Innovating or Rediscovering Application

Changing the tradition or rediscovering what was once there?

Still its a good video. Love the part about controlling the distance and example of the pen.

I’m not a Karate expert but thinking from the perspective of using the Tai Chi form a lot of the techniques can’t be used without an understanding of distance, particularly how to use the proper distance and just as important, angle, posture and timing.

Without distance, angle, posture and timing we will end up too close, basically taking away our choices of techniques that can be used. When we are too close wrestling techniques become relevant, not so much the techniques we see in the Tai Chi form.

It is not surprising then that we see pummeling and wrestling throws being used in push hands nowadays. It is not necessarily a bad thing. It is just that we are wasting our time learning the form in the first place.

Instead of learning the form we would be better served learning exercises like pummeling, arm drags, doing ties, level changes, penetration drills, takedowns, etc. These drills can be readily applied to how we do push hands nowadays and they make more sense at that range and distance.

The video below shows arm drag drills that can be readily incorporated into push hands.

Did you have a feeling that the arm drag at 2:04 to 2:14 looks familiar?

You should because the arm drag is basically the first movement that you do when changing from Right Brush Knee, Twist Step to Left Brush Knee, Twist Step.

The stepping forward to opponent’s back, using the left hand to control his lower back, while shooting your right arm across his neck is one example of using Brush Knee, Twist Step to do a takedown.

If you take the time to examine how to use Brush Knee, Twist Step this could possibly be an application you will come up with. Or if you do research, apply Bruce Lee’s absorb what is useful, reject what is useless advice, you might come across the use of arm drags in wrestling, put two and two together and end up with a similar application.

Why Learn E4?

Entry 4 (E4) is a basic technique in iKali. Tuhon Apolo said that techniques like E4 are the bread and butter techniques.

One unusual aspect of iKali is that the more advanced techniques are taught first rather than later. The reason is advanced techniques require a longer period of learning and immersion so nothing better to learn it from the beginning rather than later so that we can chalk up the number of practice repetitions.

If Tuhon Apolo had not said it I might have dismissed E4 as a simple basic technique. I mean what could be advanced about a straightforward strike to the temple followed by a strike to the knee. But as they say the devil is in the details and this will only be revealed as we travel along the path.

I should know that E4 is important because the next technique is Entry 6 (E6) which is basically E4 plus two more strikes. This is followed by what we call Tap for short and is the E4 strike with a tapping movement inserted in between.

In iKali Tuhon Apolo wants everyone to get functional fast so we do E4 as a straightforward series of strikes, first to the temple, chamber back to the hip, strike to the knee, then bring back to shoulder.

What makes E4 a useful technique is not immediately obvious at this stage. But after a number of repetitions which Tuhon Apolo defined as 10,000 repetitions as the minimum then we move beyond the functional stage to the technical stage. This is when we pay more attention to developing the details. These details are the keys to developing the ability to apply E4.

I like to say the opponent is not stupid. So if we try to strike the opponent in the temple using the first strike in E4 it will fail cause opponent is not going to stand there. He will block, deflect, evade, move away, whatever it takes not to get hit and try to hit you back.

Once we understand this point then we know what just trying to hit someone without a plan is pretty much a recipe for failure. We need a strategy if we want to score hits. In the famous 36 strategems it is said “Make a sound in the east, then strike in the west” and this is exactly the first application of E4 in that we feint to the temple and strike to the knee.

If the opponent moves his knee then we follow up with a strike to the arm or temple, whichever target is nearer and this is what E6 is about. If opponent intercepts our first strike to his temple and then attempts to hit our low body instead, then we can tap the stick downwards to deflect his attack and counter with our strike to his knee – this is one possible application of Tap. Another possible application is that the Tap is used as a timing disruptor to cause the opponent to freeze for a split second by attacking his front foot. Then before the opponent can react we quickly go for his knee.

These are examples of how E4 can be used. Once we add in some of the other strikes the possibilities are immense. So never underestimate a simple basic technique. The lessons learned from E4 can also be applied in Tai Chi push hands.

