A Healthy Brain

Interesting talk from Wendy Suzuki, Professor of Neuroscience and Psychology at the New York University Center for Neural Science!

I used to learn long Tai Chi forms which indirectly trained my mind to observe and remember. Then I learned Wing Chun.

When I went back to Tai Chi I had a problem learning long sequences and complicated movements again cause Wing Chun movements are so simple they basically made my mind lazy.

So one way out is by writing down, recording audio or video. This sounded like a good idea except it is but another exercise for the mind to be lazy.

One year my Tai Chi teacher said its time to stop writing notes and do recording. Instead, I should just rely on observing and remembering what I saw there and then, imprinting the lesson into my mind.

It was tough in the beginning but after a while it became easier. And you know what, learning this way is better than trying to remember everything. When you have notes you then to copy what you see, you become lazy to think.

As a result, you just become another monkey seeing, copying and doing. You shouldn’t do that. You are an intelligent person, you should exercise your brain, your creativity and grow from there. Think of it as exercise for the mind.

Sometimes we exercise the body and forget the mind, and sometimes we remember the mind but forget the body.

The remedy that Dr Suzuki mentioned at 10:05 could very well fit the one thing I am working on this week for my test. Let’s see something to do 3-4 times a week, 30 minutes per session, get the heart rate up – that’s basically what I did. One round of the sequence to be tested took about 11-15 minutes. So do it 3 times and it will fulfil the criterias mentioned.

And yes, you have to train yourself to remember the sequence to be tested. You have to understand how the transitions go, the why, examine them to make sure they flow smooth.

You also have to be mindful of what you are doing even as you step on the accelerator, cause sometimes when my mind wanders the stick may come too close to me and graze me. This is more so when going fast like the speed below :-

In this sequence we have to do the entire sequence under 60 seconds. With some training it is highly possible but the first time I did it I took more than 60 seconds.

With practice I got the time down to 53 seconds and this week I did it faster at 49 seconds. But guess what, I am still slower than one of our instructors, a lady, who did it at 37 seconds.

One round of this at a fast and furious speed would get the heart pumping, not to mention the sweat literally pouring out of every pore.

The older I get the more I should exercise. The objective to be healthy till the day I lie down, sleep and never wake up.

Complementing SKD with Kali

The body movement learned in iKali’s jab / cross combination is a good complement to SKD training.

If you have a problem getting the body to move when doing Sao Chui try working on the iKali jab / cross and see if it helps you to improve your Sao Chui.

The video below explains how we can just use the same body movement with either iKali or SKD techniques :-

This body movement is versatile. Put a blade in the hand and it works just as well.

Nice, huh?

Seeing Things Internal

Maybe its just me who is seeing it.

Maybe its my background.

But after practicing stick drills and how to throw a jab / cross the Kali way I feel that they offer a good alternative method to train the body mechanics we typically use in the internal Chinese arts.

When I first learned Kali I tried to bring my background into it. Its not a good idea as it prevents me from seeing things clearly. So I tried to train Kali as taught by Tuhon.

After learning and training for some time I am starting to feel that a rose by any other name is indeed a rose. So yes, I have not heard Tuhon use the term internal in Kali. I guess its a good thing cause everyone who does Tai Chi seems to go crazy when they hear the term and this prevents people from seeing things clearly.

In Kali body mechanics are used too; in fact just like any other good arts regardless of culture. Its inevitable when you see more similarities than differences at a certain stage.

In doing jab / cross we don’t just parry the opponent’s punch, we also have to move out of the way. Moving out of the way requires me to move side to side.

Coupled this with learning how to put the body behind the stick when we execute a slashing movement and we end up with body mechanics that are really reminiscent of what is practiced in the Chinese internal arts.

So when I put two and two together I get this internal-ish flavor. The clip aboves below is me seeing things that maybe are there, or maybe not.

When I do the parry followed by a jab or a cross sometimes I feel like a monkey waving its arms. See for yourself. Is it any wonder Kali kinda feels internal too. This doesn’t mean its the same for everyone else, just me.

In the end I think its not important whether its internal or not. The real question is whether it works for you or not.

Shock Pulse Power

Concentration of power. That’s what Tuhon Apolo calls what we would term as fajing in Chinese martial arts.

There are different ways to generate power to suit the delivery method. In Kali if you practice basic strikes daily with the sticks you will acquire power in your empty hand strikes. You don’t really need to understand why though its not hard to do so. You just need to do it.

In fact, you can establish a baseline by checking how strong you can deliver say a palm strike. Then do another check once you have practice striking with a stick for 1000 times a day for 7 days. If you have an old tire you can strike that would be better.

Concentration of power is what we term as Chap Jung Lik in Cantonese. For example, one of my Wing Chun teachers said that hitting with the tip of a long pole is devastating because it is like hitting with a harden phoenix eye fist. A phoenix eye fist is powerful because the power is concentrated onto a striking tip.

In Tai Chi we think of power generation as a shock force impulse. If we use a long duration impulse then the shock would be greatly diminished. Such an impulse is good for demo where you want to send your partner flying over a distance.

In Grandmaster Wei Shuren’s Tai Chi prolonged training in the form teaches us to use a short pulse as well. However, this short pulse is unlike a sudden, whipping external movement that we would normally associate with the term “short pulse”. Below is an example of what a short pulse power generation would look like :-

Some might look at this and think the strike is not powerful. If I add in another trigger mechanism into the fajing process the result will look better :-

Even then this demo is toned down. A properly delivered short pulse power will not send the person flying back. Instead, he would just kneel on the spot in pain. I did this once to show a skeptical person. After that I understood why GM Wei stopped such demo ever since he nearly injured someone fatally with it.

