Singapore Tai Chi Chuan

Uselessness of Power

Having power is good. But if you have good technique you can disrupt your partner’s attempts to generate force or apply his power against you.

This is a 2-way thing in that what you can use against your partner can be used back against you. So you need to be more exact in how you do the technique and apply the power. Then only will your partner find it difficult to fight you off and he can take a trip backwards to make friends with the wall.

After several years, the intermediate training must emphasize the principles learned earlier. This is when the strategy of piercing leg, leaning stroke, angling, positioning etc, stuff from the form must be brought out to play. A good place to test them out is doing push hands. If it does not work then your training partner can help you to understand why.

A shoulder stroke can be a very good technique or it can be one in which you end up eating a knuckle sandwich. So do not underestimate the importance of proper positioning. Once you are in the right place any attempts to counter your technique will see your partner placed in a more precarious position.


Buffalo Strength

Spent bit of time seemingly trying to bulldoze each other during this evening’s training session.

That’s what it looked like to an onlooker. However, the whole exercise was a workout for the waist and legs to develop a type of kneady resistance; the type some might consider to be buffalo strength.

But it was really an exercise to train the waist and the legs to control the partner’s effort to apply his technique and power. By using our waist and legs in a pliant manner we can control him and continually frustrate his effort to generate power.

As an aside I used this exercise to explain how a famous master can withstand the pushing power of a sumo wrestler. I asked him to relook again the video and observe the key points that we used in our exercise. Its there in the video of this master. What some may call as a good display of internal power, I say its a skillful application of physics in motion.

By the end of the night, my student had worked his waist and legs hard and can expect to feel sore tomorrow, anyway, until he learns to relax sufficiently.

The Rabbit Hole

The rabbit hole that is the art of Tai Chi is frightening. Many want it but ask them to commit and jump into the rabbit hole and they run scared. Well, can’t blame them. What is intangible is difficult to appreciate. So you can’t really ask people to commit to learn something they have little idea of though they may think they know a lot about it.

Sometimes, its better to go through different experiences before one can appreciate an old man’s art. So its the case with a former, brief student, A, who came back after 4 years. I remember a person stout in body from MMA training. But the passing of years can lead to changes and it was a thinner, less muscles and much wiser person who came back.

I enjoyed listening to what he had gone through what with MMA and WC training. Injuries can lead one to grow up quickly and reassess one belief system of short term practicality versus long term health. Its a trade-off for sure and the choices made today can either mean living with daily pain into old age or enjoy health. Its not a difficult choice once one has suffered some injuries that sidelined one’s practice. I anticipated this a long time ago hence my obvious choice to give up WC and move on to Tai Chi.

Quite a few interesting observations and conclusions were reached by A of his MMA training. One of which was a trade-off between refined control and cruder movements. Yet another was the ability to flow and respond without thinking versus a more restricted, albeit short term practical approach. Basically, I see it as what one wants out of the learning and whether one prefers short term versus long term results.

It was also good to hear of A’s visit and learning from my old classmate, MS, down under. To hear that MS told A to keep doing whatever it was he was doing after adjusting his WC structure was interesting. A told MS about learning from me. I wondered what MS’s reaction would be if A had told him that he only took 4 or 5 lessons.

We talked about a few other things and its time to go finalize dinner. So I have to end this here.

Busy Times

Its been busy times this 1 week plus. As such, though I have topics to write about I simply can’t find the time to do it.

Anyway, what’s new?

Well, for one I think my student’s playing of the straight sword is still too xingyi-ish. Too many start / stop sluggish movements, heavy stepping, imprecise sword movements. I find myself repeating again and again to go slow, lighter on the cuts, relax and whip rather than heavy chop like a butcher hacking bones; need to be nimble on the feet, footwork to flow like a river rather than the stomp, stomp stepping flavor of an elephant.

I find that his intention and awareness keeps breaking. When he should keep strong awareness he doesn’t, not enough anyway. I showed him that with a sword if your awareness is not there you run the risk of walking into a thrust or a cut. He really needs to slow down, examine the details of where and when to move.

Without careful study he still moved too much when stepping to neutralize. As a result, he either typically loses the range or still remain within the danger range without realizing it. And without a heightened sense of the range he can only respond with an obvious technique which can be detrimental if faced with someone more skillful. The lack of refined control also means that he cannot access less obvious, hidden techniques one of which I showed him can cause the opponent to walk right into the tip of the sword.

