Singapore Tai Chi Chuan

Shenton Way Musings 2

Actually I should call this post MBS Musings since I had these insights doing work there over last weekend and this weekend.

Here are some additional observations :-

i) To push or pull a heavy object aligning the kua properly is the key. Once you can do this you should have no problem pulling and pushing with good power. Its really that simple

ii) Circling properly is the key to spiraling properly. So to master the ability to use spiral power first learn to draw circles correctly. Then learn to interchange from one to the other. I saw this natural phenomena of the wind blowing dead leaves in a circle for a while before the circle turned into a spiral. I took a video and might post it another time.

Then the spiraling became more intense before turning into a circle again and repeating the process. All this while the dead leaves weren’t blown away and was trapped by the swirling wind.

This is why to excel in Tai Chi bridge work to control the opponent’s arm in push hands using a variety of process a good understanding of how to use circling and spiraling is essential.




Shenton Way Musings

Last weekend I had to work in Shenton Way overseeing electrical works. Observing the electricians at work was interesting and below are some of the things I noted :-

a) If you want to toughen up you don’t have to hit the gym to lift weights or be a farmer. All you have to do is work as an electrician’s assistant, preferably the only assistant. In this way you will get lots of exercise to toughen you up amongst them the following :-

i) Loading-unloading work tools and carrying them up and down 8 flights of stairs can give you a good workout especially the legs and the lungs

ii) Putting threading on iron pipe is good training in getting the biomechanics of Step-up, Parry, Punch correct. Too bad I didn’t get a chance to video this work

iii) Cutting open thick cable is good for understanding control of strength because one hand is required to hold the cable steady whilst the other hand must cut into the cable carefully with just sufficient amount of strength or you risk cutting through the cable and destroying it

iv) Walking up and down is a good opportunity to practice walking with power

v) Climbing stairs is good workout for gripping and pulling strength

Today I’m over at the casino doing similar work and so more opportunities to engage in the above.

1 Comment

Fajing in Tai Chi

In another post, I mentioned about losing interest in Wing Chun fajing particularly the method of GM Tsui Seung Tin that I was once fervently in praise of.

GM Tsui’s Wing Chun power is said to be based on the use of intention. Interestingly, the Tai Chi method of GM Wei is also based on the use of intention. If such is the case then a display of the use of intention to issue power would be similar but is it really?

Below we can compare the fajing demo of GM Tsui from my other post to that of Xie Shoude, a former disciple of GM Wei who unfortunately was kicked out of the lineage. However, this does not mean that Xie has not learned anything. Take a look and see if both masters demo of the use of intention is really what each claimed it to be.



Big & Low

Had some fun exploring the use of big frame with my student until he said that from now he would try doing big frame more.

I said its not a matter of big or small, just that the objective is to get the principles right. After that its just a choice of expressing the art using different frames.

I also showed him how the low stances can be trained in big frame. If he had been paying attention to what he had been practicing all along the transition to doing low stances would be easy.

However, I know he is still not doing this particular posture properly and hence unable to extract certain value from its practice. So when trying to do low stances he couldn’t go low without sticking his butt out.

We do our Yang 108 form in different ways rather than in a fixed manner. Different stages of learning demand that the form be practiced differently depending on the demands of learning. To do the form using big movements and low stances is just part of the process of learning. Ultimately, the application at that moment in time will dictate which frame and stance would be the most appropriate.

Now Windows Essentials updated. Back to trying to complete the videos for TaijiKinesis Vol 3.


Despise the Perceived Unimportant Details 3

Whoever created the 5-Count that I learned from the Dong family style is really smart. Its simple yet good and robust enough to allow for the development of a whole range of skills. What was interesting back then was the discovery that this principle was unknown amongst the practitioners in the public class who weren’t taught by my teacher. These students were taught by normal students of the Dong family.

Perhaps because of this I continued investigating and practicing this principle rather than discard it once I thought I had gotten everything out of it. In hindsight that would have been a mistake. Fortunately, I knew better that to do so because my teacher had early in my learning mentioned that this was a secret teaching.

Well, if you ask me after so many years I would say that what the 5-Count teaches has been openly written about in the Tai Chi Classics. What is good about it is that it provides the means to learn the principles. Many practitioners would know or have read about the principles. Knowing does not equate to being able to do the principles. The major problem here is that you must have a way to learn the principles. Otherwise, you will just think you know what the principles are about when nothing is further from the truth.

This is what I told my student. I said that one move that he thought was unimportant taught a very important basic principle – balance, stability and control. Without it the rest that follows will not work so well. Its like building a house on ground that has not been prepared properly. If so, the house will be shaky and liable to collapse when stressed and pressurized due to ground or wind movements.