Sinawali Training for Open-Close

Opening and closing is a biomechanical motion used in the internal arts for giving power to movements and issuing power.

I taught a number of arm swinging exercises in SKD which works the opening and closing motion. Some of these drills are embedded in SKD Training Sequence No. 1.

Another way we can enhance the training of opening and closing is via the Sinawali exercise taught in iKali. Why I said iKali rather than FMA is because the thrust and slash motions are taught in a very specific manner in iKali.

As Tuhon Apolo pointed out in the online disussion below iKali is not “my” (as in “I”, that is “me”) Kali but indigenous Kali.

The phrase indigenous Kali is in reference to the flavor of how old masters of FMA would move. This flavor is largely missing in today’s FMA and Tuhon Apolo wants to keep this alive. If you go to this page you can see photos of famous FMA masters and their postures when applying their respective art.

In Chinese martial arts what distinguishes one Tai Chi style from another is not the name or the arrangement of the form but the flavor of the movements.

So when you look at Chen style you would never mistaken it for Yang style because of the low stances and spiral movements. On the other hand, Wu (Hao) style would differ from the other Tai Chi styles in the unique upright body structure, minimalist arm movements.

Why the differences exist is due to how the techniques are applied and the power generation method. At times, the environment in which the art is used also plays a part.

iKali is configured to train us to acquire this unique flavor of moving. The Sinawali exercise is one way of learning to do this.

The basic Sinawali exercise which is performed with all high strikes can work the body to learn how to move with correct biomechanics in place.

From my practice I conclude that :-

a) 1st movement is both sides of the body open and then close, and vice versa

b) 2nd movement is one side close, one side open

c) 3rd movement is like the 1st movement in opening and closing both sides

When you add in the indigenous body structure flavor you can feel the body opening and closing even better.

I don’t like to try to turn Kali into a Tai Chi-like exercise. I prefer to do it as I learned it. The reason is because currently many in the Wing Chun community are adding Tai Chi to their styles but refusing to acknowledge it, instead trying to give all sorts of excuses of how their style is internal. Anyone who has seen the photos of Wing Chun practitioners in the 60s and 70s would no doubt notice a disparity in the flavor of the postures then and now.

Training Kali as is puts you outside the box and presents you with a different perspective of how a biomechanical motion can be learned. In solving the question of how to do Sinawali fast, with power, efficiency, timing, flow, etc you will go through a learning curve.

Some of the things you learn here are similar to what other styles regardless of nationality would also do. In Tai Chi we can find opening and closing in Yang style but its is not easy to learn.

Wu (Hao) style would be a better choice for learning how to do opening and closing but you have to minimize and delete a lot of unnecessary outer movements in order to isolate the opening and closing motion, feel it better and then be able to refine it. It can be quite a tall order for beginners. An alternative is to explore how to learn this useful mechanic via Sinawali. It may be easier or it may not be. I suspect it will probably be easier.

Game of Bridges 2

Bridging with the inclusion of positioning, shifting and aligning the attacking lines.

Why do we learn to bridge using contact? We need to use our eyes when there is no contact but when we come close the sense of contact would work better. More so, if we are older and our eyes can’t see as well or as fast.

Our sense of touch can be educated and refined over time. The older you get the better your sense of touch. Using touch does not mean we have to play a passive game. The use of touching can elevate our active game. This is why you find that when you play hands with masters they seem to be able to react before you have even finished your movement. A master would always seem to be a few steps ahead of you. Someone like Grandmaster Cheong of Ngok Gar Kuen fame can deliver 6-7 movements before I finished processing how to deal with his first movement.

For the learning of Tai Chi you can think of playing hands as the living lab for learning how to use the forms that you learn. You can try out, analyze, test out, repeat many times, increase the speed and pressure, to find what works best for you, and even iron out your weak points.

Game of Bridges

Blast from the past on how to play the bridging game.

Why do we learn how to play hands instead of charging in to push, pummel and throw?

Playing hands is like playing chess. It gives you a chance to get to know the other person and work on your reflexes. It also protects you from getting punched in the face if you just charge right in, especially against people you touch hands with for the first time and they are from styles that like to aim at the head.

