Hit, Repeat

I bought the book “Unstoppable: My Life So Far” by Maria Sharapova when it came out in 2017.

It has been sitting on my bookshelf since. Last night I finally got around to reading it after finishing Cultish and pondering whether to read these series of books on Koryo or perhaps the biography of Dyson.

Anyway, I managed to clear 100 pages by this afternoon. It is a fun read, a book that I would want to read non-stop.

In Chapter 8 Sharapova wrote about her training with Robert Lansdorp.

The following would resonate with anyone who is training or has trained with Tuhon Apolo in iKali :-

Robert’s practices were pretty much the same every time. That was the point of them. He believed in repetition. Doing the same thing again and again and again. Do it till it’s second nature.

Lansdorp was not a sadist. There was a point to all that torture. Everything was done in the service of a philosophy; every drill had a reason, was taking the player somewhere. When I asked him to explain that philosophy, he laughed. “Well, you know me, Maria, ” he said, smiling. “I just hate spin on a tennis ball. That’s what most modern players use. They hit the ball hard, then put a lot of spin on it to keep it in court. It drops, like a sinker ball. I hate it. What I want is a good, hard, flat stroke. That’s what all repetition is teaching. A flat stroke doesn’t have a lot of top-spin. Flat strokes were big in the 1970s and 1980s, into the early 1990s, then a new, terrible style came in. I think it had to do with the new rackets and new grips. It changed everything. With the new grips, it’s easy to put a lot of spin on a ball. Too easy. The spin gets on there even when you don’t want it to. The kids who thrive on that can be hard to beat, but when they get to be fifteen or sixteen they hit a wall, because now they have to hit the ball harder and suddenly they can’t control the spin. You have to learn to hit flat when you’re young because you need to be fearless to do it, and the older you get, the more fear gets into your game. That’s why we did it again and again. You were learning to hit that hard, flat stroke.

Once I’d acquired what Robert considered a suitably hard, flat stroke – it was all about getting into a nirvana-like hitting groove – we began to work on my accuracy, my court placement. There was nothing high-tech or modern about his method. There were no video cameras, or lasers, or algorithms. Robert simply taped empty tennis-ball cans a few inches above the net on either side of the court and told us to hit those “target” as many times as we could. It was like trying to drive a tennis ball through a keyhole.

From Day 1 Tuhon Apolo kept urging us to go for at least 10,000 repetitions. As in the game of tennis, so it is in iKali.

The most basic technique we learn, the Broken Strike, looks simple but to do it naturally, accurately, being able to whisk it out threateningly to feint or to actually strike takes a lot of practice.

The companion technique is the Fluid Strike, the big stroke that slices the opponent from one side to the other. The big stroke that should drop the opponent if you connect. Hence, the repetitions required to make you hit accurately, consistently, with speed and power.

Broken and Fluid Strikes are found in the set of 8 drills that beginners learn. In techniques such as Entry 4 we initially do the first strike as a Broken Strike. As we go on we change this to a Fluid Strike.

However, depending on how we apply Entry 4 there is no black and white guidelines in so far as the use of Broken Strike or Fluid Strike is concerned. For example, the first thing we learn is to do a feint with the Broken Strike and follow up with a hit to the knee with the second strike.

Alternatively, we could be delivering a Fluid Strike, missing the opponent because he stepped back and quickly follow up with a strike to his leading knee.

This could also morph into a third scenario of going out first with a Broken Strike to get the opponent to return fire and making him miss. Then we deliver the Fluid Strike when he gives the opening. If we miss then we can quickly do a follow up with a strike to his knee (or even arm).

Doing the most basic technique such as Entry 4 many times, over a period of time can give a new appreciation, deeper insight into how such a simple looking technique can be versatile. And we haven’t even add in the footwork yet.

Connect The Dots


Thought provoking process.

Connect the dots.

It is my opinion that training in iKali can help one to learn Tai Chi better particularly if you don’t quite know what you have learned in your Tai Chi class.

