Monday, March 27, 2017

Taking the Next Step, or Not?

Should I take the next step?

That is the question.

I have been practising on my own, but I know that is only good for maintaining my current level, to retain what I have learnt over the years.

In order to improve further, I need to teach.

But that is not an easy decision. Although my teacher, Mr Kwek, has given me the go-ahead to teach in Japan, teaching taiji is not a decision to be made lightly.

Because teaching is a long-term commitment. When I look at my teacher, his commitment to teaching, I ask myself if I am ready to live up to the same commitment. Turning up for lessons week after week. Students may take a break every once in a while, when they are sick, or have other commitments, even just to take a break and go for a vacation. And classes will still go on.

But the teacher cannot just take a break like that. When the teacher doesn't show up for class, the students are left to themselves. A teacher can't just disappear like that. Falling ill is not an option. Going on a vacation, or even any trip, is something that needs to be carefully planned so as not to disrupt the learning of the students.

So while I want to teach so that I can continue to improve, I am apprehensive about whether I can make such a commitment now.

Meanwhile, it is back to regular practice, and reading widely.

At least until I can make that commitment towards the next step.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Different Sources of Impact

Somewhere (I forgot where, since it was some time ago), I read that in a fight, it is not about how hard you can punch or kick, but rather how hard the impact is on your opponent.

This is a bit hard to explain. You must be wondering, what's the difference?

The key difference is this: the impact on your opponent may not come directly from you.

Direct impact on your opponent caused by you will come from the strength of your kicks and punches. But there is a limit to how much force you can generate, and how long you can sustain generating that type of force.

At the same time, your opponent also suffers damage when he hits something other that you. Like when he bangs against a wall, or falls on the ground. In some of these cases, the force is not generated by you and therefore not limited to your stamina/muscles. Such as when your opponent falls: the force is gravity. When your opponent overexerts himself, loses balance, and bangs against the wall: the force is from his own exertion.

So the key is not just what you can do to your opponent, but how you can use the entire environment, including your opponent, against him.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

The Need For Martial Moral

武徳--this is the set of moral ethics that a martial artist should have, is expected to have, and should always strive for.

Why?

I think it is because, at the end of the day, martial arts is about killing or be killed. In a real fight, one does not pull punches, and there is no "you cannot hit here" rule. Anything and everything is fair game. And we all know (or rather, can imagine) what it is like to have an arm broken, or have someone dig into our eyes, or hit our windpipe. We know the damage that can be caused to the human body.

So, are we ready to put ourselves at the risk? Because once we close range into a fight, we can hit and be hit. We can deal damage, and we can also be damaged. So in a fight, we must be mentally able to face this risk.

And at the same time, we must have the mental strength to live with dealing such damage onto another human being. Are we ready to deal such damage onto someone else, and live with the consequences? For it will forever be a fact of our lives, and will it bite into our conscience?

And so we train, so that we are confident that we are ready. And we also must keep ourselves on a moral path that prepares us to live with our actions, should we ever need to put our skills to the test.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Using Elbows (from watching "Ip Man" and "Ip Man 2")

My son (and I) is a huge fan of Star Wars, and we went to watch the latest Star Wars movie on its opening day. Donnie Yen was in the movie, so I decided to show my son some other movies with Donnie Yen. So we ended up watching both "Ip Man" and "Ip Man 2".

I didn't really notice the details of the fighting scenes before, at least not in such great detail, but this time, I was kind of like studying Donnie Yen's moves. And one thing I noticed was the way he used his elbows once he got "inside". And it all made sense. Using the elbows when one has gotten inside is fast and powerful.

I guess I am going to have to rewatch a lot of movies...

Sunday, January 01, 2017

Tracking My Training For 2017

For 2016, I practised:
25 sets of Chen style Old Frame First Routine
58 sets of Yang style 108
50 sets of Sun style taijiquan
(total 133 sets of taijiquan in a year)

59 sets of Chen style taijijian
59 sets of Yang style taijijian
(total 118 sets of taijijian in a year)

88 sets of Yang style taijidao

And also many hours of basic exercises.

Total number of practice hours in 2016: 141 hours

I have also been keeping a training log to note down the exact details of what I have been training on.

Looking forward to increasing the amount of practice in 2017!

Monday, November 14, 2016

Pushing Hands Was Never Designed For Competition

I have been watching small clips of pushing hands on Facebook often these few days (somehow, they often appear on my timeline). Most of them are clips taken during pushing hands competitions (I think there were a few recently) but there are also some clips taken during pushing hands practice sessions.

A trend I noticed is the people in these clips are all very focused on winning. Instead of the pushing hands that I know and practise, these clips look more like a mix between wrestling and judo. These people grapple at each other, try to throw each other, and basically just exert a lot of force. A lot more force than what taiji is about.

One even commented that he ran out of stamina because his opponent was much younger than him.

