Imagery vs Scientific Model

There’s something that feels good when you have a model that is explainable using science. Its kinda like having something validated by the establishment and so should be more readily accepted by the masses.

Does this mean that we should slap a scientific model on everything that we do in Tai Chi?

Have you ever read a scientific paper or even watched a video showing a person performing movements with illustration overlaid on the movements showing how the model works? Did you then try the same technique following the model to see how well it works? Try it. It would be interesting to see how far you get with it.

My classic example comes from an old Wing Chun book in which the master said the Bong Sau should be done with a 135 degrees bent in the elbow. I still remember my senior’s reaction when I told him this information – he asked why not 136 degrees? Or 128 degrees? To which I would ask how does a normal practitioner measure this angle and ensure compliance when performing the movement quickly.

In the old days in China they do have science, well maybe not the science that we know but there’s a hell lot of science in China. If you are interested to know more take a look at the information that has been published to date by the Needham Research Institute.

So why did Tai Chi masters not apply scientific models in their explanations? One simple reason is that many are not literate or literate in the sense that we are scientifically literate today. But I suspect, at least from my own experience, that it is probably easier to use imagery to put a point across. I mean, why make complicated what is simple.

Going back to the example of Bong Sau I still have no idea how to ensure that I get that 135 degrees each time I do it. However, it is far easier to use my eyes to line up my fingers and wrist to a reference line that I can easily visualize to perform a Bong Sau that works. The angles can change, the distance can differ but as long as I line up the parts properly I will always get that functional Bong Sau. If you do your Bong Sau this way you will achieve the principle of “Bong Sau does not remain”. If not, you end up with a posing Bong Sau that is commonly seen.

I don’t need a knowledge of science to make it work. Neither do I need high IQ to understand it. Its that simple. Doing the Bong Sau is easy because you can see your own hand in front of you.

It is more difficult if you try to align the different parts of your body to perform a strike. One reason is because due to their position you can’t align the parts in a linear manner. The different parts are positioned such that to draw a line through them would reveal this to be a winding path from the foot to the hand.

So how does one align them in a split second? If you take longer than a split second to do it then this would not be practical to use in combat. This is where the use of imagery will allow you to do so, in this case the image is as if one is trying to string together nine pearls placed in a non-linear path from top to bottom.

When I was writing this I had a look to see how other writers try to explain this principle and man, I can’t believe the number of non-explanations out there passing off as an explanation. Reading them I understand why some masters are reluctant to explain how to achieve this in practice, they just don’t want the snake oil sellers to pass off what they read as their own.

If you use the right imagery you can use the 9 crooked pearls to fajing throughout the entire Yang style form and you can do it such that it is imperceptible, giving the impression that there is no fajing in the form. There is, its just that its not the suddenly slow, suddenly fast type of movement that we think of as representative of fajing, kinda like explosion (outward) vs implosion (inward).

When you practice doing fajing using the 9 crooked pearls you will have some interesting insights on the nature of movement and how it interacts with Newton’s laws of motion.

Shock Pulse Power

Concentration of power. That’s what Tuhon Apolo calls what we would term as fajing in Chinese martial arts.

There are different ways to generate power to suit the delivery method. In Kali if you practice basic strikes daily with the sticks you will acquire power in your empty hand strikes. You don’t really need to understand why though its not hard to do so. You just need to do it.

In fact, you can establish a baseline by checking how strong you can deliver say a palm strike. Then do another check once you have practice striking with a stick for 1000 times a day for 7 days. If you have an old tire you can strike that would be better.

Concentration of power is what we term as Chap Jung Lik in Cantonese. For example, one of my Wing Chun teachers said that hitting with the tip of a long pole is devastating because it is like hitting with a harden phoenix eye fist. A phoenix eye fist is powerful because the power is concentrated onto a striking tip.

In Tai Chi we think of power generation as a shock force impulse. If we use a long duration impulse then the shock would be greatly diminished. Such an impulse is good for demo where you want to send your partner flying over a distance.

In Grandmaster Wei Shuren’s Tai Chi prolonged training in the form teaches us to use a short pulse as well. However, this short pulse is unlike a sudden, whipping external movement that we would normally associate with the term “short pulse”. Below is an example of what a short pulse power generation would look like :-

Some might look at this and think the strike is not powerful. If I add in another trigger mechanism into the fajing process the result will look better :-

Even then this demo is toned down. A properly delivered short pulse power will not send the person flying back. Instead, he would just kneel on the spot in pain. I did this once to show a skeptical person. After that I understood why GM Wei stopped such demo ever since he nearly injured someone fatally with it.

In Tai Chi we don’t just concentrate the power. We also focus the mind in that we have a specific mental target, a mental process, stuff we do but after years of training the many steps have basically become just one step. At this stage the fajing becomes easy. That’s why we don’t need elaborate steps to do it; no getting into a lower stance, no chambering, no asking the partner to stand still.

I’ve been thinking over the question of how does one teach this type of shock pulse fajing in a shorter duration. Would it be possible to break it down into a number of easier to learn steps? One main issue with learning it currently is that if the student is not good at visualizing and feeling in his body what his mind is visualizing then learning will be a struggle.

Will keep this in view for now.

The Kua & The Spear

We can also understand the use of the kua by using a spear.

When we don’t have an actual spear we can use a mental spear.

In Grandmaster Wei’s Tai Chi the movement of Fair Lady Works at Shuttles is embedded with the movements of the long spear.

In this video I demonstrate what the actual spear movements look like with a short pole since I don’t have room to move a long spear.

