Spiciness & Internal

Is your Tai Chi internal?

I doubt you would find anyone who would say their Tai Chi is not internal unless they know they are just doing the exercise version.

However, what does being internal mean? This is not an easy topic to tackle.

Let’s look at it another way, something that all of us can understand. If you don’t you can always find out easily.

Take the Ghost chilli pepper. Is it spicy? Definitely.

How about Carolina Reaper chilli pepper? It is spicy too.

What about a more normal chilli? For example, the Shishito pepper from Japan. It is spicy too to those that can’t take heat.

All the above peppers are spicy but that doesn’t tell us much until you put one in your mouth.

If you take a bite from a Shishito pepper you would go ah, not too bad. Then you bite into a Carolina Reaper, and find yourself practically jumping out of your seat and reach for water (actually you should reach for milk).

Then after this when you put a Ghost pepper in your mouth it would also feel spicy but not as bad as when you bit into the Carolina Reaper.

Taste is subjective. So is the ability to take heat. So what is spicy to one person may not be to another person.

As such, we can end up with arguments of this pepper is spicy and this is not. Its just like the way we argue about this Tai Chi being internal and another Tai Chi is not.

Except in the case of pepper we have an objective way to define the heat level. This is where the Scoville scale comes in to measure the concentration of capsaicin and record it in SHU units (Scoville Heat Units).

By using the Scoville scale it would be difficult for someone to argue that the Ghost Pepper (1,041,427 SHU) is more spicy than the Carolina Reaper Pepper (1,569,300 SHU).

We would also know where the Shishito Pepper (50-200 SHU) stands in terms of heat in relation to the other two peppers.

Now wouldn’t it be nice if we can develop something like the Scoville scale to define where a particular Tai Chi system lies on a scale from most external to most internal.

The problem with this scale is that everyone wants to argue that their approach is internal without being able to assign a specific and clear definition to what this means. It would be even better if there is a scientific approach to it.

Again, when we look at how science defines the Scoville scale they didn’t just leave it up to a board of tasters to define what is spicy and how spicy is each type of pepper.

Instead, they used a scientific approach to answering this question. This resuled in the Scoville Organoleptic Test in which a tester would extract the capsaicin oil from a dried pepper.

This extract is diluted with sugar water to the point where the heat can no longer be tasted by a panel of professional taste testers. How much dilution is required to get here would determine how many Scoville units is assigned to the tested pepper.

We can borrow an idea from this test by checking a number of factors. One of them would be how much movement is visible or better still, can be measured (whether by sensors or by a high speed camera) of a power generation process that is impacting a shock force on a consistent object (or person) that is giving a constant amount of resistance (or an amount of resistance that is proportional to the weight, height and muscle strength) of the person being tested.

That there are a lot of politics within Tai Chi not to mention the size of egos and money involved means that an independent means of determining what internal means will never be developed.

Shock vs Vibration

I remember reading about vibrating palm a long time ago.

The thing about terminology is that the person using it may not understand what the term really means.

Neither does the average reader like me. So I went on thinking that vibrating palm is like a super duper powerful strike.

A decade, maybe two or three, I have a better understanding of what the term vibration and by extension vibrating means as it relates to rotating machinery.

This is where I realized that those who called their palm strike by the name vibrating palm may not understand what vibration is about and as such has given a meaningless term to what they do.

There’s a study here on the impact on the wrist from playing different sports. Unfortunately, there’s nothing on the impact of striking though catching a ball would be closer to what impact would be like from striking. The author concluded that the three worst events are :-

i) Throwing a baseball
ii) Catching a football
iii) Hitting a volleyball

Of the three it looks to me that the football catch and volleyball hit would be the closest to what impact on the wrist would be like if you are punching with a fist as the motion affects the z-axis.

By comparison, the baseball throw sees the wrist moving more over three axes and is more like what a hand slap / relaxed palm strike would be like.

