Learning iKali 2

I left out some parts I wanted to write yesterday. These are more of the technical parts.

One thing that is frustrating about learning Chinese martial arts is that teachers either don’t address the applications or they teach applications that are not that practical once you really try them out against a partner.

A long time ago I learned my first pole form. My training partner was my physical education teacher from school. We wondered whether we can actually use the pole if someone were to rush us with a parang (since this is a common weapon back then). So we tried it out and let’s just say that we can fantasize about our prowess but don’t ever try it for real.

Of course, after so many years I have a much better idea, much better reflexes and much better power on the pole so my chances of getting away with it has increased. But still you won’t find soldiers in ancient China (for those who love to brag about being traditional, battlefield arts, blah, blah) using pole.

If anything, when I thought of soldiers in ancient China I thought they used broadsword and spear. Then one day I read a book on martial arts in ancient China and the writer said that troops actually used axes for a long time before they changed to broadsword and spear.

I can’t verify the writer’s claim but this would make sense. Nowadays we know that it takes years to be good in any art but if you are a general or village head tasked with the training of soldiers this wouldn’t be very practical. You would be overrun and long killed before your soldiers are competent enough to fight.

But using a pair of axes or even a single one makes sense. Much easier to train in terms of technique, power and deadliness. And broadsword and spear techniques can be made up of singular movements which when stringed together can give rise to combinations and multitude of changes.

The collective knowledge and experience can be recorded and stored away by writing or by compiling them into training forms. The forms can be broken down back into individual techniques for training when required. So there is much more to training a weapon than just playing a form. Even with a common weapon such as the pole we have partner reflex drills, power drills, accuracy drills and so on.

One power drill is using the tree to practice our strikes. In Singapore unless you have your own backyard, ideally sound proof, you will have a problem doing this type of practice cause the sound made by a pole striking a tree is loud. Same with striking a tyre. I did it a long time ago when I lived in a house in Malaysia. The sound bounced right off the walls of houses across the road.

Yeah, so there’s a lot of knowledge and practices in Chinese martial arts that’s slowly forgotten unless teachers continue to teach and make students practice them instead of obssesing with being traditional, lineage wars, demonstrations strength and conditioning feats, etc.

For those of us who are interested in the combative parts learning can be like a treasure hunt. You either keep looking for teachers or you do your own research and from trial and error figure out what makes it tick. For example, there is a turn and stab technique in Tai Chi broadsword after what seems like a block with broadsword and palm strike with the other hand.

I have seen teachers demonstrate the broadsword block and palm strike pose and it always seem to be that they are doing exactly that. Until one day I wonder why we would use a palm strike when we have a broadsword in hand. Granted, if you are really close you would do a palm strike or maybe its a pushing action. But then why would we turn 360 degrees right to left and do a stabbing action? Is the follow up movement a new technique or a continuation of the earlier technique.

I suspect many would do these two movements without ever wondering how to use them and in the process end up performing just a beautiful weapon dance. After looking into them I have some ideas of how I can use these two movements. This takes time and effort to do the research. Wouldn’t it be nice if I could just learn them in the first place from my teacher? Or at least have an alternate source to turn to for research.

The late Bob Orlando wrote something about how if a technique is workable chances are other styles from other cultures, or words to that effect, would end up with a similar if not the same solution. Its like the old Ed Parker experiment to prove that a punch is a punch despite arguments of stylistic differences once you ask a blindfolded person to feel the punch and see if they can tell which style’s punch they had just felt.

As I mentioned when I was looking at FMA (Filipino martial arts) I was looking into the use of a knife. However, Tuhon Apolo changed my focus when he said that the stick is a representation of a blade and went on to explain about this. One example is when he explained why we cradled the sticks the way we do rather than hold them in a manner that I have seen some practitioners hold them. Interestingly, that’s how we hold a broadsword too in Tai Chi and this can be seen not just at the beginning of the form but in a few other techniques in the form. Bob Orlando must be grinning in Kuntao heaven……

In my research into the broadsword techniques of an old famous Northern Chinese style the master showed a technique which was a feint with the top part of the blade being used to give a quick tap to the opponent’s weapon from the bottom before suddenly circling to the top and descending into a cut. We have the same two movements in the long pole and these two are but part of a series of three core techniques that we practice all the time.

