Single Whip Coordination

Last week I was teaching my student how to do Single Whip properly, particularly the last bit of the movement which calls for the whole body to turn in a particular manner to generate circular and spiral power.

Below is the illustration from my eBook “TaijiKinesis Vol 2 : Learning the Taijiquan Form” demonstrating the point I made :-


To generate the power requires precise coordination involving moving the arms, waist and legs to turn as a unified whole.

You can check if your movement is correct by getting a training partner to give you pressure to test your power generation.



Hakka Kung Fu

This is a gem of a video on the Chu Gar system from this Facebook page “Traditional Chinese Martial Arts Confederation“.


The following are some of the things that came to mind as I was watching it :-

a) 1:45 – lifting of the foot reminds me of how we begin the first qigong set known as 行功吊勁 as shown below. The camera was too slow to catch Master Cheong doing it but managed to catch my leg still up in the air.


b) 1:53 – that movement of the belly reminiscent of how one particular lineage of Ip Man does their power as mentioned in my eBook “The Ip Man Questions : Kicks, power & strategies in the martial art of Wing Chun“. This sucking in of the belly is similar to an essential component of the practice of the first qigong

c) 2:20 – another similiarity to first qigong hard-soft alternating practice

d) 2:47 – I see this squatting down and standing up in front of some of our forms. The last part of the first qigong set also has something similar except we do punching as demonstrated by Master Cheong below :-


e) 4:44 – I had a similar feeling from the first qigong set in terms of power

f) 6:31 – I just love traditional styles; they just go straight in for the kill; no techniques that require you to do 2-3 movements before ending with the technique. Ngok Gar Kuen techniques are similar – an example is shown below – just smack them balls, man!


g) 7:29 – despite looking like he has balance on both legs many times his balance is really on one leg and it is good that he mentioned it specifically. Again similar to this particular Ip Man Wing Chun style that also emphasizes keeping the balance on one leg most of the time

h) 8:54 – buttock tension is also an important part of the first qigong practice

i) 9:28 – on the agile wrist – this is why this is the first step to mastery of this particular lineage of Ip Man Wing Chun as I explained in my eBook “2-Dots : Six Learning Steps for Mastering Wing Chun’s Kicking Model” – an example of one of the wrist exercise is shown below :-


j) 10:01 – Wing Chun follows this practice but today it is common to see many Wing Chun masters break this rule. In Tai Chi we use open fingers to project power in solo form practice. For push hands we stress never to keep the fingers apart unless you are doing a holding action

k) 11:41 – the two palms facing up posture – so similar to one of our Ngok Gar Kuen first qigong posture as seen below :-


In hindsight, we should not be surprise that there are similarities between Chu Gar and Ngok Gar given that they are both Hakka systems.

Three New Problems

The worth of the style you learn lies in the usefulness of the form and attendant techniques to enable you to solve problems.

So three new questions from my student :-

Problem A – How does he solve the problem of not being able to overcome his training partner’s control of the centerline

Problem B – How can be attack his training partner after controlling his arm?

Problem C – How to stop his training partner from using his elbow to collapse his (my student) arm, go over it and hit him in the face?

Let’s see……

Firstly, its not just about the technique. We should also consider the principle. So here’s what I said to solve the problems :-

Problem A – stop trying to go around your training partner’s arm. He is controlling the centerline and running around it means you are taking a longer way. So ergo, you won’t get anywhere.

The trick is to borrow our method of holding the straight sword to grasp and cuff his wrist, open up his door and voila! you are in.

My student tried it but initially had some difficulty. OK, one key is missing – go with the flow, turn back, reach in and grasp his wrist. Problem solved.

Problem B – this is a strange problem. My student got the control but he can’t let go of his training partner’s hand so he cannot attack.

Clearly, my student is not thinking straight because he has learned the solution before. It is a common problem – the way he grips is the main culprit. Basically, he has locked himself down. Bad. He needs to be able to let go without losing control. This is the first part of the solution.