For example, in iKali the first thing we learn is how to step along the sides of an open triangle. Now if you have been practicing your Tai Chi and wondering how to use it the moment you learn about he open triangle stepping you should experience an Eureka! moment.

This Eureka! moment is what Tuhon Apolo calls the thought provoking process. My Tai Chi teachers would call this insight.

The open triangle postulates a range relationship between you and the opponent. The first range we learn is the long range. As we go on we also touch on the mid range and short range. Proper use of footwork allows you to control the range.

Now what has this to do with Tai Chi?

Firstly, seeing the open triangle should trigger your mind to connect it to the technique of Brush Knee, Twist Step which is the most obvious example of the use of open triangle stepping.

However, the use of open triangle stepping in Tai Chi actually occurs in Grasp Sparrow’s Tail, which is the first technique you learn in the long form.

Tuhon Apolo said that combat is nothing but appreciation of distance. Master Leong is one of the rare Tai Chi masters who use the long range in push hands so most of the time he would get you before you can even close in.

If you do not know how to control the range or unable to do so you would soon find you opponent up close and personal at the close range. At the close range if you are quartered by the opponent then you will find yourself out of options to respond and be opened to attacks. This is why learning, understanding and mastering the open triangle is important.

Secondly, when a beginner starts off his learning of strikes we break down the entire technique into segments. So instead of saying “step forward and strike diagonally” we would break this into “step forward”, “chamber the stick” and “strike diagonally”.

The first instruction calls for the strike to happen as you are stepping forward. The second instruction calls for you to step forward, pause, prepare to strike by chambeing, pause, then do the strike.

If you have learned martial arts before particularly weapons you might find the second instruction laborious. I mean who would want to do it this way which is more for those who have never learned before. However, do not underestimate this way of learning. Why?

You may have learned how to move a weapon and have no problem carrying out a simple instruction such as step forward nad strike diagonally. However, if you are looking to further improve your skills and mastery of attributes you would do yourself a great service by examining how you actually move closely.

Most of us can see how we move. But can you see how you actually move from the perspective of good and proper biomechanics that allows you to execute a movement at optimal speed, power, efficiency and economical motion? Experts call this ability to see problem areas as having a quiet eye. You can acquire this ability by making a lot of learning mistakes, analyzing where and why you made the mistakes and learning to correct them.

In learning to step forward and executing the diagonal strike one movement at a time we are learning to fix the body position first before we move the arm to do the strike. In the beginning you will feel that the strike is not powerful because you are only moving the arm after your body has come to rest. You will only feel the power when you move the arm and body together. Or so it seems.

In terms of practicality we would move the arm and body at the same time. However, in learning there’s value in moving the body first, stop, then move the arm. The reason is quite simple – unless you have a high degree of awareness of how you actually move chances are your body and arm is moving out of coordination with each other.

Stepping first, stop, then move the arm is one way to fix the coordination problem. You do it a few times to learn how to “see” (see by using your eyes and sensing) how you actually move. Then you try to do it by moving arm and body together to see if you can achieve the same alignment. If you can’t then you correct the way you move until you can do it. And you keep doing it until it becomes second nature.

In Tai Chi practice most practitioners would move arm and body together, thus perpetuating the arm-body coordination problem. The smarter practitioner would look for a way to fix this problem.

When I teach Tai Chi to beginners I would teach it one sub-movement by one sub-movement. This is a time consuming way to teach but it checks that the arm and body is aligned properly each and every time. Then after this process is understood we can move on to learning the sub-movements as a flow.

If you do not get the alignment of arm and body correct chances are when you play push hands you will find your opponent constantly invading your defensive space. This is because the absence of proper alignment is akin to leaving your gates opened (or partially opened), inviting the opponent to enter.

This is not an easy way to learn Tai Chi in the beginning but it will make your learning of push hands a lot easier down the road.

What we learn in the form is how we will apply it in push hands. It is common for practitioners to learn a few forms but unable to apply even a single technique freely in push hands. When we learn push hands we learn to apply the techniques one at a time. In this way we have a more indepth understanding of how a technique can work.

