Another Pole Exercise

This week my student began another solo drill to develop an essential attack and defense technique.

This is basically a covering and uncovering motion. The drill is also good for developing whole body power to generate power through a sudden, small movement.

Below are some key pointers when doing the drill :-

Go Slow to Go Fast

Why do we put emphasis on form training?

I can think of two simple reasons :-

a) Form is about the cultivation, maintenance and putting in place appropriate principles at the right time during a sequence of changing movements, which through a period of time naturalizes, automates and allows us to call up at will easily the right principles to apply

b) It provides opportunity to cultivate and maintain key principles in great detail during movement without the distraction of pressure. The logic is that if you can’t perform without pressure, you can certainly not perform under pressure

If you don’t understand this logic you will see form as useless training. Form training is unfortunately not something you can breeze through. It takes time to see beyond the obvious, to tease out those things that you read about in the Tai Chi Classics but do not understand.

You do not understand not because it is complicated but because you have not trained to the point where you can understand what is written. Form training is one of those things where you want to rush through but you just can’t rush through. Try running from Point A to Point B as fast as you can. Now describe what was on your left side as you were running from Point A to Point B.

Did you have any problem describing in detail what was on your left side? How about describing in greater detail? Why do you think you are not able to describe better?

So this is the issue with form training. It takes time. My teacher said that time is the real price we pay for mastery.

I try to teach my student how to do a 4-step neutralize, trap, realign and issue technique. Its a simple, short move, nothing fancy, no leaping in the air and turning 270 degrees. But its not easy to do it quickly, under strong pressure.

Yet, the same movement is readily found in Rollback, in that innocuous little arm movement that most people don’t pay attention to. Yet, if you practice the form long enough to flesh out the details you will eventually reach a point where you will wonder about this movement.

There is a Zen story about the faster you want to learn something, the slower your learning will be. The moral is if you want to learn faster, try learning slower.

Working on Disadvantages

Being small and light is a disadvantage when facing a bigger opponent. Knowing this is important because you then know that you must work doubly hard to maximize those things that give you an advantage while minimizing the impact of the factors that work against you.

When you are small you would want to wage guerilla combat. Be mobile, get in, get out. And what if you can’t do that? What if your opponent is as fast, as mobile? This is when you turn to the study of strategy, the examination of refined biomechanics – the so-called internal approach.

For most students they can get away with not paying too much attention in the early days of their training to stance work as long as they have some strength to resist. However, the smaller student can’t. The smaller student will be at a disadvantage as long as he or she does not learn to be unified, to be rooted.

Stance work is a killer, takes a lot of patience, be able to endure muscle ache while working out the details of how to get things right. There’s rooting and there’s sinking to work on. Sinking is the easy part, sit lower and that’s all you have to do. But to root without apparent sitting lower is much harder.

Rooting is a process, at least that’s how I have evolved and simplified the learning. I think its important to learn as fast as possible, kinda like insurance. I mean you don’t buy an accident insurance that takes effect only 5 years down the road. What’s the point?

Easiest way to learn something is to first know the why. Well, that’s easy. You must root otherwise you go flying when you come into contact with someone stronger, heavier, more solid. Then to return the favor you need to sink. For this you have apparent outward sinking and you have mental internal sinking. Beginners do outward sinking cause its easy to pick up. Do the stance drill for a few months to make it a habit and process mastered. Piece of cake.

But outward rooting as a process is still not an easy practice. Its easy to learn though. Follow the step-by-step instruction. Understand the role of the arch. Know the importance of the kua to keep things together. Throw in a dash of the waist twist and voila! you have power and stability. Simple?

It would be simple down the road. For the moment its always get some things right, then something goes out of whack. Fix it, hold it, then move, then out again. And repeat the correction. This is the real challenge, to have the persistence to keep at it until everything falls into place naturally and effortlessly.

Along the way when the outer process becomes more refined is when one transitions to the internal. Not to forget adding in tons of mental and physical relaxation in accordance to the 4 keywords listed by Grandmaster Wei Shuren which leads to the achievement of the bell body.

The Killing Gung 2

Two weeks later from my last post The Killing Gung I still have my student working on the basics except this time he is down to doing just the 1-2 sequence of Spear-Kill.

Kill –> Spear –> Kill –> Spear

Like a train he chugged up and down linearly along the corridor connecting the two blocks.

