Singapore Tai Chi Chuan


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Book Cover

Had a funny conversation this afternoon at a work site.

My customer said he saw my FB page and asked about what I did.

Then he said I didn’t look strong so he was curious if I had the power.

Ha, ha…. muscular power no but force….

I banged my forearm against the metal railing a few times to demonstrate what I meant as it was a noisy environment.

Then I asked him for his arm and gave it a light tap with my forearm and he yelped in pain. He was surprised that I could dish out that type of hurt.

Moral of the lesson – never judge a book by its cover.


Old & Soft

Its an odd question.

Over the past month at least two students have asked me for my age. They have this doubt that mastery of Tai Chi can only be by old people. Just because I didn’t quite look like my age they are skeptical and so had to confirm that I am indeed old.

One student commented that he noticed that a number of masters seem a lot stiffer in their latest videos as compared to that taken a few years back. So when I didn’t feel stiff or look rundown to him he had this doubt that I am not older.

The thing about the practice of Tai Chi is that it should rejuvenate you rather than sap your energy and wear you down. This is what being pre-heaven is about. If you look haggard and tired from Tai Chi practice then you are practicing it the post-heaven way.

Lately, I saw some Tai Chi push hands practiced in the post heaven manner on the page of a Facebook group. You can see the practitioner try so very hard to push his training partner out. He nearly fully extended his arms, leaned forward at a steep angle, the forward leg’s knees went beyond the toe line, the rear leg thrusting straight and hard against the ground. You can see which video I am referring to in the second post Old & Soft 2.

If you do Tai Chi in this manner you are going against the principle of using 4 ounces to overcome 1000 pounds. Not only that but you are also not applying science to what you do. It seems odd to me that for the claims of secret movements what the practitioner demonstrated was anything but worthy to be termed secret. It fell short of even the most rudimentary model of force which you can read about in any physics textbook.

To practice Tai Chi in a way that conserves your strength and leaves you rejuvenated with energy and cultivate soft hands you have to rigorously apply the models of physics that relate to the generation of force. I am very surprised that for all the talk of being scientific less than 1% of the Tai Chi I have seen are truly scientific. Most of them are downright crude or pseudo-scientific with models and methods full of holes in their arguments. This is why I tell students to do themselves a favor and buy a good physics textbook to read. How many will really listen I have no idea. I can only bring a horse to water but not force it to drink.

When you do push hands in a strong manner in the mistaken notion that to do so is building a good and strong structure of 1000 pounds that can withstand 1000 pounds then I can only shake my head. The undisputed truth is that you may be able to build 1000 pounds but if your opponent is say 2000 pounds you will still be crushed by him. Due to size differential it may be impossible for you to develop 2000 pounds of resistance. So following this logic you will always lose to the 2000 pounds force person.

The principles of Tai Chi exhorts us to borrow the strength of the opponent to defeat him. If you work on the idea of developing 1000 lbs of force then you will fail to understand or even use the model of borrowing strength to defeat strength. So the practitioner that I observed in the video is from a school that advocates this approach of developing 1000 pounds. If you see the video I think you too will sigh and be surprised that bulldozing can be considered good Tai Chi.

To develop the model of borrowing strength you need good and sensitive structure, something along the lines of a geodesic dome but much more simpler in order to maintain its practicality. This is not something I made up. If you read the Tai Chi Classics carefully you will find the information there. This type of model enables you to be soft yet robust and can withstand strong pressure without collapsing or having to resist it. Any resistance is for the purpose of borrowing the opponent’s strength and when the necessary and sufficient conditions are in place you can fajing with minimal effort, the 4 ounces to overcome 1000 pounds principle literally coming alive.

Because you use little strength you won’t wear yourself down and actually feel invigorated after practice. I cannot say for others but this is what I have discovered after practicing the Tai Chi method that is handed down from Grandmaster Wei Shuren to my teacher.

 

 


When the Time is Right

When the time is right its easy to get it.

If you try to do it too early on fajing is difficult to do.

However, when the principles are in place, voila, the fajing comes easily and it seems almost unbelievable that one can do it.

The next step then is to make it naturally part of one’s movement, just like talking, eating, walking etc.

