Singapore Tai Chi Chuan

Sword Dance

Spent a lesson focusing on using straight sword partner practice to refine understanding of space control by controlling range, using footwork, harmonising, pressuring etc. with my student.

It’s times like this that the lessons learned in the first emptyhand form comes in handy. So for example if you still don’t understand how to use Rollback then you can expect to be cut and poked.

Since the straight sword is not a power-based weapon sensitivity, deftness of response and trigger quick reflexes are more important in being able to use it.

The by-product of this type of study is that your ability in push hands will also improve in time when insights are generated and you make the connection between the study of weapons and emptyhand techniques.

As with the study of the long form your understanding of the straight sword form will be tested when you engage in this training.

The Right of the Wrongs 4

I challenged my student’s assumptions of learning Tai Chi Chuan and he turned around to bite me by asking if what I said is the case why can’t he do Step Up, Parry, Punch with a half step.

I said indeed why not. Then he took another bite by saying that he had asked previously but I said that he should not do so. And yes, that indeed is the case too.



I said that for beginners there is no point to doing Step Up, Parry, Punch with a half step despite the obvious benefit. The reason is that simply if a beginner cannot even connect the punching arm properly to the lower body when moving less what are the chances that he can do so when moving more.

But for a more advanced student the story is different. Once the body is connected doing a half step has its benefits. This is why we learn the Yang long form to understand basic connection, the straight sword for more refined connections and then we do the Wu / Hao form in which the Step Up, Parry, Punch is done with a half step and not just a slow step but a speedy, fast one. This is not to mention that one mastery is there one can do the technique in a few more other ways.

So there is a method behind the madness. But alas, today’s students are impatient and thinking they are smarter than even the teacher with the proliferation of information out there on the internet. However, it is not without reason that traditionally it is said that an old timer would have eaten even more salt than a young pup.

In TaijiKinesis we don’t ask the student to learn blindly or even worship the ancestors in a cult-like manner. In fact, normally I don’t even want them to know who the ancestors are because it is too easy to fall under the spell of worshipping the ancestors and enslave ourselves in the process. Like some of my teachers would say the ancestors are the ancestors, they have nothing to do with us. No point blindly worshipping them unless you can do what they can do.

Otherwise, sure it is easy to claim that one is the disciple, blah, blah, blah of a famous master but if one’s skill is not there then it would be a great shame and bring dishonor to the lineage, more so if one tries to be smart and is shown up in public by another lineage. And if this shame is accompanied by video proof then it is a pity and the entire lineage is tarnished.

It is easy to claim that a wrong is a right by continuing to make claims and teach despite one’s shortcomings because as PT Barnum would say a sucker is born every day. If one thing we should be smart about above all, it is not to fall for such things. This is why it is important that the student’s assumptions be constantly challenged. Only then would traditional Chinese martial arts survive into the future.

The Right of the Wrongs 3

In everyone’s mirror they see a nice version of themselves. No one sees themselves as flawed even as their eyes observe the contrary. Yet, if we refuse to see reality we cannot change our shortcomings for the better.

My student insists that he is sticking to doing a movement the right way, the way I taught him. I pointed out that it is his perception that he is doing is the right way because from where I am standing seeing it he is not doing it the right way. In fact, he is doing what my own teacher used to say about my learning – discarding all the good things and retaining the bad habits.

The great thing about learning Tai Chi is that a lot of things, at the beginner’s level anyway is objective in that the principles lead the way. As long as you observe them you are right and the movements will mirror the correctness. Lose the principles and the movements will come off funny even as it seems correct to the beginner. If there are still doubts they will no longer exist when put to tests of structure and applications.

So the moral of the lesson is if you want to master Tai Chi Chuan find the right amongst the wrongs. Don’t be afraid of mistakes. Make them. Learn from them. Open up your mind to possibilities. Observe the principles, never lose them and never change them unless you can still retain the overall picture of what the art is. Yet remember that even as the techniques are expressed differently the principles remain the same. This is what is meant by the phrase that all Tai Chi styles are but one family.