After the ground works have been established then the rest of Beginning Posture will enable the development of power. Otherwise, it will just feel like some useless movements that one has to do to jump into the rest of the useful movements of the form.

The next movement after Beginning Posture will act as a check on what was learned before. If the learning is shaky the shortcomings will show up here. Of course, in order not to scare or discourage the student too much normally I would allow him to go on. But if mastery and ability to use the techniques is important sooner or later we will come back to the ghosts of Tai Chi past.

So in this particular case study – why did I end up revisiting this very first movement of the form with my student. Part of the reason was his question in moving quickly. The other was due to his inability to control his punching movement in Step Up, Parry, Punch.

If you ask outsiders to look at how he does his punch he would probably be praised because it looks correct. But the problems will surface the moment tests of structure and power are applied.

A major reason why he is unable to move the punching arm in a particular defined way is because he is unable to reign in his automatic disposition to move his body when he should not do so. If he does move when he should not then he looks more powerful externally but the punching power is not penetrating, direct nor fast like a bullet.

So yes, the details that are perceived to be unimportant can come back to haunt you if you don’t pay attention to them earlier on. In TaijiKinesis we have a few ways to check that what we do is related to the basics. Otherwise, why bother with the basics. In fact, why learn Tai Chi in the first place if you can’t express the basics.





Despise the Perceived Unimportant Details 2

Should I smile knowingly or should I smirk?

Its amusing and its ironical.

My student asked me how I can move fast so easily. I said its a function of using the tailbone, basically Tai Chi Classics 101.

He seemed surprised to hear the answer and asked how to train it.

That’s when I said I had already taught it to him in the first lesson but ironically its the one movement he more often than not leave out when showing me his form.

See what I mean? Don’t despise the seemingly unimportant details…….


Despise the Perceived Unimportant Details

Have you ever experienced the following in your Tai Chi learning :-

i) Thought that the teaching that you have just heard is no big deal and no worth paying attention to

ii) Thought that you already know enough about the teaching and its a waste of your time to go through it with your teacher even though he looks as if he is expecting you to go through it

iii) Thought that you should be taught secrets that are mind-boggling and difficult to learn and that the beginner’s stuff is such a waste of your time


In many schools for the master to make money off you they have to classify the learning system. So in this sense beginners really do learn largely worthless stuff and they leave the good stuff to the advanced students. Even then the school may make additional distinction between normal student and indoor disciples to milk the student of even more money. I remember reading once of a Wing Chun master who claimed that his style was the true classical system from Ip Man. Then one fine day he decided to add 2 more sections to the dummy system and said that only the inheritor of his style could learn the additional two sections. If this wasn’t a means to milk students I don’t know what is.

However, if you examine traditional systems you would note that the basics really are the keys to the system because every system is built on basic movements. These in turn are stringed together to become forms. The forms are then explained and broken down to practice their applications until they can be used naturally.

A strong grounding in basics is important to learn advanced principles because the advanced stuff is basics refined. So if you can’t do the basics up to a certain level of standard then you can’t learn the advance material even if its given to you. This is different from a school in which they make you do a formal grading (read – pay more money) before you are promoted to a higher rank (read – pay even more money) in order to learn advanced stuff.

This sort of topsy turvy mentality is perhaps the reason why students keep thinking that the stuff I teach them on the first few lessons are not important. They keep expecting more and more advanced information, most of which when they hear it they start shaking their head when they realized the information is way beyond their understanding. In fact, one student told me that he doubted that the 5-Count can be used because it sounded too fantastic to be true. Yet, he had been on the receiving end of many a painful techniques that is built on the 5-Count.

However, I should not be surprised at his doubt. If he cannot use the 5-Count then he is entitled to his disbelief. I do note that when I tell him to work on things a certain way he could not do it nor follow up on them in subsequent lessons. He is still basically doing what he thinks he should be doing rather than the standard that I set as the minimum to be attained.

So until and unless he can do the 5-Count properly he won’t be able to use it. And it then becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy that the 5-Count is unworkable.

This is the reason why I refuse to have any ranking system. Because then a student who passed a series of simple tests would think he is entitled to learn more (read – more advanced forms) when he is still not ready to do so. A profit oriented teacher might let him do it but I think its wrong to do so. Until the student gets to a certain point he should just keep working on what he has rather than have more than he can handle.

One should never despise the seemingly, perceived unimportant details. This tells something about the student’s character. More important for the student if he does that he is sabotaging his own chance at making progress to master the art.




The Real Internal Skill? 6

I told my student that his rendition of Cloud Hands is wrong. Because of this he would not be able to apply the technique much less express the power.

He asked how to do it correctly. I had to sigh first before replying that the solution is to use the 5-Count as I have said many times. That his movement – the angling, the timing, etc – is wrong because his 5-Count is wrong.

