To Be A Tai Chi Teacher 3

A *ming* teacher is not just a teacher who can remember forms and perform them back to you like a video recorder.

Being able to remember forms helps you to master Tai Chi but its not enough. You must penetrate to the essence of the forms and live them to be able to say you understand them. Otherwise, your movements will be souless and tasteless. You will not be able to use the techniques freely within push hands not to mention combat.

To know a form is not to just know the movements. To know a form means to know :-

a) The principles on their own and as a whole

b) The nuances and details of each movement

c) The obvious, hidden and derived applications of the movement

d) The ways of neutralizing and issuing

e) Able to express innumerable changes

f) Concealing complexity within simplicity, concealing intent


Take an example – Cross Hands :-

a) What are the principles at play in Cross Hands

b) What are the nuances and details to express and cultivate in our practice?

c) What are the many ways to use Cross Hands?

d) How can Cross Hands be used to neutralize and issue power?

e) How can Cross Hands express innumerable changes?

f) What is the intent in Cross Hands? How to conceal it?


So, do you *ming* (understand) Cross Hands?

If you can give good, consistent and comprehensive answers as well as able to apply Cross Hands, even in push hands then you can say you at least understand something about Tai Chi.


To Be A Tai Chi Teacher 2

What does it take to be a *ming* teacher?

Step 1 – take out your mental saber.

Step 2 – sharpen it.

Step 3 – look for your sacred cows and start killing.


What sacred cows should we kill?

1) Style cow

2) Lineage cow

3) Master cow


Do you know why we should kill the above three cows? That’s homework for you.


Talk About Chi….. Not

If you have nothing better to do on a slow day you may be interested to take a look at this video that a student asked me to see.

I found it an interesting talk but it does nothing for me as far as mastering Tai Chi is concerned. The reason – it fails to address the most important part of the process for mastering Tai Chi which is how to use the intention.

Granted the topic is on Chi and not mastering Tai Chi but the speaker talked about flow from the research of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi which I guess is why my student thought is related to what I wrote about in this blog post on Movement. I have read about Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s work. However, what we do in our Tai Chi is more than just flow. To us flow occurs when the variables are finetuned to work optimally with each other.

Perhaps Flow is a good explanation for non-Tai Chi experiences. But does it really apply to Tai Chi? Perhaps. Somewhat. Totally? No.

If you don’t know your Tai Chi well enough you would think that Flow is a good explanation. Here’s a poser – if you think you understand what Tai Chi is about try explaining what the Tai Chi Classics are about and better still demonstrate their meaning in practice. If you can’t give a consistent and rationale explanation then you know where your level of mastery really is.

So that’s as far I would go where flow in movement is concerned. If we are talking about flow in the face of resistance and pressure from an opponent that’s a different matter. In this case Chi is not as important. Instead, the intention and what our mind is doing is more important. As the ancestors in our Tai Chi lineage says “No Yi, No Chi”.

“No Yi, No Chi” should be self-explanatory and most readers would think they understand what this means……….except they don’t really understand it until they can actually do it by proving that they can clearly differentiate the use of Yi versus what I would term murky movement i.e. movement in which the intention is not clearly distinguished.

Another problem I have with this talk is ……….. too much talk. Anyone can talk, going round and round the bush, throwing in lots of buzz words that ultimately doesn’t leave you any clearer to begin with before and after listening to it.

It would have been easier to do a demo, perhaps get the participants to try out and go around to show them what they think and what really is Chi. This talk kinda reminds me of those authors who write Tai Chi books who write tons of words and its fine………… as long as they don’t actually try to show you a demo at which point you can see who really knows their stuff and who is really talking about something they think they understand but not really.

Listen to the part beginning at 45:29 where the speaker mentioned about circle and square with the circle being soft and square being hard. Then the speaker went on about word pairings in this vein instead of explaining further on how the use of Yi can actually render a square soft and a circle hard. This is what my students would consider the non-intuitive aspects of Tai Chi. However, as much as I would like to claim credit for it I am not the first person to write about this paradox of principles.

If I want to put it mystically I would say that the Yi renders the square soft by infusing and surrounding it with Chi. If I want to draw the religious crowd I would maybe draw a parallel with some ancient goddess coming to earth, bestowing magical powers on Tai Chi practitioners who worship her by dancing the form under the rays of the full moon (clothes optional for the nudist New Agey crowd), transforming their Chi as it flows and courses through the major pathways and acupoints to breakthrough the chakras (yeah, while we are at it attract the Yoga feel good crowd too), moving the power through the serpentine spine to exit the crown of the head, soaring through to the heavens and unifying us to the mother earth <pant, pant, I am breathless from merely reading this>.

In discussing a difficult topic like Tai Chi it is a common practice to conceal one’s lack of understanding by talking about the topic sideways, preferably pull in a lot of different threads to distract us from the fact that the main topic was not really addressed. Classic self perception disorder as to one’s actual level of understanding is rife even amongst so-called masters. Fortunately, for them most people don’t know enough about the subject to catch them out. Thus, it is true that in the kingdom of the blind the one-eyed man is king.

After 30 minutes of listening to the talk the speaker has still not clearly defined what Chi is, how to know that Chi is real, what it feels like, how one can cultivate it, how long does one need to train to get it, and so on. As it is the talk is like taking a cruise to nowhere, just sail out to the high seas somewhere and come back. Yet, the best explanations I have heard will hit the bull’s eye within minutes, not meander round and round after 78 minutes. Towards the latter part of the video the speaker even touched on neural networks to which I would still want to know how is this related to Chi?

I know some people would like this talk but it does nothing for me. I actually learned more reading Walter Isaacson’s biography of Albert Einstein, not so much about Chi or Flow but about academic life, thinking, physics, stuff that can help move you along in understanding Tai Chi.