Yeah, man, busy times. Got to get up now and go do the cooking. Renaissance man, blah…..





Healthcare Cost Incentive

You know what would be an incentive to train Tai Chi more diligently? The cost of healthcare.

For a number of cases that require hospitalization once you are discharged you just pay the hospital’s cost which is already quite high. But if your case is one of those that requires care such that continued hospitalization is required in a community hospital then you better be rich or pray hard that you will strike lottery tomorrow.

The cost of a month’s stay in a community hospital can go up to 12K easily. If you managed to get a subsidy you might think that its cheaper.

Yes, so it is but it still runs to 5K a month. And the cheek of it all…… the community hospital wants you to send along someone to help take care of the sick person. When you think of it even if you employ two maids it will still be cheaper.

So, there you have it. The money and time you spent on learning Tai Chi might one day save you a bigger bundle in hospital bills.

Oh, you might think that having insurance will cover it. Yes, let’s hope so too because insurance companies are in the business of making money too and they will try their best not to allow your claim. I have a saying about insurance coverage”Die You Win, Live You Lose” because if you continue to be healthy you are making the insurance companies more profitable. But if you fall really sick or die then you or your descendants can claim on it. What a way to enjoy the benefits of insurance huh?



Its a Long Way There

Learning Tai Chi is a long journey. If one is looking for fast food Tai Chi then our way is not for you.

The main problem is not so much giving you some drill that you can use to develop and add on to the muscle mass of your body. Were it were so then Tai Chi would be easy to teach.

The dominant obstacle is that your mind is unable to control your body especially those parts that are under subconscious control. I can tell you to let go of your strength but your perception of letting go is to collapse. Clearly this is wrong. This is why its impossible to impart Tai Chi in a big class if on a 1-to-1 basis it is incredibly difficult to make just one person understand how to do it correctly.

Transmitting Tai Chi involves a lot of hands-on coaching and coaxing; slow, patient inducing of the body to obey the mind through feeling and choice of words to impose control. Over and over again until the mind starts to be clear about what is to be done and the body starts to obey. Even then its easy to relapse back into old habits within 5 seconds.

For example aligning the body using the legs is a simple, straight forward topic. Yet it seems to be difficult to move the legs into the right position. Why? Can’t see what is happening or can’t understand what is happening? This is why I say not to underestimate the learning tool of using the 3-points and 5-points. The simple something is the higher the chances of it being despised and dumped to the side. Yet when one fails to project out the power the roots inevitably can be traced back to the failure to master the 3-points and 5-points comprehensively.

Yes, its a long way there, to the top. This is why don’t learn Tai Chi if you are the type who gives up too easily. And if students think the 3-points and 5-points are difficult to learn then just wait till they get to the advanced forms, one of them which is the 22-form which is passed down by Grandmaster Wei as shown in the video below :-



The Lessons of Li Shiji

Li Shiji.

Until two nights ago I did not know who this is. Now I do.

Li Shiji is an opera teacher and performer who was featured on a CCTV program on Peking Opera. I happened across the program and it was enlightening. Here is a someone from an old tradition with a non-traditional, enlightened outlook that we should learn from so that we can improve our martial arts practice. Some things I walked away with from the program :-

1. Li described her training as a opera artist. The beginning skill was to walk with a piece of paper held between the knees. The knees were not supposed to separate. She could only walk in half steps. Does this sound familiar to Wing Chun and Tai Chi practitioners? It should because the knees held together reminds me of the requirements of the goat clamping stance of the Wing Chun style.

2. Li also spoke of the training to keep the neck straight by first placing a heavy book on top of the head. This was later replaced with a big bowl. Finally, as the skill increased the bowl was filled with water. Li said that at the stage of training with the bowl of water even a small wobble would cause the water to splash her face. Taken together with the info on walking with a piece of paper between the knees does not both these requirements remind one of the flavor of the Wu / Hao style?

3. Li addressed the problem of dwindling audiences particularly younger audiences. She talked about how she made changes to opera performances to attract younger audiences but her efforts were criticized by critics who labelled her avant-garde and seeming to praise her by calling her opera style New Cheng School.

