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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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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Student Notes – Dang

Bruce Frantzis.

Its not a name that I would think that I should be associated with. Except that my student used to learn from him and mentioned that I was the second person he heard touch on a characteristic that is little discussed in Tai Chi – the Dang or crotch region.

I said that the Dang is IMA 101. In fact, all good CMA body structure should have it regardless of external or internal arts. Its just good biomechanics 101.

For example, it is my theory that one of the skills learned from the traditional enforced learning of the horse stance is how to do a Dang properly. If this part is weak then the power chain would be compromised and you will have a problem getting out the power cleanly.

And if you cannot hold the Dang properly in a normal small horse stance, back stance and bow-n-arrow stance how then will you be able to use it in stances that call for adduction and abduction of the legs in arts such as baguazhang?

Below is a sketch of an arch from an engineering book that shows how load is carried, the forces acting on it and how this results in a stable structure. You can also read 5.8.6  Unify Upper / Lower Body on pages 55-57, TaijiKinesis Vol 2 : Learning the Taijiquan Form for more information on how the arch is used for neutralizing and issuance of force.

arch

The path to Master Tai Chi Today is not about secrets, lineages, styles and master personalities. The true secrets lie in understanding how our body works.

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Student Notes-Play Pipa Lock

I saw this video when I was writing the other post earlier today :-

Even though the caption did not indicate it this is application of Play Pipa. The demonstrator looks nice and soft. To me this is a double edged sword.

The pros are that :-

i) This is a good demonstration of softness and fluidity.

ii) The timing is good and the angling just nice to put his partner off balance.

The cons are that :-

i) His partner could have done more than just passively putting out his arm for him to grasp

ii) The way the demonstrator grasped the opponent’s arm may work at this pace. Would it work if the opponent had moved the arm forward faster perhaps in a palm strike?

iii) That the demonstrator reached out left his head open to a strike. For example in the screen grab below in that position an astute opponent may just bring up his left hand to do a parry and crash through with a strike.

pipalock.png

iv) The angle at which the demonstrator pulled his opponent caused himself to be exposed to a potential shoulder stroke – see picture below. Why this did not occur was probably because this is a demonstration not a push hands practice and besides the angle at which his opponent was moving his body would not facilitate the use of shoulder stroke. Some readers may point out that the demonstrator had stepped out of the way. This is true but the opponent could still come through with a shoulder stroke. How to do it when we are being pulled is part of the learning of the Push Hands Game that we do.

pipalock2

v) Play pipa can be a good technique for locking your opponent’s wrist, elbow and shoulder joints in addition to breaking his balance. Unfortunately, this is not demonstrated in this video. Its not a difficult technique to learn.

If you can’t make it work or figure out the biomechanics part you can refer to my eBook TaijiKinesis Vol 2 : Learning the Taijiquan Form and reading the following pages :-

i) Page 68 – explanation of the biomechanics of Play Pipa

ii) Page 196 – 201 – how to practice Play Pipa from perspective of Movement, Intention, Qualia & Biomechanics

iii) Page 333 – 336 – application of Play Pipa; I have shown the last three movements below from page 336 that highlights the locking aspect of Play Pipa. Observe how after I applied the lock on the opponent’s arm I prevented him from escaping by stepping on his foot. I then broke his balance. For purpose of demonstrating the use of Play Pipa I ended the demonstration at this point.

pipalock3

Finally, take a look at the video below of how Grandmaster Dong Huling applied Play Pipa in push hands. The technique is at 2:35. You can see how GM Dong applied the lock in a manner that leaves no doubt that his opponent could not have gotten out of it if he did not let go.

Another view of the same video. Play Pipa is at 1:56.

How to Master Tai Chi Today? By paying attention to the principles and small details.

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Student Notes-Test Structure

Many Tai Chi practitioners particularly those who do it for combat love to test their structure for purpose of fajing.

It is not difficult to do fajing structural test if you are standing in Push posture for example. The reason is that these type of postures are structures that allow the student to easily use their muscles. Thus, it is more difficult to detect if a student is using intention or just plain old mechanical power when doing the test as such.

Let’s take an example. Take a look at the screen grab below of a fajing demonstration. Pretty impressive. You can see the person demonstrated on flying backwards.

Pressure2

But if I back up a bit and go through the video slowly this is what I can see is happening :-

Pressure3

Can you see the fajing process? The biomechanical process is quite obvious. Most students can learn to fajing within a short time after learning how to use this type of biomechanical motion. You can take a look at the actual demonstration at 0.19 in the video below :-

If you want to try something more challenging take a look at this test that I showed to my student last week. I was looking at him do the first 13 movements of the Yang style long form. I noticed that the way he was raising his arm in Brush Knee, Twist Step was not correct. The easiest way to prove my point was to do a structure test.