The author concluded that :-

a) The level of vibration affecting the wrist is low. Extrapolating this conclusion onto a vibrating strike by referencing baseball, football and volleyball I suspect that the term vibrating strike would be a misnomer!

b) Sports that are more damaging on the wrist are those that tend to cause the bones and ligaments to absorb a sudden high level of shock.

If this is true then I would think that the relaxed palm strike aka vibrating palm is actually generating shock force rather than vibration. If you study how the body moves when going through the motions of a powerful palm strike you are likely to see the entire body move in a sinuous manner, a movement pattern that allows acceleration to build up before suddenly dumping the accumulated force into a target in the form of a shock energy.

This is why the energy of a palm strike is sometimes compared to that of a wave motion. This being the case a vibrating palm should properly be termed a shock palm.

Pieces of the Puzzle

A training sequence or kata or taolu seems like a linear sequence of movements. This is a simplified understanding of what it is.

In SKD the training sequence no. 1 is designed more like a puzzle palace in that what you see is not necessarily what you get. You learn the sequences. Then you learn how to decode them to extract the information that you are supposed to get.

Caveat – extracting the information requires you to practice until the movements are habitual, instinctive and flowing. When you reach here some of things you are supposed to learn will come out by themselves especially if you couple your learning with partner practice.

If we were to lay out everything we want a student to learn then he will end up with tons of drills to remember and this can be self defeating if the goal is to liberate him rather than enslave him. The question is how to learn less but end up with more instead of remembering a lot to learn less.

Nowadays when we go to supermarket and buy a chicken we are not given the intestines and internal parts, much less the curdled blood. However, in the days of past my mother would slaughter a chicken, keep the blood, curdle it to go with soup or porridge, then clean the intestines which is delicious deep fried or braised. Even the butt is eaten. Nothing is wasted.

In the SKD training sequence nothing is wasted. From the opening salute to the closing salute there is something to be learned. So when a students skips the salute part he is missing out on something.

In the salute part we put in the learning of the footwork pattern. There is the obvious stepping pattern. There is also the hidden pattern.

The obvious pattern is the side step, the step back and the lateral step. The pattern that is hidden is the step forward pattern and this is derived from the last three sequences. The logic here is that if you can’t get to the side position then you can’t step forward to continue your attack.

This begs the question – if we can side step how do we defend and attack with the hands. This is found in the fourth part where we work the Yum Chui, Chao Chui and Sao Chui if we want to use a long range aggressive response. We can continue the attacks using these three strikes or add in the movements from the three arm swinging drills from the second part.

If the preference is for a more sneaky, small frame movement type of response then the third part is where we should look. In this part we have finger thrust to the throat and groin slaps. The follow up here will be the 6-movements from the second part.

Everything learned from the first part to the fourth part is then used within the fifth and sixth parts.

The seventh part is where we can integrate our study of Kali into SKD. That’s one purpose. There is a secondary study that is hidden here. This study is an expansion of the use of Charp Chui as well as leading into the study of other things.

The Training of 6-Blocks

6-Blocks or technically Mid Range 6-Blocks is our SKD beginners training for learning how to use the hand to control the space in front of us. We also have a Long Range 6-Blocks and a Short Range 6-Blocks.

I call it 6-Blocks rather than some fancy, long name because its easy to pronounce and easy to remember. When used properly the blocks can be a hard block or a soft block. It all depends on the objective.

The 6-Blocks is a shortcut way to learn how to define a doorway, the doors and how the doors move in the manner of a swinging door panel. This is based on the traditional CMA principle of hands acting as swinging doors. We define the space so that we know where to position and mobilize our hands to when defending and attacking.

The movement of the 6-Blocks is designed such that it teaches us how to move circularly from Point A to Point B in line with the 6 directions of movement when defending.

