Updated Outlook on Learning

When you learn a martial art what do you really want out of it? The art, the tradition, the lineage, the applications or the skills?

This sounds like a dumb question in that when you learn a system are you not supposed to get all of them?

Yes and no.

In some schools you do get all of them. In other schools you might get some of one or the other but not necessarily all of them.

It is rare to find a school that offers all of them so the next best thing to do is to decide what we want. I don’t know about you but to me I would rank them in terms of skills, applications first and foremost; the rest would be good to have but not as important.

This is how I look at it. Any art is built around a set of assumptions, principles and strategies. They give birth to the techniques. The training for the techniques when consolidated gives rise to the system. The system is taught under a brand which we commonly know as the style through which the entity, the school, propagates. Over time this becomes a tradition.

In life nothing remains constant. Everything changes whether for better or for worse. Unless we happen to grow an extra arm or leg tomorrow chances are the way we can move will not change, meaning there are only so many ways we can move whether standing upright or along the ground.

What we chose to learn can be due to preference, belief or experiential. Given the right circumstances every style is valid. So is every teaching as long as the teacher is able to explain it properly. Over time the original focus of a style, the reason for its founding can change, inadvertently changing its effectiveness in another direction. Over time the original objective may be lost and what once was, is no longer.

The only constant in all this is the person learning whatever the chosen art is. How well we learn what we learn can be due to how hard and how much we train, just as how well we learn it. Since it takes two hands to clap the role of the teacher is just as important. If the teacher being the beckoning finger points you in the wrong direction or a few degrees off the intended course you could end up being not where you want to be.

In a way uncle Bruce Lee is correct to advocate learning by absorbing what is useful and rejecting the rest. Some things I like but no matter how much I like it I will never excel in it. I like to do high kicks but when I saw how tall everyone else was when I was living in Australia I decided I had to forget about high kicks no matter how much I want to be like Bruce Lee. I still use some kicks but now they follow the principle of not going above my waist height.

Over time I realized another thing – everyone learns differently. Some things others can see and do, I can’t. So I do what I can see and do. Some things are easier to do than others. For example, some people can kick high easily, I could never do that. I mean, its good to be able to kick high but its not me and the only high kick I do is this jumping kick from the Open-Close Tai Chi form.

I also realized that age can dampen the things that we are good at. I noticed that as one ages the balance starts to go so being able to kick high, being able to drop into a really low stance, kneeling down to punch and then quickly standing up or just moving on the ground to grapple becomes more challenging. The mind may be willing but the body is not.

Training hard is laudable but training too hard, too much can only lead to pain possibly in perpetuity. It might sound heroic to live with pain but I think once you actually suffer for your art you may wish otherwise. I think this is why in the old days I commonly hear people say 日子有工 which means skill comes over time.

This is not to say that if you just keep practicing you get the skill. You do need the repetitions, its just that its telling you not to overtrain but to keep working on it. In a way its like how you keep staring at something but never really see it until you give it a rest. Having the details is good but you need to train to make them work and to really get it you need to attain that “it” moment, the insight that in that moment everything clicks together, what we call 心得 in Chinese.

Insights are difficult to generate because you need to do a movement enough to know it, not the mental knowing but the physical knowing, the proprioceptive feel of your body in relation to a mental schema. Learning a movement can be easy or difficult. The easy movements are not always easy, it just looks easy but they conceal hidden possibilities. The difficult movements are so either because they are difficult to do due to physical challenges or they have a lot of steps.

The real killers though are the movements which somehow involve contradictory princples. Let’s say you want to hit your opponent really fast. To achieve this you would want to be be non-telegraphic, able to move fast and be as near to the target as possible. However, being fast can be at odds to being powerful because to have power you need to chamber your strike and having sufficient range for your chosen strike.

If you have to chamber your strike you would need to bring your hand back to your body which means you will telegraph your intention to strike. Of course, now you have a good distance to generate momentum but the same distance also means the opponent can see you from futher away. So what do you do to overcome the conflicting requirements?

