Singapore Tai Chi Chuan


Energy cannot be destroyed. Hence, when doing push hands we have to listen to where this energy is going and provide an outlet for it. Once this energy is neutralized and no longer threatens our balance we can channel it back to the opponent to overcome him. This is what is meant by borrowing strength.

The key question is how do we create this outlet. The commonly seen response is to turn the body or sit back. This is not wrong. The problem lies in the sometimes excessive turning or sitting back that is disproportional to the energy received. This is why such training cannot be transferred to the use of fast striking exchanges.

To address this we use the 5-count mechanism which allows for a much faster response due to a more subtle chain of movement. The shorter response time is hence transferable to defending against strikes which calls for a much faster reaction and response time.

Interestingly, my student found that the 5-count mechanism can also be used to chop wood when he had to do so as part of daily chores whilst staying in a monastery recently. The 5-count is a mechanism that allows the body to generate a lot of power through the body whilst showing off minimal external movements. This is a closer approximation to what an internal art should be rather than the excessive huge movements that is marketed as internal.

Don’t Xingyi-fy the Stepping

My student previously learned Xingyiquan. Hence, even in playing the Tai Chi Chuan straight sword he has heavy, stomping footwork. Its not bad if its used to deliver power in emptyhand striking.

However, for straight sword techniques a heavy, stomping type of footwork will only slow him down especially if the particular straight sword technique calls for quick twisting of the body to avoid a long weapon and swiftly move in to counterattack whilst adhering and preventing the opponent’s weapon from countering and escaping.

In playing the straight sword our footwork must be nimble, flowing and enable us to perform the techniques suitably. It is useless to have long reaching footwork if it brings us too close to deliver the called for stroke. On the other hand when the cut calls for a long reaching footwork then we must be able to do it.

There are some movements that has stomp-like movements but the stomping is silent because if its loud then it would be like applying the brakes and then stepping on the accelerator again. A good stomp should be able to do the job of delivering power yet not make us foot-tied to the ground and unable to continue moving with minimal hesitation.

This is why I don’t encourage wide-stance training in the first solo emptyhand form that the student learns. Otherwise, he may feel powerful when the reality is that he has reduced his mobility. A good stance must cater for stability and mobility. Thus, even in the particular straight sword technique in which the body is twisted the power must still be present or we can be knocked over by a side sweeping movement of the long spear.

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I am not finished yet with the Defining the Internal series of posts. The approaching Chinese New Year has been keeping me busy and uninspired. Instead, today I will write about mindfulness in Tai Chi Chuan straight sword training. This is something I taught to my student.

Playing with a weapon is different from playing with fists. With emptyhand strikes you can make mistakes, be hit and keep going. However, if you are using weapons its a different story. A real weapon can injure you if you make a mistake. Hence, the training bar needs to be set higher. This is one of the reasons why I don’t like to use training weapons because of the false sense of security generated will dull the learner’s awareness of the danger.

One very important point in weapon training is that one should not rush. When you rush through the movement you will leave the sense of mindfulness and awareness behind and this can be fatal. For example, a straight sword is a flexible weapon so if you block a straight thrust and then quickly move in to counterattack without the sense of danger you may find yourself running into the tip of the blade that you thought you had just avoided.

To learn about this principle I used this section from the straight sword in which the movement calls for turning the body to avoid the opponent’s thrust, defend against it and counter thrust. This is the simple version of the explanation.

A better explanation calls for us to manage the distance such that when the opponent attempts to attack we re-position ourselves and offer the tip of the blade for a rushing opponent to impale himself on. If he is too far off then we just cut his arm. It is only when the opponent is moving too fast into our space that we opt for the blocking option.

So you see, with the correct distance management the better options for counterattacking are not even obvious. These hidden attacks are much faster and more direct. If we were training with wooden swords, blunt swords or padding on the body then the opponent will possibly lower his guard along with his sense of danger and charge forward only to run right into the hidden counterattacks.

The lesson learned from this section of the Tai Chi Chuan straight sword can also be translated into emptyhand techniques.

Tai Chi Chuan weaponry training is beneficial for students who are interested in using the art for combat. If they just learn push hands and shove each other around all the time the moment they face an attacker with a weapon they are likely to do the same and deliver themselves to danger. This is why our training philosophy is we use the art the way we train it.






