Waiting for a Girl

If it had been a movie we would hear the Foreigner song “Waiting for a Girl like You” play in the background, perhaps the following part would play a bit louder :-

I’ve been waiting for a girl like you
To come into my life

This part of the song would be synchronized to play at the moment that my student said that he was glad that I made him wait for a long while before teaching him Fair Lady Works at Shuttles more than 2 years after he first began learning the form. The Fair Lady Works at Shuttles section is some 2/3 into the 108 form.

The average student can learn the 86 movements of the 108 form in a year. Despite his previous Tai Chi background it took this long to get here with my student because I needed him to get rid of his old habits and replace them with new habits. Learning a form fast for the sake of it is a waste of time. To learn good skills takes time; its a process that cannot be rushed no matter how fast we want to go if we are not up to the task.

The Fair Lady Works at Shuttles is a good section to learn how to turn quickly without losing balance and be able to face the direction turned to with precision. We moved from moving with a few more steps to using a few less steps. Since he has learned Aikido and Baguazhang before I mentioned that the turning learned here can easily improve one’s Aikido or Baguazhang.

Turning the body is one part of the learning. Other stuff we can learn from the maiden would be :-

i) Entering with unified body using the 5-count

ii) Generating power using the 1/2 step (my student said it felt like wave power when I demonstrated it on him) in the third movement

iii) Turning as opposed to rotating for keeping the body aligned during defence and power generation

iv) Stepping with precision over swinging the leg when stepping

v) Use of descending curve to power hand strike, similar to Xingyiquan’s Piquan; this can be practiced slowly without the curve being obvious or quickly with sudden power

 

After I explained about how to work the defence in Fair Lady Works at Shuttles my student finally grasped the importance of what I have been saying all along about having a game to do push hands. This is because once we gain the position using Fair Lady Works at Shuttles there are a few changes we can apply depending on how the opponent reacts. So knowing how the techniques in the form can change from one to the other is an advantage.

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Shortest Distance

In Wing Chun it is said that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line.

However, in Tai Chi the shortest distance between two points is a curve.

Why do we say this?

If you regularly practice the use of strikes in push hands or sticking hands you may notice that it is difficult to strike your opponent unless you disengage your arm from his arm that is in contact with you. There are two ways to do this.

The first one is to disengage by the arm that is in contact and trying to strike over the opponent’s arm. I tend to see this a lot in Youtube videos of Wing Chun practitioners doing sticking hands. Why they do this is an interesting topic.

The second way is to use your other arm to parry or grab the opponent’s arm to momentarily detain it, freeing your arm to strike.

It does not matter if you are practicing Tai Chi, Wing Chun or some other styles. As long as you practice a contact platform these are the two common ways to do it.

The first way can work well if your opponent is slow to react. I saw this in a Facebook clip of a Yiquan master doing push hands. When he deliberately lost contact and moved in it was like watching a truck running down a person.

The only thing I would caution against doing it this way is that if your partner uses strong forward force you may find his hand suddenly shooting forward to hit you the moment you lose the contact. Of course, you can move your body out of the way just before you do it but its a calculated risk.

The second way does not always work because not everyone that play hands using a contact platform will keep their arms close enough for you to use the other hand to parry or grab. I found this out when I played hands with Tai Chi people when I was learning Wing Chun.

So what do you do then if you want to do a strike and both ways are not workable?

This is when understanding that a curve is the shortest distance between two points when arms are in contact is useful. What does this mean exactly?

LogoClick here to learn how to use a curve to move quickly between two points when playing push hands.

 

Posing

The journey of a thousand miles begin with the first step. Veer by a few degrees and you may well end up somewhere that you did not intend to be, except you may not even know that you don’t want to be there in the first place.

I watched my student perform the section of the Yang style 108 form that has a number of kicks. He has a habit of bringing his hands up, raise the knee, posed for a second, then slowly stretched his kicking leg out.

Nice, if you are taking part in a wushu Tai Chi competition. Not so useful if you are practicing Tai Chi for combat. Why?

For starters, when one of your foot is off the ground you are not as stable as you should be. The longer you keep your foot off the ground the more chances you offer to the opponent to take advantage of your unstable state.

Our rule is simple when doing kicks – when ready, kick. Don’t pose.

How do we know when we are ready to kick? How do we set up the conditions that allow us to kick whilst minimizing exposure to a counter-attack when we are in a vulnerable state? How do we kick?