Consider the following examples :-

Example A from the chapter The Light-Beam Rider (page 3 – 4 in my copy) :-

Gravity, he figured, was a warping of space and time, and he came up with the equations that describe how the dynamics of this curvature result from the interplay between matter, motion, and energy. It can be described by using another thought experiment. Picture what it would be like to roll a bowling ball onto the two-dimensional surface of a trampoline. Then roll some billiard balls. They move toward the bolwing ball not because it exerts some mysterious attraction but because of the way it curves the trampoline fabric. Now imagine this happening in the four-dimensional fabric of space and time.

Example B from the chapter The Lovers (page 83 in my copy) :-

The essence of Mach’s philosophy was this, in Einstein’s words: “Concepts have meaning only if we can point to objects to which they refer and to the rules by which they are assigned to these objects.” In other words, for a concept to make sense you need an operational definition of it, one that describes how you would observe the concept in operation.


Can you see the parallels between what Einstein talked about and Tai Chi. I have used Example A to explain Tai Chi to one of my students.

Conclusion and recommendation – if you have but 1 hour and 18 minutes to spare (that’s the length of the video) you are better off reading about Einstein than listening to this babble about Chi that was not really. As Donald Trump would say – Sad.


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.


Dominoes 2

Today I saw a video showing kung fu besting boxing. After watching the video I cannot help but wonder why put on a boxer who does not really box or use the range of boxing punches.

I mean if you watch enough videos of boxers especially when they spar against styles that rush straight in you would note that hooks are effective in stopping these rushes and even knocking down the person rushing in. This video is a classic case of where the boxer should control his distance and hook. So why didn’t he? Makes the demo of kung fu prowess suspicious……

Take a look at this video. Its not exactly the same but you can see a better boxer more in control of distance and using hooks when his opponent tried to rush in.

A good video for learning about the strengths and weaknesses of your own art is the video below on an Aikido teacher getting a friend to help test his techniques.

Despite being bested the Aikido teacher maintained humility and a spirit of learning. This is how you can improve your art. Do not be afraid to slaughter the sacred cow.

Finally, look at how happy the students are to learn something new from watching their own black belt played like a doll. Its an old clip but its gold.


Wake Up 2

The chap who caused an uproar or awakening depending on your point of view by unveiling a fake Tai Chi master gave an interview after the match.

Some readers may find it hard to stomach what he has to say but hey, don’t shoot the messenger, especially if self-improvement is more important to you than “face” if you know what I mean.

After watching the interview I can understand the problems that Coach Xu is facing now from the government and other martial arts masters who do not like what he has to say and are out to get him.

Like the Japanese would say the nail that sticks out gets hammered down. But then if the nail does not stick out and cause some pain no one would know that things are not hunky dory.

Self-delusion is a big problem for Chinese martial arts. Fortunately, there are still good masters around. However, I think the bigger problem is the students blindly worshiping the master, blindly worshiping the senior, blindly worshiping the lineage, the style and leaving their commonsense behind.

Self-delusion is not just a problem suffered by the uneducated. The educated, the literati too are afflicted. At one time one student told me about how good his master was. I know who the master is as I have read his books.

But once I have seen a video of this master I have to tell my student that the master’s skill is ordinary. That the master is a big chap would help a lot. I saw how the video did his fajing. Seriously, I had to wonder – is this really internal skill? Any ordinary person could do it by following certain steps to put in motion the principles of acceleration, momentum and displacement. My student might not like to hear it but if he did not wake up from the self-delusion he will continue to hang on to the past, unable to move forward.

The second thing that was important is the question of why my student did not inherit any great skill from this master given that the master was put on such a high pedestal. My student said that some of the seniors got it. Yes, that is good but what would it matter if my student didn’t get it. To me, a teacher that failed to transmit to you especially if you are a serious student is not a teacher worthy of your adoration.

Of course, if you did not sincerely learn and seriously train, ah well, then you are the problem. Such 5-minute warmth students are typical of many learners. Now you teach them then they immediately forget. If by a miracle you managed to fix them, then the next lesson they show the same mistakes, again as if the previous hard won changes meant nothing. One step forward, ten steps backwards.

I know that traditionalists hate to be exposed by MMA. But if there is a problem, the best way to fix it is to face up to it. What Coach Xu is saying is nothing new. My Ngok Gar Kuen seniors said Pok Khek Kuen is no big deal and explained to me how they can beat the techniques. Now that I know Pok Khek Kuen so much better I would say they are right and wrong depending on the skill level of the Pok Khek practitioner.

Every style has mostly average practitioners who cannot use the techniques. I suppose it depends on the direction of the school whether they want street fighters or tournament fighters. Would Ngok Gar fighters have fared as well in full-contact tournament? That would be an interesting question as I have not heard of any one who has entered tournaments and won, however, quite a number of Pok Khek practitioners have won full-contact tournaments.

The same goes for Wing Chun practitioners who rode high on how many rooftop fights they won. However, when these same practitioners entered a full-contact tournament they got wiped out by Choy Li Fut practitioners. It does not mean Wing Chun is totally useless for tournaments, just that the art has certain areas that need to be worked on if it is to be successful in tournaments. Nowadays, some Wing Chun masters have changed their art and entered their students tournaments with good results.

If you are not seeing results in your training it is time to review your learning critically. If there is a need to move on, just move on. After crossing the river I don’t bring along the canoe. After driving down the highway I don’t bring the Ferrari with me up the mountain.


Rice Please?

I shared this picture of Master Cheong Fook on my Facebook timeline.


This posture is known as Beggar Asking for Rice from the advanced level pole form of Ngok Gar Kuen.

The posture is one of those seemingly useless posture which has implications for the use of strategy in the application of emptyhand and weapons techniques if you take the time to study it.