Structural Damping

This past week has seen a number of earthquakes occurring in this region of the world and as of this morning another one, of 7.8 Richter scale magnitude in Ecuador. The tragedies have thrown up a number of information on the impact of earthquakes on building, in particular this one which was on my Facebook feed last night.

Initially, the Kumamoto-jo. a hilltop Japanese castle located in Chūō-ku, Kumamoto in Kumamoto Prefecture originally built in 1467, was reported to have been damaged but as it turned out it was still standing despite damage to the stone walls and roof. Even then this was by design, meaning the roof tiles were constructed to fall off during earthquakes.

If you read the article carefully you would infer that ancient architects thought through design carefully. The design of the castle had to withstand strong hurricanes and minor tremors which meant the structure had to be strong and heavy. However, during a major earthquake strong tremors can be detrimental to a strong inflexible structure, causing it to collapse.

This was where the kawara (heavy tile roofing) came into play by providing enough weight to make the castle stable against hurricane and small tremors. Yet, in the face of a strong tremor the tiles would fall off, transforming a heavy, strong structure into a light, flexible structure. This is a good example of a paradox at work, that is, a structure that is stiff yet flexible when required to be so as to be able to provide structural damping against earthquakes.

Structural Damping – a measure of energy dissipation in a vibrating structure that results in bringing it to a quiescent state.

This principle was proposed in 1937 by Professor Ryo Tanabashi who specialized in building structures and had taught as a professor at the University of Kyoto and Kinki University in Osaka. Professor Tanabashi had proposed to define and estimate the seismic resistance of structures as the energy absorption until failure of the structure at the plastic limit state.

This was considered revolutionary back in the day but is today the basis for the design of structures to withstand earthquakes after it was verified by Professor G.W. Housner in 1956 who examined the failure of holding-down bolts at an oil refinery in the aftermath of the Alaska earthquake. Professor George Housner who died in 2008 at the age of 97 is regarded as the father of earthquake engineering, having developed what is regarded as the most complete mathematical system to analyze the effects of ground shaking on structures.

You can read what Professor Tanabashi wrote about flexible structure on page 4 of Earthquake Resistance of Traditional Japanese Wooden Structures published in 1960 by the Disaster Prevention Research Institute of the Kyoto University here. Below is the paragraph I am referring to on page 4 :-

The theory of rigid structures of Dr. Sano states that, in order to be safe from earthquake, structures should have sufficient stiffness to withstand the lateral force of earthquake. This theory itself seems to be unanimously agreeable. However, Dr. Majima maintained that as a result of providing a structure with ample stiffness the structure would be rigid and then the action of ground motions would increase so that a more stiffness would be required for the increase in the earthquake action, since the seismic action is larger as the structure becomes more rigid. He therefore concluded that if we can make the structures being more flexible the seismic action on them would be much weaker and the structures would still be safe.

How does an understanding of structural dampening advance our study of Tai Chi Chuan? Simple, in push hands we are dealing with forces exerted on our body by the opponent. To prevent ourselves from being unbalanced we would need to have the means to keep our balance in the face of the forces acting on us. One solution is to be structurally strong and heavy. The other solution would be to be flexible and keep moving to prevent the forces exerted by the opponent from disrupting our balance.

The third less obvious solution would be to keep a pliant structure, one that is strong enough to absorb smaller forces but will morph to adapt to stronger forces, something similar to what is written above about structural damping. If this is a viable method then why is it not used more?

The reason is because it is not so straightforward to train your body to be structurally stiff yet pliant. As simple as it sounds it is also incredibly difficult to do so due to the requirements for good awareness and control of your body when you are learning how to build this structure.

A good example was when I attempted to teach my student – I would fix one thing and move on to the next. When I adjusted the second part, she would lose the first part even when I stressed not to lose the adjustment. You can imagine how much more difficult it is when there are not just two, but many points to adjust.

This is why an in-depth adjustment of the body structure is normally not recommended for beginners because they have not developed the necessary amount of control of mind and body to be able to do it with lesser amount of difficulty. How do we train our body to structural dampen an external force is by understanding the requirements that I wrote about on page 50 and page 55, TaijiKinesis Vol 2 – Learning the Taijiquan Form. It is not impossible to Master Tai Chi Today once you know where to begin your learning.

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Student Notes-Effective Learning of Form

Learning a Tai Chi form is not always the easiest thing in the world. You can imitate what your teacher is showing you but many times somehow, somewhere your imitation falls short.

So how do you improve?

This is where learning how to apply the movement comes in.

I know that some of us just don’t want to or care about learning applications. But if you give it a miss you will have a much harder time to improve.

I’ve been working with two students with different background on learning Grasp Sparrow’s Tail. Each presented its own challenge but what they have in common is how to stand properly, how to move the hands, where to position the hands, timing of the movements, etc.

