The Art of Stillness

Saw this on the back of a book cover today “…….. movement makes most sense when grounded in stillness.”

In the Tai Chi of Grandmaster Wei Shuren we see this at play. Unlike the demo of many Tai Chi masters the demo of GM Wei does not look powerful or busy with lots of obvious powerful movements.

All we see are simple movements grounded in stillness of the movement, expressed by the intention as captured in this video.

This is what makes Tai Chi, particularly the style of GM Wei, a truly internal art in the sense of the word “internal” as opposed to other arts slapping the term “internal” on what they do but its painfully obvious that what they are doing is not internal, just soft.

If you are like me and looking for an art that is truly internal in every sense of the word I think you will agree that the search ends at Grandmaster Wei’s style of Tai Chi*. After more than a decade of practice I will say that the use of intention conforms to the rules of physics. However, it is subtle enough that it is not immediately obvious how it works.

So if you are looking for a biomechanics explanation for some of the things you see in this video you will be in for a hard time. However, if you know how the intention model works you can say that it conforms to the rules of physics. The only question is how exactly.

And for that you have to learn the intention model to find out for yourself. Nothing like drinking the water to know what its like.

*Disclaimer – I just want to point out that today there are a lot more teachers of GM Wei’s style of Tai Chi. I have seen some that have proper lineage and teaching students, yet they cannot even perform the basic 22-Form properly.

So if you want to pick up this style don’t just look at the lineage. Instead, ask for a demo of form and intention power. Compare the teacher’s form performance to that of GM Wei. Those of us who learned the form properly will be able to demonstrate a flavor that is like what you see in GM Wei’s demo. The rest are just moving their body rather than their intention.

A demo of power will show if the teacher is using ordinary biomechanics or the intention model of GM Wei. Normally, if a teacher cannot do the form properly the chances are high that he will not be able to demonstrate power using the intention model.

Though it is good that the Tai Chi of GM Wei is gaining more exposure I am also concerned that there are more teachers who are teaching based on them becoming disciples of a master rather than based on the fact that they have mastered the art. Such teachers are basically selling dog meat but calling it beef.

Ultimately, their lack of understanding of the intention model will cause outsiders to think that the style is over-hyped and has nothing substantial, even labeling the intention model as fake when it is the over eager student becoming a teacher too early that is besmirching the good name of the style.

As a service to readers I can only offer a simple advice when it comes to learning Tai Chi – caveat emptor.

LogoWant to learn the intention model of Grandmaster Wei Shuren? Click here to begin your journey on the intention path.

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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Are you still waiting for a “girl”, a muse to enlighten and point the way to mastery? Wait no more by clicking here.

The Duck & The Hook

Meat.

Duck.

Hook.

And a day later in a shopping mall, walking past Dian Xiao Er, a Chinese restaurant well known for its roast duck.

Roast duck.

Hook.

duck

Images can evoke powerful associations. A few days after playing push hands with a student I am still thinking of how stiff his arms had become. Its was like a stiff hook trying to hang a roast duck swinging in the wind. Why this was so is puzzling as he should have become softer by now rather than harder.

Of course, we all know what Yang Chengfu said about “I’m not a meat rack; why do you hang on my body?” – so in this sense if one’s arm is stiff like a hook it will have a harder time trying to latch onto the roast duck that is swinging about.

If you want to taste the roast duck you must find the means to hook it. You would want to have stiffness in the engineering sense rather than in the meat rack sense. Relax your mind and body to follow the swinging roast duck and before you know it you have hooked it and be ready to carve it up for your dinner.

How to undo the habit of stiff arms?

Try practicing the 3-Count diligently for once for a period of at least 3 months. It will bring changes. The problem with most students not getting it is that they do not practice and when they do they practice for 5-10 minutes.

Our requirement is to practice for 2 hours daily. Just keep doing the 3-Count throughout the entire form and the wonder of this principle will reveal itself. Until then you can only stand outside the roast duck restaurant and salivate at the heavenly smell of roasted meat.

LogoIf you don’t want to be a meat hook when playing push hands click here.

Shortest Distance

In Wing Chun it is said that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line.

However, in Tai Chi the shortest distance between two points is a curve.

Why do we say this?

If you regularly practice the use of strikes in push hands or sticking hands you may notice that it is difficult to strike your opponent unless you disengage your arm from his arm that is in contact with you. There are two ways to do this.

The first one is to disengage by the arm that is in contact and trying to strike over the opponent’s arm. I tend to see this a lot in Youtube videos of Wing Chun practitioners doing sticking hands. Why they do this is an interesting topic.