The Right of the Wrongs 2

My student is exasperated because I am telling him what seems to be conflicting things to his ears.

I teach all students………..beginners particularly……… one way to ward-off because I want them to understand how to rotate and spiral the arm. In this manner they are able to connect what they learn in Beginning Posture.

However, I also point out that our GM Dong does not do it this way in his video of the long form. So whilst a student may be comfortable hanging on to the beginner’s way of rotating the arm it should not stop him from exploring and learning why GM Dong did it another way. After all, how would the student at present, in the future a teacher, answer to his own student’s query one day in the future about the difference in how we move the arm.

Thus, the beginner’s way is obvious, logical, easy to understand. However, the advanced method seen in GM Dong’s way challenges us to refine our movements without compromising on the principles. Yet if we are afraid to try it we will never move beyond our present limitations.

Without knowing our limitations we will have a hard time moving beyond the parameters of our art and remain trapped forever at this level. To the brave, once a different and more challenging aspect is understood we not only see a different alternative, we effectively experienced a paradigm shift and move onto a different level of mastery.

At every step as we challenge our learning paradigm we effectively learn the rules, bend them, break them and remake them. This is how we can master Tai Chi Chuan.

The Right of the Wrongs

To progress in the study of Tai Chi Chuan we need to learn methods that will yield positive results. However, learning the correct method does not mean that you won’t make mistakes in your learning.

On the contrary, our own learning shortcomings mean that however we like to avoid mistakes we will always make our share of mistakes. So rather than try to run away from mistakes we should recognize this learning problem and embrace the mistakes as long as we learn from them.

The problem starts when we refuse to admit that we are making mistakes and see what we do as correct even when its wrong. This is why its important to adopt a Zen mind when learning Tai Chi in that a mistake is a mistake, learn from it and move on.

As much as we don’t like it the stark reality is that mistakes are part and parcel of any learning. In fact, the student who makes his share of mistakes and learn from them will come out the better in the long run even though in the short run it may seem that he is wasting his time. The reason why I can spot students’ mistakes so easily is because I have made more than my fair share.

Another area that we should not be afraid of is questioning our learning. One way of questioning is by exploring what we do. To a beginner I would normally show one way to do a movement, to an intermediate level student another way and to an advanced student yet another way.

This sounds terribly confusing but then Tai Chi is an art, not a science cast in stone. If you don’t explore and ask questions sometimes you will miss out on valuable insights that will open the way for you to master the art.

Paul’s Learning Journey – Commentary on Video of 17 Mar 2014

I have said in the past that with the right instruction mastering Tai Chi Chuan is not impossible.

Take a look from 0:20 from Paul’s latest clip :-


Go back to his clip yesterday :-

Now go back to his very first clip on 10 Mar :-


Wouldn’t you say that there is a difference between seven days. Of course, Paul did all the hard work hammering at it morning and night. My role is just to facilitate his learning by pointing out the fine details that need to be worked on to get the improvement.

I have sent Paul another short advice on how to improve today’s performance. If it pans out he can move on to the next set of movements.


When the Time is Right

Paul is having a hard time trying to coordinate the turning of his waist with his right foot. Its not a difficult thing to do but sometimes when you don’t get it you just don’t get it. Things that some see easily can be difficult for others to see. I think its the way our brain is wired. But at least Paul recognizes his problem from his latest post.

You can’t force learning. You can only keep working at your mistakes and try to rectify them. When you have put in enough work then it should pay off when you tip over to doing it correctly. I am not saying this for the sake of it.

I have a student who wants to know how to use Tai Chi Chuan for self defence. I have shown him various ways to apply the art but its too early for him to get it. I mean he couldn’t even do the form in a way that will fulfill the minimum requirements of the principles.

On the other hand, another student who has followed me for a few years has seen his persistence pay off. Last week I showed him how to execute certain techniques with power. At first he couldn’t get it. So we kept at it for a while longer. Soon he was able to get it and he can see for himself when he hit the metal post with a light tap and see it rattling away.