It took me time to find out about such things. But this information is there in the iKali courses. I could have saved a lot of time if I had this information earlier. One could argue that if I had learned FMA earlier I might have learned about it. Maybe. But I have looked into FMA over the years and didn’t see this information.

I have a course from a master who is the direct descendant of a very important figure in the history of FMA. Whichever style of FMA you belonged too this person is always mentioned at the dawn of the art. Knowing what I know of FMA I saw parts that looked like feints but it was not taught the way it is taught clearly and explicitly and part of a body of knowledge in iKali.

A friend sent me some info to other sources of information. I know there is a lot of information out there. Even in China alone you can spend three lifetimes and never finish researching what they have. On the internet you have just as much information. Sifting through them requires not just reading but time to practice and apply the techniques to see how they hold up.

When you are young you have a lot of time. When you are older you will find that you have very little time. For example, the time I spent writing this is the time I could have spent practicing or even doing work (yes, we do have to work to earn a living and pay off loans). Since time is limited we have to make wise choices to use the time wisely. I could keep on doing what I do or I could change my perspective by looking outside the box.

Growing old, being old also means that you are no longer as fit, no longer as strong. As Tuhon Apolo mentioned this during our Zoom training a blade, a weapon is an equalizer. Forget that Hollywood fantasy of one old guy taking on 10 young able bodied guys by trading blows or even going through a series of impressive choreographed moves. There is an old saying about fearing the fists of a young man and fearing the pole of an old man (or words to that effect) in Chinese martial arts.

What do you think this means? I can give you an example – when I learned from Grandmaster Cheong Fook he was nearing his 90s. There is no way he could trade blows at that age with a younger person and win. If you are willing to stand on the spot and not move away then he can win because his hands then were just as swift and they could find the soft targets naturally.

But if his opponent were moving? Then it would be a case of young fists beating old fists. But give the grandmaster a pole and the moment you launch an attack you will eat his pole. So yes, a weapon is an equalizer. That’s why you don’t send troops into battle with their bare hands. Look at the history of battles. Can you name a battle in which bare handed soldiers fought armed soldiers and won? Let me know if you find one.

Learning iKali also confirmed another thing for me. There is a movement in the long pole in which we hold the pole vertically upwards as if holding a flag. Now why would we hold the pole this way? Wouldn’t it make more sense to hold the pole forward? This makes an interesting question. Does this have a practical application?

My teacher said that this pole is for big fight, meaning fighting against multiple opponents when I asked him what is the difference between this pole form and another form. Ah, of course, against multiple opponents you must be able to deal with them quickly whichever direction they are coming from even if its from behind (assuming you can see, or at least, sense them coming).

In Wing Chun my friend who is very good in the knives taught me an exercise in which I can turn to any direction quickly. The question is does it make practical sense to have to turn to face the incoming opponent especially if its against multiple opponents. Wouldn’t this slow down the reaction time?

So the way we hold the long pole in the vertical position is to allow us to quickly hit behind without having to turn the entire body first. In this way, we can hit someone in front, hit to the rear, hit to the right, left or any of the eight directions very quickly.

In a way this is similar to the broadsword technique above of turning the body 360 degrees from right to left. Just as we turn the broadsword drops down towards our shoulder, slow down and then we launch the attack. So why did we not launch the attack right away? Better still, why not turn left instead of to the right? When you consider some of these factors then the movement made sense.

In iKali we learn how to strike out then bring back the stick. Simple movement. Then we are told how to bring back the stick to the shoulder loading position. What does this mean, how to bring back the stick?

Then Tuhon Apolo delivered the explanation and a light bulb lightsed up. Familiar territory. If I had learned this earlier it could save me a lot of time when researching broadsword and pole applications. So its little things like this that makes me appreciate iKali and how nicely laid out the training is. Sure, the research can have its advantages in adding and expanding how I view certain things.

But time is a cost nowadays in a fast paced society. I started writing this around 8.36 am and now its 11.57 am. In between I had to answer calls, had a quick meeting with a customer, made coffee and now I am going to cook lunch.

OK, that’s it for me. The kitchen calls.

Learning iKali

It is now half past one in the afternoon on Sunday, June 14 as I began to write this.

