Singapore Tai Chi Chuan


No Longer Cheap

I had durians last night. Pretty tasty those udang merah type were.

I saw the price tag per packet RM43 but 50% discount after 7 pm. Converted to Singapore dollars this would be about S$8.

Considering that in Singapore a packet could cost S$10 suddenly durians in Malaysia weren’t that cheap any more even with the 50% discount. That the majority of durians in Singapore are imported from Malaysia makes it even more ironical.

Some might say the udang merah type would be very expensive in Singapore. Maybe but still RM43 for about 6-8 seeds doesn’t seem that cheap to me. So lucky those in the know are aware of this lobang to get durians at 50% discount.

Anyway, I am going to stop complaining about this since more durians are coming tonight. Just be thankful and eat.

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Grass is Greener

Lately, I hear a lot of grouses from Singaporeans about so many topics. Funny thing is when I am in Malaysia people tell me how much more worse off they are and how they would take up Singapore citizenship in an instant if they were to be offered it. These are the middle class people whom I would think have no reason to want to leave since they have already spent more than half a century of their life in Malaysia.

Amongst my friends who live in Singapore many want to retire in Malaysia. I wonder if they have kept in touch with the reality of life there today. Years back I can say that food is good and cheap. Today, this is no longer the case. Food is much more expensive and not necessarily as good as it once was. Somehow that Wow factor that is reminiscent of my childhood food memories is practically gone.

One of the nights I was on the way home from the funeral parlor and cannot help but notice that the streets were deserted, devoid of people and cars. I was told that people do not want to go out at night due to the high crime rate. There is this unease in the air, a sense that crime would be visited on one if the guard were to be let down even for a second.

Originally, we wanted to hold the funeral at the columbarium but told that it was in a remote area and chances of robbers walking in to rob the money collected for the funeral was very high. Or if the robbers don’t come in they would wait along the road and wait for you to come out before laying an ambush. You know what, when I first went to the columbarium to buy a place to put my father’s ashes I remember seeing a guard’s baton hanging there. So this wasn’t mere talk.

So we next thought perhaps holding it at home is better as that was what my friend did for her father’s funeral. She said that a guard came with the funeral package to keep watch throughout the night.

Anyway, whatever I wanted to do was out of my hands since it was a done deal by the time I was back. The funeral was held in town. My friends who came was surprised that the funeral employee didn’t ask us to leave by 10 pm as this part of town is no longer considered safe as there were cases of robbers walking right up to the person collecting the funeral money and sticking him up. I couldn’t believe my ears. Even the dead is fair game to robbers. Whatever is the country coming to?

I can’t help but lament the town of my childhood. In those cases I could ride a bicycle at 11 pm through town and there were still a lot of traffic. I felt safe then. Today I have to keep looking over my shoulder, prepared at an instant to visit violence on any criminal who tries to prey on me. Anyway, we left the funeral parlor at 11 pm and everyone left at the same time so that no one would be left alone and became easy prey for robbers.

However bad Singaporeans think the country is I wish they would come live in Malaysia. Then they will know what bad really is. Someone told me last night that when she visited Singapore for the first time she was surprised that she felt safe walking about at 4 am in the morning. She said that she didn’t feel the need to clutch her handbag tightly. Not that this would help because I was told that some robbers would come up behind the victim and bash him with a motorcycle helmet before robbing the unconscious prey.

I won’t be mention some of the other undesirable stories. Its just too depressing, that a bountiful and beautiful country should come to this. In Singapore when friends find out that I have taken up citizenship their response is nonchalant. Over here, everyone who heard that I gave up citizenship here gave me the thumbs up and wished they could do so too.

Sometimes, we don’t know that we are blessed until we one day lose it. I guess this is the only way for some of us to appreciate what we have. I am not a card carrying party member of some political party. I too have my grouses with the government but compared to some they seem like angels. I cannot erase this part of my life but I do wish that the relevant parties would get their act together for the greater good. I know its wishful thinking but to have some hope is better than none.

The grass always seem greener on the other side. The reality could be very much different from one’s perception. 


Naturalizing the Skill

The one constant in the practice of Tai Chi and playing push hands is change. If you are caught in a fixed position then you will end up resisting.

This is where the importance of knowing the form thoroughly comes in. If you really have learned the form well and practiced it to the point where you are free of it then you will always be able to find a position of change. This is in accordance to the old saying that if you are willing to give in to others, wherever you face will have no peer.

This is not to say that you are invincible and invulnerable to knives and spears. It is merely stating that if you can find a way to change then an opponent will have a hard time finding your centre of gravity and be unable to control your balance. So if they cannot control your balance then they will have a hard time trying to defeat you.