The second way is to use your other arm to parry or grab the opponent’s arm to momentarily detain it, freeing your arm to strike.

It does not matter if you are practicing Tai Chi, Wing Chun or some other styles. As long as you practice a contact platform these are the two common ways to do it.

The first way can work well if your opponent is slow to react. I saw this in a Facebook clip of a Yiquan master doing push hands. When he deliberately lost contact and moved in it was like watching a truck running down a person.

The only thing I would caution against doing it this way is that if your partner uses strong forward force you may find his hand suddenly shooting forward to hit you the moment you lose the contact. Of course, you can move your body out of the way just before you do it but its a calculated risk.

The second way does not always work because not everyone that play hands using a contact platform will keep their arms close enough for you to use the other hand to parry or grab. I found this out when I played hands with Tai Chi people when I was learning Wing Chun.

So what do you do then if you want to do a strike and both ways are not workable?

This is when understanding that a curve is the shortest distance between two points when arms are in contact is useful. What does this mean exactly?

LogoClick here to learn how to use a curve to move quickly between two points when playing push hands.

 

Posing

The journey of a thousand miles begin with the first step. Veer by a few degrees and you may well end up somewhere that you did not intend to be, except you may not even know that you don’t want to be there in the first place.

I watched my student perform the section of the Yang style 108 form that has a number of kicks. He has a habit of bringing his hands up, raise the knee, posed for a second, then slowly stretched his kicking leg out.

Nice, if you are taking part in a wushu Tai Chi competition. Not so useful if you are practicing Tai Chi for combat. Why?

For starters, when one of your foot is off the ground you are not as stable as you should be. The longer you keep your foot off the ground the more chances you offer to the opponent to take advantage of your unstable state.

Our rule is simple when doing kicks – when ready, kick. Don’t pose.

How do we know when we are ready to kick? How do we set up the conditions that allow us to kick whilst minimizing exposure to a counter-attack when we are in a vulnerable state? How do we kick?

When we practice the form the above three questions are some of the things we are investigating. Each part of the entire sequence that makes up a kicking technique helps us to perform the kick with precision and power.

Proper study of the kicking movement will help you to learn how to kick without telegraphing your intention to kick. The 5-Count principle is useful in this regard.

When I demonstrated how to do the 5-Count distinctively my student asked whether this would be telegraphing as I was doing it obviously for him to feel. I don’t know whether to laugh or what. I would not want to say this was a stupid question, rather it was a question that was not well thought out.

To answer his question I showed him what it would feel like if the 5-Count was performed in a refined manner. After I showed it to him he told me what he felt this time.

Nothing.

Yes, this time he couldn’t feel when I would kick him even though my hands were in contact with his arm.

Not posing is important when learning how to move in Tai Chi. This is because the movements are not for us to look good, or to feel the Chi like some New Age-y folks would go. Instead, the movements are to teach us how to move in compliance to the principles and the strategies that would allow us to use the art.

LogoWant to learn how to get rid of your wushu-centric Tai Chi habits that are preventing you from mastering Tai Chi? Click here.

From Form to Push Hands

You don’t really know how to play your form properly until you know how to apply the techniques in push hands.

Likewise, you won’t go beyond shoving and wrestling until you understand your form.

The learning of form and push hands complement each other. The form is a reference textbook containing techniques with various obvious usage. Go deeper and you will discover hidden and derived applications.

Learning how to play push hands begins by taking the technique from the form and understanding why it is performed the way it is, how it fits into the game of physical chess of conquering position and seizing space. We also examine the thinking of the opponent, how to make him give you what you want.

After you have learned about the technique then you can try to use it when playing push hands freely. This means your training partner will act in a compliant manner. He may tone down his resistance to give you a fighting chance but he will not give in easily. In this way you can simulate what works and what does not within a controlled learning environment rather than resist for the sake of it.

What you see in the video above is a reader of TaijiKinesis Vol 2 learning push hands after learning form. He has known Tai Chi for two decades. You can see the good foundation in the way he moved. What is not obvious is his softness and power.

In the last part of the video we just played a bit; I did not say he cannot resist or use strength. I just let him react how he liked to and we just let the play take its course so that we can get a better feedback on how the techniques worked out given different levels of resistance; all part of the learning journey.

Sometimes with regular students we do play fast, hard and rougher. It depends on what we are working on. Better train to be prepared particularly with the unexpected than to get a rude shock. By pushing and expanding the scope we get to understand better the techniques in our form, whether we are doing them properly or need to be changed, always keeping in mind the principles.

LogoDo you use what you learned in your form in push hands? If no, why not? If you want to learn how to do so click here.

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.