Student Notes-What?

The learning of Tai Chi Chuan requires us to know what we are doing. This means that when you learn the movements you don’t just move your arms and your legs. You need to learn the reason for doing so, the application, the strategy, principles, etc.

I like it that my student makes an attempt to articulate what she has learnt. However, sometimes this can give rise to funny situations when she has not captured the understanding properly.

When we do the first 108 form we learn to move the 5 major points. So she was trying to explain to a friend who practices kickboxing that the practice of Tai Chi involves learning how to move all the parts of the body.

Understandably her friend’s reaction was what? You learned how to move ALL parts of your body? I would be skeptical and laughed too.

So its important to be accurate in addition to remembering what you are supposed to do. You can say that the journey to Master Tai Chi Today is like that of a craftsman in that the devil is in the details but its not just knowing the details but one must know them accurately. Aye, that is the key.

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Student Notes-Meathook

Yang Chengfu supposedly told his students to stop hanging on to him as he was not a meathook. I would reverse this and advise students not to be a meathook and try to hook me!

Why I say this is because I was trying to teach a student to change into Grasp Sparrow’s Tail by moving his right arm inwards, up and forward. I offered him constant pressure to work against. When he began to move his arm up that was when it felt like a meathook trying to carry my weight.

If you apply the logic of leverage you would know that trying to carry a heavy weight is not as efficient as finding a way to lever it. One way we can do so is to soften our body so that it can create a non-resisting, empty path to reduce the pressure exerted by the opponent on us.

You then lead the opponent’s pressure into the path of emptiness. The opponent can respond in various ways when you do so. However, for the purpose of learning we will assume that you are not going to wait for him to react. Instead, you will seize this opportunity to counterattack by bringing your right arm up, out and forward.

One problem area in the movement occurred during the moving up phase. This was when my student was not applying leverage properly hence his arm felt stiff and resisting instead of powerfully enveloping and in control.

The solution is to mentally let go of one’s strength. If the mind is willing the body will obey and the immediate effect is that the opponent’s pressure will be reduced. You can then take the lead to guide the opponent’s arm in so that his line of attack is contained.

Next, you then change into a counterattack by first bringing your arm up. This is where you need to be aware of your body parts (OK, this reminds me of another joke which I will tell in another post here) particularly the positions on your arm because you need to actualize the concept of Peng jing which as defined by the Tai Chi Classics is like the water supporting the boat from underneath.

So you mentally set your mind, relax, bring up your awareness then you can begin to bring your arm up. As you do so you need to constantly check and recheck if you are adhering to the critical principles.

Your partner can also help to give you feedback; if you suck he should tell you so, not say you’re doing great. Tai Chi is difficult enough to learn as it is without our training partner mollycoddling us.

If you get it right your partner will feel as if his root is floating. If he tries to resist his root will float even more.

If there is a secret to doing this movement easily it is that you must apply Rollback before you begin to Peng. So this is a good reason for you to work hard on your Rollback. As I would say to students the process of Master Tai Chi Today is not difficult as long as you know what you are doing.

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Student Notes-Quality vs Quantity

A funny story from my student. Bear in mind she has not started to learn push hands or drills. At the moment she is still struggling to learn the form practically one move at a time.

The learning struggle is because learning Tai Chi is a lot more complex than learning Aikido which she learned for a short time previously. Though she also did 6 months of Tai Chi under another teacher it was not enough to prepare her for what I had to teach.

I was telling her one night how the way I learned was monkey see, monkey do when I started out. However, by the time I got to my last teacher the learning was drastically different. It wasn’t so much do as wait, understand the why and what before you begin to do.

So the way I would teach her is show a move, go through the principles and how they lead to the movements, how to check if the movement is correct. When the movement is difficult to catch then I would have to explain how it is used to give a better idea, perhaps even break the movements down into smaller chunks.

This was what I did for Grasp Sparrow’s Tail. One movement was how to move the arms. There is a way to move the arms such that you can use it to defend against a straight punch and get into a position of attack. So this is the background of this funny story.

Somehow or rather she was telling her other half about what she learned. So she demonstrated Grasp Sparrow’s Tail and he could not believe that all she learned in an hour of lesson was this one move.

Now I happened to know that he is a top dog in an MNC so I understand his concern. After all, if you are in management you would expect that if you pay X amount of dollars then you should get a certain amount of teaching in return because to most consumers more equals value. However, not being interested in martial arts I don’t blame him if he didn’t understand the difference between learning a lot in one lesson and not going home with a corresponding amount of skills and learning little but actually leaving with something.

To my student’s credit, despite her excuses of dumb blonde each time I shook my head at how slow she is learning, she stood up for herself. She didn’t try to show more form movements to justify the lesser amount of learning.

Instead, she asked the hubby to punch her. Then she applied the defensive movement and sent his punching arm off. She was elated that she could use the movement. This is a good example of how a determined learning attitude could help anyone, even a practically total beginner to Master Tai Chi Today.

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Student Notes-Illogically Logic

Why did you look at the ground?

Why did you look at your hand?

I was curious to know why my student would at different times looked at her hand or at the ground.

I postulated a scenario – in the midst of a fast exchange would it make sense to take your eyes off what is happening to look at your hand or the ground?

If it does not make sense then why do so?

This seems like a funny topic. However, when you consider that so many practitioners do so including famous masters then maybe its not such an outlier topic after all.

Part of the process of Master Tai Chi Today is to practice is a sensible way. Anyway, if you do not believe that looking at the hand is bad practice just try doing it in push hands against a partner who is more proactive to give you a combat workout. Sometimes the best teacher is experience.