During Easter recently I spent time with a student watching some videos. I showed him Artisans Reboot particularly the episodes on mee sua, pot making and rattan furniture making. These three episodes were the best in the entire series and have good lessons for those interested in learning a skill. For the Tai Chi learner it was interesting to observe body movements and their relationship to the principles of Tai Chi.

My student had no problem catching the things I pointed out since he has spent enough years learning Tai Chi to have a certain degree of understanding. The important thing now is that he be able to incorporate them into his movements as if its the natural thing to do. Then his kung fu, the skill rather than the style, will be good.

A reader might ask how to naturalize the skill. As I would tell my students use the form to train the skills. At this juncture some might wonder if this is true as they do not feel any significant difference in their skills after practicing the form for years.

The root cause here is that the student is just going through the motions rather than actively practicing the skills. Waving your hands about is not doing Tai Chi. Doing Tai Chi means to ensure that every movement you make contains a number of principles within them. These principles are brought alive using intention and are compatible with physics. The movements are also multi-layered, containing different learning principles at different times in your learning journey. This means that at different times in your learning the way you do your form should be different. If it is not, then you are either playing a form devoid of skills learning, you are taught a fixed way or you have not practiced enough to make significant progress.

You must then keep practicing the form, constantly seeking to fill in the details until every movement you make has a reason behind it and the movements are interrelated in a way consistent with the principles. This is called knowing the rules.

When you know the rules then your teacher must now teach you to bend the rules. This means you know learn how each movement can be practiced in different ways by varying factors such as timing, angle, speed, strategy, etc. For example, I would teach beginners how to do only one version of Step-Up, Parry, Punch. An intermediate level student would learn how to do up to three versions of the technique. An advanced student would then take the three versions and practice them in a way that an outsider would not be able to discern easily which version he is expressing. The advanced student would also learn how to issue power for each of the three versions of the technique.

The next stage is then how to break and remake the rules. The student at this level would learn the core principles that are always present in each and every movement. Actually, this information has already been taught to beginners but at that stage they would not realize the significance of the teaching. The advanced student would understand the importance and significance of complying to physics in their execution of the techniques because this essentially is akin to fulfilling the principles of Tai Chi Chuan at a certain level.

After going through the three stages the student can now play the form in many ways. You can now say that the student truly embodies change in his playing of the form. By highlighting a principle more, changing the strategy or issuing a certain type of power he can change the way he plays his form. Tai Chi to him is just Tai Chi rather than X style Tai Chi, Y style Tai Chi or Z style Tai Chi. Yet when he has to make a certain point he can then express certain principles more to render his expression as X style, Y style or Z style.

There is still more to the journey of the student but the above is what is required to master Tai Chi.


Mortality 3

Time in a small town is slow, oh, so slow. However, the days of the funeral was quick and its over before I know it.

On the grounds of the columbarium a statue of the goddess Kuan Yin stands quietly in solitude, calming the minds of those thrown into emotional chaos by the visit of Death itself.

KuanYin

 

However, life and death is but part of nature’s cycle and we shouldn’t try to hold on to what is impermanent. Breaking out of the cycle of reincarnation and going home to nirvana for eternity is a good thing.

As an economist its interesting to observe the workings of the business of death at close hand. Most of us might not think of it this way but there are many skills required to handle funeral arrangements. Some of these skills seem simple and straightforward such as knowing the ins and outs of what is involved and being able to answer questions in a firm, definitive manner.

Other skills are physical such as chanting prayers in a singsong manner to lead the departed to the next world whilst executing appropriate hand, arm, leg movements in a skillful manner does not seem as easy as it appears to be. I observed what appeared to be stomping with firm power, posing consecutively in a left / right seven star stance while matching with hand gestures and changing into a single legged stance next plus other sequences. Circling walk around the coffin was part of the ritual and the priest appeared to walk normally but in following him realized that it was only deceptively slow.

The rituals of death has been greatly simplified for today’s modern Chinese society. Its a marked contrast to how it was say 20 years ago. I remember that a long time ago death was messy, noisy and dirty.

Today it is clean, efficient and easy to follow. Sometimes traditions are good to hang onto but for the traditions of death modernizing is a good thing. Whilst death and the practice of martial arts may not seem to have that much in common we can draw parallel lessons from it. The old can be good with many valuable lessons but at high risk of being lost if not transmitted.

However, even if it were to be transmitted without the right person to receive the information the old will still be lost. So statistically speaking for a style to survive it should be taught to as many as possible if only to increase the probability of it surviving for another generation.


Mortality 2

Previously I wrote a post on Mortality.