When playing hands though you can flow and flow you have to constantly remind yourself that each time you get a position that position is like a hub that allows for different options such as striking, locking, throwing or even grappling. The possibilities are up to you to decide.

How We Learn Tai Chi

I think there is a misconception amongst some readers as to what our Tai Chi is.

Firstly, we are not about styles nor lineage. Our focus is far simpler – how can we learn the principles of the Tai Chi Classics and use them.

Secondly, we have a progressive way of learning. We don’t begin with GM Wei Shuren’s form which is far too difficult even for people who have learned Tai Chi for a long time.

Instead, we begin with something easier, something attainable given a shorter period of learning. As Tuhon Apolo would say don’t teach what you want students to learn but teach them what they need to learn.

So I may want them to learn the best, the most advanced that I know but I know from experience that this is not gonna happen. Any student who starts with GM Wei’s Tai Chi will get stuck on Beginning Posture from the word go.

Funny thing is most students will also get stuck from the word go in our Yang Chengfu style long form. But at least they won’t get stuck as long.

I would say that learning the form is useless just like learning the Classics is useless. They have to be learned together with the idea of how to apply the movements to make sense. Copying a movement is not difficult but trying to imitate the nuances is not straight forward.

The nuances are what some people refer to as the small details. Things like the timing of the movement, how to pose the body vis a vis the opponent, when to use strength, when not to use strength, where to intercept, when to neutralize, how much to turn to neutralize, how to harmonize, etc; these are the things we learn even in our Yang Chengfu long form.

For 99.9% of students these are difficult to do properly even though they should be easy to do because they are mainly external movements rather than internal movements. But when it comes to GM Wei’s form its the other way around – its mostly internal – things going on in the mind as opposed to things happening that can be seen.

The things that we practice in our Yang Chengfu long form develops small frame characteristics as opposed to big frame flavor in other Yang Chengfu lineages. At a certain stage the student will discover that it is but the flip side to what is practiced in GM Wei’s form.

The reason why we have this approach is that given a limited amount of time to practice daily we can only practice so much per day. So it makes sense that we should not have too broad a focus if mastery is our objective.

For example, the learning of the straight sword helps the learning of the Yang Chengfu long form in that the straight sword enables the practitioner to use the techniques of the long form with the lively stepping of the straight sword. This indirectly builds the foundation for the learning of the Fast Form later.

The above is how we line up the teaching with the learning objectives. This is why if a student just want to come and learn fajing or just want to learn a particular form I would not take him on because this is not how we learn. We learn from the ground up, develop the basics, simple as they may be they must still be learned to the point where they are habitual and can be maintained when we are applying the techniques.

No one said it is easy but this is how we see it. Then at the end of it when we read the Tai Chi Classics we should not have a puzzled look any more because now we understand what the body of writing means as a whole.

Learning to Use Wild Horse Parts Mane

The confounding thing about a technique is that their application can look obvious.

However, when we go into it we can discover that it is not so. In a big class it is easier to teach one technique, one application.

However, a technique can be used in different ways. A technique is basically a series of sequential movements. The sum of all the movements is the technique.

We can use all the movements to create an application. If we changed the focus slightly the outcome can be different.

And if we use only some of the movements we have yet a different take on how to use the movements.

When we first learn how to use Wild Horse Parts Mane we focus on the obvious application which is to enter and throw.

Once we develop a better feel of each of the movements we might focus on how to use some of these movements instead of in their entirety.

One example of this is to use the entering movement to do an arm lock instead.

The easiest way to learn how to use Wild Horse Parts Mane in many ways is to do push hands. Use push hands as opportunity to explore.

Don’t be stuck on only one way of applying the movement. Test out whatever you can think of. This is how I learned to do push hands, not by pushing in predictable patterns but in free flowing format, try whatever I can do to push my teacher out or put him in a lock.

When given free rein you can either be creative or mind goes blank. Use the form as a reference textbook to inspire you to apply your techniques freely. You might be surprised by what you discover.

