Learning a Musical Instrument, Not

Play Pipa is a technique that appears twice in the Yang style 108 form. Below is an extract from a longer video of Grandmaster Dong Huling showing its application in push hands.

The pipa is a Chinese musical instrument, somewhat like a guitar, but with 4 strings and a pear shaped body. Below is a picture showing how the pipa is typically held when played. Does it not resemble the way GM Dong applied the technique?

GM Dong’s video shows the way the Play Pipa technique is normally executed on the opponent’s outside position. For beginners this is a safer position to apply the technique without having to worry about the possibility of the opponent trying to punch you with the other hand.

However, our point is that a technique should as far as possible be able to be applied even when we are standing in the front gate of the opponent’s position. To safely use Play Pipa and not be punched we need to address the elephant in the room by examining the use of strategy. In this case the strategy is to distract the opponent before we apply Play Pipa and for this purpose we are borrowing a move from the Fast Form as shown below :-

The video below gives a more detailed explanation of how the use of a strike to distract can also help you to land the position :-

And it goes without saying that once you get the arm locked you should use proper leverage to jack the opponent up and away.

For the purpose of learning we did not include those parts of Play Pipa that can cause injury.

Reference – The leverage principle is explained on page 68 of TaijiKinesis Vol 2 : Learning the Taijiquan Form. The part of the application that can cause injury can be seen on page 336.


First Success

Today is Day 66 of the 100-Days Yum Chui Challenge and one member has made the mark.

This is proof of concept that it is possible to learn SKD to a level of competence via online learning and guidance.

SKD Member Training

We are nearly 3/4 of the way through the SKD 100 days Yum Chui challenge.

One of the SKD members from Australia came for training in Level 1 syllabus. The objective is to bring him up to speed on knowledge and skills so that a training group can be formed there.

Level 1 training covered the refinements and application of Yum Chui and Chau Chui, integration of techniques into a arm contact training platform, and 6-blocks (practice and application).

Some of the training is shown below :-

Yum Chui training

Arm contact training

6-blocks training

Watch all 31 short here.

Kicks Galore

Its kicks galore last week and this week as I taught my kicking method to a student. My kicking method is divided into two phases :-

a) External phase – this is described in the eBook “2-Dots : Six Learning Steps for Mastering Wing Chun’s Kicking Model ” and the verbal teaching of Master Leong Lin Heng

b) Internal phase – this is the method of using intent that is transmitted through the lineage of Grandmaster Wei Shuren

I started off my teaching with Kick No. 4 of the 4 kicks taught by Master Leong Lin Heng. I like this kick because it is so unexpected, so sudden and so weird that its difficult to guard against it even when it is executed at a slower pace. It is a good illustration of the usefulness of using kicks.

The next step is of course the principles of kicking. A good place to start reading about it is in the eBook 2-Dots mentioned above. But for my student it is not necessary to read as I have told him what he needed to know and trained him in it.

Our emphasis is to use it within push hands, not as a fixed, dead drill but as a live response when the appropriate situation arises whether when given or created. Now he has an extra area to focus on in push hands.

Some videos that are extracted from the lesson this week :-

Last Day

Today is the last day of Chinese New Year.

I haven’t written anything here between the eve of Chinese New Year and now partly because of time constraint and partly because of inspiration. Granted, there are lots of things to write about but if the topic doesn’t stay in my mind for a few days then its not something I feel is important enough to write about.

There is the more detailed stuff I would like to write about, something I want to do if I can retire from work. This material consist of information delivered to students but not captured on video.

When the information is recorded it would have appeared in the public videos on the Facebook page “Learn Tai Chi in Singapore” or on unlisted videos posted to Youtube but made available only to specific students in the Slack group.

Why am I bringing this topic up? Well, its something a student said last night. He thinks I should just go ahead and reveal the information anyway because its difficult enough for him to make sense of it even though he is learning it and he thinks most readers won’t be able to see through the maze so easily.

Actually, there are two sides to it. One is the more complicated stuff that is for those who have learned martial arts before and the other more simplified material for those who are not as crazy about the usage part.

