Right Question, Right Answer

In my opinion a lot of Tai Chi students ask the wrong question. When you ask the wrong question you get the wrong answer and you end up getting nowhere.

The problem is that few teachers teach you how to learn, how to analyze the issues and ask the right question.

The typical student comes in with his head of full of internal this, internal that, full of assumptions, presumptions, basically GIGO (garbage in, garbage out) information. When this is the case the prior knowledge taints and stunts the learning ability.

Basically, you can’t learn until you open your mind to possibilities. If what you know is valid why are you not making progress? What is it you do not know that you do not know?

Existing information can cause you to ask the wrong question. Careful analysis of the issue can lead you towards asking the right question. When a student asks about fajing I say that’s the wrong question. Why?

Its easy to do fajing against empty air. Try it against a moving, resisting opponent and right away a lot of issues are thrown up. When you confront these issues then you will begin to understand what you are missing out, why your learning should never start from trying to learn fajing, why fajing is but one component of learning.

Have you seen how people try to fajing by winding up their body and then releasing the power by shaking and jerking violently? Looks impressive, right?

Now, have you ever seen any of these practitioners replicate the same fajing in sparring? How about we make it simpler, during push hands against even a mildly resisting opponent? Why?

So the right question is not how to fajing only but how to fajing against a resisting opponent. How you move your body changes when your opponent is resisting you. Shall I add on the variable that your opponent is also trying to hit you back? This will complicate matter but its part and parcel of a free exchange.

You want to fajing a resisting opponent. He is going to resist you, try to take away the opportunities for you to hit him, while he is trying to hit you back. In this scenario there is no picture perfect conditions allowing you to wind up, pause to breath in, look fierce, and then release your power. Try doing that and you are likely to eat a punch.

So now you have to find a way to hit the opponent fast, hit him before he hits you. But if you are slow to deliver the strike then you have two options – hit faster or find a way to allow you to hit at your existing speed.

Hitting faster is easy except if you are older you might still not be able to match the speed of a younger opponent.

Using your natural speed is a better longer term solution but it calls for you to master certain skills. This is where you have to analyse what are the issues involved in using your existing speed and then directing your efforts towards mastering these factors.

Fortunately for all of us non geniuses the traditional arts have the answers. We just have to find the right person (or persons) to direct us, lead us, explain to us what the right direction is.

For example, when we play push hands often we have a split second to issue power. But if you spiral your body you end up telegraphing. In this scenario being internal is to your disadvantage.

We want to have our cake and eat it too. We have to find a way to move quickly without telegraphing yet deliver power. The issue becomes how not to telegraph a strike, how to move quickly and how to deliver power. All three factors must work together and not nullify each other else you will be back to square one.

Some of my students are strong and fast but they have a tendency to telegraph their power generation process. No matter how fast they move I always seem to beat them to the punch.

I can do it because the long years of doing form training has taught me the value of being empty, of being efficient in movement, of eliminating excess and deficiency, finding out how to move just right to fulfill the objective of “opponent moves first, I arrive first”.

In this way I don’t have to be faster. However, when I need to move then I need to move swiftly and efficiently to where I need to be. This requires me to feel carefully what is happening, to interpret the movement data correctly by drawing on the database of movements cultivated from forms training, such that I know intuitively what the right response will be.

This is why forms training is important. To build a database of knowledge of how the body, your body, moves. This is because you are the one constant in the changing landscape of combat. If you do not know yourself then you will always lose.

At the end of it, the learning is straightforward. It is our greed to want to fajing that caused us to box ourselves into a learning corner, obstructing other learning topics. Ultimately, we pay the price of our enforced learning blindness.

Tiger, Tiger

Tiger, tiger,
Hungry as can be.

From the mountain
descend the tigers.

Out of the forest,
into a village.

See man,
see food.

Tiger, tiger,
Hungry soon no more.

Long unappreciated was the training sequence taught by Master Leong. Lying around in my mind, dormant, like a sleeping tiger.

The tiger soon awakened as I understand better over time the significance of the training sequence. As I would tell my students you have to find the application to understand what you are doing.

For you see, a form is words without music. Find the music and the words come alive. So find the application and you will understand better what you are looking at.

In China, a tiger is a fierce creature, residing in forest, in mountain, rarely venturing out of its comfort zone. Unless there is a shortage of food and hunger can drive a tiger to emerge from the forest to seek food in any form it can find.

A hungry tiger is a desperate tiger. A few hungry tigers are even more frightening. Perhaps there is such a thing as animal mob mentality or they just hunt in a pack.