The second part of the solution is what I would call the hold the door open and enter principle. This comes from Brush Knee, Twist Step. As shown to my student when applied properly he could not react fast enough to get hit.

Problem C – this is a problem of what to do when your training partner uses a bong-sau like response to your attack. Not a new problem. Its something I have taught before but it seems my student has forgotten.

It is quite straightforward. You attack, your opponent deflects and tries to apply a gwai jang on your arm. The answer is to flow with his bong-sau and stick lightly to a jumping point. Whether he wants to apply a gwai jang or not is not important.

The key is that you are in a good position. Whatever response he tries you are now in a position to react proactively. So the moment he tries to go over the top you apply the principle of he goes high, you go higher. When you do so he cannot go over your arm and ends up losing his balance.


Intermediate Level Learning

The Kai-He (Open-Close) form is the intermediate level training routine in our Tai Chi syllabus.

It is designed to further internalize outer movements learned at the basic level from the Yang style 108 form. This is achieved in Kai-He by the use of simple abstract movements to conceal one’s intent to achieve a clear separation between intent and movement.

The use of intent is also paramount in the control of balance, aligning the body internally to move through the use of small circles and spirals, and controlling the 5 bows to generate power.

The simpler outer movements make Kai-He look like an easier form to learn. However, it is actually more difficult to learn because the use of unadorned movements require a heightened sense of qualia to feel the coordination between intent and movement.

On my student’s first lesson I covered three movements of the long form namely :-

1) Lazy to Tie Coat (left)
2) Lazy to Tie Coat (right)
3) Single Whip

On the second lesson I added two movements :-

1) Lift Hands
2) White Crane Spreads Its Wings

Below is the video I took to show my student what he not doing properly. Outwardly, he has remembered the movements, however, we are after the essence of Tai Chi rather than external appearances.

Sometimes I think he is a human rubber band because no matter how I try to shape him he would inadvertently spring back to his original shape. I think it is easier to forge a sword. At least, with iron once you hammer into shape it stays in shape.

But with rubber forget it. It literally takes a ton of patience to keep at it until the rubber changes and retains the new shape. This is why the proper transmission of Tai Chi requires literally hands-on teaching in that the student needs to be corrected, bent into shape, then have his posture subject to pressure so that he gets feedback on what wrong and right feels like.

Lucky us, its early days yet and there is a long journey ahead. As long as he keeps at it then by golly we will forge rubber. This is why my teacher said easy to learn, difficult to train. Its not even eat bitter in the sense of train till your muscles ache.

On the contrary, to seek comfort is our objective which in mechanical engineering parlance means to set up a machine train and its attendant machines to run with minimal mechanical problems such as misalignment, imbalance, looseness and so on.

I did the following demo to show my student. Certain sub-movements have been exaggerated to make it clearer to see and to emphasize certain points.

The main points I wanted to highlight were :-

1) No flowery movements; every movement has a reason for being

2) Strict control of balance, alignment and position

3) Strong and constant awareness of intent and movements governing usage and power

Learning Tai Chi is like climbing a high mountain. With Mount Everest at least we know where the peak is. With Tai Chi the peak is somewhere up there. The challenge is there for the Tai Chi Adventurer.



The Fist & The Blade

So my student got a straight sword. Looked good until I held it and swung it a bit.

The tip side was too light and the handle side a bit off-balance. It probably wouldn’t make much difference to a beginner. But as he goes on he will feel these two problem areas more.

So the blade is the fist and vice versa. To help develop this are some simple staple drills that we should constantly work on.

These basic drills will help develop what we do in the form. Again as in emptyhand form we need to understand how we can use the techniques to understand the transition movements.

As my student found out, some responses that work for emptyhand techniques will get him cut when applied to straight sword techniques. However, emptyhand techniques can be enhanced by straight sword movements.

