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

Focusing the Mind

Refining skills require nitpicking at the small details. For example, moving the right arm up into a guard posture seems simple enough but if not enough attention is paid to it then many deficiencies will come in, becoming a habit over time. When these habits creep over into push hands training with a resisting training partner that’s when the failure to pay attention to the small details will show up and cause your structure to buckle, inability to respond instantly, ineffective neutralizing skills, etc.

Many of the root causes can be traced back to seemingly unimportant movements. For example, if you don’t perform the raising and lowering of arms properly in Beginning Posture then when you move your right arm into the guard posture when commencing Grasp Sparrow’s Tail the gaps in your defense will manifest themselves.

Sometimes a student may have a problem trying to understand how the position of the right arm guard is related to the training of raising and lowering of arms in Beginning Posture. Even demonstrating how the gaps can be exploited may help little. To address this deficiency the teacher must think out of the box on an alternative way of teaching the movement.

In this instance, an occasional illustration used for teaching the distance between the hands during raising of the arms can be used here. This analogy likens the distance between the palms to be akin to holding a ball. In fact, the movement of the right arm guard is similar to that of bringing up the hands from the dantian to the chest level in the first movement in the Wu / Hao long form.

The value of this exercise is in how the mind is focused. Without the mind component the student can try too hard to issue power and ends up with inefficient energy release. However, once the mind is gathered properly the body will fall in line and fajing becomes effortless.

If we add in the waist component we can increase our power through the increase in mass. The waist component provides a means to break the opponent’s root just before we issue power, making the fajing process much easier and require lesser effort. When working on the waist component we must not forget the vital parts of the hands that must be involved, the timing required, how the mind is focused, etc. The sum of basics + basics + more basics = Master Tai Chi Today.

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Thinking of Mountain

In a post dated 16 May 2016 on Mastering Intention – Yang Style Tai Chi Secret Transmissions I mentioned about the similarity between Fujita’s microburst and something Grandmaster Wei Shuren wrote about the practice of qigong or to be more precise the Skill Set.

The Skill Set is said to be practiced by Yang Jianhou in the evening in lieu of the form. The Skill Set captures the essential principles of the 22-Form in a simple, short, easy to practice set. The Skill Set is not meant to be practiced by beginners; rather it is more for the learner who has spent some years on the 22-Form because once the learner has made some inroads into the 22-Form the Skill Set will help push his mastery forward.

Coming back to the question raised in my Facebook post……..

When the word mountain is mentioned what typically comes to your mind? Perhaps an image like the one below?

mountain-1

And if I say geometrical shape of the mountain would you think of the image below?

mountain-2

In the practice of the intention part of the Skill Set it is said that we must use intention to move the hands along the mountain character. This will give rise to puzzlement if you are thinking of the mountain from a Western perspective.

In ancient China the mountain was originally thought of as two small humps with a central mountain as shown below :-

mountain-3

Over time the pictograph was simplified to the character we see today – 山.

Now let’s take a look at the diagram of the microburst which I had put into the Facebook post :-

mountain-4

Do you see the point about similarity which I made? Yes? No?

If no, take a look below where I superimpose the Chinese character for mountain on top of the microburst diagram :-

mountain-5

If you are not a practitioner of Grandmaster Wei’s method of Yang Style Tai Chi Chuan this will probably make no sense to you. For those who are practicing it and have learned the Skill Set you may ask if the microburst is really applicable due to the fact that the mountain character is only brought up in the part of the Skill Set that trains opening and closing of the arms.

I would say yes. Despite the mountain character being mentioned only in the Intention section of the Skill Set it is not the only section that uses it. There is another section that does and it is in this section that I would say understanding the microburst would enhance the development of your body structure. There is actually another ancient Chinese martial arts principle which connects up the use of an analogy that I would opined is close to what a microburst is about.

The key to Master Tai Chi Today is not by blind learning. Instead, you have to look beyond the obvious to penetrate to the heart of the art. There you will discover the true wonders of the art. Fujita’s discovery of the microburst merely demonstrated that there are things that science didn’t know about for a long time. Even after Fujita made known his finding it was not accepted widely until proven years later. The microburst showed that what may seem like a nonsensical practice without scientific basis in the Skill Set may in fact be scientific.

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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