This is where with sufficient training and that sudden insight you will realize that the principles don’t actually conflict in the way you think they do. This is where having a teacher will go a long way to helping you solve this problem unless you are smart enough to figure it out. Some of you might think it is difficult to solve the problem by yourself but it is actually possible to do so. If not, how did you think the founder (of whichever style) managed to create his system in the first place.

So when you learn a system, go for the attributes. Learning a complete system, a traditional system is not as important. If your basics suck you will never get far even if you spend decades on learning and practicing. But if your basics are good you can keep improving and reach a good level of skill even if you know but a bit. In one of the arts I am learning they say the way you move is your certificate. This is a good way to look at it.

Innovating or Rediscovering Application

Changing the tradition or rediscovering what was once there?

Still its a good video. Love the part about controlling the distance and example of the pen.

I’m not a Karate expert but thinking from the perspective of using the Tai Chi form a lot of the techniques can’t be used without an understanding of distance, particularly how to use the proper distance and just as important, angle, posture and timing.

Without distance, angle, posture and timing we will end up too close, basically taking away our choices of techniques that can be used. When we are too close wrestling techniques become relevant, not so much the techniques we see in the Tai Chi form.

It is not surprising then that we see pummeling and wrestling throws being used in push hands nowadays. It is not necessarily a bad thing. It is just that we are wasting our time learning the form in the first place.

Instead of learning the form we would be better served learning exercises like pummeling, arm drags, doing ties, level changes, penetration drills, takedowns, etc. These drills can be readily applied to how we do push hands nowadays and they make more sense at that range and distance.

The video below shows arm drag drills that can be readily incorporated into push hands.

Did you have a feeling that the arm drag at 2:04 to 2:14 looks familiar?

You should because the arm drag is basically the first movement that you do when changing from Right Brush Knee, Twist Step to Left Brush Knee, Twist Step.

The stepping forward to opponent’s back, using the left hand to control his lower back, while shooting your right arm across his neck is one example of using Brush Knee, Twist Step to do a takedown.

If you take the time to examine how to use Brush Knee, Twist Step this could possibly be an application you will come up with. Or if you do research, apply Bruce Lee’s absorb what is useful, reject what is useless advice, you might come across the use of arm drags in wrestling, put two and two together and end up with a similar application.

Thoughts on PD

I typically avoid writing about health because I am not a doctor. However, my wife’s friend is suffering from Parkinson with one hand having tremors and body is experiencing balance difficulties.

I have a vague idea of what Parkinson disease is so I googled to find out more. PD is listed as due to loss of nerve cells but what causes it is not known.

PD also has no cure though lately exercise has shown to help. One such program is Pedaling for Parkinsons. This could be an area to look into.

I read that Tai Chi also helps with postural stability and leg strength. I don’t know about normal Tai Chi training but the Chest front, ten character (胸前十字) principle in Grandmaster Wei’s Tai Chi mentioned here is a simple but effective method for training balance.

Stooping is also mentioned as one problem faced by PD patients. The principle of Three passes, of conveyed usage (三關的运用) mentioned here is a way to train to have an upright posture.

For strength training to reduce hand tremor perhaps weight training using a dumbell or swinging a stick while doing Angle 1 striking. This can also be paired with stepping to add in a cardio component to get the heart beating as what is mentioned in the Pedaling for Parkinsons training program.

I have found that the small sphere exercise in GM Wei’s Tai Chi is very good for training the hand to be relaxed, yet firm and stable. So this might be a helpful exercise.

It would be best to consult a physiotherapist for appropriate treatment of motor symptoms because they are trained and have experience in helping different types of patients. I know consultation with a physiotherapist is not cheap, especially if it is a physiotherapist in private practice.

I know of one person who didn’t want to continue visiting a physiotherapist after operation on both knees as he was not well off. I urged him not to save on money at the expense of his well being otherwise his ability to walk properly will be affected.

Why Learn E4?

