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.

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To Be Aware

Awareness is important when training Tai Chi. Many know this.

But did you know you need to train yourself to be aware?

If you think this sounds silly, it is.

You would think what’s so difficult about awareness. You tell the trainee to take note of something he’s not doing properly and that’s it.

Except it does not work out quite this way in real life. 99% of the time I would point out to a student something he is doing wrong, get him to correct it and in the next instant he goes back to doing the movement the same old, wrong way.

Maybe a solo movement is too conceptual and the student catches no ball, to use a local phrase for someone not getting a point. So I would use examples of application to explain – what makes a good application, what the principles are, how the application fits in with the solo movement, how the application can fail, how to vary the application, etc. Can’t get any clearer, right?

Wrong.

Turned my head for a second and its back to the same problem, like the last few minutes did not happen. Or perhaps it did but in the Twilight Zone.

Mastering Tai Chi is not easy but it is not impossible, at least not if you apply yourself to studying it and of course, with tons of awareness as to what is really happening with the way you move.

Just thinking that you are doing it correctly does not make it right. You have to know what you are really doing. And it goes without saying that awareness comes with the territory.

As my teacher said easy to learn, difficult to master. Some of my better students are those who think nothing of doing the same movement over and over again though I prefer if they do the repetition at home. This is because though its good to see them take the learning seriously, however, they need the time to digest what they have learned as there are many things to take note of when playing the form.

The key is to go for a minor permanent correction rather than try to correct too many things at once. Get one thing right, then the next and the next and before you know it you have made a lot of headway. But try to get everything right and you may end up getting little right.

Tai Chi can be an exacting and demanding mistress. You need to put in time daily to practice, lots of it. You need to be dedicated to improving what you do, a bit at a time. If you are overly ambitious, wanting to progress fast then chances are you end up making little headway and become frustrated instead.

Learning Tai Chi is not simply a matter of studying it linearly. Many times the learning is non-linear. You get many bits and pieces. As you learn you store the knowledge in your mind, then sort them to build up a picture of the art, until you can see what it is about though the reality is that many things will never really be clear until you can really do it. Kinda chicken and egg issue.

The form is actually a useful tool for putting together our learning by providing a common point of reference. You can think of it as a book with a title to which you use to organize your content. For example, the 108 form can be a book about Tai Chi principles. Or it can be a book about the techniques. Or a book about the tools for doing push hands. It can also be a book about leverage. And so on.

Being aware is actually an easier, less frustrating way to master Tai Chi. Don’t rush, take your time, practice to get things right rather than to become a master. Put the expectations aside and your efforts will take care of the mastery. Step by step, persistently, single-mindedly and we will get there eventually.

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Relatively Speaking

In terms of skill in Tai Chi it is all relative. This means that the better you can do something than the other person the more you can feel what the other person’s skill is like.

For a long time X’s hands are like the unsettled rooster in Zhuang Tzu’s story of the Fighting Rooster. At the slightest touch X’s hands would resist. It took years of training before he let go of his strength more and become less resisting and more settled enabling him to adhere and listen better.

Now X has reached a level where he said when he felt Y’s hands he could feel it resisting and he could use the resistance against Y. Before when X’s hands were strong and resisting he would not be able to say this because he can only use strength to overcome a weaker person.

With the passage of time he can feel another person’s hands so much better, so much so that relatively speaking the other person, in this case Y, seems to be resisting a lot. This is why in learning Tai Chi time put in leads to the acquiring of kung fu, meaning you can makes theories and debate all day and all night long but without putting in the practice over years the skill won’t grow.

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Let Go

Let it go. Take a leap of faith.

To break out of our self imposed prison sometimes we have to let go that which is holding back our progress.

Not hard. Not soft. Where is the in-between? The middle path where soft meets hard. Why is it that we have trouble finding it?

Mostly, the problem lies in lack of practice of form. If so, our mind will lack the mental cultivation necessary for us to break through the self doubts to a zone of awareness and the beginning of a new feeling, that of the mind clearly separated but yet with the body.

Wanting to fajing is a grave error. It will hold back your progress instead of accelerating it. When you fajing you infused your body with strength. You feel strong and think you can break through your opponent’s defenses.

