Past Baggage

All of us carry some sort of baggage from the past.

Some baggage are useful but some are but obstruction to progress. The question is how to tell which baggage to lose and which to bring along.

Depending on the argument you can say that all baggage are useful until you come across a problem the baggage cannot contain. At this point you have to then make a call as to whether you should continue carrying the baggage.

Most Tai Chi practice share similar baggage. So whichever style you go for your past baggage will fit right in. Your own experience in applying the art will tell you whether ability to fit in is a good way to assess the usefulness of what you are learning.

So there you have it – using your Tai Chi to solve a combat problem will help you assess its usefulness. If you cannot solve a ground grappling problem then you know that what you know is useless. Then when you go learn grappling you should drop your past baggage.

On the other hand, if you learn another Tai Chi and the problem they posed to you is daunting for you to solve then you need to decide if you want to try to use your past baggage to contain the problem or learn their way instead.

The issue of past baggage is to teach us how to learn. If you know how to learn then you increase the chances of mastery.

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Precision & Process

Do you want to be able to apply your Tai Chi techniques easily as if with little effort?

If yes, then you have to learn to be precise.

When you master the process then it appears that you are using little effort and everything seems so easy.

However, the learning requires a lot of mental concentration. Much of it focused on getting the small details down.

To do this take your time to learn to be precise. Work through the process. Understand why you have to do so and how to do it precisely. Don’t rush your learning, don’t try to be fast before you master the coordination.

Instead, work on the problem. Analyze the problem you are trying to solve. Frame the proposed solution. Examine its feasibility. See which part of what you have learned is related to it. Then bust your ass to put in the practice.

Such a practice is best illustrated by the use of separation, that movement just before we do Push in the 108 long form. The problem is how do we split the opponent’s arms to prevent an attack, uproot him and counter-attack with Push.

The entire process is made up of three steps – separate, uproot, counter-attack.

Process 1 – separate – use this to induce the opponent to loan you his strength. Minimize the use of strength by splitting his arms at the suitable angle.

Process 2 – uproot – the application of Process 1 will cause the opponent to inadvertently give you strength that you should borrow to uproot him. In Process 2 lies the trick of efficient use of strength, using the whole body with minimal movement, appearing to use only finger strength.

Process 3 – counter-attack – if Process 2 is carried out smoothly you can send the opponent flying strongly. You can pluck him off his stance or you can use Push.

Lessons of the Pole

Its nearly 3 weeks since my last post. I thought the economy is not doing that well, not that I can tell with all the work activity.

Started a third student on learning the pole that is from my first Tai Chi teacher. Its a basic Sao Lim pole but there are useful lessons to be learned.

Lesson 1 – as with solo form we must develop awareness. The length of the pole helps to expand the awareness space.

Lesson 2 – learn the meaning of the saying when young fear the fist, when old fear the pole.

Lesson 3 – again stop being obsessed with power. In using the pole power is useless if you fail to hit your opponent. Instead, if he hits you, especially with a solid pole, the pain and damage is much worse than getting hit by a fist or palm strike. So pay attention to the movement process to understand how to use the pole properly.

Lesson 4 – though the pole is heavy you must also learn to use it as if it is light. To do this you must learn the trick of manipulating the pole using proper biomechanics.

Lesson 5 – as with pole, so be with the fist. This means that the way you learn to handle the pole can be transferred across to the way you apply empty hand techniques in push hands.

Lesson 6 – don’t be long winded when using the pole. Learn to decisively move, hit and finish the opponent in 1-2 moves. Then apply the same to empty hand techniques.

Lesson 7 – enhance your body movement from learning the pole. Learn to move quickly, precisely and control the striking zone through stepping and body angling.

Lesson 8 – understand how to extend power further. Playing the pole a lot can develop wrist and arm strength. This can boost the striking techniques that is from Master Leong’s PKK arsenal.