Entry 4 (E4) is a basic technique in iKali. Tuhon Apolo said that techniques like E4 are the bread and butter techniques.

One unusual aspect of iKali is that the more advanced techniques are taught first rather than later. The reason is advanced techniques require a longer period of learning and immersion so nothing better to learn it from the beginning rather than later so that we can chalk up the number of practice repetitions.

If Tuhon Apolo had not said it I might have dismissed E4 as a simple basic technique. I mean what could be advanced about a straightforward strike to the temple followed by a strike to the knee. But as they say the devil is in the details and this will only be revealed as we travel along the path.

I should know that E4 is important because the next technique is Entry 6 (E6) which is basically E4 plus two more strikes. This is followed by what we call Tap for short and is the E4 strike with a tapping movement inserted in between.

In iKali Tuhon Apolo wants everyone to get functional fast so we do E4 as a straightforward series of strikes, first to the temple, chamber back to the hip, strike to the knee, then bring back to shoulder.

What makes E4 a useful technique is not immediately obvious at this stage. But after a number of repetitions which Tuhon Apolo defined as 10,000 repetitions as the minimum then we move beyond the functional stage to the technical stage. This is when we pay more attention to developing the details. These details are the keys to developing the ability to apply E4.

I like to say the opponent is not stupid. So if we try to strike the opponent in the temple using the first strike in E4 it will fail cause opponent is not going to stand there. He will block, deflect, evade, move away, whatever it takes not to get hit and try to hit you back.

Once we understand this point then we know what just trying to hit someone without a plan is pretty much a recipe for failure. We need a strategy if we want to score hits. In the famous 36 strategems it is said “Make a sound in the east, then strike in the west” and this is exactly the first application of E4 in that we feint to the temple and strike to the knee.

If the opponent moves his knee then we follow up with a strike to the arm or temple, whichever target is nearer and this is what E6 is about. If opponent intercepts our first strike to his temple and then attempts to hit our low body instead, then we can tap the stick downwards to deflect his attack and counter with our strike to his knee – this is one possible application of Tap. Another possible application is that the Tap is used as a timing disruptor to cause the opponent to freeze for a split second by attacking his front foot. Then before the opponent can react we quickly go for his knee.

These are examples of how E4 can be used. Once we add in some of the other strikes the possibilities are immense. So never underestimate a simple basic technique. The lessons learned from E4 can also be applied in Tai Chi push hands.

Sinawali Training for Open-Close

Opening and closing is a biomechanical motion used in the internal arts for giving power to movements and issuing power.

I taught a number of arm swinging exercises in SKD which works the opening and closing motion. Some of these drills are embedded in SKD Training Sequence No. 1.

Another way we can enhance the training of opening and closing is via the Sinawali exercise taught in iKali. Why I said iKali rather than FMA is because the thrust and slash motions are taught in a very specific manner in iKali.

As Tuhon Apolo pointed out in the online disussion below iKali is not “my” (as in “I”, that is “me”) Kali but indigenous Kali.

The phrase indigenous Kali is in reference to the flavor of how old masters of FMA would move. This flavor is largely missing in today’s FMA and Tuhon Apolo wants to keep this alive. If you go to this page you can see photos of famous FMA masters and their postures when applying their respective art.

In Chinese martial arts what distinguishes one Tai Chi style from another is not the name or the arrangement of the form but the flavor of the movements.

So when you look at Chen style you would never mistaken it for Yang style because of the low stances and spiral movements. On the other hand, Wu (Hao) style would differ from the other Tai Chi styles in the unique upright body structure, minimalist arm movements.

Why the differences exist is due to how the techniques are applied and the power generation method. At times, the environment in which the art is used also plays a part.

iKali is configured to train us to acquire this unique flavor of moving. The Sinawali exercise is one way of learning to do this.

The basic Sinawali exercise which is performed with all high strikes can work the body to learn how to move with correct biomechanics in place.