In the beginning we learn to define the alignment of the arm in relation to the body. When necessary we can use a stick as a training aid to understand this principle. We strive to move exactly so that in time to come when our movement fall short or over extend we know how to quickly adjust ourselves to correct the problem.

Once we understand each of the six movements we learn to move them in keeping with the principle of up-down, in-out and left-right. We first learn to move using less strength so that we can flow by adjusting the brakes and accelerator in the course of moving.

With familiarity we can learn to move very quickly. We can also move out of sequence, to respond as required.

After the soft phase of movement we then learn the hard phase of movement. This is when we learn how to use the blocks as attacks. To be hard requires the ability to accelerate your movements from a low velocity to a high velocity and suddenly applying the brakes to stop the movement cold, producing a concentrated momentum force. Internal stylists require to this type of movement as fajing.

We can extend the solo training to learn about movements 7 to 9 which extends the basic usage of the 6-Blocks. We also learn how to block and punch whether by punching with the same blocking hand or with the other hand. We should also practice 6-blocks with stepping.

To learn how to apply the 6-blocks we then engage in partner training. We can start off by using the 6-blocks to do slower paced push hands and graduate to fast paced push hands. After this phase we can then attempt to use 6-blocks more freely, with or without contact.

Power Training in SKD Training Sequence No. 1 (2nd Part, Section 2)

There are three arm swinging drills in this section.

The swinging moves are big, expansive making them suitable to be used as a normal qigong exercise if that be your poison.

We use the arm swinging to train long range power. The good thing about using arm swinging is that they are easy to learn and easy to remember.

If you are training for power then you would need to learn how to use the stance to do the swinging, to accelerate the movement of the striking arm, to generate the power, and to use the swinging for attack and defence.

Though the basic arm swinging movement is a long range movement, you can shorten the movement to use it at a shorter range.

Each of the three arm swinging movement has a range of applications. The transition from one movement to the next teaches how to change between the arm swings when used as attacking techniques. This needs to be studied to understand how to keep up a steady barrage of strikes, how to change when opponent attempts to defend against your strikes.

Arm swinging drills introduce the principle of using a sharp drop to power a strike which involves the study of how to accelerate your body movements and the use of dantian to connect to the back to pump the power out to the striking part.

Power Training in SKD Training Sequence No. 1 (2nd Part, Section 1)

Form should not be separated from the function.

Similarly, power generation should not be separated from the technique.

This is one of the current problems facing Tai Chi practitioners. Instead of training the power generation together with the technique they tend to focus solely on the power generation.

As a result, the power generation process is clunky, taking too much time to set up and consequently slow rendering it impractical against any opponent that won’t stand still and keep moving.

Slowing down a movement then suddenly speeding up also does not an effective fajing make. Such method can look nice but try it against a moving opponent and you will find that it is too slow to be of use.

When we do SKD training the first consideration is that the form, function, power, speed and change must all be present in each and every technique.

For example, in between the salutation and the three basic arm swinging exercises we have a 6 movement sequence that teaches the hand to attack and defend quickly a defined space.

The entire sequence teaches a very clear cut basic method of power generation based on the use of compress-release.

But that’s not all. Right at the beginning of the sequence there is a detail on how to connect to the ground using the stance.

In addition, there is also the matter of how to bring the hand up and in the process priming the body to be in a state of compression before releasing the power in the next movement.

As you keep practicing and becoming more and more familiar with the movement you will be able to cut off excess and unnecessary movements. From this point you should be able to move efficiently using only the amount of movement and effort necessary.

Once your body can feel the subtlety in the entire flow of movement from the feet through the body to the hands you will be able to issue power with little prior preparation. At this stage you should be able to issue the power over a shorter range.

The flow of movements in this part also teaches how to attack and defend non-stop. You can use the techniques with or without contact.

If you can’t seem to get the power generation in this part you should focus on the power generation of the three swinging arm drills. Read the second part here.