Then I show the same movements using Fair Lady Works at Shuttles from which the spear movements are taken from.

Axe Chopping Principle

In this week’s SKD I delved into the principle of axe chopping to deliver a strike.

Interestingly, in a non-mainstream Wing Chun that I learned we have a punch called Tup Chui which is literally Hammering Punch in which the punch is not straight out but delivered in a downward curving manner. My final Wing Chun teacher also punched in this manner and he is able to punch really fast and powerfully using this process.

I had also encountered this way of punching in the Biu Jee form of the Ip Man style when my senior taught me this version from one of Ip Man’s lesser known disciple. This punch is performed at the end of every section.

The video below is an introduction :-

Here is where I mentioned the axe chopping in relation to Xingyi’s Pi Quan :-

In SKD this is how we use arm swinging to develop the chopping power :-

To be able to apply the chopping strike we use Tai Chi principles to learn how to relax and control our arm and body acting in concert to deliver the strike.

The arm-whole body movement is my adaptation of Grandmaster Wei Shuren’s Step Back Repulse Monkey from his 22-form. The arm rolling into backfist movement is the final movement in Repulse Monkey.

Intent is the Driver

In the practice of Tai Chi we say that the mind comes first.

In this context the mind refers to the use of intent. Intent is our desire to do something, in this context, the wish to move in compliance with the principles of Tai Chi.

In Grandmaster Wei Shuren’s Yang style Tai Chi we use the intent to practice the process that he wrote about in his book on the 22 form.

The demo above is a segment from the 22-form showing Cloud Hands, Single Whip, Separate Hands to Kick and Strike Ears with Both Fists.

Grandmaster Wei Shuren is demonstrating this segment from 8:16 to 9:59 in the video below :-

The form does not look impressive nor powerful. However, if you try to do it yourself by copying the movements you will realize that it is a lot more difficult than it seems to constantly issue power in a concealed manner while moving calmly as if pulling silk continuously in a movement efficient way.

For example, in the movement of Single Whip the whip hand itself is issuing power 4 ways before moving into the left palm strike to complete the movement. In practicing the form we define the four movements clearly but we can also perform the movements with barely perceptible outward movements once we have grasped the essence of the movement.

At this stage you would need to be in command of your ability to use intent otherwise you will not be able to reduce the outer movements to the bare minimum required.

2021 Day 2

It started to rain last night.

It kept on raining throughout the day. I woke up to a dark, cold and gloomy day.

Practicing Tai Chi is a good day to get the blood circulating. Some say to circulate the Chi.

Playing the Tai Chi form is a good way to train your ability to concentrate, develop awareness of how your body is moving in response to your mind.

When you can quiet down your mind you can focus so much better. In this way you can reduce the outer movements, concealing the movements that are happening inside your body. This is what we mean by being internal.

Good control of the body allows you to tread like a cat. At the same time your body is moving like a series of gears to rotate and spiral to connect to the ground to generate power.

While it does not seem like it but within the slow, seemingly gentle movements we are working the power generation process.

Update 30 May 2020

Today is the last day of the month. Next week the lockdown will be over and its back to work, kind of anyway.

I’ve spent the last 12 days working on the Sam Kuen Do (SKD) manual and updating the learning syllabus. Right now we are at version 2.0. By next week we will move on to version 3.0. The challenge is how to learn more without having to have to learn too many things (expansive yet compact).

SKD version 3.0 brings some new learning areas such as :-

a) 3 different methods for generating power using the lower body

b) How to use (a) while stepping using Leung Yi Bo

c) Improved ways to learn the three basic force models

d) Incorporating (c) into the corresponding three strikes

e) Revamped 6-blocks and variations (7-blocks, 8-blocks, 9-blocks)

f) New strikes – linking three floating palms and linking two chopping strikes

Working on SKD has helped me to reorganize the teaching of the 8-step Health Form. I have not posted any videos to learn it step-by-step because when I tried making videos then I found out that what I took for granted, how I learned it, is not that easy to put across in self-learning videos. In fact, it could be confusing.

One example is from the topic of the 2 4 points. In Grandmaster Wei Shuren’s original pictures from his book on the 22-form the points are not even labelled – see below :-

In my post here (pictures also reproduced below) I labelled where the 2-point and 4-point is for ease of reference. But as you can see below the 2-point is the same whether the leading leg is the right leg or left leg and this can be confusing.

After deliberation I have come up with a simpler way to do this. For the purpose of learning the 8-step Health Form and for the teaching of how to step in SKD (yes, I am going to use this teaching tool in SKD also) we will just follow a straight forward, clear cut convention as shown below :-

So that’s the update. Now back to work on the SKD manual.

Why Emptiness

In today’s post I touched a bit on the training of emptiness.

The training of emptiness is actually simple and straightforward. But it can be maddeningly difficult to catch like trying to grasp water.

I guess this is where the fun of learning is. And when you get there it can be incredibly satisfying because you have something that most Tai Chi practitioners will never understand much less be able to acquire.

You will be able to have a glimmer of understanding why the first two generations of Yang family, Yang Luchan and Yang Chienhou, were said to have high level skill.

Clarity

This CB lockdown has one good thing going for me – time to practice in the morning before I start work at home.

For some reason, I think it is the way I have to focus on the tons of fine details that is embedded in the Tai Chi form as I move through it, that clears up the mind and help to perceive things more clearly.

Sometimes too clear a thinking is bad, cause I end up writing a post like “WTF” here.