You can see two versions of how this movement is performed in the videos below. The first demonstration is at 6:35 by Master Tung Kai Ying.

 

The second demo by Master James Fu is at 1:34. The other video by Master Fu that was in another earlier post Student Notes-Don’t Look Back is not very clear so I am using this alternative video instead.

 

The difference between both performances above lies in the way the thumb is pointing as the right hand is moving to the side of the body before moving up to the side of the face.

The structural test itself is quite straightforward. Apply a constant pressure vertically downwards on the wrist. Below I have indicated in pictures how to do this.

Take note to apply pressure near the wrist rather than near the elbow. If the student does not do the movement properly he will have difficulty trying to lift your arm that is pressing on his wrist and cause you to lose your balance.

However, if you press his forearm nearer to the elbow it will be so much easier for him to “cheat”. Do you know why?

Pressure1

If not, go take a look in a Physics textbook and the answer will be clear. Or if you have the book “Fight Like a Physicist” which I mentioned in this post you can read Chapter 4 : Levers, Wedges, and Free Lunches.

Below is the part of the movement in Brush Knee, Twist Step that is used for this test :-

Pressure4

This is how I did the test on my student :-

1) When his arm reached the position shown above I asked him to stop.

2) I placed my palm on the position indicated and pressed downwards with an amount of pressure that was enough to stop him from lifting his right hand up to his shoulder level without putting in effort.

3) My student then tried to lift his hand up but unable to.

Did you understand why my student failed to lift his hand and moved me in the process?

The reason is because :-

a) It was not easy for him to lift my body weight against the direction of gravity even though I was not applying strong pressure. This is due to (b) below.

b) The lever due to the shape of his arm made it easy for me to hold his arm down. This is why I said to do this test properly you must press on the wrist. If I pressed on the elbow my leverage advantage will be much lesser making it easier for him to move me.

 

So now that you know what this particular test of structure is like go and try it. See if you can lift your hand up to the position below and at the same time move your training partner off balance.

Pressure5

Want to Master Tai Chi Today? Try moving beyond your comfort zone with a different way of testing structure.

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Student Notes-Don’t Look Back

Here’s a simple question – why do you look and your eyes follow your hand when it moves to the rear when you are doing Brush Knee, Twist Step?

I’ll bet if you ask a number of practitioners 99% will not be able to explain why they do it. Their excuse tends to be because this is how they were taught.

It baffles me why the average intelligent Tai Chi learner (OK, the not so intelligent learners are excused) would blindly follow an instruction without asking why. My students who had learned Tai Chi previously certainly weren’t doing the art for health and they didn’t know why they did it.

Take a look at the pictures below. Both are prominent Tai Chi masters from the Yang Chengfu lineage. The one on the right is my uncle, Tung Kai Ying and the one on the left is James Fu.

Brush

The Tung family is famous for their ability to use Tai Chi as a practical art of self defence. Notice that the arc of Master Tung’s arm is much smaller and tighter. I had to do screen capture a few times in order to catch the angle. Throughout the movement he never looks back. Take a look for yourself beginning at 6:30 in the video below :-

By comparison, James Fu looks back in the video below at 12:05. Why does he do that? What’s the application?

Look at the angle of his left arm. Its not holding a strong angle. Whenever I see my students’ arm assume this angle straight away I would go for a technique that can collapse their arm defense. So what am I missing something here? Bad physics or hidden meaning? I wish there is an explanation for this.

In my opinion the looking back is a bad habit because when doing push hands whenever a student gets to this movement or something similar to it he would inadvertently look back without realizing it out of force of habit. And I would help them turn and then they lose their position and they cannot turn back.

So my point today is if you want to Master Tai Chi Today don’t do things blindly. Ask why. Get the answer. Then use physics to scrutinize it.

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Student Notes-Men of Iron

After last night’s lesson an idea for my next post percolated in my mind throughout the day. However, I did not get the time to write anything until now as I was in the midst of reorganizing my PC.

Evening came and my Dropbox was still synchronizing. Six minutes more to go. Yeah, I’ll wait for six minutes except it turned out to be longer than six minutes. Yup, more than 30 minutes later Dropbox was still going, and now there’s seven more minutes to go!

So I started browsing the web and saw this on rumsoakedfist :-

injury

source : rumsoakedfist.com

I would have to say this is surprising but no, its not. Been there, done that. I know its politically incorrect to say this but training even in internal arts can cause you back and knee injuries.