The other way of learning is to approach push hands as a game of chess. In this way of doing push hands we have a series of positions from which certain techniques can be used as examples to understand what we can do in those positions. This is not something new but a method employed in some styles to teach application of techniques.

Learning something different is always challenging. It is normal for us to try to see something new from the perspective of something that we are familiar with. This enables us to pick up the information faster. However, we may also miss seeing certain things as we assume that what we know has already enabled us to see everything.

The generation of insights come from seeing broadly and indepth. So always keep an open mind. As the saying goes you can bring a horse to water but you can’t make it drink.

Do Till You See

Can you see what you are doing?

Sometimes we can, many times we can’t.

There’s a counter movement called Pawitik in this iKali exercise called Sabayan which calls for a flick and a cut in quick succession.

I can see what I am doing when I do it. However, there is a problem related to time lag. The problem goes this way – I do the witik movement and then I do the slash. Seems simple enough.

The problem with this simple 2-step movement is this – the witik is easy to do. Its a quick flick of the stick using a quick turn of the wrist. The stick flicks out, comes back and then I do the slash.

The problem is that there is always a time lag between the ending of the flick and the beginning of the slash. I think of this as the braking effect.

The braking effect problem is this – you drive fast from point A to point B, then you turn and drive back. The faster you drive, the harder you have to apply the brake when you get to point B, then only you can turn back.

If you drive slower you will not have to brake as hard. But then you won’t be able to get from point A to point B as fast.

In combat if you hit the opponent’s wrist with the flick and then you take the time to do the slash chances are by that time his wrist would have been gone.

So you need to do the flick fast and the slash just as fast. And you need to do it in a way that there is power otherwise it would not hurt like a bitch.

Scientifically speaking, every action has a reaction, a consequence. A quick flick of the wrist to flick the stick out and back will place a lot of stress and strain suddenly on your wrist (whether from the braking or twisting of the wrist) during the transition from flick to slash.

If you have injured your wrist previously then you will feel pain when you do witik. If you don’t have pain to begin with then train the movement carefully. If you go too fast, too strongly you could end up with pain.

To solve this problem one way is to study the movement carefully by doing it slowly. I did many times but still the same flick, lag, slash would occur. I did a lot of this series of movements in an exercise called B-24. In explaining how to do the witik in free flow Tuhon Apolo mentioned something.

As it turns out this thing he mentioned is the solution to doing the flick and slash quickly without the time lag. Once I could do it I can see the movement path in my mind. It basically comes back to solving the problem of how to drive fast from point A to point B, brake less hard, and turn back quickly. Now it is possible to do a flick and slash with minimal stress but without sacrificing the power.

Open to Learning

Good points by Jesse Enkamp aka Karate Nerd. I like what he said about the blinding flash of the obvious at 20:34.

How many times have you had this aha! moment in your learning? If you have not, then you need to get out more.

Sometimes when you stare at something for too long you can’t see it. Its when you take a look from another perspective that you might see it.

For example, how soon can you develop power in your strike? After months of training? Or years of training? In this regard I am referring to developing a heavy strength in your strike that can hurt.

If we were to examine this question from the perspective of most CMA I would hazard a guess of at least a year.

But now I would say that it is not impossible, make that it is highly possible to develop power after a training session in Kali, power that we can use in an empty hand strike.

Now why didn’t I think of this before? Cause I have not learned or practiced Kali this way. By this way, I mean the iKali PTK way.

Now that I have I would say that if we put aside the style label for a second this is achievable. One practice session in which the first strike is learned and practiced. Big difference between before and after right there, right now.

But most people won’t see it this way. First there is the “not my style” obstacle. Second, its the “not my teacher’s…” obstacle. Third, there’s the disbelief obstacle that stops us from openly trying something, basically sabotaging our learning before it we even do it.

The internet has opened up the world but not always our mind. If you want to benefit from this opening up then discard your prejudices, biases and at least for the moment let yourself be opened to learning. You never know what you can gain from it.