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Student Notes-Letting Go

A key to Master Tai Chi Today is the application of the principle of Yin and Yang. This can be studied in a Rollback technique that we do in push hands. This particular technique requires us to let go of as much strength as possible in the face of strong pushing strength in order to apply the technique successfully.

On the surface it feels strange to do this because the logical mind would call for the use of more strength and resistance when one is in a perilous position and about to lose balance. However, to use more strength would mean that you end up giving the opponent a better handle to attack your balance.

In such a situation we need to apply the principle of Yin and Yang to resolve the problem. The logic of Yin and Yang implies that if our opponent’s strength is strong and we use more strength against it then we are basically fighting fire with fire. So unless our strength is stronger then our counter is not likely.

Thus, the alternative is to apply the principle of Yin overcoming Yang and allow the opponent to exert more strength whilst we let more of our strength go. If your listening skill is spot on then at a certain point in that split second your timing would merge with your opponent’s.

When you sense this then you take over your opponent’s movement but let the opponent feel as if he is still in control of his movement. Thereafter, you can lead his movement and strength to a position whereby his Yang starts to become Yin.

At that moment you should seize the opportunity and apply your Yang to overcome the opponent’s Yang that has just become Yin. Done properly the opponent will feel that in one moment he is in control and the next he is losing his balance and control.

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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-That Unsettling Feeling

What does it feel like when you do Tai Chi correctly?

Most people would feel stronger, right?

This is because when you move the body using muscular strength rather than intention you will feel the muscles do the work. If you keep at it your muscles will get a workout maybe even feel a bit sore. So you get the feeling that you have accomplished something.

I asked my new student to show me how she did her Yang style form. Right away I spotted a problem. I pointed it out and said the way she was bending the knees could lead to knee pains.

She agreed as that was what she had been feeling. However, her previous instructor had insisted that this was the right way. I said that wrong is wrong. You can’t argue with the pain.

To remedy the problem I asked her to sit higher up. She would have felt a bit unstable but that’s because I have not fixed the entire structure. This was just the first in a series of steps.

Cut to a later part of the day. Another student.

I didn’t have to look too closely at what he was doing to see that he has not fixed his stance yet. So he was still using strength incorrectly. On top of that the way he was moving would give rise to torsional stress on the knees. What he needed to avoid now is to compound his existing knee pain.

The first order was to readjust the way he was setting up the base. His previous study of Wing Chun and Baguazhang has resulted in a stance that is too narrow. A good base should have a comfortable width – a good guideline to follow would be to use the shoulders width – plus a balanced mix of stability and mobility.

The second order was to fix the balance transference process. How the balance is shifted is important to define substantial and insubstantial correctly. Along for the ride were also the fixes for the Dang and Kua because they are part of the package.

The third order covered the process of aligning and clicking the body into position. We do not do this for the sake of doing so but to solve combat problems. When this part was correct the torsional stress was eliminated, resulting in a stable body.

However, my student felt funny because the feeling of power was absent. This was easy enough to check if it was a real or spurious feeling. I applied pressure on his body so that he can feel the solidness and stability when the alignment was correct versus when it was not despite the feeling of power.

Alignment that is achieved by using the intention to direct the body can feel unsettling because of what is absent rather than present in terms of feeling. But it will fulfill the principles covered by the Tai Chi Classics particularly that in relation to emptiness. Readers of TaijiKinesis Vol 2 – Learning the Taijiquan Form might recall the Four Stage Learning Model on page 21. If you do the stance properly you will be able to achieve the properties mentioned under 2.4 and 2.5.

If you want to Master Tai Chi Today the first thing you should fix is the stance. It won’t be easy to do so but you should not give up. In respect of this my student hit the roadblock when it came to stepping without telegraphing. However, as the Malay proverb goes “Sedikit-sedikit lama-lama jadi bukit” which means bit by bit, over time, (accumulate) will become a hill; we too should just work on it each day, one step at a time and one day our skills will accumulate and culminate in mastery.

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Student Notes-Osmosis

Osmosis – the process of gradual or unconscious assimilation of ideas, knowledge, etc.

My teacher said something that can be paraphrased as when the principles are correct, everything will fall into place.

After years of drilling forms and getting the details as close as possible I find that my student can now pick up techniques much more easily. There are still places to improve but at long last the chips are falling into place.

One of the things we worked on for a long time in push hands is the guard. What is our guard? Why do we do it the way we do it? What advantages can we get out of it?

Once his guard is better its use is not only for push hands but for application of combat techniques. An immediate use is how the guard can morph into a defend-n-enter technique against a straight punch. The same defending move is used as an unbalance-n-attack technique.  An example from TaijiKinesis Vol 2 – Learning the Taijiquan Form is shown below.

conditioning-2

The same guard can be used to defend a cross. A change in angling can give rise to a defence against body hooks. An uppercut can also be dealt with in a similar fashion.

We then looked at how to defuse attempts to bridge our guard; something that would be useful against Chinese southern styles that like to make forearm contact. Since we were down this road I took the opportunity to add on to the topic of conditioning that I had touched on previously.

To make the learning more complete I drew a link between the pole that he is learning and how the footwork can be used in sparring to implement different strategies. There are other aspects that I wanted him to consider also for a more rounded understanding of the use of Tai Chi in combat.

The process to Master Tai Chi Today involves knowing what we are doing. The learning begins the day we first learn the form which is a mean to learn about how to control ourselves. The learning is then fleshed out in push hands and further along examined in other context.

 

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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.