The reason is not difficult to fathom if you understand basic anatomy and physics. Actually no, you don’t even need to know anatomy or physics. Just common sense will do to understand why such injuries can happen. So how is this related to what I wanted to write. Nothing. Yet everything.

Last night I was observing my student, X, do his form particularly when he was transitioning from Single Whip to Raise Hands. He was moving too much thus affecting his balance and stability though it might not be immediately obvious. But its nothing that a single test of structure would not reveal.

To fix the problem required a simple solution – learn to adjust the kwa. So X tried it but it was not so easy to do because to use the kwa properly required a good amount of mental concentration in order to align the body such that his balance is kept throughout.

When I saw that his thigh muscle started trembling it was obvious that X was not doing it right. No doubt he could grit his teeth and bear with the pain and stress. But wrong is wrong and I said so.

So he tried again. The logic of how to move is not difficult to understand but refined movements in the transitioning involved a lot of mental focus, control and awareness and without the requisite amount of time put into the art this would require X to really stretch himself.

In Single Whip we have the balance between two legs so its easy to do. However, Raise Hands requires the balance to be on one leg yet be able to maintain a degree of stability. To achieve this the left leg which is controlling the balance must deal with the stress of bearing the entire body’s weight on one leg.

Now some practitioners may ask what’s the big deal?

Yes, its not a big deal if you are not doing it correctly by keeping some weight on the void leg. Or you just bear the pain for a while before hastening the transition from Raise Hands to White Crane Spreads Wings.

However, to Master Tai Chi Today in our Yang style demands that we do not cheat ourselves. If the requirement is to void one leg and keep the balance on the other whilst our substantial leg’s thigh muscles should not tremble and shake then we must keep up our practice until we can really honestly do so.

The key to keeping the shakes at bay is to precisely align our substantial leg. If you know how to see then a wrongly aligned leg is very obvious. Some students might get the feeling that they have accomplished something by bearing with the pain and eating bitter. But this is a stupid learning attitude. Wrong is wrong.

If want to improve we have to face the fact that we make mistakes. We must be prepared to revise our outlook and move on. A misaligned leg means that stress is bearing down (yup, that’s gravity at work) on your knee in an unbalanced manner, exerting greater pressure on some parts than others.

If you keep doing this then sooner or later you will injure your knee. There are no two ways about it, whatever excuses you can think of. The same reasoning applies if you do powerful fajing.

Nature’s a bitch. As long as your body is not made of iron then sooner or later the sins of fajing will come back to haunt you. And a most vulnerable point is the lower back.

A fajing movement executed properly involves little stress on the weight bearing joints of the body. An improper fajing, even though it looks super powerful and sends a person flying will exert stress on your body particularly the lower back. Do this often enough and one day your back will hurt.

I am not getting younger and neither are my students though they are at least a decade younger than me. We cannot run away from the fact that an older body is more prone to injuries. If we want to keep doing Tai Chi particularly push hands and fajing into old age then we must remember we are not men of iron.

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Student Notes-Think!

Part of the study of our push hands game involves the investigation of how to deal with a strong force acting on your structure threatening to unbalance you as well as sealing your ability to move.

One simple scenario is your training partner placing one hand on your elbow and the other on your wrist something like what is seen below. Grabbing and holding strongly onto your wrist is an option. P.S. – this technique has a name – can you guess what it is? Hint – page 350, 11.10 picture (x), TaijiKinesis Vol 2 : Learning the Taijiquan Form shows the technique applied in another way.

seal

What your training partner will do is to wait till you are moving your weight back at which point of time he will suddenly exert power and press your arm against your body to jam it.

When you try to move back to escape you find that you can no longer move further. You also try to turn your waist to neutralize your training partner’s strength but he is riding your movement, going along with it and crowding into your space. Attempts to dislodge his hands holding your arm is difficult as your arm structure is collapsed and sealed against your body.

So what do you do to solve this scenario?

Let me share with you the origin of this technique. One of my teachers loved to do this. I could never get out of it. I tried to turn. Didn’t work. Moved my arm. Nope – he just used both hands to prevent my arm from doing anything.

Basically, the technique is set up in such a way that its difficult to escape from. The solution that my teacher presented didn’t work because the logic of the solution was not there. Finally, after studying the Tai Chi style of Grandmaster Wei Shuren not one but many solutions came to the fore.

Anyway try it with a partner. Its fun to see his frustration when everything he tries just won’t work. Oh yes, when doing it agree not to step but just stand in the same spot and try to solve the problem. This is how we can Master Tai Chi Today, by investigating problems that teach us about our reaction, our control, structure, etc.

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