From my practice I conclude that :-

a) 1st movement is both sides of the body open and then close, and vice versa

b) 2nd movement is one side close, one side open

c) 3rd movement is like the 1st movement in opening and closing both sides

When you add in the indigenous body structure flavor you can feel the body opening and closing even better.

I don’t like to try to turn Kali into a Tai Chi-like exercise. I prefer to do it as I learned it. The reason is because currently many in the Wing Chun community are adding Tai Chi to their styles but refusing to acknowledge it, instead trying to give all sorts of excuses of how their style is internal. Anyone who has seen the photos of Wing Chun practitioners in the 60s and 70s would no doubt notice a disparity in the flavor of the postures then and now.

Training Kali as is puts you outside the box and presents you with a different perspective of how a biomechanical motion can be learned. In solving the question of how to do Sinawali fast, with power, efficiency, timing, flow, etc you will go through a learning curve.

Some of the things you learn here are similar to what other styles regardless of nationality would also do. In Tai Chi we can find opening and closing in Yang style but its is not easy to learn.

Wu (Hao) style would be a better choice for learning how to do opening and closing but you have to minimize and delete a lot of unnecessary outer movements in order to isolate the opening and closing motion, feel it better and then be able to refine it. It can be quite a tall order for beginners. An alternative is to explore how to learn this useful mechanic via Sinawali. It may be easier or it may not be. I suspect it will probably be easier.

Killing WC Softly with AI

Great article here! Another way to kill the art faster, if its not dead already. How do you teach nuances, feel, the thinking behind how to make the art come alive and apply it. Below is the video showing the launching of the book for this project :-

In the field of engineering I’ve had companies talk about how they want to develop AI software to do machine maintenance. They think that with big data they can anticipate machine problems. One local company even used AI software to spot problems by examining data patterns.

This is what happens when today’s engineers and software programmers jump into the fray without the benefit of actual hands-on maintenance work. It is like nobody wants to look at a problem any more, much less try to solve it. They just want to throw everything to big data.

In the world of machine problems there are also nuances and small details to look into to solve a problem. Data can tell you its one problem or the other depending on the type of data collected, how you collect it and how you intepret the data.

I remember one story of a ship engineer calling for service because the machine was vibrating a lot. When the engineer I sent boarded the ship he asked the ship engineer to show him what he did. The ship engineer put his measurement probe on the machine cover and showed that the vibration was high.

And that exactly was the source of the problem, except there was no problem at all. Its more of a case of what is commonly known as GIGO – garbage in, garbage out. The probe was placed on a part that would vibrate more than usual so it is not unusual for the vibration to be high. But placed at the proper place to take data there was no issue.

A second example is that of a plant engineer arguing that a machine situated below a huge tank was causing vibration to be high. A measurement showed that the tank vibration was fine but the enginner insisted that this was the cause but data showed otherwise. Finally, my engineer found the cause – it was the other way round in that the huge tank caused the machine to vibrate.

However, since the tank is not a machine that moves how did it cause the vibration? When we think of movement we frequently think of visible movement. A tank that does not seem to move is always moving, except the motion is not visible to the naked eye. You can only see the movement if you have a high speed camera.

In this cause the tank is old and huge. If a tank is old its structure may no longer support it the way it is supposed to work. It won’t collapse but the tank may press against the machine below it. Plus, more investigative work uncovered that the tank was supposed to be reinforced as per the original design. But as-built the tank was never reinforced.

So therein are the possible causes which rectification work can confirm if this is the cause. It was interesting that the plant engineer was not aware that the tank was supposed to be reinforced much less know why the reinforcement was never carried out.

This case is an example of how big data would not be able to solve the problem because the cause is due to something that was not there in the first place. So even if a baseline measurement was carried out on commissioning the data would be flawed because of the omission of the reinforcement.

The idea of AI is very appealing. I know many customers want to use AI because its what we call “new toilet”, basically they want it cause its new and they think it will be useful but unless they understand their own problems they will not know if a new approach is truly superior.