Defining the Internal 6

I start off this post with an excerpt from the  article Jin training in Baguazhang :-

Many famous masters had strong hidden power, such as the bagua master Liu Fengchun, and the xingyi master Guo Yunshen. It was as if both of these masters had ‘electricity’ in their arms, the opponent would be launched away regardless of whether they were attacking the opponent or whether the opponent was attacking them. Stationary palms [ding shi zhang] are the main method used in bagua to train hidden power. Each posture, if combined with specific visualisations and practiced correctly, can produce hidden power. For example, in the first posture, ‘pressing down palm’ [xia an zhang], both hands ‘press’ downwards as if on a ball , with the arms rounded as if holding a large balloon. Posturally, the requirements are: relax the shoulder, press the elbows out [song jian cheng zhou]; hollow the chest and round the back [han xiong ba bei], hold the head as if suspended [xu ling ding jin] and the upper body should be slightly turned towards the centre of the circle while you walk using mud-wading step [tang ni bu].

When teaching about using the internal method to my intermediate level students I also told them about the use of the intention to imagine that his arms are holding something round like a sphere. So you see, in a true internal art the use of visualizations do exist. I am not inventing stories here.

If your Tai Chi Chuan style claims to be internal but do not teach how to do something similar you have to ask why if you are serious about picking up internal skills. Just doing the common things like leaning forward, lowering your level, pushing the rear leg off the ground do not really an internal art make. A true internal art is much more precise and sophisticated than that.

In a previous post I put up the drawing below.

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You can that its not just a matter of holding a small sphere in your hand in your mind. There is a level of precision associated with how to use the small sphere to attack the opponent. Its not just about issuing the power and it will work. If anything, issuing power is only part of the story. The other part is about how to use your intention in tandem with the Small Chi Sphere to attack the opponent. This is what the internal is really about.



Defining the Internal 5

Continuing from the previous post.

So what’s the big deal about Tai Chi Chuan? Is there something so extraordinary about it that it enabled Yang Luchan to make an impression in Beijing ages ago; an impression that still have people talking about it today? Not to mention getting people gaga over conspiracy theories about the Yang family teaching watered down art to the Manchurians, lost fast forms, secret fajing methods, under-the-table practice methods, longer long forms, modified forms, etc, many of which seems plausible but when you think about it the only thing to do is raise an eyebrow and say “….seriously dude?

Let’s take a simple example – teaching a modified art. I have seen this in some arts but if you show something that your student have never seen before you basically have a few excuses – its an advanced skill, the technique is in the advanced form which you have not learned, etc. If it contradicts something that you have told your royal patron before what do you think will happen? So yes, you can teach a watered down art but in those days you would have to be really careful not to show your real art. However, I wonder if Yang Luchan ever accidentally showed off something that he never wanted his Manchurian employer to see. I think it would be difficult especially when meeting a challenge in front of the Sixth Prince. This is why in our lineage it is said that Yang Jianhou did teach the proper Yang style to the Sixth Prince. What happened to the Sixth Prince after he learned it is something I do not know.

Then you have all these stories and speculations about secret and lost fast forms. I wonder if people who make such speculations have their heads screwed on the right way. Fast form – that’s the secret Yang family art? Really? I wonder if people who say this know that you can do the typical Yang Chengfu 108 form in a fast manner…..

And then you have the secret, solo posture fajing practice….. Those who make such claims are basically insulting our intelligence. Even if the Yang family never taught it you can easily find out about doing movements faster to fajing by simply observing arts such as Bajiquan and putting two and two together.

I have seen an article about those under-the-table, ultra flexible practice of the form. I have seen a picture of an old man posing under the table. I wonder if he was posing or he can still actually play the entire long form at a slow speed at that age under the table. I know really young kids have no problem doing so due to their flexible young bodies. But a mature man in his 80s still doing that? Really? Just this week my student came back from holiday and again he did his form with his knees really low and I told him that if he did it this way for 5 minutes he probably won’t think much about it. But try doing it for an hour and the pain would surface.

Modified forms, shortened forms, excised techniques, simplified techniques, etc makes up another popular theory train for why Yang style Tai Chi Chuan today is no longer what it once was. By extension of the argument a form that is more complex, has more movements etc would therefore fit the bill of an extraordinary Tai Chi form that Yang Luchan once practiced. Proponents would claim that this would be the Chen style that the Yang family practiced behind closed doors. I think there is no argument that Yang Luchan learned from Chen Chang-hsing. What is not clearly established is whether what Yang learned is the same Chen style forms we see today. So the argument is still up for debate in the absence of conclusive evidence.

All the above arguments have played out in other styles of martial arts. So its nothing really new. They could also be various, valid ways to realize the art. But they do not explain the one simple question of what makes Yang style Tai Chi Chuan, at least as practiced by Yang Luchan and his son, Yang Jianhou the extraordinary art that it was, such that even Yang Jianhou shared the nickname of Yang the Peerless with his father.

I’ll stop the post here and give the reader time to digest what I have written. I’ll also go and do some practice.

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Defining the Internal 4

At UFC 168 ex-champion Anderson Silva lost the fight to the defending champion, Chris Weidman. I think if you ask people who saw the actual fight, viewed the video or even just heard about it you will get a pretty accurate and graphic description of what happened.