I turned a more critical eye to his progress. This week I picked on his grip. A proper grip lends itself to a more solid structure leading to more power.

I had him spear the stack of chairs to understand how to position the pole properly in reference to the position of the body.

We ended with applying the lesson of the pole to the use of emptyhand techniques, particularly the advanced technique that Master Leong taught. This is the “one technique, many changes” movement of our number one fist technique.

Grind on.

The Killing Gung

I think my student has not expected the recent hard training.

Up, down, up down he wielded the mighty pole trying to nail the basics. One, two, one, two. Spear, slam, spear, slam.

Training to acquire power through pole training is basically persistence and prolonged training in mastering the basics. Whether we do a 1-2 or 1-2-3 sequence does not matter. Just keep on working at it.

Get the sequence down, familiarize with it, when the basics look set, refine it, repeat basics + corrections, nail them, refine again. Again and again.

Its still not bad yet as he is still using a light white wax pole. Using a wooden pole will be more tiring. Still its nothing as compared to using a 9-foot pole much later.

Basic familiarity. Basic process. Basic biomechanics. Add the small details. Find the spiral motions. Find the right timing for triggering sudden acceleration and sudden braking to create shock on impact.

As with the weapon, so it is with the body. The pole biomechanics transfer across to use of empty hand techniques. Basic techniques like straight punch is transformed with the body integration and gearing coordination of the entire body movement. Shoulder stroke becomes so much more forceful.

POLErobics 2

Here’s a nice photo of this week’s practice.

This week’s focus is on Arrow Pole and Killing Pole as shown below :-

The basic practice focused on doing the 2 movements while stepping forward. Its a boring practice no doubt but the reward in acquired skills especially power generation more than makes up for the drudgery.

First we did the drill. Up, down. Up, down.

Then on to the fun part. The connection between emptyhand techniques and weapon practice. How does pole practice assist in acquiring the ability to generate power? Its not how most videos that I have seen on Youtube puts it.

No, no. Our secret sauce is much simpler. Its basically what you see is what you get. Its finding the fine line between the practice video you see above and below.

In this video I am doing a 4-movement sequence as opposed to the 2-movement sequence practiced by my student. I am doing it more fluidly to bring out the core principles of dot and circle.

In between the not defined properly and blurred definition of the two videos is the sweet spot. When you hit this spot in your practice you will find you can do strong, sudden fajing. Its not even difficult, just a matter of nailing a few small details.

We do the pole, we do the emptyhand technique to help us see the connection. Then we try out in push hands to see what it feels like.

Before you know it, you’ve gotten it; that seemingly elusive goal of being able to fajing, said by many to be difficult but it is really very simple. Just nail the key requirements and its your skill, forever.



I woke up with this label stuck in my mind. To get this off my mind I wrote something earlier this morning on Facebook but by evening the label is still stuck in my mind. So I shall write a post here to exorcise it from my mind.

Why POLErobics?

Well, if you look at the video below this should be obvious.

By association this is a practice using the pole. If you keep moving and moving, faster and faster, non-stop, over and over, the speed and intensity of the movements will work your lungs and before you know it you will be grasping for breath.

The aerobics part is not obvious in this video because he is only moving at medium speed. Once he is familiar with the sequence he will be able to go faster. At that time the aerobics in this practice will come to the fore, and then we will be able to clearly see how pole + aerobics = POLErobics.

The pole is the first weapon I learned from my first Tai Chi teacher, hence it is my favorite weapon. However, this sequence here is not from him.

Instead, this sequence is from my Ngok Gar Kuen teacher, the late Grandmaster Cheong Fook, whom I consider to be my best teacher on the long pole. GM Cheong said that it is important to drill this sequence daily.

After years of playing with this sequence it is my opinion that the ability to apply the long pole hinges on the mastery of these three techniques that we term Arrow Pole, Killing Pole and Flinging Pole. Of the three movements I feel that Killing Pole is the most important with Flinging Pole coming second and Arrow Pole last.

Grandmaster Cheong Fook teaching the Arrow Pole

I taught my student this sequence to help him develop the skill of using the long pole form from my first Tai Chi teacher. In addition, this sequence can help to master certain key principles from the Tai Chi Classics which in turn can be applied to the practice of push hands.