Lockdown Learning 4

After Ward-Off we move on to Rollback and Press.

In the application of techniques Rollback is typically followed by Press so I tend to treat this as one movement.

Part 1

Rollback teaches the skill of enticing the opponent’s attack to fall harmlessly to empty space. It also contains the strategy of counter-attacking during retreat.

The key here is :-

a) Manage the space

b) Manage the timing

c) Manage the angle of movement

Part 2

The technique of Press follows closely on the heels of Rollback in that as the opponent’s attack falls into empty space you quickly seize the initiative to insert your attack.

Press contains :-

a) Outflanking

b) Compress and seal

When the conditions for applying Press are in place then fajing is very easy. In fact, most students doing it the first time are puzzled that it seems so easy, too easy and they could not believe that they are actually able to fajing with decades of training behind them, something they have been brainwashed to believe.

Physical Intelligence

….rationalizing won’t get the job done.”

I love this sentence in the Introduction of the book “Physical Intelligence” by Scott Grafton. Similarly, I would say that the only way to master Tai Chi is to engage in things Tai Chi i.e. you gotta practice the form, gotta do push hands, gotta learn to apply the techniques, gotta do deep study.

Complaining about how difficult it is to master Tai Chi, how you can’t seem to understand it, how it seem unattainable, and other complaints will not get you anywhere. You just gotta do it.

Do it, do it, do it. No matter how difficult it may be.

The problem always starts when you want to master the elusive fajing. The more you yearn for it, the more elusive it gets. Hence, my teacher said it best when he said the objective is just to practice daily, not master fajing, not win medals, not get ranking promotions.

When you get your priorities right you begin to move forward. As Scott Grafton writes :-

Skills such as these are informed by “physical intelligence”: the components of the mind that allow anyone to engage with and change the world.

So don’t try to think your way to mastery. The thinking has already been done in the past (hint : Tai Chi Classics); if anything you have to do it, keep doing it, and do it some more. Otherwise, you will get stuck for a long, long time in Tai Chi non-mastery hell.

Do you know why you need to practice the solo form alone, without the joys of being part of group who share the same interests, engaging in banter, shared physical interactions?

Solo form training is a way of allowing yourself to find a way to be free of internal and external chatter, of the monkey brain and of friends. As Grafton pointed out :-

Rather, the solitude provides time for reflection and an opportunity to examine the kind of intelligence that informed human action as our species evolved.

Thus, solo training allows you to focus your mind, develop a better awareness and feel for what your body is doing. This familiarity deepens with the passage of time, that if you keep working on the same movement over and over again, using the same form so as to have a consistent frame of reference, will allow you to experience the insights hidden behind the principles of the Tai Chi Classics.

Grafton also mentioned :-

1) Physical intelligence is absolutely ruthless in requiring that knowledge be gained from direct physical experience.

2) …physical intelligence reflects learning processes that constantly tinker with a person’s performance. One never stops learning to cook, to drive, or even to walk, for that matter. It is also a knowledge that is lost from disuse; without practice you will fall on ice or off ladders.

3) …physical intelligence provides the means to establish a sense of control. Humans acquire their skills and learn to solve problems through constant experimentation.

4) There is no end to the sensing, adapting, anticipating, and accommodating that must take place for a person to act intelligently. It takes practice and know-how to do even the little things in life…

The funny thing is that I have been telling students to learn push hands as well as they study the form but most of them don’t want to do it. They don’t listen as they know what they want, or so they think. Points (3) and (4) is basically what push hands is teaching and I am glad that a scientist has pointed out the importance of such learning to acquire a skill.

Maybe now students will believe me, or maybe not. People can behave irrationally, they know that they have not mastered a skill and they seek out a person to teach them the skill and by extension how to master it, but they just don’t want to listen to how to master it. Strange behavior that I would like to see a scientist write a book on.

In the meantime, life goes on. Another lunar year, the beginning of a new lunar year cycle will soon begin. What will be, will be. What won’t be, won’t be.

Crash Course Salient Points

Two cold mornings. Two early mornings. But then the early bird catches the worm.

Enter Alex from Australia who is here for a quick crash course in Tai Chi. I had planned to teach him Beginning Posture, Grasp Sparrow’s Tail and Single.

After the first lesson we had barely started on Grasp Sparrow’s Tail. OK, revised plan to teaching Beginning Posture and Grasp Sparrow’s Tail.

Learning just how to wave the hands in the air can take some effort. However, learning the principles, the details of how to control and move the body accurately takes tremendous effort because it then is not a just a matter of monkey see, monkey do but monkey must use brain power to remember and perform to a script and tune.

Thus, for the serious student who wants to pierce the veil of secrecy it is better to go for quality rather than quantity. The reason is the foundation skills apply throughout the form, application of techniques and push hands.

To help jog the memory we shot a quick video summarizing the salients point when practicing Beginning Posture and Grasp Sparrow’s Tail.

The emphasis is to remember the step-by-step process so that practicing is not about going through the movements but to train the mind to control the body to move in a manner that allows one to have dynamic balance, connect the body throughout and to the ground, configure the body structure for application of techniques and be fajing-ready.

For the beginner the emphasis for the first layer of skill acquirement is to perform each and every movement in compliance to principles, articulate the biomechanics clearly and execute each movement to their natural conclusion before attempting to execute them in a seamless and flowing manner.