I’ve read the stories of Yang Luchan but frankly speaking I don’t really see what is the big deal about what he did that would have earned him the moniker of Yang Wudi literally Yang the Peerless. This is quite a lofty nickname, a hat so big that no sane, ordinary master would want to wear it because it would attract people who are eager to see how really peerless you really are and whether you deserve the nickname unless it was bestowed in jest.

At that time when Yang Luchan carved out his name I am sure there were great masters of other famous styles that were around. Having investigated some of the other well known styles in Beijing then and examining what they have today I have to say honestly that Tai Chi Chuan pales when put side-by-side with these other styles, a number of which are considered internal styles too.

At times I can’t help but wonder that since a punch is but a punch regardless of styles due to a human body being a human body why should the approach of Tai Chi Chuan be any different. In fact, having seen a number of Tai Chi styles I can only conclude that any difference is likely to be superficial. If you want to talk about stomping for power like what is in Chen style then Bajiquan has it, if silk reeling then Yin Yang Baguazhang’s version of spiralling is not inferior and if you talk about Chin Na many styles in the North too have it. If you want to talk about gentle expression and sudden fajing then styles like Dai Family Xinyi has it too.

So pray tell me what is the great deal about Tai Chi Chuan?

This is just one question. The other question I have is what makes Tai Chi Chuan an internal art. Again, when compared with the other arts of Xingyiquan, Baguazhang, Bajiquan, Xinyi Liuhe, Dai Xinyi, Piguazhang, etc. really I have to ask what do we have that they don’t have and better?

Sad to say, my conclusion is that what these other arts have are so much better than what we have in Tai Chi Chuan. That is until the day my senior first brought up the name of Wei Shuren in a letter. That was the beginning of the unlocking of this confounding puzzle.

OK, its time for an early dinner. I have to go do the cooking now. Will continue this another time.

Defining the Internal 3

To be internal means much of the art of Tai Chi Chuan exists in the mind of the practitioner. The nuances of the art is not readily observable in solo practice though the intention phenomenon can be felt through expressions of usage and fajing. I suspect this is why many practitioners are so obsessed and fascinated with the topic of fajing.

To the majority of practitioners they tend to settle the wrist when issuing power because they feel that this can focus the power. However, the result is more like trying to smash or ram the wrist / palm against the opponent. This is why many advocate tensing the wrist to avoid injuring it. Whilst many call this the internal way, I view this more as an external method of fajing.

To be internal means that one must conform to the relaxation principle even when issuing power. With the right principle you don’t have to tense your wrist because the objective is not to ram your wrist / palm against the opponent. Instead, the internal method of our Tai Chi Chuan calls for us to impart a force impulse that travels into and through the opponent.

However, if you read this and wish it to be so it won’t be so. You must use intention to train your body before it can be so. This is a difficult training because it is largely in your mind. Take a look at the picture below. This is a sequence from Grandmaster Wei Shuren’s 22-Form’s Beginning Posture. What do you see? Just some hand / arm movements right? Nothing much that is internal here or so it seems.

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Until Grandmaster Wei revealed the hidden art of the Yang family Tai Chi Chuan to the world no one would have guessed that in the training of Beginning Posture his intention has both his palms holding a Small Chi Sphere. The thing about the Small Chi Sphere is that they are not there for Chi Kung purposes but for fajing usage!!!

I have read of other styles of Tai Chi Chuan talking about spheres, circles and so on but little explanation that borders on the internal. So your hands are holding Small Chi Spheres. So what? Anyone can imagine they are doing so. Even if they don’t know about it previously now that they do they can copy this practice too.

Yes, so they can. But until they can actualize the Small Chi Sphere such that it can be used then they are bluffing themselves by thinking that in copying us they are being internal. There is a method behind the madness of the Small Chi Spheres which Grandmaster Wei revealed to the world as shown in the drawing below.

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Even then knowing how the Small Chi Sphere is to be used does not mean you can use it. You have to transform yourself through the internal method, rid yourself of the external, then your body will be able to use the Small Chi Spheres. This is the part that is difficult, not only in the practice but in that the typical learner resists the information, refuses to believe its possible and in doing so it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy and the art truly becomes impossible to master.

The internal method of Tai Chi Chuan is real. But to disbelievers it might as well be fake. Man can have unbelievable talent and skills but knowing everything that is possible or impossible is not one of them. There is still much that we do not know of ourselves in spite of the advancement of science and how the mind shapes the body in motion to fajing is one of them. I know proprioception is another popular buzzword but it is inadequate to truly describe the wonders that defines the art of Tai Chi Chuan. Let us not lose this treasure of mankind through our own shortcomings and smart alecky know it all attitude.