Its funny how years of form practice cannot make my student flow smoothly when playing push hands.

Until he had learned to play the long pole for a few weeks.

Why would this be the case?

An interesting mystery.

But not really, not if you know how the mind works and which principle is involved.

It is simple to play form with coordination. However, this typically falls apart when engaging in push hands, particularly when speed and pressure are thrown in. Then the hands become stuck, unsure what to do, freezing like a deer caught in a car’s headlights.

The long pole requires both hands to be coordinated. This is made simpler by the fact that the pole is straight and both hands must hold it, and work it as a team. So the pole trains the hands to work as a team, and the body as well.

A punch (or palm strike) can deal a painful strike but only if power is applied. With a pole, the weight (mass) of the pole is such that even if you don’t use power the momentum from its motion can impart enough power to hurt. So one thing a student learns quickly is don’t freeze up or he will get hit.

Take the above pole learning principles, put them into push hands and what have you? Faster, smoother reaction, just like doing pole combat.


Comes the Skill

With time comes skill, so goes the saying. In the training of Tai Chi short term results are possible but they will be rough around the edges.

If you want to have refined skills then you need to keep working on the small details for as long as you need to, one small step at a time.

When you stop worrying about how long the learning takes, sit back and enjoy the ride, time can fly before you know it. Then comes the day when your skill begins to manifest itself. Things that seem difficult to do previously, to understand what is happening, suddenly becomes doable, the picture clearer.

Most of the time the following factors stand in the way of your progress :-

a) Not enough time to practice

b) Not consistent practice

c) Did not pay close enough attention to the details

d) Fixed mindset that cannot see any other way except the habitual way

e) Current unusable or incorrect physical habits that are wrong for the principles

f) Cannot see or understand what is really going on in regards to the requirements

This is why the student who will master the art is the one who really wants to have it and will not let the lack of time to practice to stand in his way. Instead of giving excuses he will find the time and he will practice daily as much as he can.

The student will also give up on past unworkable habits. If you keep hanging on to your old habits that impede your learning and actual progress then expect not to make progress. You should never go to a new teacher to learn the same impractical things. Instead, a new teacher should present a new view point, that can perhaps jolt you into seeing things clearer, able to offer an alternative path to success.

Past Baggage

All of us carry some sort of baggage from the past.

Some baggage are useful but some are but obstruction to progress. The question is how to tell which baggage to lose and which to bring along.

Depending on the argument you can say that all baggage are useful until you come across a problem the baggage cannot contain. At this point you have to then make a call as to whether you should continue carrying the baggage.

Most Tai Chi practice share similar baggage. So whichever style you go for your past baggage will fit right in. Your own experience in applying the art will tell you whether ability to fit in is a good way to assess the usefulness of what you are learning.

So there you have it – using your Tai Chi to solve a combat problem will help you assess its usefulness. If you cannot solve a ground grappling problem then you know that what you know is useless. Then when you go learn grappling you should drop your past baggage.

On the other hand, if you learn another Tai Chi and the problem they posed to you is daunting for you to solve then you need to decide if you want to try to use your past baggage to contain the problem or learn their way instead.

The issue of past baggage is to teach us how to learn. If you know how to learn then you increase the chances of mastery.

Precision & Process

Do you want to be able to apply your Tai Chi techniques easily as if with little effort?

If yes, then you have to learn to be precise.

When you master the process then it appears that you are using little effort and everything seems so easy.

However, the learning requires a lot of mental concentration. Much of it focused on getting the small details down.

To do this take your time to learn to be precise. Work through the process. Understand why you have to do so and how to do it precisely. Don’t rush your learning, don’t try to be fast before you master the coordination.

Instead, work on the problem. Analyze the problem you are trying to solve. Frame the proposed solution. Examine its feasibility. See which part of what you have learned is related to it. Then bust your ass to put in the practice.

Such a practice is best illustrated by the use of separation, that movement just before we do Push in the 108 long form. The problem is how do we split the opponent’s arms to prevent an attack, uproot him and counter-attack with Push.

The entire process is made up of three steps – separate, uproot, counter-attack.

Process 1 – separate – use this to induce the opponent to loan you his strength. Minimize the use of strength by splitting his arms at the suitable angle.

Process 2 – uproot – the application of Process 1 will cause the opponent to inadvertently give you strength that you should borrow to uproot him. In Process 2 lies the trick of efficient use of strength, using the whole body with minimal movement, appearing to use only finger strength.

Process 3 – counter-attack – if Process 2 is carried out smoothly you can send the opponent flying strongly. You can pluck him off his stance or you can use Push.

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.


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.

Dim Mak Research

Interesting video on dim mak but I still have some issues over its use :-

The issues I have are :-

a) How do you demo that it really works without injuring or killing the person? With a normal strike I can control the speed, power and angle of the strike so that, example, one can feel how a slap would feel like.

b) And if it does work but the effect is delayed till the next day how does that stop the attacker now? Does this not defeat the purpose of concealing the fact that it is your strike that did him in in which case refer to (c)

c) If the dim mak strike can instantly stop a person why not just use a normal strike since this would be easier and faster to learn?

d) If the attacker is moving fast and all over the place can you really hit the spot exactly, not to mention hitting a few sequential spots?

Until I resolve the issues satisfactorily I will just stick to strikes using power.

Below is a picture of Master Cheong teaching me the use of dim mak :-