Cultish MA

Learned a new term from reading Cultish : The Language of Fanaticism which is “thought terminating cliche” which is a catchphrase meant to use to halt an argument from moving forward.

Examples would be “It is what it is”, “It’s all God’s plan”, “Everything happens for a reason”, and “Don’t think too hard about it”.

In the context of Tai Chi learning if you asked your teacher what why you can’t do a technique properly and his reply is “you are not sung enough” that’s basically a thought terminating cliche.

A non-cultish teacher would explain the why of your inability and how to work on it to get to a point where you can do it. Blaming it on your inability to sung means the teacher has no interest to teach you or he simply does not know how to get you to move forward hence the need to stop your questions from moving forward.

Other thought-terminating cliches would include :-

a) That’s how it is in our style

b) This is what is transmitted by our grandmaster (or master)

c) This is how it was taught traditionally

d) You need to be an advanced student / disciple to be taught this technique / form

e) This is a deadly skill that has been handed down by our ancestors

Reading the part of the book on the fitness industry gave me some interesting insights because in a way the fitness industry is similar to martial arts schools like are set up like a cult. I can think of two schools that I encountered in the 80s that was like that.

The lesson here for those who aspire to have a successful school that can potentially spin off into many branches within and outside the country is to run it like a cult. It does not necessary mean you must do evil, just that people like to be led. They hate to think. They just want to be told what they can get.

If you want to sell your Tai Chi and rip off students with never ending courses to reel them in here’s a few thought-terminating cliches that I modified from those I read about for the likes of SoulCycle, CorePower Yoga, Bikram Yoga, CrossFit etc which can also be used to promote your internal style whichever you are teaching :-

Fajing to the Max
No Chi, No Power
Keep Up the Qi-Power
Feel Your Qi, Release Your Power
Power is where the Dantian is

Updated Outlook on Learning

When you learn a martial art what do you really want out of it? The art, the tradition, the lineage, the applications or the skills?

This sounds like a dumb question in that when you learn a system are you not supposed to get all of them?

Yes and no.

In some schools you do get all of them. In other schools you might get some of one or the other but not necessarily all of them.

It is rare to find a school that offers all of them so the next best thing to do is to decide what we want. I don’t know about you but to me I would rank them in terms of skills, applications first and foremost; the rest would be good to have but not as important.

This is how I look at it. Any art is built around a set of assumptions, principles and strategies. They give birth to the techniques. The training for the techniques when consolidated gives rise to the system. The system is taught under a brand which we commonly know as the style through which the entity, the school, propagates. Over time this becomes a tradition.

In life nothing remains constant. Everything changes whether for better or for worse. Unless we happen to grow an extra arm or leg tomorrow chances are the way we can move will not change, meaning there are only so many ways we can move whether standing upright or along the ground.

What we chose to learn can be due to preference, belief or experiential. Given the right circumstances every style is valid. So is every teaching as long as the teacher is able to explain it properly. Over time the original focus of a style, the reason for its founding can change, inadvertently changing its effectiveness in another direction. Over time the original objective may be lost and what once was, is no longer.

The only constant in all this is the person learning whatever the chosen art is. How well we learn what we learn can be due to how hard and how much we train, just as how well we learn it. Since it takes two hands to clap the role of the teacher is just as important. If the teacher being the beckoning finger points you in the wrong direction or a few degrees off the intended course you could end up being not where you want to be.

In a way uncle Bruce Lee is correct to advocate learning by absorbing what is useful and rejecting the rest. Some things I like but no matter how much I like it I will never excel in it. I like to do high kicks but when I saw how tall everyone else was when I was living in Australia I decided I had to forget about high kicks no matter how much I want to be like Bruce Lee. I still use some kicks but now they follow the principle of not going above my waist height.

Over time I realized another thing – everyone learns differently. Some things others can see and do, I can’t. So I do what I can see and do. Some things are easier to do than others. For example, some people can kick high easily, I could never do that. I mean, its good to be able to kick high but its not me and the only high kick I do is this jumping kick from the Open-Close Tai Chi form.

I also realized that age can dampen the things that we are good at. I noticed that as one ages the balance starts to go so being able to kick high, being able to drop into a really low stance, kneeling down to punch and then quickly standing up or just moving on the ground to grapple becomes more challenging. The mind may be willing but the body is not.