Decoding SKD Training Sequence No. 1 – Part 7

The seventh part of the Training Sequence is the last part. When the fifth and sixth part is considered together with this part you can notice an overall strategy of control if you have been practicing consistently.

A series of mid range techniques is introduced while moving linearly forward. The last part teaches the twist and step method for changing your position quickly.

In addition, this part serves as an introduction to how we integrate iKali with SKD. The empty hand techniques here can be used with a weapon such as a knife, tactical flashlight or tactical pen.

For this purpose we just need to teach how to access the weapon from the place that we are carrying it.

We will also have to point out the change in targets to be struck with the weapon. There are non-lethal and lethal targets to be considered.

Most of the information mentioned in these series of posts can be found in the 2020 and 2021 Zoom lessons posted in the Slack group. The only information not covered is how to use the weapon in the seventh part.

Decoding SKD Training Sequence No. 1 – Part 6

The topic of how to use the 5 Tigers Descending Mountain is continued in the sixth part of the Training Sequence.

The use of the mid range 6-blocks is introduced here. You should practice the mid range 6-blocks separately to automate the movement of the hands in moving and changing smoothly between any of the six movements.

You should also extend the practice of the 6-blocks by studying how you can move between the long, mid, close range 6-blocks.

In this section we learn how to move from long to short range as we are using the Charp Chui. A second method to recover our position in the event our Charp Chui is intercepted is shown here. Practice this with caution with a partner as it may cause injury if you are not careful.

The series of three rapid strikes at the beginning of the section serves as an introduction to delivering rapid, continuous strikes. As extension of study learn the Training Sequence No. 2 which teaches how to strike continously from different angles and levels.

Decoding SKD Training Sequence No. 1 – Part 4

The fifth part of the Training Sequence examines the application of 5 Tigers Descending Mountain, a series of techniques built around the Charp Chui.

We also learn about the use of the long range 6-blocks. This is a series of quick movements of the hand to control and open up the training partner’s gate to a strike.

The long range and short range version of 6-blocks should be practiced alongside the fifth part.

The use of 5 Tigers Descending Mountain is predominantly at the long range here with the introduction of one technique to recover our range in the event the training partner is able to move in close. This is also the reason why we need to study the close range 6-blocks.

Decoding SKD Training Sequence No. 1 – Part 3

Moving along we arrive at the fourth part. The first technque covered is the Yum Chui which is practiced with lateral step.

The first level of skill in Yum Chui is the use of parry and punch with Yum Chui. This also trains how to line up the target, the biomechanics of generating power, how to punch like shooting an arrow.

A later level to focus on is how to step and strike as a response instead of having to parry, step and strike.

The second punch to be trained is the Chao Chui. This sequence is made up of two punches – Gwa Chui and Chao Chui. For the learning of basic mechanics of moving both punches are practiced as power strikes.

The next part of training is to use the Gwa Chui not just as a punch but as a clearing movement. For this purpose we can do the clearance forcefully or as a contact-pull-clear technique.

The third strike is the Sao Chui. The Sao Chui trains the body 6-harmonies in executing a power strike.

In Sao Chui we learn the importance of setting up before we try to strike. This is because a big circular strike takes a longer time to execute as compared to a linear strike.

To minimize exposure as we throw the Sao Chui we would set up the proper conditions first so that the training partner has a much smaller chance to hit us as we are moving in to do a Sao Chui.

Sao Chui is also an excellent vehicle to learn how to angle the body properly as we perform all the motions of this strike.

Chao Chui and Sao Chui are also practiced with a lateral step. Once we are familiar with them we will then add on diagonal stepping to the three strikes. We can then learn how to defend, avoid getting hit and then follow up by moving in to deliver our response.

Before we move on to sections four to six, we should learn how to use Yum Chui, Chao Chui and Sao Chui with the techniques in the sections that came before. In this way, even though we have less techniques, however, their combinations will expand our repertoire of techniques, basically being able to do more with less.