New Zealand Knife Attack

I had just posted an update to the iKali class that will begin on 14 May 2021 on Facebook when I saw this news article on a knife attack in a New Zealand supermarket where three people were critically injured. Video coverage here.

I recently read on a website that we should not delegate our safety to others and this sad situation is another example of this.

In today’s crazy world an attack of any sorts can happen anytime, anywhere. When it does the timing can be so sudden that there may not be time to call the police nor time for them to get there to rescue you. The video coverage above mentioned that the attack was over in minutes.

If you are lucky you have the time to run, seek cover or shelter and hide. If not, then your safety is in your hands or whoever will attempt to help you at that critical moment.

In Singapore a gun attack is less likely than a knife attack because guns are illegal. A criminal can still get his (or her) hands on one but it will not be easy. A knife is so much more easier to get and an attacker do not even need to get a Rambo type of survival knife. A kitchen chopper or a sushi knife are two ordinary kitchen tools that can become deadly weapons in the hands of an attacker.

If I live in the USA I would want to learn how to shoot and how to defend against a gun attack as a last resort. Over here it is more useful to learn how to defend against a knife which is why I took up Kali in the first place. Not wishing it to happen does not mean it will not happen. I just want to be prepared in case it ever happens. Touch wood.

iKali Class Commencement

The free iKali training will commence on 14 Apr 2021 (Friday) from 7 to 8.30 pm.

If you are registering here you can request for a map on how to get there by typing in iKali Training + map in the comment box.

Prepare a towel, water and change of t-shirt as you can expect to sweat a lot from the drills. You will need to get your own tools after the first lesson. A list will be provided later.

In the first lesson we will introduce the essential basics of :-

a) Salutation

b) Tools and training safety

c) Basic stepping and first body position

d) Stick handling basics

e) Striking basics – BFR

f) Attack and defence strategies

g) First learning series OS – introduction to three strikes E4, E6, Tap

h) “Learn to teach, teach to learn” for optimal learning success

i) Blade handling basics

j) Basic blade movements TS – solo drill and partner drill

Knife Attacks

Another day, another knife attack reported in the media.

What’s happening in Singapore that we have so many knife attacks?

To an ordinary citizen it seems like there are two prevalent crimes in Singapore – sex crimes and knife attacks – from reading the news. Just try typing in tnp.sg + sex or tnp.sg + knife and you’ll get a listing of the latest news reports for Singapore.

Its not like there are no laws on such crimes. There are. But they are still on the increase for whatever the root cause.

What can an ordinary citizen do if confronted by a scenario like an unprovoked knife attack such as this case where a refusal to buy cigarettes for a troubled teenager resulted in the person refusing to do it got attacked?

The normal advice is to run away such as this video advice from the police in China or seek help such as calling the police.

Given the unpredicatability and suddeness of an attack can the person being attacked really run away? Can he whip his phone out to call the police? Can he rely on bystanders to help? Take a look at what a real knife attack looks like :-

The suddeness of a knife attack such as this example here is what makes it difficult to deal with. The rational person does not want to be in a place where such an attack can take place but then no one can tell when it will happen. If you see signs of an attack coming you can quickly walk, no run, to get away and report to the police. Its when you can’t get away that’s when you have to ask what will you do.

This is something that we should think about but most people never do because statistically speaking the majority will never be attacked unless it is your unlucky day, luck of the draw, the misalignment of the stars and so on I suppose. That’s life.

Embedding the Skill

Learning any combative art is about practicing until you get it, know it and can sleep walk it.

Someone recently told me that doing CMA should be as easy as walking. He is not talking about the practice being easy. Instead, he is saying that one should practice the chosen skills until it is as natural and as easy as walking.

More than two decades ago my Wing Chun senior was talking about being formless. But what does it really mean, to be formless?

If you look to the art world particularly to the modern masters you may note that even abstract art masters have to study classical painting before they evolve into abstract art. In the context of CMA this means that to be formless you first have to master form.

In Tai Chi we normally just work on one form for years before learning another. This is not saying that you can’t learn another form after you finish learning the first form. You can.