Training hard is laudable but training too hard, too much can only lead to pain possibly in perpetuity. It might sound heroic to live with pain but I think once you actually suffer for your art you may wish otherwise. I think this is why in the old days I commonly hear people say 日子有工 which means skill comes over time.

This is not to say that if you just keep practicing you get the skill. You do need the repetitions, its just that its telling you not to overtrain but to keep working on it. In a way its like how you keep staring at something but never really see it until you give it a rest. Having the details is good but you need to train to make them work and to really get it you need to attain that “it” moment, the insight that in that moment everything clicks together, what we call 心得 in Chinese.

Insights are difficult to generate because you need to do a movement enough to know it, not the mental knowing but the physical knowing, the proprioceptive feel of your body in relation to a mental schema. Learning a movement can be easy or difficult. The easy movements are not always easy, it just looks easy but they conceal hidden possibilities. The difficult movements are so either because they are difficult to do due to physical challenges or they have a lot of steps.

The real killers though are the movements which somehow involve contradictory princples. Let’s say you want to hit your opponent really fast. To achieve this you would want to be be non-telegraphic, able to move fast and be as near to the target as possible. However, being fast can be at odds to being powerful because to have power you need to chamber your strike and having sufficient range for your chosen strike.

If you have to chamber your strike you would need to bring your hand back to your body which means you will telegraph your intention to strike. Of course, now you have a good distance to generate momentum but the same distance also means the opponent can see you from futher away. So what do you do to overcome the conflicting requirements?

This is where with sufficient training and that sudden insight you will realize that the principles don’t actually conflict in the way you think they do. This is where having a teacher will go a long way to helping you solve this problem unless you are smart enough to figure it out. Some of you might think it is difficult to solve the problem by yourself but it is actually possible to do so. If not, how did you think the founder (of whichever style) managed to create his system in the first place.

So when you learn a system, go for the attributes. Learning a complete system, a traditional system is not as important. If your basics suck you will never get far even if you spend decades on learning and practicing. But if your basics are good you can keep improving and reach a good level of skill even if you know but a bit. In one of the arts I am learning they say the way you move is your certificate. This is a good way to look at it.

Innovating or Rediscovering Application

Changing the tradition or rediscovering what was once there?

Still its a good video. Love the part about controlling the distance and example of the pen.

I’m not a Karate expert but thinking from the perspective of using the Tai Chi form a lot of the techniques can’t be used without an understanding of distance, particularly how to use the proper distance and just as important, angle, posture and timing.

Without distance, angle, posture and timing we will end up too close, basically taking away our choices of techniques that can be used. When we are too close wrestling techniques become relevant, not so much the techniques we see in the Tai Chi form.

It is not surprising then that we see pummeling and wrestling throws being used in push hands nowadays. It is not necessarily a bad thing. It is just that we are wasting our time learning the form in the first place.

Instead of learning the form we would be better served learning exercises like pummeling, arm drags, doing ties, level changes, penetration drills, takedowns, etc. These drills can be readily applied to how we do push hands nowadays and they make more sense at that range and distance.

The video below shows arm drag drills that can be readily incorporated into push hands.

Did you have a feeling that the arm drag at 2:04 to 2:14 looks familiar?

You should because the arm drag is basically the first movement that you do when changing from Right Brush Knee, Twist Step to Left Brush Knee, Twist Step.

The stepping forward to opponent’s back, using the left hand to control his lower back, while shooting your right arm across his neck is one example of using Brush Knee, Twist Step to do a takedown.

If you take the time to examine how to use Brush Knee, Twist Step this could possibly be an application you will come up with. Or if you do research, apply Bruce Lee’s absorb what is useful, reject what is useless advice, you might come across the use of arm drags in wrestling, put two and two together and end up with a similar application.

Thoughts on PD

I typically avoid writing about health because I am not a doctor. However, my wife’s friend is suffering from Parkinson with one hand having tremors and body is experiencing balance difficulties.

I have a vague idea of what Parkinson disease is so I googled to find out more. PD is listed as due to loss of nerve cells but what causes it is not known.

PD also has no cure though lately exercise has shown to help. One such program is Pedaling for Parkinsons. This could be an area to look into.

I read that Tai Chi also helps with postural stability and leg strength. I don’t know about normal Tai Chi training but the Chest front, ten character (胸前十字) principle in Grandmaster Wei’s Tai Chi mentioned here is a simple but effective method for training balance.