This week I am reminded again of mortality particularly how the Grim Reaper can appear suddenly and whisk the living from this world. Again, I cannot help but think that should that be me one day I would not want to leave with unfinished business.

The chanting of the Buddhist prayers can be calming yet somehow the thoughts intrude that finality may not be finality and could perhaps be brought into the next world and on to the next life. Maybe this is how sometimes people feel that they have some unfinished business from a previous life. Of course, this brought to mind what my Tai Chi teacher told me that I sought him out perhaps of an unfinished learning in previous life.

Life can be wonderful, strange, melancholic and depressing all at once amidst the constant refrains of Amitabha. Funny how these thoughts can invade the mind amidst the loud Buddhist chants. Suddenly here, suddenly gone.

Death can be final. For me not today. But for my father, his life has come to an end this year, this week. Rest in peace.

 


Something to Chew On 2

In the original post I mentioned observations from watching the video. Whilst we avoid fights in which the odds are naturally against us it does not mean that we should not learn to deal with it since there are times when avoidance is impossible.

Push hands can be a useful learning tool for understanding how to handle strength and pressure. To walk away with useful lessons we should avoid doing shoving matches in which the bigger, stronger and heavier person has the advantage. 

Instead, we should learn to apply principles and strategies that maximize what we have. We should also use techniques that does not put us in the disfavor of the law. For example, picking up a person and smashing him on the ground is spectacularly effective but makes you come across as the aggressor and using excessive force. If the matter goes to court and there is a video of the fight you will look bad in the eyes of the law.

Typical push hands holds many lessons in learning how to roll with the force, borrow it and return it to the opponent. The problem begins when techniques fly out the window in our obsession to push our partner far away. Going back to the video you can see why a shoving match is not a good idea what with obstacles around; yes you can push him into a window but don’t think you won’t get cut too etc. If one thing I learned is that the fight doesn’t just end there. If the law gets into the picture or the other guy drags you to civil court those battles will be a lot harder to fight and no Tai Chi skill will help unless you happen to be a lawyer. Otherwise, I would use push hands to train responses that makes me look like the victim, responding passively to the provocation whilst the reverse is the case.

A taller, bigger and heavier person naturally comes off looking like a bully when compared to a smaller, shorter and lighter person. Its the interaction dynamics that will then indicate to us who the aggressor is. So if the viewer can be made to see that the bigger person is acting aggressively then he will naturally be labelled the bully even though when the incident is seen as a whole that might not be the case. So in this case if I were to see just that part of the video where the taller guy is walking menacingly towards the guy in orange I may naturally assume that the aggressor is the guy in black. Actually, without a proper investigation I still have no idea what the full story is about. The thing here is that black is not always black nor white always white. The actual story could be a shade or perhaps multiple shades of grey.

Coming back to push hands, the handling of strength is a function of physics in use. Maximize your strengths whilst minimizing your opponent’s advantages should be our natural strategy. It sounds difficult and it is because this does not come naturally to us. This is where the form comes in to recondition the way we move and push hands is where we learn to use what we learn in the form unless we somehow got sucked right back into another shoving match in which case we will never be able to use our Tai Chi in a real situation where your opponent may not just shove you around. Or possibly there is more than one opponent in which case if you spend too much time locked in a shoving match or perhaps too engrossed to notice then a second opponent may creep up to attack you. You can see in the video that though we see two main protagonists the supporting actors aren’t exactly passive.

This is why in practicing Tai Chi if you just go through the motions then don’t be disappointed if you cannot use the art. To apply the principles of physics you have to understand how moving in a certain way versus another can activate the physics of the technique. And don’t become obsessed with fajing because knowing how to fajing without knowing how to open up the opponent’s defences is knowing only half the story. My contention is that you need to use a lot more strength to strike someone who is anticipating you. If you can make him lower his defence you can use a lot less effort for a more spectacular result. Ergo, Tai Chi should teach you to be smarter not dumber to rush in like a mad bull and try to gore your opponent because if your opponent turns out to have matador-like skills you may lose.

 


Guessing

Words unsaid welled up and for a moment nearly gushed out.

But then a pause, a thought and he remembered.

A moment ago I reminded my student that the first time I taught him Grasp Sparrow’s Tail years ago I had mentioned the point specifically to him. His reaction was probably to deny it but he caught his words and then he remembered.

What was more interesting was him saying next that he didn’t think that it was that important since after all it was just basics. I corrected him by saying that advanced skill is basics refined. Besides, I have said a few times at various periods that the very first things taught are the most important. 

It’s never too late to realize one’s folly. The only thing is whether this would be a lesson permanently learned or just in one ear and out the next ear.

The moral here is that if you want to learn then learn and not try to outsmart yourself by second guessing stuff that you are taught.