Internal skills is developed from knowing the basics and then finetuning them. If the basics are wrong how then to get the skills. Students tend to have this delusion that just because they seem to get the 5-Count correct in a few movements they have mastered the 5-Count. This is so wrong.

To master the 5-Count means being able to express it correctly in each and every movement in the entire 108 form and then be able to use it in push hands. Anything lesser means non-mastery. Period.

The logic is if you have already mastered the 5-Count in a few movements then why is it that you fail to do it in the other movements? The answer is that you have not mastered it in the first place. I know that most of our ego does not allow us to entertain the thought that we have yet to master something so simple. Yet, this is the the truth of the matter. You can delude yourself but the reality will not change.

To wake students up to the reality of non-mastery sometimes the teacher must give them the room to make mistakes until they see the mistakes for what they are. Otherwise, even if the teacher points out the mistakes the student would not believe it and just brush over the comment. The student reading this might dispute it but their body language is unmistakable.

So going back to Cloud Hands the first problem is that the feet are positioned wrongly. The root cause can be traced back to …………… Beginning Posture! The arm-body positioning problem can also be traced back here. Thereafter, the problem with where and how to move the arms properly, when to step etc is a problem with using the 5-Count properly.



The Real Internal Skill? 5

I see a student transitioning between moves and dragging his foot on the ground. This is wrong because its a sign that his balance is not cleanly on one leg. This is a reason why he cannot move quickly when doing pushing hands and end up dragging his feet on the ground.

To be able to apply Tai Chi we want to be as stable as a mountain yet be able to move quickly like a startled rabbit. So if you are double weighted you might feel stable but you cannot move as quickly and adapt to swift changes in direction as you could.

Form training is to enable you to master this skill but the problem is that students tend to ignore this vital part of learning. Kung fu is not just about doing a few things correctly and the rest incorrectly. Kung fu is mastering every little bit that makes up the system so that you can do the art justice.

Many times students say it looks so simple yet broken down it is so complicated. When they say this I can see them losing their heart to learn at the sign of something more challenging. They seem to mentality drown, swamped by the details.

I was teaching some self defence strategies to a student through the use of techniques. You know I hate to teach self defence but for some reasons it has become more necessary for him to get up to speed on it. I have a caveat for him – knowing self defence techniques is not the solution because to make them work he would still need skills. So better not to kid himself as to his actual ability to use the techniques.

From my past learning I could offer him solutions such as jumping in with a punch and kick when the attacker comes forward with a stabbing knife attack. It might look dynamic and workable. The downside is if he misses his entire body would be open to getting stabbed repeatedly.

Blocking and then pushing the opponent’s arm back seem intuitive except when you play the role of the attacker you would realize how dangerous this is because it means that the attacker can still step back to regain his knife arm to start the attack again.

You might also think chain punching the attacker can put him down but when you push him back it basically reduces the impact power of your punch. These responses make for a quick fix and gives the student a false sense of security with takeaway techniques. Its fortunate that most students will never use these techniques for real otherwise I can’t imagine the look of surprise on their faces when they see the technique fail and end up paying the price with their life.

The best advice I can give is walk, better still run away if they see trouble. Don’t let the ego get in the way and try to be a hero even if you have really good skills because the unexpected can upset your apple cart.

If you must fight back then know what you need to do. As my teachers would say in an actual fight you need to be ruthless and so on and so forth, stuff that is politically incorrect to say. Don’t explain or show to the public the responses you would use otherwise you might as well stand there and let him stab you. Stupidity can defeat even real internal skills.



The Real Internal Skill? 4

Move forward, turn, move forward, turn, ……….

A week later my student said that the adaptation of this movement from the 1st section of the 108 is incredibly difficult to do even though it looks fairly simple. More so since he has practiced this movement as part of the 13 movements form for a few years. The part that gets him is where he has to minimize the outer movements.

The reason why we minimized outer movements is to enable us to optimize our use of the principles. I showed him a simple example – kicking.

Since he has learned Karate before he can understand this better. I wanted him to see the point that with his present use of biomechanics he cannot bring his leg up as fast as he could to kick nor kick with penetrating force with lesser effort. He tried to kick faster and faster but can’t seem to kick any faster.

If you cannot kick fast when you need to then the opportunity to kick the opponent will be gone quickly especially when his door will be open for only a quick instant. And when you managed to land the kick the power must be there otherwise you might as well not kick him because when the opponent sees you missing it will emboldened him.

Move forward, turn, move forward, turn……. its so deceivingly simple to do. This is what kung fu is about; the work that goes into making a skill look simple when its really not so straightforward otherwise there will be a lot of masters running about.