The complicated stuff is that which unravels the principles, their meaning, how to bring them to life in your practice and application. The simplified stuff is less heavy on the traditional stuff, more on using modern analogies to put the point across.

For example, to lower our arm such that we can generate power is easy when we do it quickly and with forcefulness. However, this could make our movement much bigger than we would like it, exposing ourselves unnecessarily to a counter.

The principles point to us a better option that allows us to generate the power but not open up ourselves at the same time. This requires using intent precisely and this is where the problem starts.

Knowing what is to be done and actually doing it is the problem. We know what to do, we think we are doing it but we are not doing it. Throw in the need to be exact to the point of subtlety and everyone ends up not getting it.

So the solution is to make this more accessible by simplifying it, taking an experimental route to learning it, putting aside certain important considerations for the moment. And yes, it gets the job done, students learn much faster. But let’s not kid ourselves, they still need to tighten up their movements and achieve the requirements of the principles.

Or maybe not. As long as they do not intend to learn how to apply the art then this does not matter. The requirements only make sense when we have a combat problem to solve. Without a problem there is no need for a solution.

Yes, we learn Tai Chi as a tool to solve certain problems. To learn Tai Chi effectively we need to ask what these problems are. If you don’t know then whether you learn Tai Chi or not is not important. When you know then you may find that Tai Chi is useful in addressing those problems.

Lately, I have been focusing on pushing the longer learning students to flesh out their push hands game. I made my case to them that if they want to play with outsiders (and some of them do or are doing it) then they must have a problem solving approach instead of pushy-pushy here, pushy-pushy there in a reactionary manner.

Doing so calls for strategies. In turn, this calls for techniques to support the strategies. The techniques must be supported by workable internal and external considerations, stuff that we train in our form.

So for example, we train the lotus kick but can we use it? Master Leong taught Grandmaster Nip’s application of the lotus kick in a manner that I have not encountered in the teachings of other Tai Chi teachers.

For this reason I did not want to video this teaching because it is something that most of us would not have thought of. As such, it is can be something to catch the opponent by surprise, particularly when used with a certain strategy.

In the old days such applications would be considered a secret technique of a style. It would not be something that is readily taught and hesitantly explained. I know of course that knowledge will die out if not passed on. So I pushed it to students to learn it, to make it part of their push hands game, eventually to be applied more freely, much more freely.

Then our Tai Chi would not see its last day so fast and may perhaps linger a little longer for those who seek the way to find it, an art old, lost in a world modern, increasingly at a loss to the ways of the old. A pity. So make it relevant, make it applicable.

Neurons & Intent

A common obstacle facing Tai Chi students is differentiating intent from body movement.

When most students perform the form their intent is not clearly delineated from their physical action. This leads to the inability to use intent over reliance on strength alone.

Why is it difficult to separate intent from movement?

Reading The Body Builders : Inside the Science of the Engineered Human has given me the answer. When you think of doing something the neurons in the processing areas of the motor cortex fires and triggers the desired movement.

However, these neurons fire so fast that for most of us it is difficult to detect that length of time between the neurons firing and the corresponding limb moving. The time between neurons firing and movement beginning is but milliseconds so you can imagine how short a time this is.

Given this is the case how then can Tai Chi players train intent?

This is where the specialized intent training of Grandmaster Wei Shuren’s Yang style Tai Chi comes in. The conceptual models for training intent allows us to experience a time lag, at least long enough to feel when intent begins and when movement triggered by intent comes in.

In this way we can truly separate mind and body. Incidentally, this fulfils the principle of using intent rather than strength and explains clearly why Tai Chi is boxing of the mind.

It would be interesting to one day use science to study this neglected aspect of Tai Chi. Who knows what we may discover that can not only improve our Tai Chi skills but be applicable to other fields such as medicine.

Implicit Learning

Today I found out a theory that can explain why we need to keep up the practice of forms.

In the past I have read that form practice is like swimming on dry land. However, I think the reason why those who say so is because they have not broken through to understand how form training really works.

Fortunately, studies into intuition have offered us a good explanation on this. Can you guess what this is?

For the moment I will leave this question here as I continue to read why implicit learning can explain the importance of form training.