I had spent 6 hours each day over the last Friday and Saturday from 10 pm to 4 am attending Zoom training in a combative art.

Now after so many years of training if there is one thing I should be skeptical of that would be the effectiveness of virtual training.

I’ve been looking into this way of delivering training in Tai Chi long before COVID-19 hit countries all over the world. Back in 2016 a student already brought this subject up.

My logic is straightforward – if I have a problem trying to teach a student in front of me what are the chances of me being able to teach live over the air to a student, much less a few students.

Well, I am glad that I am proven wrong in this respect. In this post I would like to share my learning experience in this brave new world of martial arts training.

The process of signing up for online training is quite straightforward. More of them would comprise the following steps :-

a) Sign up for the course

b) Work through the videos

c) Attend the Zoom training

Before you sign up, you would want to identify what you want to learn. This is the easy part. For some reasons I decided I wanted to learn about the use of blades. In Tai Chi I practice a straight sword and broadsword. Can their principles be applied to the use of knife fighting since it is easier to carry a knife around than a sword (not that I do so as it is illegal to do so in Singapore)? I think so but I am no expert in this topic. I wonder what it is that I do not know.

A second reason is that I like to investigate the application of weapons. I practice long pole applications with students when I teach them this weapon as I didn’t want them to just commit to memory another “useless” form. Since the pole is blunt you can say that it is safer (as long as we remember not to hit too hard cause a hard wood pole can shatter bones). But bladed weapons are another thing. I have taught how to use the straight sword to some students and I always have to be super careful when it comes to using the straight sword to stab. Is there a better way to learn how to use a bladed weapon?

So I did the next best thing. I looked for information, for learning. One thing I learned – there are a lot of information on the internet. If you are doing casual learning, picking up bits and pieces here and there, and trying to put them together yourself then this is fine. Anyway, its free and who doesn’t like free (that’s the economist in me talking). But if you are serious about learning then structured learning is so much better.

I googled for topics related to knife fighting. Since I knew that FMA (Filipino martial arts) is well known for this. I had known this from as far back as 1984 as that was the year I saw the series The Way of the Warrior on Australian television, particularly the episode that featured the Doce Pares club. I also had the opportunity to attend a seminar by Master Ernesto Presas in 1986.

Nowadays FMA has a much bigger presence in Singapore. There are groups that practice together, instructors teaching it and even Filipino masters have come over from the Philippines to do seminars. The problem with too much information is that it can be confusing when it comes to picking a school to learn from. I tried googling. Again, tons of choices. I had sporadically looked for this information over the years and though there are many possible teachers and sources to learn from I didn’t sign up. Somewhere there was a nagging doubt that stopped me.

Then in June 2019 I tried searching again. This time I found a website. I read the credentials of the master instructor. As with many biographies that I have read it is impressive. What I liked about it is that it did not try to do a hard sell. In fact, a marketer looking at the website would say that there are rooms for improvement. As for me, I am wary of websites that try to sell to me.

So here’s a potential source of learning that I could learn from. I did more research. I found some videos on Youtube. Watching them I am reminded of what one Italian Wing Chun practitioner once said about wanting to learn from a teacher rather than a fighter. He made this comment as he was learning from a Wing Chun teacher who is good at fighting and would think nothing of hitting the students hard. Being knocked about may make it seem that you are learning something but good teachers don’t teach this way. They really teach and this Italian practitioner found out when he visited the Hong Kong HQ of his teacher where he met his teacher’s junior who is an amicable person but a great teacher and had good fighting skills too.

I have had the pleasure of learning from good teachers. A good teacher tends to have the following traits :-

a) They are open minded not only about their own art but to other arts

b) They are willing to share what they know even to the lowest ranking practitioners

c) They know how to teach effectively

To a mature learner (mature as in old) like me I don’t want to spend time jumping through hoops or trying to climb ranks to learn. I want to learn and I want to learn now. Now, a student does not always know what he wants. This is where an experienced teacher comes in to tell you what you want and how you can get it.