Last example which I use to explain to customers about solving problems. One plant claimed that their new pump has a problem. The vendor that sold the pump to them took their word for it and called for someone to solve the problem. Yes, the vibration was high but the pump didn’t seem problematic so what could be the cause?

The data couldn’t explain the problem away. Then my engineer, the human AI, asked the right question about the pump’s load. And there was the answer. The problem was not so much caused by the pump but by how the customer was using the pump. In layman terms we can think of a person of 250 lb lying on top of a bed designed to take the weight of a 150 lb person, causing the bed to collapse and finding fault with the person instead of the person who laid on the bed. In technical terms the pump was designed to run above 90% load but the customer was running at 85% load, causing the pump to have vibration problem (if you want the full technical explanation you’ll have to attend two levels of an engineering course to learn about this). Once the explanation was given the customer could easily verify the cause. Again, data couldn’t solve this problem, merely point out that the cause is not due to the typical causes.

So in using AI to teach WC I would say interesting, nice, great but there is no way to teach the nuances, small details and feel of a movement. I am not against technology, just that not everything can be solved by technology.

Oh, the technology we use for solving machine problems have been around for more than 20 years. AI can’t improve on them, just collect a lot more data which someone or a software programmed not necessarily by a machine engineer (we typically call them mechanical engineer) who has to teach the AI how to intepret the data. This in turn depends on the input they get from the people they consulted when designing the software and the limitations of the software.

It would be nice if this was another revolution like “De revolutionibus orbium coelestium”.

But I somehow feel as it this was more like what it was before Nicolaus Copernicus introduced his revolutionary model that came to be known as Copernican heliocentrism.

Game of Bridges 2

Bridging with the inclusion of positioning, shifting and aligning the attacking lines.

Why do we learn to bridge using contact? We need to use our eyes when there is no contact but when we come close the sense of contact would work better. More so, if we are older and our eyes can’t see as well or as fast.

Our sense of touch can be educated and refined over time. The older you get the better your sense of touch. Using touch does not mean we have to play a passive game. The use of touching can elevate our active game. This is why you find that when you play hands with masters they seem to be able to react before you have even finished your movement. A master would always seem to be a few steps ahead of you. Someone like Grandmaster Cheong of Ngok Gar Kuen fame can deliver 6-7 movements before I finished processing how to deal with his first movement.

For the learning of Tai Chi you can think of playing hands as the living lab for learning how to use the forms that you learn. You can try out, analyze, test out, repeat many times, increase the speed and pressure, to find what works best for you, and even iron out your weak points.

Game of Bridges

Blast from the past on how to play the bridging game.

Why do we learn how to play hands instead of charging in to push, pummel and throw?

Playing hands is like playing chess. It gives you a chance to get to know the other person and work on your reflexes. It also protects you from getting punched in the face if you just charge right in, especially against people you touch hands with for the first time and they are from styles that like to aim at the head.

When playing hands though you can flow and flow you have to constantly remind yourself that each time you get a position that position is like a hub that allows for different options such as striking, locking, throwing or even grappling. The possibilities are up to you to decide.

How We Learn Tai Chi

I think there is a misconception amongst some readers as to what our Tai Chi is.

Firstly, we are not about styles nor lineage. Our focus is far simpler – how can we learn the principles of the Tai Chi Classics and use them.

Secondly, we have a progressive way of learning. We don’t begin with GM Wei Shuren’s form which is far too difficult even for people who have learned Tai Chi for a long time.

Instead, we begin with something easier, something attainable given a shorter period of learning. As Tuhon Apolo would say don’t teach what you want students to learn but teach them what they need to learn.

So I may want them to learn the best, the most advanced that I know but I know from experience that this is not gonna happen. Any student who starts with GM Wei’s Tai Chi will get stuck on Beginning Posture from the word go.

Funny thing is most students will also get stuck from the word go in our Yang Chengfu style long form. But at least they won’t get stuck as long.