Stooping is also mentioned as one problem faced by PD patients. The principle of Three passes, of conveyed usage (三關的运用) mentioned here is a way to train to have an upright posture.

For strength training to reduce hand tremor perhaps weight training using a dumbell or swinging a stick while doing Angle 1 striking. This can also be paired with stepping to add in a cardio component to get the heart beating as what is mentioned in the Pedaling for Parkinsons training program.

I have found that the small sphere exercise in GM Wei’s Tai Chi is very good for training the hand to be relaxed, yet firm and stable. So this might be a helpful exercise.

It would be best to consult a physiotherapist for appropriate treatment of motor symptoms because they are trained and have experience in helping different types of patients. I know consultation with a physiotherapist is not cheap, especially if it is a physiotherapist in private practice.

I know of one person who didn’t want to continue visiting a physiotherapist after operation on both knees as he was not well off. I urged him not to save on money at the expense of his well being otherwise his ability to walk properly will be affected.

Why Learn E4?

Entry 4 (E4) is a basic technique in iKali. Tuhon Apolo said that techniques like E4 are the bread and butter techniques.

One unusual aspect of iKali is that the more advanced techniques are taught first rather than later. The reason is advanced techniques require a longer period of learning and immersion so nothing better to learn it from the beginning rather than later so that we can chalk up the number of practice repetitions.

If Tuhon Apolo had not said it I might have dismissed E4 as a simple basic technique. I mean what could be advanced about a straightforward strike to the temple followed by a strike to the knee. But as they say the devil is in the details and this will only be revealed as we travel along the path.

I should know that E4 is important because the next technique is Entry 6 (E6) which is basically E4 plus two more strikes. This is followed by what we call Tap for short and is the E4 strike with a tapping movement inserted in between.

In iKali Tuhon Apolo wants everyone to get functional fast so we do E4 as a straightforward series of strikes, first to the temple, chamber back to the hip, strike to the knee, then bring back to shoulder.

What makes E4 a useful technique is not immediately obvious at this stage. But after a number of repetitions which Tuhon Apolo defined as 10,000 repetitions as the minimum then we move beyond the functional stage to the technical stage. This is when we pay more attention to developing the details. These details are the keys to developing the ability to apply E4.

I like to say the opponent is not stupid. So if we try to strike the opponent in the temple using the first strike in E4 it will fail cause opponent is not going to stand there. He will block, deflect, evade, move away, whatever it takes not to get hit and try to hit you back.

Once we understand this point then we know what just trying to hit someone without a plan is pretty much a recipe for failure. We need a strategy if we want to score hits. In the famous 36 strategems it is said “Make a sound in the east, then strike in the west” and this is exactly the first application of E4 in that we feint to the temple and strike to the knee.

If the opponent moves his knee then we follow up with a strike to the arm or temple, whichever target is nearer and this is what E6 is about. If opponent intercepts our first strike to his temple and then attempts to hit our low body instead, then we can tap the stick downwards to deflect his attack and counter with our strike to his knee – this is one possible application of Tap. Another possible application is that the Tap is used as a timing disruptor to cause the opponent to freeze for a split second by attacking his front foot. Then before the opponent can react we quickly go for his knee.

These are examples of how E4 can be used. Once we add in some of the other strikes the possibilities are immense. So never underestimate a simple basic technique. The lessons learned from E4 can also be applied in Tai Chi push hands.

How We Learn Tai Chi

I think there is a misconception amongst some readers as to what our Tai Chi is.

Firstly, we are not about styles nor lineage. Our focus is far simpler – how can we learn the principles of the Tai Chi Classics and use them.

Secondly, we have a progressive way of learning. We don’t begin with GM Wei Shuren’s form which is far too difficult even for people who have learned Tai Chi for a long time.

Instead, we begin with something easier, something attainable given a shorter period of learning. As Tuhon Apolo would say don’t teach what you want students to learn but teach them what they need to learn.

So I may want them to learn the best, the most advanced that I know but I know from experience that this is not gonna happen. Any student who starts with GM Wei’s Tai Chi will get stuck on Beginning Posture from the word go.

Funny thing is most students will also get stuck from the word go in our Yang Chengfu style long form. But at least they won’t get stuck as long.

I would say that learning the form is useless just like learning the Classics is useless. They have to be learned together with the idea of how to apply the movements to make sense. Copying a movement is not difficult but trying to imitate the nuances is not straight forward.