I tried out the free course. Its short, not so much of a course, but more like an introduction to the learning possibilities. So I signed up for this short 3 months course on the use of the knife. I expected the course to be like a pop song but it turned out to be a full symphonic rock song with strings and all. The lessons were dripped, meaning you get enough to work on for a period of time before you get the next lot. I may wish to see everything at once but this is actually the better approach because it made me work on what I had rather than try to learn everything and end up learning nothing.

The blade course was like the appetizer in a full course dinner. It made me wanting more. And there was more, an extension to the course except this time it was on the sticks. So another 3 months of training.

As I approached the end of the 2nd training I wondered if there was more as the website back then did not offer anything after this. So I asked and I received information that there was more. In fact, a lot more, a 12-months virtual course for instructors. The list of topics is extensive. But I didn’t sign up right away. First, there was the cost. Second, there was the matter of commitment. This is not a course where you just go through the videos and that’s it. No, no, you are expected to fulfill certain requirements, all of them to make you a better practitioner and teacher. Finally, after a few months of thinking I took the plunge. By then, COVID-19 had hit and I couldn’t teach Tai Chi so why not take the time to learn something.

Even with the two shorter 3-month course I found that I could learn a lot and actually pick up something, not just superficially but attain a good level of competency (at least I like to think so). So in June 2020 I signed up for the instructor course. I was asked if I would be joining in the Zoom training which ran in the morning in the United States (but over here it starts two hours before midnight and ends at 4 am). I thought about it and thought if I did not try I would not know what I would miss out. So I did and this is what I have learned and continue to learn from a combination of videos and live Zoom training :-

a) Defined, deep knowledge laid out in a bit-size, modular, systematic manner

b) Accelerated learning; seriously!

c) You can actually learn something even if you don’t have a training partner, but better if you do

Let me give you an example of the learning. I have bought a series of video lessons on another FMA. This master is super powerful in his strikes. There is one movement he did, an upward diagonal cutting movement, which I couldn’t get. On Friday night I learned the same movement in the Zoom class.

Not only did I learned how to do it properly and with key details, I could actually get the hang of it within that time frame that I spent learning it. On Saturday we did a review and I still kept the learning. For those who are curious I am referring to the movement REVERSE which is part of the Broken Strike, Fluid, Reverse sequence.

I also learned one long empty hand sequence that combines striking with locking last night. I didn’t have a training partner. It was no problem as I was taught to use a stick to learn. Surprisingly, I managed to learn and do it fluidly on both sides. Even as I am writing about it now I can still remember it.

I like the philosophy of “Learn to Teach, Teach to Learn”. I like how the information is broken down and taught in a way that it can be picked up right away. This is a good approach which I shall adopt too for the teaching of Tai Chi.

There is one other thing that is good about the program. You get a mentor assigned to you to help you with your training. This is good for those who are serious about learning. And there is an active Facebook community for those who want to just learn and for those who want to learn to teach. You learn by sharing and by getting advice by other fellow practitioners.

I also learned one long empty hand sequence that combines striking with locking last night. I didn’t have a training partner. It was no problem as I was taught to use a stick to learn. Surprisingly, I managed to learn and do it fluidly on both sides. Even as I am writing about it now I can still remember it.

I like the philosophy of “Learn to Teach, Teach to Learn”. I like how the information is broken down and taught in a way that it can be picked up right away. This is a good approach which I shall adopt too for the teaching of Tai Chi.

There is one other thing that is good about the program. You get a mentor assigned to you to help you with your training. This is good for those who are serious about learning. And there is an active Facebook community for those who want to just learn and for those who want to learn to teach. You learn by sharing and by getting advice by other fellow practitioners.

So even as I continue with my Tai Chi journey I am also embarking on another journey for which I have my teacher, Tuhon Apolo Ladra (https://fkanewjersey.com/Instructors/Tuhon-Apolo-Ladra), and fellows brothers and sisters from the iKali community to guide me along. Some of the sisters are more frightening than the brothers. Each time they move, their hands automatically go for the knives, exactly the way they have been trained. The teaching is clear and the process and targets are there to help me and anyone who is interested to really learn.

Actually I have more to write about but I think it is better for those who want to know more to actually try it out. More information at the Art of Blade website here (https://www.artofblade.com/). I would recommend starting with the iKali Blade Course Part 1 – Thrust + Slash. Once you go through it you will be hooked!

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.



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.