Requiem for CMA

Such sad words from Adam Hsu :-

Six years ago, after an almost twenty year absence, I moved back to Taiwan. As I got to know the younger generation in Taiwan, I made a shocking discovery. Teaching these students turned out to be extremely difficult because they’ve lost their roots: their Eastern roots. Many young Asians are westernized, you could almost say Americanized. To pass down the art I needed to reach the younger generation, and then what a shock, what a culture shock, that was!

Today, western culture dominates the world. We Asians have willingly given up our roots. We wanted to learn from the West and we gained science and democracy. These are very very important. But then our whole lifestyle, way of thinking, and goals in life have also undergone major changes.

(source https://www.adamhsu.com/articles/frenchinterview.pdf)

I find that those with western education have too rigid a thinking. To them learning must progress in a certain sequence but CMA learning is not like this. When you can see it, the art is simple. When you can’t the art seems complex, complicated, confounding.

Its like last week when I present a paradigm shift on what ground force means and the accompanying mind shift to generating power. Its kinda like same but not the same.

The shift in mental outlook is where most students fall by the roadside because their thinking is stuck, they cannot free up their thinking. In this sense learning CMA particularly Tai Chi can sometimes be like trying to achieve Zen enlightenment.

Everyday Skill

Seemingly meaningless tasks are not always what they seem to be. The following insightful passage appeared in “The Meaning of Rice : A Culinary Tour of Japan” by Michael Booth.

This passage describes the apprenticeship of a sushi chef :-

For the first two years they didn’t even let me touch a knife. I only did washing up and ran errands. But you do this to study the tableware, which is very important in Japanese food. I did the cleaning which is also a learning experience: when you vacuum a room you understand the space. Towards the end of that I began to sharpen knives. During the third year I did basic things like skinning squid, and waiting on tables to understand the communication with the customers.

How many students practice the Tai Chi form to the point where they gain insights that are not obvious; to the point where practice gives way to skill and eventually becomes a part of life? Most cannot enter the skill level and even lesser assimilate the skills to the point where there is no separation between martial art and everyday movement.

Many times the desire is there but the mind is weak. Too many distractions, too many excuses not to practice. Everything that we learn teaches us something. But we must practice to gain the insight. Knowing the form is just knowing the form.

The insights only come when you practice, ponder, practice some more, get corrections and keep practicing. Recently, I pointed out to a student the relationship between the pole form that I taught him and the techniques we were practicing.

At first glance the connection may not be obvious. However, once I explained it the relationship is obvious. This is the reason why I teach forms in a particular sequence. However, if students don’t practice the weapons they will miss out on an important part of the learning.

This is why my student failed to make the connection between the empty hand and weaponry. This is why his empty hand techniques still lack something. This is why his empty hand movements cannot coordinate closely.

True learning is learning in-depth and learning widely. Don’t just see one side of the picture. Instead, see from the other side as well. Learn to assimilate within and without.

When your mind is mentally prepared your body will obey. At that point there is no you, there is no me. Then your push hands skill will improve and your techniques will seem simple yet magical.

Do Nothing

My student gave the best quote on learning and enlightenment in a long time. Too bad it wasn’t recorded so I can’t quote him verbatim.

He was working through Step-Up, Parry & Punch. He was relying too much on arm movement.

Many adjustments and explanations later he said that all these years he was finding ways to move but all he really had to do was do nothing.

This is one interpretation of the principle of seeking stillness in motion. It takes careful study to be able to do a lot while really doing little; so little its as if one is doing nothing and just letting it happen.

Such learning realization is a good reason for studying forms carefully cause these gems are scattered throughout. However, until you put in the time and effort to carefully study the form you will not realize that the secrets are in your hands yet they will not reveal themselves without your own effort.

Mastering Through Motivation

Want to really, really master Tai Chi?

Listen to Arnold’s sound advice :-

For those who give excuses like no time to practice at home, listen carefully to what he said about time management.

Also, listen to the advice on losing because this fear can hamper your ability to master push hands.