Second Lesson – Quanfa

Tai Chi is a method of Quanfa (拳法) using the intent () to develop one’s combat skills. Instead of physically doing repetitions of a technique, the learning of the Tai Chi of Grandmaster Wei Shuren calls for us to exercise our grey cells ahead of our physical movements, i.e. every movement shall be preceded by an intent.

Is not wanting to throw a punch an intent? Is thinking of where to step an intent? Is turning your body as you are thinking of turning it an intent?

Yes, yes and yes. They are all intent.

However, the intent in Tai Chi is a lot more specific and specialized than that. For example, when you throw a punch where is your intent? When did it start moving? What are you thinking of when your punch is moving through space?

Let’s examine an example. This is part of the Fair Lady Threads Shuttles technique from the 22-form.

Spear-3.png

Without the benefit of an explanation and relying on the two pictures alone it would seem as if Grandmaster Wei is lowering his right hand from shoulder height to about waist height.

Now if you were asked to do this movement without being told about the need to use specific intent how would you lower your right hand? Do you :-

a) Just lower it?

b) Think first about lowering your right hand before doing it?

c) Ensure that your right hand lowering is guided by your body / dantian movement in conformance with good biomechanics?

Now if you were told that this movement is called “Mountain Splitting (the) Five Peaks (or Summits)” would it alter the way you do the movement?

Close you eyes and let your imagination roam. Mountain splitting five peaks. What does it mean? How does a mountain split five peaks? It does not make much sense, does it? Most people would have given up and think the name is just for reference; basically saying they do not know and just want to shelve the matter.

But what if the name of the movement is important? Would we not miss out on a possibly important part of training? Knowing what the name means, how it relates to the training of Tai Chi force is a distinguishing feature of our Quanfa.

The name is there not because some bored Taoist monk decided to jazz the name up. There is a reason for it, an important rationale behind it and everything points back to the training of the intent.

Consider – what if we were to write out “Mountain Splitting Five Peaks” in Chinese? This is how it is written :-

山劈五岳

Would this make a difference? I guess to most readers and practitioners their mind would still register a blank and its alright. This is where I jump in and say that a knowledge of China is helpful. The name in English does not tell me much either but once I say the name in Chinese this is what comes to mind :-

山-劈-五-岳 (how most people see it)

山-劈-五岳(how I see it)

Can you see the difference now?

You can either read it as a mountain-chopping down-five-peaks (i.e. five different peaks). Or you can read it as mountain-chopping down-five peaks.

The former tells me a mountain is cutting down five mountains, possibly one after another. The latter tells me that a mountain is cutting down Five Peaks (五岳)!

If you know something about the geography of China you would realize that Five Peaks (五岳) is referring to The Five Great Mountains in Chinese history. Emperors in the past would make pilgrimage to these mountains. The Five Great Mountains are Tai Shan (Shandong), Hua Shan (Shanxi), Heng Shan (Hunan), Heng Shan (Shanxi) and Song Shan (Henan).

The Five Peaks are sacred and their association with the pilgrimage of Emperors bestow on them an aura of majestic might. A mountain that is powerful enough to cleave the Five Peaks is mighty indeed! By association, the technique of Mountain Splits Five Peaks should be a powerful stroke!

Note of interest – Tongbeiquan, a very old powerful northern style of Chinese martial arts, has a vertical palm strike called 劈山 so I guess Tai Chi players are not the only ones fond of chopping down mountains.

Below is how the image of a mountain cleaving five mountains lined up in a row comes to my mind :-

Spear-4.png

But how do we perform the technique of Mountain Splits Five Peaks with intent to develop our power?

This is how we can do this technique in a nutshell :-

Step 1 – imagine you are holding a Chinese spear in your hands. Behind you stands a mountain.

Step 2 – as the mountain behind you bows forward to cleave the five great mountains imagine your spear is also cutting down.