However, you end up with cursory understanding of the form. You need to move your practice from surface scraping understanding to beneath the skin understanding, before you ultimately reach bone level understanding. So the more forms you have to practice the less time you have to focus, to specialize.

Of course, you can also learn many forms but just work on less rather than more. The more you understand the one form the more you know its nooks and corners, not just remembering the sequence but how different parts of the form can be used to form new sequences.

In the end, your form may have say 10 sequences but by understanding how it works you can easily form another 20 sequences by combining different techniques. Normally, an easy way to help understand this learning process is by doing push hands because when you learn to apply the techniques you are forced to confront what you don’t know.

Its not just in CMA that we learn to be formless. In Kali what is termed free flow is similar to what we call formlessness. Basically, free flow is the ability to take your basics and move through them freely to make whatever meaningful combinations you want to in response to an imaginary attack.

The study of free flow in Kali begins with the study of drills, of sequences of techniques. First you embed the habit through 10,000 repetitions. Then when you thought you got the habit down you are taught to break out of the habit with ironically more drills.

From Kali we can see that more forms (not kata but predetermined sequences made up of different techniques, example an Angle 1 fluid strike + Umbrella + ……….) are necessary to break up earlier learned forms of movements. Conceptually, the learning is not difficult to understand. But when you try it it feels awkward, just like when you first learn to cycle. You get on the bicycle, you wobble a bit, then you start to move, slowly then you try going faster.

The more you cycle the more familiar you are with the act of cycling. In the interim, its not unusual to lose your balance and fall. The first time I took one hand off the handlebar I fell into a drain. Another time I took a corner really fast and ended up sliding on the road which left a scar on my knee. But its these learning pains that eventually allowed me to master the act of cycling till I could take both hands off the handle as I cycled.

Awkwardness gives way to familiarity the more you practice. When we mention the word practice we think of the act of doing. However, practice can also be in the form of thinking about how to do it. This is the mental part of practice. Its a way to embed the process into your mind. Another way is to call out what you are doing. Anything that works for you is fine.

The more I practice the Tai Chi form the more I start to see the component movements clearly. At a certain stage you can easily change the sequences around, rearrange them even as you practice. Just last week someone came to see me about learning Tai Chi and said he didn’t have the room to practice. I stood between a wall and two bicycles and showed him I could practice a long sequence within that square area. I didn’t change the hand movements, just changed the stepping to adapt to the small area.

If you keep on practicing at a certain stage you can practice the form without even practicing the form any more. You can take one technique and work it in different ways. You can string two techniques as well and do the same. This is when you can say that the skill of moving has been embedded in you, when you move “it” moves you, thus fulfilling the principle of first in the mind, later in the body, enabling you to move as easily as walking.

This is one part of the learning. The second part is to work with a partner to help you learn how to apply what you know. True flow is when you can keep moving even as your training partner tries to stop your flow by putting up resistance and fighting back. This is when you discover something interesting about attachment and detachment of the mind and body in being able to flow.

Interested to learn Kali in person for free? The iKali branch of Pekiti-Tirsia System of Kali has an excellent training method for teaching the basics that eventually allows you to free flow. The best part is that it does not take years to learn. Contact me here.


I can remember when I first started learning iKali I could not make sense of the flow.

Whenever I see our instructors or Tuhon demonstrate stick flow or blade flow my mind would go blank.

However, by following Tuhon’s excellent teaching program I find that I could begin to flow after the first two modules.

By the third module I actually did something I didn’t expect I could do which is to kneel while doing free flow. I had learned how to do the kneeling in the first module but that was by following a movement script.

In our progress assessment which was held after midnight (its actually early afternoon then in USA) I found myself doing the kneeling not once but twice. Normally I won’t do something I had never tried before and doing it in the midst of a free flow is risky in that it could interrupt my flow.

Here’s the first time I did it using double sticks :-

And here’s the second time using single blade :-

An excellent teacher inspires and Tuhon Apolo’s teaching definitely triggered something in me to be able to go beyond what I would normally do.