But what if your opponent is in a state of void, of emptiness; such that when you try to exert your power there is nothing for you to issue against. The mighty wind blew hard against the willow to no avail as it gently bent with the force of the wind and turned it back on itself.

When you hold on to your strength you cannot feel properly, you cannot follow and you will move in error. Let yourself go, no strength, no ego, no mind. Be the willow. Accept the blowing of the wind. Go with it. Bend, absorb and return the force of the wind back to it. The form shows the way to do this.

To discover the secret you have to immerse yourself into its study. Knowing and not practicing will lead nowhere. Neither will hanging on to your own view and not taking the plunge. Let go of the past, let go of preconceptions, let go of your ego. The grand mystery awaits.

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Open Your Mind

Precision in your Tai Chi movements demand that every movement be correct. As one student mentioned this is what makes our Tai Chi difficult to learn.

Recently, he took my advice to go try out something different by taking up a trial Aikido lesson. He had a great experience and found many similarities between what we do in Tai Chi and Aikido. However, he also noted that the biggest difference between our Tai Chi and Aikido is that Aikido uses big movements whereas we utilize a lot of micro movements.

He showed me a technique he learned which was Kokyu Nage. If you know your Aikido the movement begins when your partner grasps your wrist. You then flow into Tai-no-Henko to blend and neutralize before going into Kokyu Nage.

If your mind draws a blank when reading Tai-no-Henko and Kokyu Nage the videos will give you an idea of what it is about. Kokyu Nage will probably remind you of Wild Horse Parts Mustang. I like the video on Kokyu Nage – nice stuff.

 

In Tai Chi learning how to apply a technique is one part of the learning. The second part of the learning is how to counter the same technique you just applied. Learning a technique this way helps to make your initial technique better.

For example, if you have a partner using Wild Horse Parts Mane against you in a manner similar to Kokyu Nage how would you counter it?

Similarly, if you are in the midst of applying Wild Horse Parts Mane and your partner attempts to counter it how do you counter his counter?

There are many ways to counter a technique such as Wild Horse Parts Mane depending on how it is applied. My student is not an expert at Tai Chi yet or in Aikido after one lesson so its easy to counter him even when I am still holding on to his wrist. When he moved to my side the use of Kao can disrupt the flow of his movement. Alternatively, I could use Wild Horse Parts Mane to counter the very same technique.

Countering in a flowing manner is just a matter of relaxing and emptying the mind. And of course, you need to know your long form like the back of your hand. Then the solution will come spontaneously to you. This is known as creating something from nothing. Learning how to Master Tai Chi Today can be quite fun, don’t you think so?

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Method, Verify, Validate

If we are sincere to learn and improve our Tai Chi skill we must be wary of falling into the “teacher says” trap. Too often, too many students take what is told to them at face value and never looker deeper into what they are told. To compound the problem some students even take it upon themselves to guide their fellow students – a case of the blind leading the blind.

To Master Tai Chi Today we should not be shy of asking ourselves three important questions :-

1) What exactly is the method and how is it in compliance with the principles of the Tai Chi Classics?

2) How do I verify that the method that I am practicing is correct?

3) How can I validate the method?

For example, tonight I worked with my student on how to move the right arm out to intercept an attack. So the method must answer some important questions such as :-

1) How do I move my arm exactly using the 3-Count method?

2) How do I comply with the principle of being natural?

3) Why do I move this particular way – what are the advantages? Disadvantages?

4) How do I use intention to minimize the use of strength whilst keeping the structure strong?

5) Which principle of the Tai Chi Classics must it comply with?

 

It is only when the above five or more questions can be answered and the movement performed properly that we can move on to verifying that the movement is correct. In this respect there are few ways we can check this. One of the ways is that the positioning will create a natural rollback path.

After the verification is able to confirm that the movement has been learned properly then we can validate the learning by doing basic pressure test. As we move on we will eventually go into pressure testing during push hands against a resisting training partner.

With the above three steps of learning we have a better assurance that our learning is not just reliant on “teacher says” or “senior says” but a more objective and verifiable method of learn, check and test.

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Want to learn Tai Chi in Singapore? At Singapore Tai Chi Yang Style (TaijiKinesis) lessons covering forms, weaponry, push hands, fajing and applications are offered. Lessons are conducted in English. Send enquiry today