Fajing Not About Power Only

Fajing is not always about generating power.

Sometimes its just timing. Using timing means to listen, or perhaps to probe to elicit a response, then allowing the response to be heard, understanding what the energy feel is saying and exploiting it.

Fajing can also be about to use your partner’s weakness against him.

For example, if he tries to enter without a proper root then he has already unbalanced himself. All you have to do then is to get under him and launch him the moment his energy is receeding after he tried to use it.

This is why my teacher from the Wei Shuren lineage doesn’t teach fajing on its own. Instead, he stressed learning the principles embedded in the form. His explanation is that when the principles fall into place fajing will happen.

Otherwise, if you learn fajing separately from the form when you try to use fajing it will look forced. You will also not be able to use it naturally as part of your arsenal of techniques, creating a feel of fajing is fajing and technique is technique, instead of fajing and technique is inseparable.

One reason why we don’t always have to fajing hard is because to fajing hard is like spending money unnecessarily, except in this instance you squander your strength and energy. Instead, use only as much as you have to and fajing then becomes a fun, relaxing exercise.

Stop Fake Tai Chi

I saw this commentary video “Stop the Spread of Fake Tai Chi” from Aiping Tai Chi on the promotion by on learning Tai Chi online.

Many good points raised such as not giving a person a certificate and turning them into a qualified teacher on the basis of a piece of paper.

She explained about the importance of learning Tai Chi properly instead of just chasing after styles that offer hollow learning sanitized of its cultural heritage.

She took umbrage at the website’s offer of a certification learning program because she didn’t believe that it is possible to teach Tai Chi properly this easily.

She examined a video of the instructor demonstrating Tai Chi and explained why she does not think the instructor understood the art properly.

She contrasted this with a video of her own teacher to highlight the difference between what authentic and fake Tai Chi is.

She then had a look at some examples of applications put up at the website and pointed out what is wrong with them.

This is what I think of the fake versus real issue. You can’t stop people thinking that their fake Tai Chi is real any more than you can stop people from teaching fake Tai Chi even when they know its fake. There will always be people defending fake Tai Chi so criticizing them just reads like sour grapes.

I think its pretty pointless to say that someone’s Tai Chi fake and saying that your Tai Chi is authentic. How do you know that your own Tai Chi is really authentic? Who decides this? Tradition? Lineage? Cultural background? You can say that your Tai Chi is authentic and even put your teacher’s video up to justify the claim and I am sure someone will find grounds to point out that your teacher’s demo ain’t so hot either.

That’s why over the years I took a leaf out of the field of engineering to examine my own learning. No teacher will say that their Tai Chi is fake, I mean, they are not stupid, right(?), especially not if they want to teach because they have an itch to teach cause it boosts their ego and make them feel important.

In mechanical engineering when a motor is installed in a plant it should be commissioned and data collected to establish that the installation was properly carried out and the motor is running in accordance to the specifications agreed on between seller and buyer.

An example of this would be the buyer agreeing to accept the motor as long as it is within acceptable vibration limit. But then what constitutes an acceptable vibration limit? The buyer may agree to accept the seller’s proposed vibration limit if the seller is also the motor manufacturer. However, if the seller is not the manufacturer then both parties may agree to use an ISO standard for this purpose.

Even then this can be problematic because they are many ISO standards out there and both parties have to agree on the particular standard to be used. For example, an ISO standard that is meant for a ship should not be applied to an ISO standard developed for a plant on land. Why is this so? The reason is that ships are moving so the vibration acceptable limit for a motor operating on a ship is easily double that of a motor in a land plant.

At this point we should ask what is a reference standard? Why should we refer to it? Standards are like guidelines developed from good industry practices over a number of years. They would normally agree on which practice to base a standard on, form a committee to review it before codifying the information into a standard. The people in the committee are made up of experts from the industry and they can take years to review (sometimes more than a decade) the information before they finally come up with a reference standard.

Now in Tai Chi we do have reference standards. They are called the Tai Chi Classics. Whether these body of writings are actually written by the people who are claimed to be so is another question. There are also disagreements by some styles whether the entire body of works should apply to them.