Normally, I would prefer to see students get it right before they try the applications because this is logical. But when they cannot seem to get it right then its time to turn logic on its head and approach the learning from the alternate perspective of diving into the applications before getting a handle on the solo movements.

Interestingly, approaching the learning of form this way has the desired effect. One student even managed to learn how to use Grasp Sparrow’s Tail in Push Hands Game within one lesson. And we are not talking about learning how to do one application here. Instead, the game for Grasp Sparrow’s Tail is about entry, domination and change; and how it all fits in with the principles of the Tai Chi Classics.

When you approach the learning of Tai Chi Chuan effectively suddenly the possibility to Master Tai Chi Today does not seem impossible.

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Student Notes-The Chicken & The Sparrow

There is a chef who is renowned for 3 dishes. I tried all three before and one in particular, the crispy skin chicken was truly outstanding. Later I tried it a second time and it was still a good experience.

Then one day the chef called it quits and handed the kitchen over to the disciple. So by the third time I tried the crispy skin chicken it was during the period that the chef had left. This time the chicken had the flavor but the skin was no longer as crispy.

So the moral of the lesson is that if I want to have the great taste of this chef’s famous dish again I should wait for the day this chef cooks again or his disciple to up the standard.

Similarly the learning of Tai Chi is about experiencing it. We can debate it the whole day but at the end of it if we never experienced it can we say that we really know what it is about?

So to me this is a teaching dilemma. I can explain and demo but until I can get my student to replicate it he still cannot truly experience what Tai Chi is about. In this sense, learning Tai Chi is like learning to cook. You have to experience to heat, the oil splatter, the urgency of the cooking timing, and so on to really get what its about.

I had a good lesson this week where a student did see the point about Tai Chi not being about fajing only. Unfortunately, he was still unclear about other things especially the use of certain things to compensate for not having to rely on power. So I had to explain the use of Grasp Sparrow’s Tail from the perspective of imagery and qualia to clarify.

Grasp Sparrow’s Tail is literally about the art of catching the sparrow. Yes, I know its sounds ridiculous but its actually an interesting strategy to defuse the opponent’s strength and put him into a position where he cannot apply his power so easily.

To do this involves an element of OODA loop and psychology for those who love terminology. I just prefer to think of it simply as having timing as the main function, backed by sub-functions such as harmonizing, borrowing strength, etc. The explanation and terminology makes it sound logical but until you try doing it yourself you will not understand what is involved in getting it right.

In fact, I just read a passage from the book When Breath Becomes Air that is spot on in this regard; for those who have not read this book it is about a young neurosurgeon who found himself stricken with cancer and talks about his journey from being a doctor to being a patient (P.S. he died in 2015 before the book was completed) :-

….. I had sent nearly every one of my patients to physical therapy. And now I found myself shocked at how difficult it was. As a doctor, you have a sense of what it’s like to be sick, but until you’ve gone through it yourself, you don’t really know.

So one part of the use of Grasp Sparrow’s Tail involved getting the opponent to give you the position. I showed and explained it. But when my student tried it he couldn’t get it. I told him he used too much strength still. I showed what it would feel like if I used too much strength and how he would not yield the position.

Having understood how it worked it is not unusual for a student to try to resist the technique except that they couldn’t do it. Again and again I did it and my student could not help but kept giving up the position. Why did this happen? It is because psychologically speaking he cannot help himself. He had to do it even though he knew that he shouldn’t do it and did not want to do it but certain parts of us, probably the involuntary part, makes us do things we know we should not. Like an itch that had to be scratched.

As a game Grasp Sparrow’s Tail offers different possibilities to capture the opponent’s position. We can have an outer door or an inner door position. The inner position which was what we worked on involved the use of Rollback, Press and Push in a cyclical manner. An important lesson from Sun Tzu’s Art of War is also found here. This is a key to Master Tai Chi Today – knowing ourselves.

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Student Notes-Solving Root Cause

Boom!

My student took a hard fall today on the concrete floor in his attempt to escape from a potential throw.

I say potential because I have not initiated any throw, just put in the movements to set up the throw. However, he reacted prematurely and in his struggle he tripped over my leg and fell. I tried to catch him but it was too fast, too late.

The takeaway lesson here is that resisting this way is not advisable. Why?

It so happened I was reading through a text on design this afternoon before our lesson. This chapter mentioned that in many real life instances people solve the surface problem but not the real problem. It is so true in this case because the real problem was that his balance was captured but he did not solve it.

Instead, he attempted to resist and escape. But in not solving the problem of his balance his escape bid only doomed him to failure. Hence, his hard fall. He said that sometimes only after falling does one learn the lesson. Unfortunately, it is true for many.

