The Gung of Hand Rod

The Hand Rod of the Tai Chi Ruler system is little seen and little known to the public. It is a different system of Tai Chi that is said to descend from a royal family in China.

Master Leong Lin Heng learned it from a master in Hong Kong and taught it as part of a Chi Kung routine. Below is a picture of Master Leong teaching Tai Chi Ruler in a park in Ipoh in the late 90s :-

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As you can see in the picture above Tai Chi Ruler seems to be for old folks, another airy fairy, chi-gungy, exercise. However, Tai Chi Ruler is in fact a combat art.

Some of the things we learned seemed simple, like a one movement kinda Chi Kung exercise. Its martial application seemed absent. But don’t let the looks fool you. For example, take a look at this two men Hand Rod exercise as demonstrated by Master Leong’s grand teacher.

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At first glance it looks like a cooperative push hands type of exercise using a tool. But then it doesn’t make sense. OK, maybe using a tool of a longer length can make you more sensitive. Maybe.

Or maybe its a tool to extend your awareness. I like this better. But no.

This is what I think is the real reason for training the Hand Rod (OK, so I cheated by using a broom here but a rod is a rod………. ) :-

There! Was that what you suspect the Hand Rod to be too?

Looking back at it now the method should have been obvious but only with the benefit of hindsight. I have long suspected this after reading this portion of the very first book I have of the Tai Chi Ruler system :-

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However, as they say with time comes skill. So it is only with practice, reflection and insight that the secret purpose of the Hand Rod revealed itself.

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Knowing How to Correct

In learning Tai Chi one of the more important factors that contributes to your success in mastering the art is knowing what you don’t know, what you are doing wrong and how to correct for it.

It is for this reason that we only teach on 1-to-1 basis because each student has their own specific set of problems to solve. Take a look at the picture below of Bend Bow, Shoot Tiger :-

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Outwardly, the posture looks fine but there is a small point that is off. Here is the same posture after correction. Can you spot the differences?

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I took these pictures to show my student what he was doing wrong. Now, we don’t say something is wrong just because we don’t like the look of it.

In this case, we did a test of pressure – whether the posture can hold up. Next we tested if the posture can be used to fajing. If the posture only fulfills one requirement but not the other then the posture is wrong.

Most readers will probably spot the two main differences but fail to spot the more important difference, the one that I actually corrected. Even my student commented that it is minute, difficult to see if he didn’t know beforehand what it was that was changed.

But this is how the study of Tai Chi is. We do not gloss over things we don’t understand or find difficult to do. We work on them again and again until the postures, the form can meet all the requirements of the principles of the Tai Chi Classics.

If the photos of Bend Bow, Shoot Tiger is difficult to analyze try looking at Right Hit Tiger posture. The correction here is the same as for Bend Bow, Shoot Tiger. This is the “before” photo :-

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And this is the “after” correction photo. Spot the difference?

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Sometimes a movement can look correct. However, the moment you try using it is the proof of the pudding. If the energetic connections are off then your structure won’t be strong and robust. Under such circumstances you will have a problem overcoming the opponent’s resistance.

The video below touches on corrections for Brush Knee, Twist Step. There are a few things that was discussed.

Some of the things discussed may not make much sense and seem unnecessary, that is, until you use the movements in push hands where your partner will do his best to stop you from applying your techniques.

When your movement is wrong even a simple downward sweeping block will not work. You will find the moment you try to sweep the opponent’s arm you cannot move it. Other things such as timing also matters because the wrong timing means you are too late to reach your opponent.

In conclusion, knowing how to correct what you are doing is important because more frequently than not its the fine details that keeps you outside the gate of mastery. Pay more attention to these little things and you will see a big improvement.

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Punch Koan

It was as if he was immersed in a koan.

Instead of practicing the form as he would normally do I found my student standing in front of one of the shelter’s post tapping away, trying to work out the mechanics of the punch that I covered the previous week.

The post is hard, painful to the knuckles but it was an itch that had to be scratched to uncover the solution. So there he was picking away like a woodpecker.

Yeah, well, I’m no Iron Fist so I did one tap, not as hard as I did last week. Yeah, just dial back a bit on the mechanics.

Bones can be hard but tendons and ligaments I don’t think so – perhaps one reason why those who practice hard conditioning have problem holding small objects.

Having power is but one part of the equation. Having the means to deliver it is just as important so we should pay just as much if not more attention to the main details and nuances of how to perform Step Up, Parry & Punch.

Its one thing to hit with power. We should remember that our opponent will also try to hit us back. So learning how to perform Step Up, Parry & Punch is just as much about studying the means to defend, counter and deliver the power.

Though the performance of Step Up, Parry & Punch makes it seem as if it is but one technique, in reality there is more than one technique inside the sequence.

For example, when stepping diagonally after twisting the step the right fist can be changed to a palm to grab the opponent’s wrist and pull it towards him while using the left arm to bar the opponent’s arm just above the elbow.

