Singapore Tai Chi Chuan

Learning Tai Chi


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Brush the Dirt

I had to suppress the urge to laugh.

Each time I landed a kick on my student’s chest he would brush the dirt away. What he was not able to see were my slipper’s prints on his T-shirt.

I wished he could see the futility of brushing the dirt off because no matter how often he did it the slipper’s prints weren’t going to come off soon. But they did look like part of the T-shirt’s picture.

And not only that I wasn’t done yet with the kicking. Today’s after breakfast I was in the mood to talk about the use of the kicks from the Tai Chi long form. This was part of the incentive to get my student to do better in his practice particularly the mastery of his control of balance during transitioning between one movement to the next in Cloud Hands. I had spotted his habit of telegraphing his movements each time he changed and this was bad if he were to be able to apply the technique properly.

The same control of balance applies to the section on kicking in the long form. The ability to kick fast and hard can be helpful. But kicking is one of those things that either you can do it well or you cannot. And if you cannot then you better not use it. If you can then the force delivered by kick is a lot stronger and penetrating than that from punch or palm strike. The force of a kick can literally pierce the heart.

Another problem I brought up is that one must not try to hard to kick because it will retard the speed and force of the kick. The proper way is to use the 5-Count to get the body into position before delivering a kick that is like a flash of lighting.

So each section in the long form has something that we can learn and master. It will take some time but the real fun starts when we start to be able to master the movement.


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.


1 Comment

Something to Chew On

Chanced upon this video in Youtube this morning :-


I am not going to debate who is right or wrong in this video. However, I have to say that Singapore is becoming increasingly violent with so many instances of fights breaking out.

If you don’t know how to defend yourself this is as good a time as any to go learn something. Who knows, the next Youtube video I see could be of you getting shoved around, perhaps even whacked hard. Not trying to scare you but life can be unpredictable.

When I saw this video I thought of the following :-

a) If you can’t fight don’t pick a fight

b) Words can be loud and threatening but ultimately its physical techniques that wins a fight

c) You can be heavier but a taller opponent can also have an advantage

d) If you must fight, use your advantage to the fullest

e) If you cannot control your own balance your technique will lack power

f) Uncontrolled strikes tend to miss and you risk exposing yourself to counterattacks

g) If you must shove your opponent learn how to do it properly



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.

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.