I expanded on this lesson of solving the true root cause by using a leg bump-neck pull throw that is commonly used in push hands. This is a very effective technique which can cause the person being thrown to suddenly go flying towards the ground.

However, solve the root cause of the effectiveness of the technique and one has a fighting chance sans the usual hard resistance which would result in the opponent changing to another technique.

To Master Tai Chi Today remember not to be fixated to the surface problem. Instead, identify the real problem and then solve it.

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Want to learn Tai Chi in Singapore? At Singapore Yang Style Combat Tai Chi lessons covering forms, weaponry, push hands, fajing and applications are offered. Lessons are conducted in English. Send enquiry today at the link here.

Student Notes-Stiletto Force

A perk of teaching a new student is learning about their background and what they have learned before.

One teaching I have introduced before is the efficiency of the use of force. The question is which is more efficient – to hit with a stiletto or a block of wood.

Mind you, this is not a question of which method does more damage. In this aspect both are relative. For example, if you hit someone in the head with the block of wood whether the damage is greater or lesser depends on the amount of strength applied to the strike.

On the other hand, if you hold a high heel shoe in your hand and you hit with half the amount of strength used to wield the block of wood the damage with the stiletto will be more significant.

This is because strength is used more efficiently when it is focused on a tip rather than over a bigger, flat surface. This is why some styles like to use tip shaped fists (example phoenix-eye fist, dragon head fist, etc) for striking.

In Tai Chi we don’t use tip shaped fists as this will require another area of specialist training. However, by applying sung and a bit of focused intention to our striking fist we can still focus the power to replicate the effect of striking with a tip shaped fist.

So in one lesson I came to a part of teaching where I touched on force. I asked this student who had learned some boxing before to lightly hit his arm with his flat fist. He tapped my arm also so that I have an idea of his power.

My turn came to demonstrate the principle of stiletto force. One tap and oh, I wished I had taped his reaction. I think he had not expected the force to penetrate so suddenly, deeply and painfully into his arm. I hadn’t even apply the force of An which would have magnified the penetration.

To many the use of a hollow fist does not sound practical but if you know how to Master Tai Chi Today you would know understand how it fits in to the principles of the Tai Chi Classics to produce an efficient striking tool.

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Student Notes-Fill the Cracks

A useful strategy to use in push hands in to be like water. Most of the time when we think of being like water we think in terms of flowing from movement to movement. The video below is an example of what I mean :-

 

One question I would ask about the training above is what next? I mean we can flow and we can flow. But how does it teach us to apply techniques in push hands?

This is what I feel is missing in a lot of push hands training. Many times you either see aimless flowing or pushing for the sake of pushing. How does this train us to become better at using the techniques of Tai Chi?

In our approach to Tai Chi we follow the teachings of one of my teachers, Master Leong, who said that we should analyze the application of techniques if we are to be able to use the techniques.

Thus, in the study of Push Hands Game, we examine carefully how techniques are implemented and change from one to the other in the manner of water instantly rushing to fill in cracks.

For example, upon opening the front door we can implement embracing the sparrow’s tail and wrench the opponent’s arm. However, if he resists (depending on how he is resisting and the amount of resistance) by bending his elbow we can instantly flow into cross hands strike and so on and so on.

The key to Master Tai Chi Today is to train in a logical manner. If you don’t quite know what this is take a look at any traditional style that still keeps to the old ways.

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Want to learn Tai Chi in Singapore? At Singapore Yang Style Combat Tai Chi lessons covering forms, weaponry, push hands, fajing and applications are offered. Lessons are conducted in English. Send enquiry today at the link here.

Student Notes-Catch the Tail

One of the training topics on the first day of Chinese New Year focused on the skill of catching, capturing and cuffing the wrist as part of the study of Push Hands Game.

In this training one of us (the trainer) played the part of the opponent offering his wrist to be caught whilst the learner implemented his techniques and strategies to catch and lock the wrist.

In the initial part the trainer offered some tension in his arm so that the learner can have a chance to walk through the step-by-step procedures. As the learner became more familiar the training became more free flowing with the learner attempting to do his best to slap the lock on whilst the trainer resisted the attempts either by tensing hard or letting the arm loose like the tail of a sparrow.

Overall, the study was broken up into different sub-topics :-

i) How to get and capture the position

ii) How to catch the wrist

iii) How to stick and adhere to a moving and resisting arm-wrist

iv) How to cuff and lock the wrist

v) How to instantly ramp up power and inflict pain

vi) Applying different strategies

 

As part of the process to Master Tai Chi Today we study the use of locks, beginning with the simplest, the wrist lock. Different variations of the wrist lock teach different principles, strategies and component techniques.

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Want to learn Tai Chi in Singapore? At Singapore Yang Style Combat Tai Chi lessons covering forms, weaponry, push hands, fajing and applications are offered. Lessons are conducted in English. Send enquiry today at the link here.