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.