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.


See Same, See Not Same

Earlier in the week my student said that he tried to learn Tai Chi in the same manner he teaches school students. I said that learning Tai Chi is different. So you cannot learn in the same manner.

Just last night I happened to catch an episode of Brain Games Season 3. I don’t know the title of the episode but one topic it touched on is Intuition. Intuition can be divided into 3 categories – Intuition, Expert Intuition and Strategic Intuition.

To illustrate Expert Intuition the show used a real life case study of an officer who caught a car thief. So this police officer was in his car outside a supermarket. The first suspect came out, got into his car and drove off. A second suspect followed, also got into his car and drove off.

The viewer was asked to decide who is the car thief. It was easy, right? The first suspect was eating and drinking as he walked to his car. He dressed in a grey top, no facial hair, looked decent, opened the car door of a posh looking car, tossed a used paper bag in, got in, drove passed the officer, took a look at him, looked straight ahead, hit the turning signal indicator and stopped before turning to the main road. The second suspect had long hair, mustached, dark top. He also got into his car, drove passed the officer, took a look at him and without putting on signal to turn or stopping turned right into the main road.

Without hesitation most people would pick the second suspect as the car thief because of the way he looked and the way he drove. But the officer with his expert intuition went after the first suspect. Why?

The officer explained why he decided the first suspect was the car thief. Firstly, he tossed a used paper bag into the car. Who throws rubbish into his own posh car? Secondly, when he drove passed the officer, he took a look and then quickly looked ahead stiffly as if he couldn’t wait to get away. Thirdly, he took extra care to put on the turning signal indicator, stopped and took his time to turn onto the main road, as if he was super careful not to break any laws that would draw attention to him.

So two can see the same thing but yet not see the same thing. The way an expert sees something is not necessarily the same way a novice sees it. This is why when learning Tai Chi you must be careful not to assume that you know what you are doing even when you have the instructions. It is almost, always too easy to get so many things wrong whilst thinking that we got them right.

For example when students do rollback they always just turn the body and assume that this is the proper way to do rollback. They always forget what I told them before on how to properly do rollback from how to take a moment to let the mental imagery sink in before activating the 5-Points. Students will invariably never think of the mental imagery, never carefully move the 5-points and just right away turn their bodies. Is it any surprise then that when they try to apply rollback in push hands it will never work?

Yup, so much for seeing the same, yet never really see the same.

 

 


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Imitation?

If I was sitting on a chair when I received my friend’s email then I would have to hold on to prevent myself from falling off from laughing too hard.

Yes, the train has left the station and is rolling, chugging along. Before Grandmaster Wei’s untimely passing in 2013 there were not many videos of practitioners performing his Old Six Routines form on the internet even those based in China. Of those that I found they were mainly disciples of GM Wei. But today when I searched for videos of Old Six Routines they are everywhere; many of them performed in a manner that would cause my eyebrow to arch up.

Yesterday, my friend sent me an email with these two pictures :-

Copy Copy 2

The pictures with the drawings looked strangely familiar when seen at a glance. Of course, it looks like a version of the Old Six Routines except that the rings are all wrong as are the postures. When I enlarged the pictures its confirmed that the 3 Chi Rings are being used in the Tai Chi Chuan postures.

I was puzzled why the 3 Chi Rings were used differently. Then I clicked the link in the email and saw the following picture for an app in iTunes :-

Copy 3

Of course. Now I understand the difference. The title says Wu Style Tai Chi Chuan Internal Method. Interesting. This is the first time I heard of Wu style using the 3 Chi Rings. I can’t help but wonder if the master in this app is promoting a genuine teaching of Wu style or just ripping off Grandmaster Wei’s method wholesale. He even has the signature elongated wrist principle in the picture of Press Jing but its missing in the picture of him doing the kick where he reverted to the conventional settled wrist.

I searched further and this master, Zhuang Yinghao, apparently has also released a book in Chinese which you can see at this link.