When we practice the form the above three questions are some of the things we are investigating. Each part of the entire sequence that makes up a kicking technique helps us to perform the kick with precision and power.

Proper study of the kicking movement will help you to learn how to kick without telegraphing your intention to kick. The 5-Count principle is useful in this regard.

When I demonstrated how to do the 5-Count distinctively my student asked whether this would be telegraphing as I was doing it obviously for him to feel. I don’t know whether to laugh or what. I would not want to say this was a stupid question, rather it was a question that was not well thought out.

To answer his question I showed him what it would feel like if the 5-Count was performed in a refined manner. After I showed it to him he told me what he felt this time.

Nothing.

Yes, this time he couldn’t feel when I would kick him even though my hands were in contact with his arm.

Not posing is important when learning how to move in Tai Chi. This is because the movements are not for us to look good, or to feel the Chi like some New Age-y folks would go. Instead, the movements are to teach us how to move in compliance to the principles and the strategies that would allow us to use the art.

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From Dead to Alive

Is it your experience that you can play the Tai Chi form in a beautiful flowing manner but cannot use the techniques in push hands?

Or perhaps you can but only if your training partner is not resisting and the moment he tries to resist the techniques fly out the window and you revert to doing boxing-like techniques.

To learn how a technique works particularly the principles involved that bring it alive we break down the learning into a few parts. What is important to us is not looking nice and fluffy. Instead, we value precision in moving to fulfill various principles, objectives and strategies.

Apparent Close-Up is a technique that follows Deflect, Parry & Punch in our Yang 108 form. It is typically used as a counter to prevent our punching arm from being controlled. It is a fairly easy technique to understand but ask your training partner to block your punching arm and follow up with using strength to control your punching arm. See if you can get out of it. You will be surprised how easily your use of Apparent Close-Up falls apart when the resistance is stronger.

After jamming the opponent’s attempt to control our punching arm and recovering our position we next follow up with a controlling cum attacking technique. The way we do this is different from that typically seen in other Yang styles.

My student was just asking me about it last night. I said that we could do it the way we normally see other Yang stylists do it. However, our way is actually easier to use the technique.

This is not because our way is better but the physics and exploitation of the natural weakness of the human anatomy make our method easier to apply. This is immediately obvious to anyone who tries to apply the double palms pushing attack at the end of Apparent Close-Up against a resisting opponent. Just do the research and the whys will be explained.

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Carry The Boat

When you come to a river how do you cross it?

You could swim or you could use a boat, assuming you can get your hands on one.

After you cross the river do you continue to carry the boat with you?

I guess it depends on whether you are going to cross another river sometime soon.

What if you need to scale a mountain first before you will come across another river? Should you bring the boat along?

This is a philosophical question but it’s relevant to our learning of Tai Chi. For example, how long do you keep working on a form?

For some the answer is simply as long as you need to whereas for others it could be indefinitely. What’s wrong with both these answers?

Well, they fail to address a critical question – what’s the objective or is there none?

For some teachers the basics from the form should be learned properly before going on to applications. This is a reasonable requirement for those time when society didn’t have the distraction of television and now the internet.

Today most students won’t have as much time or the inclination to train as hard with so many competing distractions in their life. So does this mean that they should not be able to master the art?

I looked at my student. For the short time she spent learning punching in a self defence course she can move reasonably well and even copied the flavor of how to move the body to throw certain punches. But she could still not do a good enough imitation of how we move in Tai Chi that can imbue her with the skills.

If I impose a strict linear learning requirement this would mean that I cannot teach her any self defence applications or push hands. If so, would I be failing her should she ever have to use the art?

This is where some teachers don’t give a hoot about it. They are too caught up in preserving what I see as a useless tradition which might have meant something once but is becoming increasingly out-dated today.

The way I see it the objective is competency is using the art whether for demo, self defence or playing physical chess. The requirements are one and the same. We should not keep a double set of accounts such that what you do in push hands is useless for self defence.

To get to this stage each form is a vehicle to bring us to a different level. We work it to the point where the returns are marginal then we move on. Don’t carry the boat along to climb the mountain.

When you eventually come to another river perhaps one more raging than the previous one then you may realize that the old boat is useless for crossing this river. Had you carried the boat along you would have either wasted your time or if you are lucky you can still modify the boat to handle this new river.

Since the learning is non-linear this means we can approach it from different directions. If you can’t see it from the perspective of doing a form perhaps learning the application will help you to see it.