Perhaps this was what Grandmaster Nip Chee Fei had in mind when he created this training sequence to encapsulate the essential elements of this one technique. This one simple looking technique which when applied vigorously resemble a pack of tigers throwing themselves at the prey relentlessly, one after another, after another.

A fitting image because when the 5 Tigers Descending Mountain sequence is used this is exactly what it would feel like, look like to an onlooker. A pounce, a rush, the unceasing attack, just like a hungry tiger hunting, seizing and subduing its prey.

Fly on Wall

I wish I was that fly on the wall.

Or maybe there was no fly at all.

A few years back, how long(?), I have forgotten, a student touched hands with a friend and videod it.

Before the event I gave him some advice on what he could try. However, as the video showed he practically couldn’t carry out any of what I suggested.

Cut to 2019. He had another encounter. More time passed since then. Wiser, more prepared to listen to my advice not to over focus on power. And I made him do some simple techniques.

Actually, those weren’t simple techniques. They are part of our 5 Tigers expression of techniques transmitted by Master Leong. I just taught them in a simpler, accessible manner so that they are easier to pick up.

He said, he claimed he had a much easier going this time around. I was tempted to say, yes, but where is the video evidence.

OK, maybe he didn’t made any. It would have been nice to see if he actually did what he said. Not so much as to cast doubt but to see how well he did it, and to spot room for improvement.

No matter. I showed him where he could improve further. The techniques may be external but underneath are the principles culled from what I learned in Dong style Tai Chi and the style of Grandmaster Wei Shuren.

Yeah, he had to bring up the power thing again. My point again – power is useless without the means of delivering it. So the technique matters. Speed matters. Then when all are in place deliver the power.

Power. Forget internal, forget external. Go with what works in that split second that you have to issue it. Don’t do anything fanciful. Quick, just do it.

How? Use simple, proven biomechanics that is backed by principles of our Tai Chi approach. The method looks external but feels internal. Few tweaks here and there to get the power out in a penetrating and strong manner.

When the time comes I will introduce him to a more focused method of training the power. Just appetizer for now, something to get started. Small bites.

Circling Pole Gung

Introduced a third pole exercise – circling – last night to my student as part of his gung lik development.

In this case, a big circle. The type used to deflect opponent’s pole whilst advancing, kinda like a spinning horizontal tornado.

A snippet of the practice :-

What we are working on is to find the right size circle that can deflect and knock opponent off balance such as illustrated below :-

The circling below is a clockwise circle. In this example, the applied circle technique is more or less straight out of our Ngok Gar 5-Tip Pole technique.

Once the opponent’s pole is swept aside you can move in for the kill.

The actual circling technique is shown above from the manual on the 5-Tip Pole.

Finally, when doing partner practice care must be taken not to accidentally hit the partner in the hand or body. This can be done by maintaining a longer distance.

Basic Pole Gung 3

The third principle we can learn from the Arrow Pole posture is how to get the power from the ground to the tip of the pole via the use of concentric spirals.

OK, I know the lines shown are not spirals. No matter how I draw the spirals they will not be a good representation of what I want to convey across.

I shouldn’t even mention counter-spirals cause that would be even more confusing without some basic understanding of the Tao, physics and the workings of Nature.

Even then its much easier to just do it, feel it and understand it. Some things are just meant to be felt rather than puzzle over intellectually.

That’s why students who are learning the pole will need to keep practicing the Arrow Pole posture over and over again. Then the gung lik of the pole will manifest in the hand.

Basic Pole Gung 2

The second thing we can learn from the Arrow Pole posture is the use of triangulation to focus our power when handling the pole.

I have added a few lines above to give a basic idea of what this means. This is not exhaustive. The actual triangulation is more complicated than this.

A series of principles are applied in order to triangulate properly. For example, we can use a body closing movement to triangulate.

Add to this the principle of the six harmonies and the plot quickly becomes complex. This is why we must drill Arrow Pole a lot so that we can add in the principles layer by layer.

If we try to dump all the principles in at one go the information will overwhelm and confuse rather than enlighten.

Basic Pole Gung 1

The Arrow Pole posture can teach us a thing or two about power.

A simple but important principle is that of perpendicularity.

Perpendicularity calls for our body to be at right angle to the pole when it is held horizontally in the striking motion known as Arrow Pole.

Perpendicularity enables us to position the pole in a stable manner. This in turn allows us to line up the body behind the pole properly to deliver a powerful thrust.