The nuances are what some people refer to as the small details. Things like the timing of the movement, how to pose the body vis a vis the opponent, when to use strength, when not to use strength, where to intercept, when to neutralize, how much to turn to neutralize, how to harmonize, etc; these are the things we learn even in our Yang Chengfu long form.

For 99.9% of students these are difficult to do properly even though they should be easy to do because they are mainly external movements rather than internal movements. But when it comes to GM Wei’s form its the other way around – its mostly internal – things going on in the mind as opposed to things happening that can be seen.

The things that we practice in our Yang Chengfu long form develops small frame characteristics as opposed to big frame flavor in other Yang Chengfu lineages. At a certain stage the student will discover that it is but the flip side to what is practiced in GM Wei’s form.

The reason why we have this approach is that given a limited amount of time to practice daily we can only practice so much per day. So it makes sense that we should not have too broad a focus if mastery is our objective.

For example, the learning of the straight sword helps the learning of the Yang Chengfu long form in that the straight sword enables the practitioner to use the techniques of the long form with the lively stepping of the straight sword. This indirectly builds the foundation for the learning of the Fast Form later.

The above is how we line up the teaching with the learning objectives. This is why if a student just want to come and learn fajing or just want to learn a particular form I would not take him on because this is not how we learn. We learn from the ground up, develop the basics, simple as they may be they must still be learned to the point where they are habitual and can be maintained when we are applying the techniques.

No one said it is easy but this is how we see it. Then at the end of it when we read the Tai Chi Classics we should not have a puzzled look any more because now we understand what the body of writing means as a whole.

To Be Blind

I saw someone asking to share a subscription on online WC learning. So I go kaypoh and poked the bear. He didn’t like it that I said that CST approach is rehashed TC and even sent me a video of CST saying its not.

The problem with many learners is that they are eager to be part of a cult and brainwashed themselves into believing something that is not necessarily true. This is why traceability is helpful. CST said he learned from IM and we have video of IM doing his forms. We also have seen videos of other fellow students of the same generation.

Unless you are blind when you compare videos of how they move and stand you might notice that CST stands out. There is something familiar yet dissimilar. If you are in the circle you might believe that this is unique.

However, for those who have been around longer and know the earlier stories or rumors you might suspect that the difference is due to importing something in and modifying it to boost one’s skill (think C-19 booster shot, yay!). CST is not the only one who did it. Some of his contemporaries did it too.

Blinding yourself to the obvious leads you off the path and ultimately you may end up not getting it. Many masters are innovators, not blind followers. CST is no different. The further you go down the line the lesser you see the roots once its been filtered, obscured and hidden.

How do you know if you are capable of assesssing something critically and in a position to offer an expert opinion? It is when you can do it. When you think another person’s approach is wrong and not convincing criticizing it is useless unless you know the other person’s approach and can show a better performance than him.

An example is the person in the video posted here. I have criticized him and he didn’t like it. I have to admire his guts though. He dared to go on television even though his demonstration is of one below par, below the standard of what an instructor of the style should be capable of showing in terms of the characteristics of the style.

I think it is OK if he is promoting the style, showing what he has learned and is capable of within the limits of his training. But to pass himself of as a master and able to transmit the style, well, that I have to say he should not do because outsiders looking at this style would think is that it? They don’t see the best representation of it, or even a qualified representation. Instead, they see a below standard performance from a so-called master and they think the style so lousy ha?

Want to boost your own skill? Don’t be a blind follower. Open your eyes wide and see things as they are. Question critically, assess what you see, ask the why of what you are doing, being critical is not being disrespectful (the best teachers actually encourage questions, even those they can’t answer) and train hard while constantly checking your progress. Invite constructive criticism. Don’t worry about getting things wrong. The more wrongs you get the more correct you will be later.

Learning to Use Wild Horse Parts Mane

The confounding thing about a technique is that their application can look obvious.

However, when we go into it we can discover that it is not so. In a big class it is easier to teach one technique, one application.

However, a technique can be used in different ways. A technique is basically a series of sequential movements. The sum of all the movements is the technique.

We can use all the movements to create an application. If we changed the focus slightly the outcome can be different.

And if we use only some of the movements we have yet a different take on how to use the movements.

When we first learn how to use Wild Horse Parts Mane we focus on the obvious application which is to enter and throw.

Once we develop a better feel of each of the movements we might focus on how to use some of these movements instead of in their entirety.

One example of this is to use the entering movement to do an arm lock instead.

