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.

Be Inspired

You don’t have to know 1,001 ways to fajing if you are interested in the combat side of Tai Chi. You only have to know how to get the position and apply one good strong power. This is what I normally focus on.

However, when you eat the same food too many times you get sick of it. So yeah, sometimes we can take a side trip to the fajing world to reaffirm our interest. Mind you, as it is our first form, the 108, already has enough fajing methods for you to play with.

But Tai Chi fajing skill level is like a deep, dark hole as how my teacher once said. This video of GM Wei Shuren is a constant reminder of the skill level we can work towards.

His fajing is light and crisp, with minimal movement and effort. It doesn’t mean he does not have fajing that can cause serious injury. He did but stopped demonstrating it when he nearly caused serious hurt to someone once.

Anyway, consider this a good source of inspiration and motivation. Keep on training.

Science in Tai Chi

Ouf of the blue my student asked me about Chi and what not in Tai Chi. I told him that its better to spend time dwelling on the science behind Tai Chi then on matters like Chi.

The reason is simple – Chi is difficult to conceptualize clearly and definitively in practice. You can tell someone to breathe in and out to circulate the Chi and he can then believe that he has Chi in his movements but will it mean he can apply his techniques better? Aye, that is the question.

However, if we examine the practice of Tai Chi from the perspective of science it is clearer as to what is or is not happening. Of course, we can argue about Chi from say the perspective of physiology or TCM but will it lead to a clear cut answer or lead you deeper into the rabbit hole?

Just because you can’t see the science behind Tai Chi does not mean that it does not exist. In order to identify the science behind Tai Chi you should first master the art however you have to do so. Then when you read books on science you have a better idea of what you are looking at.

For example, the Tai Chi Classics exhort us to seek stillness in motion and motion in stillness. What does this mean exactly?

If you read both lines as a whole this would mean stillness must co-exist in motion and vice versa. Meaning that both must exist concurrently in every Tai Chi movement whether you stand still or you move.

However, to move but then have to be still sounds like a contradiction. Admittedly this is so until you know the science behind it. I am not good in science but being exposed to the field of engineering helps because it is in this line of work that I happened to see a real life example of this Tai Chi principle. I actually shot a clip of this but unfortunately it was in the early days of phone cameras and the quality is so bad that I couldn’t see the illustration clearly.

What is in the clip is a shot of a shaft starting to rotate from 0 rpm till past 10,000 rpm. The interesting point is how the eye sees a reflective tape that is pasted onto the rotating shaft as the speed increased. At a lower speed the reflective tape can be seen turning round and round. However, as the speed increased to about 5,000 rpm two reflective tapes can be seen in the same spot on the shaft. Once the shaft spun at 10,000 rpm the reflective tape can be seen in the same spot, as if its not moving.

The paradox here is that at a very fast speed we should expect to see the reflective tape spinning round and round very quickly. Except, this is not how it behaves and if anything, it is as if the reflective tape did not move from the same spot – a good example of stillness within motion. And because the reflective tape is vibrating at a fast pace due to the speed it looked as if there is motion when the tape appeared to stay still – motion within stillness!

The implication here of this observation is that it is not only by moving slowly we should seek to fulfill the principle but also at a faster speed. Indirectly, this is telling us that if we can do something at a slow speed it is only half the mastery. Instead, we have to be able to do it fast because when you apply this principle in the execution of techniques you must be able to carry out the technique as and when required, meaning when you need to be fast, you must be able to do it fast.

This indirectly answers an observation of why many Tai Chi practitioners are good at pushing an opponent as long as the opponent is not able to move out of the way fast enough. However, if the opponent fights back or moves about a lot then one must be able to do the technique in however little time is available or the window of opportunity will be gone in the next instant.

In this sense, being internal is not enough. Instead, one must also master the external factors relating to motion such as timing, range, angle, etc.

The First Step-3

I know some masters are reluctant to demonstrate power, claiming (whether true or not) that they are afraid of hurting the student. I wonder if this is true or they just want to hide the fact that they can’t do it well.

You can’t teach how to use a technique without showing how the power is applied or at the very least what it feels like to be tapped, even if lightly. This method of teaching is known as “feeding power” in traditional circles.

To me the concept of “feeding power” is just hands-on teaching. Nothing mysterious about it.

The First Step-2

Have you ever been taught by teachers who made it seem that fajing is something mysterious, that you need to learn some secret breathing method, knowing how meridians flow, etc in order to fajing?

You would probably be told that it takes years and maybe initiation into discipleship before the secrets can be taught. Guess what? You don’t need secrets, you don’t have to be a disciple and you don’t need years to learn how to fajing.

In fact, you just need to follow SOP (standard operating procedures) and you can do it. Of course, you can’t apply it freely but that’s just a matter of practice.

Once you keep your mind open and you follow SOP you can demonstrate the ability to fajing even on the first lesson. Below is an example taken on the first lesson :-

In fact, beginners who have not learned Tai Chi before can pick it up faster than a student who has experience. The reason is that a total newbie is not saddled by habits, prejudices, opinions and what have you that prevent them for learning properly.

Use Your Mind-4

And finally, a power that you can train from the Beginning Posture of Grandmaster Wei Shuren’s 22-form.

It is the use of the intent to release the Small Qi Sphere into space and have it return to your hand in the next instant.

This helps you to let the power out of your body quickly and with less expenditure of effort.

Use Your Mind-3

This fajing trick demonstrates the feeling you will get when you first feel the distinct separation of mind and body.

If you can make this intent work you will understand what it means to bring the power to the fingertips.

Use Your Mind-2

If there is a difficult student to fool with tricks it would be PL. Why do I say this?

I said this because he is a scientist in the field of neuroscience. If anyone is qualified to know about the workings of the brain he is.

But here I am fooling him again with another trick of the mind. It is a variation of the trick I used in the video in the earlier post Use Your Mind-1.

The trick is to isolate the working of the mind from the body, sort of establishing a master-slave connection, to borrow a computer hardware terminology.

Once you can separate the working of the mind from the body then your intent to perform a movement will be clearly defined. At this point you can perform this trick.

Use Your Mind-1

Whenever I see a video that claims to show internal power all I see are biomechanics. To me internal is about using intent, not just overt biomechanics.

Fortunately, for many demonstrators the average viewer can’t see to see the biomechanics involved, be as obvious as they are to all but the blind or those who chose to believe and be blind.

Below is an example of what I mean by using intent :-

You might notice that I am standing in a stance. I stood this way to make a point to my student about taking the body structure out of the equation to isolate the intent.