In this way the learner is always sure of what he is doing. In this manner he knows what is the standard of performance to strive for. He will also know when his execution is off because then the key parameters will not be complied to. For example, when the placement of the arm is not optimized then one ends up resisting with strength, resulting in inability to neutralize and fajing effortlessly.

At the end Alex asked the one question I had expected him to ask early; that tiny obsession everyone has – fajing.

Fajing today is no longer a big mystery except to those who don’t know anything about biomechanics. In fact, the method to fajing is already built into the movements of Tai Chi. As long as one diligently practices them the ability to fajing effortless will come in time.

For illustraion I used the movement of Press to demonstrate that anyone can learn how to fajing in as little as 5 minutes. That’s right 5 minutes! Of course, I could slap on a lot of distracting and irrelevant stuff like how one must have qigong, knowledge of meridians and so on, and yeah, maybe need to baisi too.

But I’m on the wrong side of 50, every day a step closer to the end and I ain’t wasting no more time perpetuating the BS that is hampering the progress of Tai Chi.

Press provides a clean and clear cut example of the principles of classical mechanics in play. Follow the steps, setup the technique, then at the very last step is the fajing part. All it takes is one simple instruction here and you can send a person flying, maybe not as strongly at first but practice it a few more times and its not impossible to do so.

Its just a matter of put in place the conditions and pulling the power trigger and everything is ready. Then you see clearly the power that comes from the use of acceleration and momentum. Its practically effortless when you do it right and getting it right is not difficult either.

Yeah, I think the effortless part makes an unbeliever of us for no one wants to believe that its actually easy to fajing. Most people love it that its difficult to perform, difficult to attain and filled with mystery. That’s the myth of fajing. The reality is fajing is physics in application.

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.

Go Slow to Go Fast

Why do we put emphasis on form training?

I can think of two simple reasons :-

a) Form is about the cultivation, maintenance and putting in place appropriate principles at the right time during a sequence of changing movements, which through a period of time naturalizes, automates and allows us to call up at will easily the right principles to apply

b) It provides opportunity to cultivate and maintain key principles in great detail during movement without the distraction of pressure. The logic is that if you can’t perform without pressure, you can certainly not perform under pressure

If you don’t understand this logic you will see form as useless training. Form training is unfortunately not something you can breeze through. It takes time to see beyond the obvious, to tease out those things that you read about in the Tai Chi Classics but do not understand.

You do not understand not because it is complicated but because you have not trained to the point where you can understand what is written. Form training is one of those things where you want to rush through but you just can’t rush through. Try running from Point A to Point B as fast as you can. Now describe what was on your left side as you were running from Point A to Point B.

Did you have any problem describing in detail what was on your left side? How about describing in greater detail? Why do you think you are not able to describe better?

So this is the issue with form training. It takes time. My teacher said that time is the real price we pay for mastery.

I try to teach my student how to do a 4-step neutralize, trap, realign and issue technique. Its a simple, short move, nothing fancy, no leaping in the air and turning 270 degrees. But its not easy to do it quickly, under strong pressure.

Yet, the same movement is readily found in Rollback, in that innocuous little arm movement that most people don’t pay attention to. Yet, if you practice the form long enough to flesh out the details you will eventually reach a point where you will wonder about this movement.

There is a Zen story about the faster you want to learn something, the slower your learning will be. The moral is if you want to learn faster, try learning slower.

The Killing Gung 2

Two weeks later from my last post The Killing Gung I still have my student working on the basics except this time he is down to doing just the 1-2 sequence of Spear-Kill.

Kill –> Spear –> Kill –> Spear

Like a train he chugged up and down linearly along the corridor connecting the two blocks.

I turned a more critical eye to his progress. This week I picked on his grip. A proper grip lends itself to a more solid structure leading to more power.

I had him spear the stack of chairs to understand how to position the pole properly in reference to the position of the body.

We ended with applying the lesson of the pole to the use of emptyhand techniques, particularly the advanced technique that Master Leong taught. This is the “one technique, many changes” movement of our number one fist technique.

Grind on.

POLErobics

POLErobics.

I woke up with this label stuck in my mind. To get this off my mind I wrote something earlier this morning on Facebook but by evening the label is still stuck in my mind. So I shall write a post here to exorcise it from my mind.

Why POLErobics?

Well, if you look at the video below this should be obvious.

By association this is a practice using the pole. If you keep moving and moving, faster and faster, non-stop, over and over, the speed and intensity of the movements will work your lungs and before you know it you will be grasping for breath.

The aerobics part is not obvious in this video because he is only moving at medium speed. Once he is familiar with the sequence he will be able to go faster. At that time the aerobics in this practice will come to the fore, and then we will be able to clearly see how pole + aerobics = POLErobics.

The pole is the first weapon I learned from my first Tai Chi teacher, hence it is my favorite weapon. However, this sequence here is not from him.

Instead, this sequence is from my Ngok Gar Kuen teacher, the late Grandmaster Cheong Fook, whom I consider to be my best teacher on the long pole. GM Cheong said that it is important to drill this sequence daily.

After years of playing with this sequence it is my opinion that the ability to apply the long pole hinges on the mastery of these three techniques that we term Arrow Pole, Killing Pole and Flinging Pole. Of the three movements I feel that Killing Pole is the most important with Flinging Pole coming second and Arrow Pole last.

Grandmaster Cheong Fook teaching the Arrow Pole

I taught my student this sequence to help him develop the skill of using the long pole form from my first Tai Chi teacher. In addition, this sequence can help to master certain key principles from the Tai Chi Classics which in turn can be applied to the practice of push hands.