Stuff like timing, how much to bend, angle, twist are not immediately obvious when doing the form. However, trying to apply the technique will make this more obvious.

For example, if you block wrongly you open more doors for your opponent to attack you. You may think your response is correct but your opponent’s ability to follow up or not with another attack will answer your question.

Carry the boat if you like to but know when to set it down, when to come back to it and when to leave it behind and walk on. There is a time for everything and knowing when is a key to your successful learning of Tai Chi.

It would be a great pity if you one day discover you had wasted your time pursuing a way that took you off the path just because you were fixated on a way. Some teachers can be well intentioned but as experience sometimes prove the road to hell can be paved with good intentions.

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Wanna Eat Bacon

Knowledge liberates, faith enslaves seems to be the take away lesson here. This is something we can apply to the study of Tai Chi.

My student was just telling me about what her self defence instructor taught her about boxing punches. Being an educated and intelligent person she had doubts about certain things she was taught about punching.

I said instead of assigning a right or wrong label why not just ask a simple question – is it effective? Is it optimal? Does it conform to (fill in the question)? And so on.

From there we can examine each question and at the end of it decide which way would work for us while enabling us to optimize what we have. Or perhaps we need to tweak our body to do more.

So a thing like punching is it better to do a 1-2 strike or 1 & pause 2 strike? Why yes? Why no? Or the answer is depends on the circumstances. Why do we need a black and white answer when the real answer could be grey?

So an enlightened teacher can open up your insights to the possibilities and enrich your learning whilst a narrow minded teacher will restrict and hold back your progress.

You can stay and be enslaved by your continuing faith in the teacher or you can try bacon!!! Ultimately the choice is yours to make. I’m already past 50 and I’m not waiting till 90 to try “bacon”…..,.

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Making Progress

How do you make progress in your training?

One way is to discard that which does not contribute to your progress.

Let’s take a simple example – Teacher A tells you to punch with your elbow up and using a horizontal fist. Teacher B tells you to use a vertical fist instead and keep your elbow down.

You find that Teacher A’s method a bit shaky and doesn’t quite inspire confidence. Teacher B’s method works fine for you. The thing is that when you attend Teacher A’s class you are told that Teacher B’s method is not the proper one.

What should you do?

In Rome do as Romans do so naturally when you are in Teacher A’s class you make sure you use his method whether it is really good for you or not.

However, does this really help you to progress? Or hold back your progress?

Quite a dilemma eh?

For me I err on the side that allows me to progress. So if I am taught a method that holds me back then I have to ask why I am sticking to it. This is because a day that I am not progressing is a day lost and time cannot be gotten back.

Sometimes you are torn between Teacher A and Teacher B? What should you do?

I would research and research. Then ponder, test and check before making a decision.

So for punching I am lucky that a champion like Jack Dempsey has written a book on boxing. If you don’t know who Jack Dempsey is then take a look at the clip below :-

Dempsey’s book on boxing is chock-ful of good advice and more important good common sense; stuff you can try out quickly to see if its effective.

Look at Dempsey’s advice on power. You only have to try it out to check if the elbow down or elbow up position is better. However, don’t think that Dempsey is asking you to punch with a vertical fist only – read his book and you will see that his advice on fist position is very practical.

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Below is Dempsey on how to aim. I use the same method but I didn’t get it from Dempsey. Instead, I got it from a Hong Kong master and my students who have felt this method before knows how painful and penetrating a light tap can be.

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The funny thing is that the style that this method came from typically does not advocate aiming this way. In fact, 99% of the practitioners and masters in this style do not do it this way. However, once I understood the logic and more important, felt for myself its effectiveness its hello new method, goodbye old method style and lineage be damned.

Look at the picture below from Dempsey’s book. Notice the punching fist position. Someone I knew tried to throw a punch like this in a self defence class and was told that it was wrong, and that punching this way is a Wing Chun method. I cannot believe how shallow the instructor’s knowledge of boxing is. Lucky for me Dempsey’s book is there to show that this is not true.

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And to balance out the argument read what Dempsey wrote about punching with a horizontal punch below :-

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And of course, Dempsey also brought up a shortcoming of this punching method :-

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Pretty good advice huh? You can’t go wrong with it, at least from my experience in researching different arts.

Of course, I should also tell you that the punching method I use is different and is rooted in Tai Chi principles but that’s a story for another day. End of the day now. Time to prepare to go for early dinner.

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