Spear-5

If you practice this for a sufficient period of time your arms can develop a powerful downward force without appearing to use obvious biomechanics. You can use this force in push hands to sink your opponent’s bridge arm or you can use it to power a downward chopping strike.

In order to arrive at a level where you can use this power freely you need to reach the level of “true intent” (真意). Ironically, at the stage of “true intent” (真意) is when you should have “no intent” (无意). This is consistent with what I mentioned in the First Lesson as 从繁到空.

And that dear readers is what the Quanfa (拳法) of our Yang style Tai Chi Chuan that is descended from Grandmaster Wei Shuren is about.

Logo

Advertisements

Micro Universe 4

In learning Tai Chi it helps if we have a teacher who knows the stuff and teaches it to us. But if not, then all is not lost. After all, who taught the first person who created the art?

A teacher can take us so far. A good teacher should liberate us.

However, I see that many famous teachers tend to enslave their students with the tools of discipleship, secret teachings, instructorship and so on.

A good art has a lot of depth and take years to mine the information for skills. Even then this is only the journey of the external. There is a point in the journey where you go on your own.

At this juncture you should have mastered the core principles. You should have internalized the principles and be able to conceal them from even someone who is touching you and actively trying to feel what you are doing.

From this point you are on your own. Your teacher can still act to verify that you are walking on the same path though who is to say that you cannot forge a new path.

Is what I am advocating heresy?

If you are in a traditional lineage or a money-making lineage then yes, this is heresy. This is why in such arts the people who tend to get it are normally the sons, adopted sons, relatives or rich students. The rest have little chance of getting there.

What can we do then?

Logo

Micro Universe 3

Why am I raising the question of universal laws?

The reason is because a human body is a human body. Assuming this is true then knowing universal laws can accelerate our mastery of Tai Chi.

This is in contrast to people who like to do Tai Chi styles preoccupying themselves with styles and lineages. However, anyone who has spent enough time on an art would know that styles and lineages mean little in reality.

Let’s say we have 10 people (or many more) learning the same style from the same master but only one person will truly understand the art. So what happens when the 10 go out and teach?

Let’s say each of the 10 have 20 students. Over time there will be many more practitioners and teachers of this style out there. If the 1 that got it didn’t teach or teach sparsely that means the chances of someone learning from the 9 that didn’t quite get it is very high. Not exactly good news for those that really want to learn the art but that’s reality.

This is why if you want to get to the core of the teaching you have to look for the underlying principles that governing the class of combat known as Tai Chi.

Logo

Micro Universe 2

In my previous post I asked :-

Are the principles governing the force models built into the Yang style 22 form transmitted by Grandmaster Wei Shuren based on scientific universal laws whether discovered or undiscovered?

This is an interesting question that struck me as I read a lot more about physics. But as one book title so aptly put it “We Have No Idea”.

Based on what I know and what I read I would say that yes, the laws of the universe (I am speaking loosely here) do govern Tai Chi. Or perhaps we should think of it the other way round – Tai Chi is a model that describes the workings of the universe using a non-scientific paradigm because the creator was not a scientist!

However, they were probably great observers of nature and drew parallels from what they observed to what they were doing, consolidating the observations and conclusions, leading to the creation of the Tai Chi model.

I am speculating here, making conclusions from what I know. I have read that physicists are seeking a model that is capable of explaining everything notably gravity, quantum theory, and the world of atoms. It should not surprise me that people in China, perhaps in many places have tried to do so for whatever field interested them in the past.

Logo

The Deceived

There is a thin fine line between being soft and being internal. Most practitioners, even masters can’t really tell the difference.

As such, everything is lumped under the term “internal” regardless of whether it is soft or internal. Consider a method of attack I taught a student earlier in the week.

Scenario – amidst our free flow push hands I bring up my right hand to strike the left side of his face. His reaction is to bring up his left arm, palm facing inwards to his face, to block my strike.

His block worked……….. for a second. In the next second I continued with the same attack and hit him where I originally wanted the strike to land. So what happened? Did his block worked? Or did it not work?