This is what I think – if Tai Chi was originally one art then what is the problem of applying the Classics to all the styles of Tai Chi? Of course, some Tai Chi styles may have branched off into some other areas of specialization, negating some of the principles that would previously have applied to them. But still wouldn’t a large body of principles still be applicable?

So if we use the Tai Chi Classics as a standard to refer a performance wouldn’t that be better than using your opinion to label someone’s Tai Chi as fake? Instead, just term it as in-compliance or non-compliance. This is how ISO audits are carried out – if you do not conform to some parts of the standard then those parts are labelled as not complying to the particular clause and we have to rectify them.

Today with the abundance of information out there we can even add knowledge of anatomy and biomechanics to our assessment arsenal. We then have three areas to check our performance. If we want more we can add more. You can add push hands and sparring ability too down the line.

An example of how you can assess anyone’s Tai Chi performance :-

a) If you can see it done its probably more external than internal

b) If you can explain it easily then the level of performance is most probably beginner rather than advanced level

c) A performer may look soft and composed but if the leg is shaking then probably its not relaxed. If its not relaxed, then the rooting will be off and the ground force connection will be disrupted

d) If the movement is not economical in motion or efficient in movement then the movement will probably be impractical cause there are gaps in the movements

e) If the movement can only performed faster by moving faster instead of moving more efficiently then the performer needs more practice

Mind you the above does not tell you if a performer can apply his Tai Chi. That’s another story altogether for another day.

Lesson Number Five

This week is the fifth lesson.

Grasp Sparrow’s Tail – 2nd sub-movement fell a bit short because it did not mirror the application. This is important – you don’t just move. You move because you are doing a technique.

When you do it right at the end of the movement your right hand should be grasping my right wrist and your left forearm on my body and your left leg in a position that is checking my right leg.

In the 3rd sub-movement this week I added in 3 steps for the following :-

a) How to move the right arm to close the right side of your front door. A good test of correct biomechanics is when I give your some strength when my left arm is on top of your right arm you should be able to close your position. This is an illustration of the principle of not going head-on against the opponent’s strength. So there are three steps here – i) thumb movement ii) arm movement iii) waist movement

b) Raising the right arm to form the cross involves three steps at the learning stage. Once you get it all three steps merged into one smooth step. The steps – i) Right thumb move right wrist up to left wrist ii) Use shoulder to guide right wrist into position iii) Finally, use hip to get the right wrist into final position

c) I didn’t touch on the third sub-movement of getting the right leg to step out which is another three steps. The purpose of this is to train the single leg balance, feeling the ground and training the leg to be able to kick in accordance to the principle of every step hides a kick

From Grasp Sparrow’s Tail to Ward-off a reminder on using the left hand to properly do the scooping action. This allows for the left hand to defend the left side properly depending on whether the opponent’s right hand is attacking high or low.

Press – revisited how to change from Rollback into Press. The function of the left hand to check and control the opponent’s right hand. How to properly align the right hand to control the opponent’s left arm and be able to issue power easily.

Common mistake is the right elbow misalignment in Press. When the right elbow is not positioned properly you allow the opponent to counter your Press attack.

A misaligned elbow also makes it difficult to issue power not to mention the ability to follow up easily. When you position the right arm properly you can change easily from one attack to the next and counter opponent’s attempt to get away or defend against your Press attack.

From Press to Push – the transition calls for the passing of opponent’s right arm from your left hand to right hand. This sets his right arm to be sealed against his chest, then you can apply Push attack.

If opponent tries to pull his right hand back to strike you the position of your left hand in Press should allow you to instantly attack him before he can hit you. If he is fast and has his strike coming back quickly then you use Separate Hands on the inside to intercept, pull and apply Push strike.

The lesson of Separate Hands and Push can be applied to the first sub-movement in Grasp Sparrow’s Tail. Instead of intercept, turn to neutralize and attack, you can just use the same right arm to intercept, neutralize and attack. This is how understanding the basics can translate a multi-step movement into a singular movement, making it efficient.