I would say that learning the form is useless just like learning the Classics is useless. They have to be learned together with the idea of how to apply the movements to make sense. Copying a movement is not difficult but trying to imitate the nuances is not straight forward.

The nuances are what some people refer to as the small details. Things like the timing of the movement, how to pose the body vis a vis the opponent, when to use strength, when not to use strength, where to intercept, when to neutralize, how much to turn to neutralize, how to harmonize, etc; these are the things we learn even in our Yang Chengfu long form.

For 99.9% of students these are difficult to do properly even though they should be easy to do because they are mainly external movements rather than internal movements. But when it comes to GM Wei’s form its the other way around – its mostly internal – things going on in the mind as opposed to things happening that can be seen.

The things that we practice in our Yang Chengfu long form develops small frame characteristics as opposed to big frame flavor in other Yang Chengfu lineages. At a certain stage the student will discover that it is but the flip side to what is practiced in GM Wei’s form.

The reason why we have this approach is that given a limited amount of time to practice daily we can only practice so much per day. So it makes sense that we should not have too broad a focus if mastery is our objective.

For example, the learning of the straight sword helps the learning of the Yang Chengfu long form in that the straight sword enables the practitioner to use the techniques of the long form with the lively stepping of the straight sword. This indirectly builds the foundation for the learning of the Fast Form later.

The above is how we line up the teaching with the learning objectives. This is why if a student just want to come and learn fajing or just want to learn a particular form I would not take him on because this is not how we learn. We learn from the ground up, develop the basics, simple as they may be they must still be learned to the point where they are habitual and can be maintained when we are applying the techniques.

No one said it is easy but this is how we see it. Then at the end of it when we read the Tai Chi Classics we should not have a puzzled look any more because now we understand what the body of writing means as a whole.

To Be Blind

I saw someone asking to share a subscription on online WC learning. So I go kaypoh and poked the bear. He didn’t like it that I said that CST approach is rehashed TC and even sent me a video of CST saying its not.

The problem with many learners is that they are eager to be part of a cult and brainwashed themselves into believing something that is not necessarily true. This is why traceability is helpful. CST said he learned from IM and we have video of IM doing his forms. We also have seen videos of other fellow students of the same generation.

Unless you are blind when you compare videos of how they move and stand you might notice that CST stands out. There is something familiar yet dissimilar. If you are in the circle you might believe that this is unique.

However, for those who have been around longer and know the earlier stories or rumors you might suspect that the difference is due to importing something in and modifying it to boost one’s skill (think C-19 booster shot, yay!). CST is not the only one who did it. Some of his contemporaries did it too.

Blinding yourself to the obvious leads you off the path and ultimately you may end up not getting it. Many masters are innovators, not blind followers. CST is no different. The further you go down the line the lesser you see the roots once its been filtered, obscured and hidden.

How do you know if you are capable of assesssing something critically and in a position to offer an expert opinion? It is when you can do it. When you think another person’s approach is wrong and not convincing criticizing it is useless unless you know the other person’s approach and can show a better performance than him.

An example is the person in the video posted here. I have criticized him and he didn’t like it. I have to admire his guts though. He dared to go on television even though his demonstration is of one below par, below the standard of what an instructor of the style should be capable of showing in terms of the characteristics of the style.

I think it is OK if he is promoting the style, showing what he has learned and is capable of within the limits of his training. But to pass himself of as a master and able to transmit the style, well, that I have to say he should not do because outsiders looking at this style would think is that it? They don’t see the best representation of it, or even a qualified representation. Instead, they see a below standard performance from a so-called master and they think the style so lousy ha?

Want to boost your own skill? Don’t be a blind follower. Open your eyes wide and see things as they are. Question critically, assess what you see, ask the why of what you are doing, being critical is not being disrespectful (the best teachers actually encourage questions, even those they can’t answer) and train hard while constantly checking your progress. Invite constructive criticism. Don’t worry about getting things wrong. The more wrongs you get the more correct you will be later.