This type of light tap doesn’t look powerful but the angle, the coordination and the body behind it makes the tap painful. A bit more effort behind the tap and it can knock the breath out of the person struck. Its no magic, just the result of working on correct principles over a period of time.

This is why sometimes you can’t force yourself to make progress. You just have to trust what you do and keep working on it until you get it. This is not the same as asking you to blindly do something. You should never do something without understanding why you do it. When you do it with the principles in play the rest will reveal itself once you get it.


Paul’s Learning Journey – Commentary on Video of 12 Mar 2014 Part 3

Paul posted yet another video. Let’s take a look….

One thing about learning is that one must be careful not to throw out the previous things that one has learned properly. For example I noticed that Paul has gone slightly backwards in his Beginning Posture movement. Instead of making his movements less obvious as he refines his practice he has actually gone the other way and made external what was previously more internal. I post a video I made before so that he can observe the one I meant.


With his latest video, he has still not nailed the connection down. It is a symptom of what my teacher used to call anyhow move.

Also, Paul raised a question of turning the foot. Basically, it is not whether I turn the foot more or you turn the foot less. Rather, it should be why did I turn it the way I did. What’s the principle? What’s the reason?

If the reader were to read the Intention for GST (i) – (iii) on page 139 I have already described a way to get the turning correct. It is not all there is to it but if you carefully visualize it you would catch the point.

Paul’s Learning Journey – Commentary on Video of 12 Mar 2014 Part 2

Here is a follow up clip from Paul after I commented on the clip that was in this post.

To date, I have looked through all twelve of Paul’s clips on attempting to get the first Grasp Sparrow’s Tail movement correct.

He’s managed to eliminate the robotic-like turning fairly quickly but now is stuck on getting the principle of empty-full down pat. This has resulted in a rigid lifting of the toes of the right foot off the ground subtly and gently. But it is good to note that he has eliminated more of the rigidity in the clip above.

The key to nailing this illustrates to us the importance of details. If you don’t know how to do it exactly it’s going to be an uphill battle. However, even knowing the details won’t spare you the work. There’s simply no running away from it. I wrote about the key principles and the use of 5-count in TaijiKinesis Vol 2. Those are the key details and mind tools that must be used to learn the movements of the form. One must catch the relationship between the theory and description of how to perform the form in order to avoid just waving the hands about meaninglessly.

To return to GST (i) – (iii) one of the reasons why Paul couldn’t transfer the weight so smoothly from his right leg to the left leg can be traced back to the very first movement of Beginning Posture. This was when a key principle which is used throughout the form was introduced. So though the Intention for BP(i) on page 128 seems simple there’s a lot going on once you really go through the practice. I highlighted this point under Qualia for BP(i). Thereafter, BP(ii) describes the process as clearly as I could put it into words though reading it is meaningless with practice to feel what the words mean.

In short, a good grasp of the mental control required to empty the weight and shift it cleanly is essential. Otherwise, one’s balance will come off awkward and requires more effort to move about. You cannot minimize effort if every movement involves more motions than is necessary.

Hence, one shouldn’t practice blindly but constantly question what one is doing. I know many fear to question what is perceived to be the orthodox way to do things. However, without daring to challenge one’s belief system one would not achieve the insights necessary to make a breakthrough in training.

The logic is outlined clearly in TaijiKinesis Vol 2. However, one must still read carefully to catch the central message. It is too easy to think you know what you are reading when your assumptions could be way off course. So constantly pay heed to the details because they are the keys to solving the puzzle of the form.

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Paul’s Learning Journey – Commentary on Video of 12 Mar 2014

This is Paul’s 11th video attempt to get GST (i) to (iii) correct.


Overall, it seems acceptable. However, in learning TaijiKinesis we have set the bar higher so it is still not there yet.

Looking over the past few videos a difference can be observed for the bigger movements. We are concerned not just with this but also the smaller, fine details which is why Paul is still struggling to get this correct.

1st Attempt


2nd Attempt


3rd Attempt


4th Attempt


5th Attempt


6th Attempt


7th Attempt


8th Attempt


9th Attempt


10th Attempt