Thus, every movement must be learned properly, at the very least the basic way of doing so, before attempting to express variations of the same movement. In tandem with this he should try to incorporate straight sword principles and concepts into push hands to widen his repertoire and deepen his intrinsic expression of intent and power.


The Baby Intent

Want to improve your Tai Chi skills?

An important secret is to practice, practice and practice some more even when carrying a baby!!!

Outwardly, it looks like I am carrying a baby but inwardly my intent is on something else.


This is what my intent is on, the spear that is between my hands! This is a transition movement from the 22-form which forms part of the Fair Lady Works at Shuttles technique as demonstrated below by Grandmaster Wei Shuren.


But since the mind is already on one technique why not a few more? Here’s another secret practice while outwardly playing with the baby.


This is a transition movement to Press from the 22-form. You can see how Grandmaster Wei Shuren does it below. The intent is on unifying mind and body using a sphere insertion movement.IMG_5537

Both movements have something in common – training the secret principle of expansion and contraction from Grasp Sparrow’s Tail.

The poor baby must be bewildered by what I was doing. Oh well, all in a day’s practice. The more you practice, the more familiar you are and the better the outcome of your skills eventually.


Zen of Tai Chi

May 29 is Vesak Day. This is the day we commemorate the enlightenment of Buddha.

Though our practice of Tai Chi does not require us to be religious or of a particular denomination, however, the words of Zen masters past can be useful to help us master the art. The words of Hui Neng, the 6th Patriarch is inspiring and applicable in this respect.

The story of how Hui Neng came to be the chosen one is well known. For those who do not know we can summarize in a nutshell that when the 5th Patriarch, Hung Jen, was deciding on a successor he held a poem contest to test his students’ understanding. He asked his best student, Shen Hsiu, to write his understanding. Shen Hsiu did this, writing that :-

The body is the tree of enlightenment
The mind is like a bright mirror’s stand;
Time after time polish it diligently,
So that no dust can collect.


However, the 5th Patriarch felt that Shen Hsiu’s poem did not demonstrate complete understanding. Shen was unable to come up with more when requested to due to his agitated mind when under pressure.

At that time the future 6th Patriach, Hui Neng, was an uneducated layman. He had come to the monastery on the suggestion of the person from whom he first heard a recital of the Diamond Sutra. Two days after Shen Hsiu’s poem was composed Hui Neng heard it recited by a bystander who read the poem written on a wall.

Hui Neng asked about the poem and was told about the poem contest. Hui Neng asked the bystander to write the following for him on the wall :-

Enlightenment is not a tree,
The bright mirror has no stand;
Originally there is not one thing—
What place could there be for dust?


What came after read like something out of a political thriller. In short, the 5th Patriarch recognized Hui Neng as his successor and this was the beginning of the school of sudden enlightenment.

Today’s lesson on beginning push hands for one student has a simple objective – let the mind be free. A typical student learning push hands would want to resist, fight back because he thinks this is the right approach.

Consequently, he cannot flow, cannot react fast enough, unable to control space, distance, timing and he might as well not be learning push hands. So it is important to teach the mind to be ego-less, to harmonize, to accept pressure and make it your friend for in your training partner’s pressure lies the key to your reaction.

It is very much like a conversation. If you are asked about the weather you don’t answer by saying the food tastes good. Your opponent’s pressure is a question. How you react is your answer.

Back and forth, back and forth the physical conversation goes. Then you have meaningful push hands training; your reaction will be sharpened, your control of space, timing, distance, ability to respond with the right technique will improve.

When you can let yourself go, the techniques will happen by themselves. By not forcing a technique you end up with multitude of techniques. By not insisting on one way, you have so many more options to move.

Though I did not teach so many formal techniques, instead offering one or two as examples, my student could see the options to respond once his mind was allowed to be free. Soon he could even tell me the possible responses. In summary :-

Accept pressure and harmonize,
Then your intent can flow,
And you can respond like
Water encountering resistance

Happy Vesak Day! Enjoy the day off but don’t forget to train, always.