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Alternatively, the twisting of the right leg can be a heel kick. The right fist then becomes a block whilst the left palm becomes a strike.

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This is the reason for taking the practice at a slower pace so that we can develop a feel for the hidden and derived techniques.

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Addict

Tai Chi is like a drug. To stop the shakes consume more.

This is not a politically correct way to put it but it gets the point across. The point was made when my student commented that his hand started to shake after he had slackened his practice for a few days.

So I said Tai Chi is like a drug. And when drug addicts start to have the shakes one way to stop it is by taking the drug again. Of course, this is bad advice if I am talking to a drug addict.

But in the context of Tai Chi, if your hand shakes its because the tension has come back. So the easiest way to alleviate the tension is by practicing.

The mildly interested Tai Chi player is one who will never get far, if anywhere. This is because he did not spend enough time to replace his old habits with that of habits infused with Tai Chi principles.

On the other hand a serious Tai Chi player will keep working on the movements to the point where it is like a drug. You just have to practice every day, as much as you can in a day, chipping away at problems one step at a time, until you make a breakthrough.

So to be a success in Tai Chi you need to work at it like an addict. At least this is a good “drug” and does not harm you unless you practice it wrongly. So to keep your mind and body oiled, poised and working healthily take your daily dose of Tai Chi tablet.

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Learning Details 2

Continuing from the previous post here.

To train heavy arms using this specific posture, White Crane Spreads Wings, from the form we need to pay some attention to basic details as explained below :-

This video only captures some of the explanation. The rest weren’t taped.

However, this should give you an idea of how our Tai Chi is taught, the level of details given even at a very basic level.

In this way, students don’t have to guess as to how to practice. They just have to listen, practice, get corrections and practice more to master the art.

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Learning Details

A Tai Chi form can be a wonderful toolbox from which you can learn all sorts of stuff.

In our Tai Chi learning we can use White Crane Spreads Wings to train soft, heavy hands. An example of how to do this is shown by my student :-

What he is doing here is to borrow the transition right arm movement when we change from White Crane Spreads Wings to Brush Knee, Twist Step to train how to relax the arm and move it diagonally across his body using the 6-harmonies principle in tandem with the 5-Count mechanism that is covered in the eBook TaijiKinesis Vol 2 : Learning the Taijiquan form.

However, his movement is not precise enough so the power is not expressed at the optimal level. You can tell this from the sound of his palm striking his body. Before this he also tried hitting a solid post to check his power as can be seen below :-

Below is my demonstration of how to do it correctly :-

The correct application of the principles will allow you to have heavy, relaxed arms – you can hear the sound of light striking on the post below :-

The videos here do not explain how to do this arm movement to obtain this result. So how do you do it?

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Feel Rain, Open Umbrella

I am offering a training Koan this morning. It is “feel rain, open umbrella”.

Of course, sometimes even if we feel the rain we won’t open our umbrella because :-

a) We don’t have an umbrella with us

b) The rain is too light for us to bother

 

“Feel rain, open umbrella” is the result of two experiences yesterday.

The first experience is of course being caught in the rain without an umbrella. This is not normal as I usually have an umbrella.

So with or without an umbrella I just had to react as best under the circumstances. In this case it was to pedal furiously to get to my destination faster though if it really poured heavily I could seek nearby shelter.

The second experience is discussing the use of the rowing exercise in Aikido with a student. You can see the rowing exercise in the video below.

 

The application we talked about is how the rowing exercise is used as a counter to an opponent grasping both your wrists. You can use the technique to pull the opponent forward off balance before pushing back using the back of your wrists. The video below illustrates this.

As you can see in the video the teacher was able to pull the student off balance before pushing him back. My point is as long as I am pushing without keeping proper balance then I can be easily pulled off balance too.

The question we explored is what happens if I keep my balance, just grasped my student’s wrists and just held on. He would then have a harder time pulling me off balance.

The answer is of course to somehow find a way to break my balance through movement. This is because most people tend to react when pulled or pushed and you can exploit their reaction against them.

It is not a big problem to deal with an untrained opponent. It is the trained person whom you have to worry about. In Tai Chi if I hold your wrists and you try to pull me I would let you pull me.

However, we still keep our balance and we let your pulling energy to tell us how to react. This is what I mean by “feel rain, open umbrella”.

Depending on the factors – how strong, which angle, which position, etc – given during the pulling or breaking of balance attempt is how we respond to it to nullify the attempt and counter the counter.

Of course, what if our wrists were grabbed? What could we do?

Using intent, we would apply a different method to induce the opponent to use strength without realizing it. Then exploiting his resistance we could then send him off balance.

At its root this is the same general principle as applied in Aikido!!! Except the process is different.

This is why though we find the same techniques in different styles such that we can say “same, same”. However, the way the process works can result in “same, but different”.

And that is the fun of learning and exploring different styles. Feel rain, open umbrella.

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