In Tai Chi we don’t just concentrate the power. We also focus the mind in that we have a specific mental target, a mental process, stuff we do but after years of training the many steps have basically become just one step. At this stage the fajing becomes easy. That’s why we don’t need elaborate steps to do it; no getting into a lower stance, no chambering, no asking the partner to stand still.

I’ve been thinking over the question of how does one teach this type of shock pulse fajing in a shorter duration. Would it be possible to break it down into a number of easier to learn steps? One main issue with learning it currently is that if the student is not good at visualizing and feeling in his body what his mind is visualizing then learning will be a struggle.

Will keep this in view for now.

What Is & Is Not

What is Tai Chi?

Different people define it differently just as different people will use it differently. There’s no single consensus as to what Tai Chi is.

Sometimes you get a vague definition of what Tai Chi. Or sometimes an incomplete idea is used to define Tai Chi like saying that a car is a wheel but then bicycles and skateboards also have wheels.

The more I research, the more I learn, the more I read, the more confusing the picture becomes. It might seem to become clearer but when you really practice it and especially try to use it then the reality does not do justice to the ideal of what Tai Chi is supposed to be.

The Tai Chi Classics provide the framework of what Tai Chi is, that is, if you believe that they are true. Some believe in parts of it, some deny it and some like me just wonder if we are missing something here. My teacher said that the Tai Chi Classics is a record of the experiences of those who have gone before.

Good except what is written still does not seem to make a lot of sense. Well, maybe some parts do but many parts don’t. Some sound nonsensical, some I can’t wrap my head around. You would think that since I am learning Tai Chi I should be able to understand what the various writers mean but I don’t, not for a long time anyway.

Below is one of those demos I do during lesson to explain and show what our approach to Tai Chi is :-

After many years of hunting for the elusive it that is the Tai Chi written about in the Tai Chi Classics I believe that the Yang style Tai Chi of Grandmaster Wei Shuren comes closest to it. I can actually make sense of what the Tai Chi Classics mean after practicing the style!

If some of the things in the Tai Chi Classics don’t make sense to you it can be because :-

a) Their model is different from your model

b) What they wrote can only be understood once you reach advanced level

Based on what I have observed I would say that if you can’t understand the Tai Chi Classics it is very likely that your model is not the same, maybe some parts are the same, but in some critical parts not the same. So the parts that is not the same is like a path that takes you in a different direction hence you won’t see the sight you should see if you take the path that is written about.

So if you want to understand the Tai Chi Classics find the path that leads you to understand it. A question is why should you want to understand it?

The reason is because if you understand the Tai Chi Classics it is a means to confirm that you have attained mastery of the principles that exist in those days. Remember that being traditional is not simply about your master learning from master Z who learned from Master Y……. all the way back to Master A, the founder. Being traditional means have the same understanding and mastery of what Tai Chi is from as far back as we can trace it. The writings serve to give an informal confirmation of this.

Why I put this video as an example is because if you examine it closely you would notice the lack of attempting to root or spiral or breath in-out. Yet, there is a tangible force that can be felt and issued to affect the person receiving it. So how can this be performed?

Some might feel that this is nothing but a trick that is not practical. I treat it as a means to illustrate the workings of the intent. When the intent is used with normal movement the intent can amplify the physical movement. An example is shown below of the use of Push Energy with a strike that can fit easily into a normal application that calls for a punch :-

The above should give an idea of what is not the Tai Chi that is written about in the Tai Chi Classics.

What is the Tai Chi that approximates the Tai Chi described in the Tai Chi Classics is harder to pinpoint, not without a lot of effort in sleuthing to find this elusive animal. Or sometimes luck just dump it in our lap.

What is missing in the Tai Chi Classics is the how to do it method. Perhaps this is deliberate because the objective of many martial arts text is to serve as a reminder rather than a how to practice text. There many subtleties and nuances in actual practice that is difficult to describe. This could be the reason why few Tai Chi texts go into any meaningful depth. Those that do, such as GM Wei’s books, tend to fly over the head of most readers. Despite practicing his style it still took me many more years to make sense of what he wrote about.

When the many that purports to be the mainstream fail to explain, then the obscure no matter how little known it is could well be a path that leads us to the destination we want to go. So sometimes we need to empty and scrub our mind of preconceived notions of what is and is not Tai Chi to allow ourselves to see when we finally glimpse it.

The Kua & Winding 3

The Sau Chui is like a tight diagonal whipping strike.

This is necessary to minimize our exposure as we are striking with the Sau Chui.

If the angle of the Sau Chui is too near to horizontal it is easier for the opponent to block.

The diagonal, near vertical movement also allows for easier connection to the kua.

The Kua & Winding

The kua has an important role in Sau Chui.

Aside from being part of the power generation process, the kua enables us to swing the Sau Chui quickly and stopping it at the end of the movement without causing us to lose our balance.

In order to do this properly we must learn not to do unnecessary movements like swaying at the end of the Sau Chui.

The Kua & The Power

This is a basic sequence we use in SKD to train the kua.

The kua is worked through the stance and controls the movement of the arms to convert kinetic to potential to kinetic energy.

This is a fundamental movement in the generation of power using a combination of compress, release, swing, whip, float, sink motions.