I have some other reservations about what is being shown but I won’t say more than this. Some things we should keep within so that others who try to copy us won’t be able to do so easily.


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Curveline Thinking

Read the first part of the post here.

In the preceding post the reader was asked to consider if the most efficient way to move fluids or energy or an object through fluids between two points is via a straight line. Read what the author says :-

Almost all engineers and classically trained scientists would say yes. Yet after billions of years of evolution, nature invariably transfers fluids or energy or an object through fluids from point A to point B not in a straight line but in the same spirals that we see in the whirlpool aboe our bathtub drains. Engineers and physicistscall it turbulence. While engineers have covered the earth with straight pipes, chimneys and drainage canals, and straight, square buildings, nature never, ever, uses a straight line for anything or any purpose. The archaeological record since the dawn of time fails to produce a single example. All life, and even crystals, form from a liquid state and therefore are born of nature’s spiraling flow geometry. Even the facets of diamonds are not straight when looked at under a scanning electron microscope.

<snip>

It would make sense that if straight was best, nature would have evolved its design that way – at least once. But there are no straight sides on a bumblebee, a fish, a plant or an artery.

When I read the above I thought that the author failed to address movement through space which does not nullify the principle that Wing Chun practitioners hold dear as mentioned in the preceding post. However, when I thought about it some more I realized that this did not matter, that what the author wrote is still true even when applied to movements through space. This is because though we perceive that we are moving in a straight line through space the truth is that our body does not allow us to do that. What we perceived to be a straight line is in fact a curve. You can get your movements measured and mapped out in a scientific lab to verify this if you do not believe it.

This is why Tai Chi Chuan despite its indirect, long winded movements is in fact much more direct than previously thought once we understand the design of nature that underlies the art. This is also why Tai Chi Chuan practitioners can issue very powerful force because they do not move in a straight line, instead spiraling their energy through space to generate tremendous power. That Tai Chi Chuan’s techniques are used in a circular manner does not mean its ineffective against fast strikes. We need to understand the logic behind the madness to get it.

Be as one with nature in our Tai Chi Chuan training and we can benefit from the billions of years of wisdom behind the designs of nature.


Mindfulness 2

This is a follow up post to the first one here.

During Chinese New Year I got to show my student some of the weapons I have and their usefulness in training particularly mindfulness. I showed him the section of the Tai Chi Chuan straight sword that I wrote about in the first post. It was priceless to see his reaction when he helped to demonstrate the application of this section by simulating an attack to my open left side only to find himself suddenly staring at the tip of the sword which caused him to stop cold in his tracks.

Later, we watched a DVD on the rivalry of the Iceman Chuck Liddell versus Tito Ortiz. It was interesting to observe how the Iceman controlled range to deliver his knockout strikes. The control of range is something we can learn from understanding mindfulness in straight sword training because there is minimal contact to provide us with clues as to what to do unlike push hands where we can rely on touching to know predict the opponent’s movements.

Here is a clip of the Iceman to illustrate what I mean :-

I forgot to mention that the footwork and punching style that the Iceman used reminded me of the Leung Yi Ma stepping method and basic punches of Pok Khek Kuen. Interesting. For example 0:24 looks a lot like our Lin Wan Yum Chui whereas 0:45 is reminiscent of how we use Sow Chui at the close range and 0:55 is like our Faan Chui.


Cutting

What’s difficult about slicing tomato? No big deal right?

Yet, if its your first time doing it you would find it difficult to do so especially with a non-serrated knife. The way you hold down the tomato, the holding of the knife, the angling of the blade, etc can make you a prime candidate for a nasty cut if you are not careful.

One thing missing from the typical Tai Chi Chuan straight sword training is test cutting. If you have never actually cut, sliced or stab anything how do you know if it will really work when you do it for real? Of course, one simple problem is that its not easy to get hold of an actual straight sword that can be sharpened for test cutting though its easy enough to buy a replica. However, the feel of a replica is not quite the same. I won’t even mention other problems with using a real sword for test cutting in a country like Singapore.

