heavy force that is potentially injurious.