The easiest way to learn how to use Wild Horse Parts Mane in many ways is to do push hands. Use push hands as opportunity to explore.

Don’t be stuck on only one way of applying the movement. Test out whatever you can think of. This is how I learned to do push hands, not by pushing in predictable patterns but in free flowing format, try whatever I can do to push my teacher out or put him in a lock.

When given free rein you can either be creative or mind goes blank. Use the form as a reference textbook to inspire you to apply your techniques freely. You might be surprised by what you discover.

Fajing Not About Power Only

Fajing is not always about generating power.

Sometimes its just timing. Using timing means to listen, or perhaps to probe to elicit a response, then allowing the response to be heard, understanding what the energy feel is saying and exploiting it.

Fajing can also be about to use your partner’s weakness against him.

For example, if he tries to enter without a proper root then he has already unbalanced himself. All you have to do then is to get under him and launch him the moment his energy is receeding after he tried to use it.

This is why my teacher from the Wei Shuren lineage doesn’t teach fajing on its own. Instead, he stressed learning the principles embedded in the form. His explanation is that when the principles fall into place fajing will happen.

Otherwise, if you learn fajing separately from the form when you try to use fajing it will look forced. You will also not be able to use it naturally as part of your arsenal of techniques, creating a feel of fajing is fajing and technique is technique, instead of fajing and technique is inseparable.

One reason why we don’t always have to fajing hard is because to fajing hard is like spending money unnecessarily, except in this instance you squander your strength and energy. Instead, use only as much as you have to and fajing then becomes a fun, relaxing exercise.

Prison Officers Training Update

Its interesting to see that our prison officers have updated their training.

I had a student who used to work as a prison officer. Given his background I thought he would be an adept at using control techniques.

Imagine my surprise that though he knew about using locks he couldn’t use them effectively if I am giving some resistance and not standing still. Puzzled, I probed further and found out that they were taught to handle one inmate not on 1-to-1 basis but three officers to one inmate.

The question that came to mind was what then would he do if he were alone at the moment he needed to defend himself. The next thing I thought of was what would happen if there was a prison riot and inmates outnumber the officers.

I didn’t know who handled the training but it didn’t seem well thought of. So I guess its nicer to see this video of updated training until I actually looked through the video.

I am not a self defence expert so I shouldn’t comment too much. But the following questions kept popping up in my mind :-

a) Right at the beginning of the video you see a simulated training on kneeing an inmate, pushing him away, going for the baton and stepping back while ordering him to get on his knees. Why do this?

This reminds me of movies where you see the victim managing to get hold of a weapon, hitting the assailant with it once, then running away only for the assailant to get up, come after him (or her), hitting him (the victim) more violently, and recapturing him. Whenever I see this I would ask why not hit him (bad guy) a few more times? Why not find something to tie him up? Why not find a weapon? So many questions?

The logic is not everyone will comply to a command to stay down. Some will keep fighting. So why give up an advantage? I guess there must be some procedural and legal reasons for doing so.

b) At 0:17 I can see some kneeing techniques. I wonder why they don’t get a Muay Thai trainer in for this seeing that the way they are doing the pulling the head movement do not seem efficient and expose them to a takedown if the inmate were to rush forward or even just fall forward.

c) At 0:24 I see elbow strikes being practiced for close quarters combat. I used to learn something like this when I was learning Wing Chun. I would suggest to get the training partner to attack the way an inmate would actually do so. A better simulation may reveal the problems with this type of technique.

At 0:40 you see the partner not following up after the officer stepped away. If the partner had put her head down and continue charging forward I wonder if she can still draw her baton.

d) At 1:00 the claim about avoiding force is commendable. So is the claim about using behaviour control but still what happens if things do not work out the way they are supposed to. What then?

e) At 1:13 I had to smile when I saw the training against multiple opponents. It reminds me of movies where the bad guys stand around waiting for their turn.

Seeing this video informs me that there is a difference between techniques used in prison and what we would do in real life whatever it is that we do individually.

I wonder who they consulted for this type of training. Maybe they should pressure test it by inviting inmates to attack at random to see if the officers can really use their training. OK, stupid idea – they will never do this.

Knowing the techniques is one thing, being able to use it under pressure knowing that you can be injured seriously is another.

That’s why we keep training, never assume that bad guys only attack one way. As Tuhon Apolo said its the attack that you don’t see coming that gets you.