So one way to learn about actual cutting, not the best substitute mind you but its better than nothing, is to learn how to cut vegetables and meat. It might seem simple but try doing it fast, accurate and by feel rather than looking and suddenly it feels a bit more scary.

The first student that I taught the straight sword to didn’t have a good appreciation for what a real sharpened blade can do though I suggested trying out using a kitchen knife at home to gain an understanding. With the second student that I am planning to teach the straight sword to I assessed his understanding of using a knife by letting him try slicing a tomato. The way he held the tomato down, the contact angle of the knife gave me room for worry as I certainly didn’t want to see blood spilled during Chinese New Year.

The hand holding the tomato down has an important role in that if you do not secure it properly to the cutting board the possibility of the tomato moving as you cut down causing you to cut your fingers instead is there. Similarly, in doing the straight sword it is normal for students to overlook the role of the left hand that is not holding the sword and focus on the hand holding the sword instead. This is an error as the non-sword has a role to play too.

The hand holding the knife needs to hold in such a way that it can direct the blade, exert pressure and cut with authority. When I watched my student try to cut the tomato he was actually pressing on it, making it difficult to slice through quickly and cleanly. With the correct angling and positioning of the knife hand and the knife it is easy to slice quickly and cleanly with minimal resistance through the tomato. This lesson can be transferred across to the use of the straight sword because without this understanding when the student tries to cut he will find that he cannot exert enough force on the blade. This is also a way to assess if someone playing with a bladed weapon really understands how to issue power with it or is just posing with it.

 

 

 


Energy

Energy cannot be destroyed. Hence, when doing push hands we have to listen to where this energy is going and provide an outlet for it. Once this energy is neutralized and no longer threatens our balance we can channel it back to the opponent to overcome him. This is what is meant by borrowing strength.

The key question is how do we create this outlet. The commonly seen response is to turn the body or sit back. This is not wrong. The problem lies in the sometimes excessive turning or sitting back that is disproportional to the energy received. This is why such training cannot be transferred to the use of fast striking exchanges.

To address this we use the 5-count mechanism which allows for a much faster response due to a more subtle chain of movement. The shorter response time is hence transferable to defending against strikes which calls for a much faster reaction and response time.

Interestingly, my student found that the 5-count mechanism can also be used to chop wood when he had to do so as part of daily chores whilst staying in a monastery recently. The 5-count is a mechanism that allows the body to generate a lot of power through the body whilst showing off minimal external movements. This is a closer approximation to what an internal art should be rather than the excessive huge movements that is marketed as internal.


Don’t Xingyi-fy the Stepping

My student previously learned Xingyiquan. Hence, even in playing the Tai Chi Chuan straight sword he has heavy, stomping footwork. Its not bad if its used to deliver power in emptyhand striking.

However, for straight sword techniques a heavy, stomping type of footwork will only slow him down especially if the particular straight sword technique calls for quick twisting of the body to avoid a long weapon and swiftly move in to counterattack whilst adhering and preventing the opponent’s weapon from countering and escaping.

In playing the straight sword our footwork must be nimble, flowing and enable us to perform the techniques suitably. It is useless to have long reaching footwork if it brings us too close to deliver the called for stroke. On the other hand when the cut calls for a long reaching footwork then we must be able to do it.

There are some movements that has stomp-like movements but the stomping is silent because if its loud then it would be like applying the brakes and then stepping on the accelerator again. A good stomp should be able to do the job of delivering power yet not make us foot-tied to the ground and unable to continue moving with minimal hesitation.

This is why I don’t encourage wide-stance training in the first solo emptyhand form that the student learns. Otherwise, he may feel powerful when the reality is that he has reduced his mobility. A good stance must cater for stability and mobility. Thus, even in the particular straight sword technique in which the body is twisted the power must still be present or we can be knocked over by a side sweeping movement of the long spear.