Singapore Tai Chi Chuan


Accreditation

If the question had come from a young chap I would not be surprised. But for the question to come from someone nearing his 70s it was interesting to say the least.

Someone, X, visited me to find out more about learning Tai Chi. The first question…… click here to read more.


Learning Tai Chi

Signboard

Want to learn Tai Chi?

At Singapore Yang Style Combat Tai Chi lessons covering forms, weaponry, push hands, fajing and applications are offered. Lessons are conducted in English.

Send enquiry today at the link here.


New Website

I haven’t posted to this blog for a long time.

This is because I have a new website here. Please visit to continue reading my posts.


Despondent

I know that look too well.

It was a look of despondence. Discouraged. Defeat. Right after my student found out that he has misunderstood a number of things about Tai Chi and suddenly realized that he may never master the art. To add to his woes I said that to master the art one must not make mastery the objective of learning.

To which my student asked what is wrong with wanting to master the art. Nothing wrong with it except the more one wants to master the art the more elusive mastery seems. A famous Zen story illustrates this point perfectly :-

A Zen student goes to a temple and asks how long it will take him to gain enlightenment if he joins the temple. 

“Ten years,” says the Zen master. 

“Well, how about if I really work and double my effort?”

“Twenty years.”

 

In fact, this was the same advice my teacher gave me. He said simply that the objective is to practice daily. Simple advice but effective, at least for me.

For most students they want to master the art but they are unable to put in daily practice. When they do they fail to pay attention to the essentials. My student still has some stiffness in the leg that his entire balance is resting on. The problem could have been solved a long time ago if he had paid careful attention to what I said many times over. But I know that he never really listened because every time he plays the form he always skips this part.

In many schools the advanced stuff is always taught years later in the high dan rankings or reserved for the disciples or those who are willing to part with the dough for it. In our approach the beginning stuff is always the advanced stuff. Its the simple, seemingly unimportant things staring at you in the face, so much that its boring and seemingly irrelevant, stuff you chucked aside, those are the important stuff and they will come back to haunt you when you start asking why you still didn’t get it.

So yes, that first step. Why is it important? How does it solve the leg stiffness problem as a by-product of getting the principles right. Why one must practice it many, many times in the beginning and continue to do so until the principle becomes alive in the body. At this point you no longer need to do this part here because the principle is there in each and every movement that you do.

In not solving the stiffness problem then one’s true power will be obstructed. So you can push, you can push. You can bend your knees more. Brace against the ground harder. Lower your hips. But try as you might you can’t get the power out of your hands. Why?

This is why one must practice the form in accordance with the principles. The principles call for sung. Why must sung? What is its importance? And the million dollar question, the one question no one asks and no master wants to or can give the answer is how much sung is necessary and sufficient. How to know?

Again, the principles have already defined how much sung is necessary. But if you don’t read the Tai Chi Classics you won’t know about this. If you don’t know the amount to at least attain then how would you know where to begin and how to work towards it. Like I said, there are methods and there are methods. You can use any one. But make sure it leads to where you want to go. If not, then the method is a failure, at least where you are concerned and you must be prepared to abandon it and start anew. Again and again. Over and over.

Learning Tai Chi is like trying to achieve Zen enlightenment. It can happen suddenly. Or it can never happen. If you keep working on the methods with your energy focused on achieving mastery you might miss the important clues that can spark off that “it” moment. But if you cast aside the mastery objective, instead you work on getting on the means correct as the objective then you will realize that the important things have been right in front of you all along, if only you had looked near, at the now, the present moment, at the means instead at afar at the day you will attain mastery. Then when you didn’t expect anything, the insight will be sudden.

But such insightful moments do not happen regularly. Sometimes they come once in a blue moon. Sometimes they happen more often. Mostly, they happen when you have a problem to work on. This is why you cannot learn Tai Chi without understanding it as the art that it is. When you keep at the problem you will come up with solutions on your own for those problems that are simple. Such logical problems won’t enlighten you. Why?

This is because to be enlightened you need to be confronted by a problem that is vexing, so much so that you end up having doubts. Not just small doubts but great doubts. Ones that makes you despondent, ready to give up. But somehow you keep plugging at it. And keep going and going.

You might even go back to your teacher with more questions. But you end up with more questions, more doubts. And on and on. Greater and greater doubts until you want to explode. Then when you didn’t expect it, that flash of insight.

I told my student about the learning koan my teacher presented me with on achieving a force that can penetrate wall. Its an impossible thing to do. But as a koan not unsolvable. I had known the keys all along but didn’t put two and two together until that day the Eureka moment occurred. Still it took me many more years to be able to translate the understanding into a practical skill. This is why as you are today, so are you tomorrow after the moment of insight. Our force will become greater in the years to come but our muscles don’t become harder, more defined because as we sung more the muscles start becoming softer. As they do so, the principles of physics become alive through the body. So each movement you do, including force issuing, becomes more efficient, using less energy to generate more force, thus requiring the muscles to be more and more sung; a virtuous circle of internal changes.

Tai Chi is not an art for those who are too ready to give up at the first sign of difficulty. I know its difficult to get a handle on the mind. Its so much easier if the whole thing just boils down to doing push-ups, squats, etc. Yeah, hell, unfortunately being internal is not that easy or straightforward. Yet one day when you get it you will find that its really simple and straightforward. Its your complicated mind, the unenlightened and full of stuff, burdened, mind, unable to let go of the useless, that is the real problem.

 


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?

 

 


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.


MRT Fajing Practice

I have been taking public transportation for many months now.

The advantage is that I can use the time spent doing nothing while in the train to research fajing. One simple but powerful method of fajing that can be practiced on an MRT in full view of passengers is one which involves the force model explained on Page 101 in TaijiKinesis Vol 2. Whether the train is crowded or not as long as I get to stand in my normal spot I can do the practice.

In the event, I cannot stand in my normal spot then I will practice another method which is similar to the White Crane Spreads Wings posture from Grandmaster Wei Shuren’s style. The posture may be different but the same model from Page 101 can be used.

There is another lesson that can be learned here and that is how to receive power and return it in conformance to the principle of receiving force do not use wrists, releasing force send it out at once.

Since my student drives, I mentioned about using the steering wheel as an aid in understanding how to generate power.

The key above, as always, is to use the intention to teach the body how to move accurately.