However, it was hiding a dagger behind a smile because the critics were actually criticizing her and wanted to marginalize her. This reminds me of how Grandmaster Wei was marginalized because the principles that he presented to the world was too advanced to be understood by other more famous masters. To avoid behind questioned and conceal their ignorance they had to marginalize him, push him to one small corner where they hope he will be forgotten. And if this fails, to make baseless accusations. Yes, politics even in a different field of arts are still the same.

4. Li said that Premier Zhou Enlai told her that to be a good opera singer one needs a good teacher. The problem amongst many Tai Chi practitioners is that they equate good to famous but this is not true. A good teacher may not be a famous teacher nor a famous teacher a good one. So until and unless students recognize this they are basically condemning themselves to be mediocre practitioners.

5. Li talked about the song Spring Dream which was a simple but beautiful melody that she was to sing in a competition. To prepare for the competition her teacher Mr Cheng sang it to her again but this time the emotions of the song was very different from how he had taught it previously. Why was this so? Cheng explained that he modified the original tune by adapting ideas from the Xun school of singing.

Li explained that as an artist Cheng was seeking perfection. To do so Cheng did not impose boundaries on his own learning and hence he would learn from all schools. However, he did not blindly copy outside ideas either. Instead, he would carefully make these outside ideas his own so that outsiders could not tell that he had copied from outside and accuse him as a betrayer of his school. As Li said “so you should absorb the best things from others while maintaining your own identity”.

This is a surprising statement from a teacher of a traditional art. It is also strangely reminiscent of what Bruce Lee said. So whilst Bruce owned the soundbite, however, he was not the first with such an outlook. In fact, many traditional styles, or at least, the well known masters, do have this outlook. It is only their shortsighted descendants who want to put them on a pedestal, worship the master and happily lap up the knowledge given out without critically scrutinizing it.

6. To improve one should as Li said take the principle out, bring the principle over and use it. She said that Cheng showed her how to make subtle changes to the way of singing the tune. As an innovator Cheng didn’t believe in drawing lines across the sand. Casting prejudices aside he was opened to different ways of doing things. Tradition is good in so far as the knowledge that is passed down is sound.

However, many times the tradition and lineage is hollow. One can spend a long time learning and still get minimal returns, if at all. To be loyal is commendable. But to be blind to the obvious is plain stupid. One must recognize that which is good and hold on to it. That which is not should be discarded. That which is lacking one should seek to make up for it.

In a traditional art one must be prepared to put in the time. If the training is correct one will get something after a period of time training the art. It is no use rushing the learning because certain things just cannot be rushed. Ten years is a good gauge. If after ten years of training you have little to show for it then I am afraid you have wasted your time.

It is too easy to despair, to give up before even trying hard. It is also easy to fail to see the good points of an art especially if you have not done more than dip your toes in the water. Neither is it fruitful to have doubts straight off the bat. A teacher does not owe the student the information. Many times it has to be either paid for or earned. In today’s world where the internet has conditioned us to think that many things are free it is easy to fall into a trap of thinking that the free info we get is good. It may not be so and more often than not we fail to recognize the difference between good and bad.

In a number of arts if one really wants to learn the commitment must be there. No teacher wants to waste time with a student who just wants to spend little effort, offer no commitment, import the method into his own style before he even understands it much less master it and then call it his own. This is different from two masters exchanging knowledge because then the interaction is on a par level.

It is too easy to share nuggets of info with someone and they mistakenly think that after a short time training they will get it. More often than not this is an illusion. The nuggets of info can only get one so far. To truly learn one has to be taught formally whether it be in the form of organized drills or forms. Then after mastering the basic movements one still needs to be taught how to refine the movements to elevate the understanding and transfer the mastery to the ability to use the techniques. It is certainly not a short journey. With a talented and diligent student the learning process can be quickened somewhat because he is willing to listen and try things out instead of always thinking that he knows it already and insist on doing his own way which if it is correct in the first place would mean that he should already have mastered the art. That it is not, should indicate so to him except that when one is blind to one’s shortcomings or refuse to recognize it then one can only blame oneself for the failure to master the art.

So to successfully learn an art, one must put aside the ego and be prepared to learn, practice, research and open to different ways of doing things. This is what I took away from the documentary on Li Shiji.