Investigation time – we examine the technique together. We just look at the isolated movements as follows :-

a) Z brings up right palm strike

b) X blocks with left arm, connecting his left forearm against Z’s right forearm slightly below the wrist area

c) Stop the techniques and check that X’s block has stopped Z’s strike properly such that Z’s strike cannot move towards its target

d) Now Z activates his secret “internal”, super Chi skill. X is waiting. Then Z moves and his strike managed to get past X’s blocking arm to touch Z’s face

e) Maybe Z moved too fast so the same sequence is repeated at a much slower pace. Same result, same feeling in that X could not understand how Z got past his block which was one minute secured and the next it was not. It was only when Z increased the level of movement that X finally felt something but even then X was not entirely sure what he really felt. Mostly X couldn’t feel much because he has not trained to the level where his mind and body is sensitive to subtle movements. This lack of awareness can cause his feeling to be deceived.

Note – normally if you try to strike the left side of your opponent’s face there are a few ways you can use your technique to increase its chances of success. One simple way is to move your arm really quickly. But for this learning we do not hit faster or harder. Instead, we just move at a medium pace and when we apply the strike we can do it a bit slower as it is more convincing.

Now if a master wants to fool you and take your money he would not explain how he did this trick. He would just say its due to his use of Chi, yes, that mysterious intangible, unimaginable, money spinning technique.

The reality is that how the technique got through even after its blocked, after we stopped moving for a second and then do it slower is due to the use of technique. This technique calls for you to visualize in a certain manner coupled with physically minimal use of strength. Every student learns this technique but not every student can use it because of lack of practice to acquire the refined motor control.

The technique is called the 5-Count. For more information refer to page 58 to 60, TaijiKinesis Vol 2 – Learning the Taijiquan Form.

I have not tried to describe the process here because I doubt that readers can catch what it means if my student cannot really understand it with a first-hand touch and feel demo.

LogoLearn how to move in a refined manner in order to apply the principles of Tai Chi. Click here to find out more.

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.

A Xingyi Encounter 3

The perennial topic had to come up. Power.

Lucky for KT just the week before I resurrected something that I had not done for a long time – issuing power using principles from Grandmaster Wei Shuren’s method. So goody, time to shed the rust.

I explained and showed what is the difference using typical rear leg pushing, dantian rotating and plain using intention. Since we were in a small hotel room with a glass table behind him and top to bottom window on our side we did everything cautiously. I asked him to place his hand on my body at certain parts so he can feel which part moved when I slowly increased the power to my hand that was in contact with his body.

I wanted KT to feel what power is like when trained using intention, particularly its non-directional feel, how it can be amplified in a split second without telegraphing – I made sure he paid attention to the fact that my hand was not lifted off his body and stayed in contact when I generated the power.

The fajing process can sound mystical but its not. Today, I was watching the Part 2 of a clip from Season 2 of The Martial Man. Its obvious that the persons being interviewed had skills judging from their demonstration. I only wished they didn’t do Chinese martial arts a disservice with how they explained what they were doing. That stuff about giving and taking can be easily explained using fulcrum placement.

CMA is not easy to learn as it is. Mystifying and cloaking it in ambiguous, contradicting models do not really help its promotion. Selling and promoting the art in this manner can turn the skeptical off. We should not fear explaining what is really happening because without practice the listener will also not really understand and can never use it.

In learning any skill theory should go with practical. If you know but do not practice you still won’t understand the theory. On the other hand, if you keep doing without making attempts to tie the theoretical constructs of the art to what you are doing then you could be doing many things wrong without ever realizing it.

Every art is good as long as you know what makes the art what it is supposed to be. Practice. Check. Ask. But do not jump to conclusions or make smart assumptions too early. It is too easy to get things wrong. Many teachers will let such smart students be because over-smart is an obstacle to learning.

Whilst I can show and explain the type of power that is in our Tai Chi without the necessary and sufficient practice such skill will be forever out of our grasp.

Signboard