 


Outcomes

Another piece of wisdom from the Zen Master, Bernie Glassman in The Dude and the Zen Master :-

And its constantly changing. That’s why it makes no sense to be attached to outcomes. Only how do you not get attached to outcomes?

 

This is good advice that can be applied to doing push hands. Just go with the flow. Don’t try to impose or force an outcome. Or as Jeff Bridges said in reply to the above :-

Just throw that fucking ball. Just do it. Get into the thing, see where it takes you.

 

Simple advice, isn’t it. Yet, how many times we insist on using more strength, even throwing up tons of excuses as to why we must learn to use more strength so that we can win the shoving match instead of just letting ourselves go with whatever the outcome is, actively feeling the opportunities and when a suitable one comes along slide into it, trap the training partner’s movements, control his space, his ability to respond and his balance, and before you know it he has given up with you barely using much to do it.

In short, help your training partner to help you checkmate him.

 


Get Outta Way

You don’t have to push then – Come on, we gotta do this! – thinking that otherwise its not going to get done. Its more of a moving out of the way than trying to muscle it through. – Jeff Bridges in Chapter 6, New Sh** Has Come to Light, The Dude and the Zen Master.

I love this book. I saw it in a book shop months ago. Picked it up. Put it back.

Another time I saw it again. Picked it up. Browsed through. Put it back again.

The third time I saw it was in Borders in Westgate before it closed down. OK, who can resist a discounted book. So, why not buy it since I have been thinking about it but couldn’t make up my mind. So the lowered price tipped my decision to buy.

Finally, got around to reading it when I was hanging around the community hospital. Man, this book has gems that can be applied to Tai Chi practice. So that sentence is one of them.

Students have this mentality of wanting to resist otherwise its not practice. However, if they but relaxed and empty their mind they will find that they will easily move out of the way of pressure without expanding more than the minimal amount of energy required. As Bernie Glassman, the co-author of The Dude and the Zen Master said further in the same Chapter 6 (Bernie’s the Zen Master in the title) “Imagine if you’re sitting there as part of the band and you say, I’m gonna play these chords no matter what the other guys do. It kills the whole thing.

In Tai Chi push hands we call this not listening to the energy of your training partner and trying to do your own pushing around. This is a meaningless type of practice. Whilst you might feel gratification from shoving your partner around you gain little in terms of learning to listen, understand what you are listening to and acting on it at the right moment.

There are some other gems in the earlier chapters but I don’t have the time to write about it. Gotta go do ironing. Yes, its domestic work that many real men hate. But in Zen if you keep your awareness and concentration even in doing ironing you can learn a lot about the principles of Tai Chi.

 


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So What?

Yang Luchan was great.

So what?

Ip Man was great.

So what?

Lots of masters, dead or alive, were or are great.

So what?

We seem to have this obsession with masters. Why?

Does knowing the greatness of a master translate across into skills for us?

Yes and no.

If you ask me I would reply more often no than yes.

Some students like to ask me for opinion of this master and that master. Honestly, speaking how good a master is can be a case of relativity. But seriously I am not as interested in how good a master is as opposed to what I can learn from him and whether that learning can lead me to getting skills.

Masters can be like clothes in that not all sizes are suitable for the respective body size. So like buying clothes I seek that size which I can wear comfortably.


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Habanero

I looked at the packet of habanero chili. It’s not that big and ugly. Despite reading about its reputation for heat the actual habanero chilies before me didn’t faze me.

That is until I actually tried one and yikes!!!

Once upon a time my schoolmate saw Master Leong demonstrate a low side kick on me from afar. He said it didn’t look impressive.

I said why not go and try it for himself. He walked over to Master Leong. He came back and said that standing on the receiving end the kick was faster than when he was looking at it from the sidelines.

Moral of the story – don’t jump to any conclusions before actually trying something out.

Yesterday someone commented that a particular master didn’t look impressive. Now I know this master from way back and saw him gain control of another local master who had 10 years on him in Wing Chun. So I would not say he is not impressive.

But I can understand the sentiment when looking at this master’s more recent videos and comparing them with the private footage that I have. There could be reasons for this change but I am not going to speculate.

Again, like eating the habanero one might not be able to stand the spiciness whilst another may find it tame. So sometimes it’s pointless to pass judgement on people or things we have not tried before.

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