But if pushing hands is about exerting force and having stamina, then all those old masters, who are obviously not as strong or have as much stamina as fit young men, will definitely lose. But no, true masters of taiji do not lose with age. Instead, the more they practise, the better they get.

I find it sad that people are grappling and wrestling with each other and calling it pushing hands. No, that is not pushing hands. Pushing hands is a very specific exercise designed to teach people how to sense force. In the first place, it was never designed for competition. Turning it into a competitive sport is turning away people from what pushing hands is really about.

I hope more people can realise this, and bring pushing hands back to what it really is, an exercise designed for its practitioners to learn how to sense force. Those interested in competitive sports can always design their own system with a different name, just like sanda.

Tuesday, November 01, 2016

New Start, Again... Back to Practice

A new start.

Again.

Now to get back to practice.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Back to Practice

After a few months working at the new job and not having time to practise as much taiji as I want, I am beginning to rethink this whole thing about the new job.

Life is a balance, and is this current balance what I want?

Or should I find a new balance?

Sunday, August 07, 2016

A Short Reunion

I was back in Singapore for a very short while, and managed to squeeze in some time to visit my teacher, Mr Kwek, for a short reunion. Nothing fancy, just some time to catch up, talk about how I am getting on in Japan, and how his lessons are progressing. Then he wanted to see how much I have dropped, and so we did a bit of pushing hands. I don't think I have dropped, but neither have I improved. First time pushing hands in a year... my teacher commented that my force is not stiff, which is a good thing. And he gave some tips on what to focus on given my lack of time for practice (compared to the past).

A short visit, but a meaningful one.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Inkling: Taiji Everyday

It has been a while since I last posted. That's because I have started working on a full-time job which is quite a commute from where I stay (3 hours to and fro) so I haven't been practising much too. Still, I try to practise when I can.

And that brings me to this inkling of mine, which came into my mind when I was chatting with a fellow student, as well as some of the books that I have read in the past.

It is all about how to make taiji a part of one's life, to see how to practise taiji while doing all those mundane tasks in our everyday life. Because one can only attend so many lessons to practise taiji (unless we quit modern-day life and go full-time into taiji). So the trick is to be able to practise taiji anytime, anywhere.

And to do that, one must understand what taiji is all about, because with that understanding, one can then incorporate it into one's life. And then one is able to practise taiji anytime, anywhere. And with so much more practice, how can one not improve?

Monday, March 21, 2016

A New Place For Taiji

After many days of practising in my small room, I finally managed to go out and practise today. Found this new place by the river to practise. Nice scenery, and even more beautiful when the cherry blossoms bloom in a few days time!

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Going to be Busy

Looks like March and April will be busy months for me... hopefully, I can still find time to squeeze in some practice.

Meanwhile, I am trying to make use of whatever is left of February.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

(Almost) No Break

Since practising on my own, all that time spent practising had been quite... continuous. Each practice session may last only 30 minutes or an hour, but the practice is non-stop (almost). After each set, I maybe take 6 to 10 deep breaths, then move on to the next set; for longer sets, maybe a drink of water and then it is back to practice. Very different from the past, when I attended lessons. Each session could be one and a half hour to two hours, but in between would be breaks, small talk, or just looking at others practising.

Now, there is no one to talk to, no one else to look at. Breaks are only for myself, so no one to wait for too. Which means almost the entire practice session is devoted to practising. Which is good.

Looking forward to more practice!

Monday, January 18, 2016

Snow is Like Rain...

I was thinking: 雪后公园打太极,天黑地白太极图。
So scenic, definitely must go...
So I changed, got ready the gear I needed, and left the warm house to brave the cold as I walked to the park.

And then reality hit me.

Snow is slippery, and snow will melt. After the snow, the park is a slippery and soggy place.

Snow is beautiful, but snow is like rain... no outdoor practice when there is rain or snow.

Friday, January 01, 2016

Tracking My Training For 2016

In a previous post, I tracked my training for 2015.

For 2015, I practised:
71 sets of Chen style Old Frame First Routine
140 sets of Yang style 108
127 sets of Sun style taijiquan
(total 338 sets of taijiquan in a year)

156 sets of Chen style taijijian
125 sets of Yang style taijijian
(total 281 sets of taijijian in a year)

185 sets of Yang style taijidao

And also many hours of pushing hands and basic exercises.

Total number of practice hours in 2015: 342.5 hours

I am also keeping a training log to note down the exact details of what I have been training on.

Looking forward to more practice in 2016!

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Maintaining Balance

I know I am not there yet, because I lose my balance. When doing some of the single-leg stances (like kicks) in the routines, I sometimes lose my balance. Which may seem like a small thing, since I practise on uneven ground and sometimes in strong winds. But after seeing a video on some people practising pushing hands, I got an inkling that maintaining balance is a very important part of training.

Two persons pushing hands. Pulling and grabbing at each other, one trying to throw the other, the other struggling to keep his balance. Not exactly my idea of pushing hands, but still, this thing about balance kept me watching. Yes, there seems to be something in there about maintaining balance.

Then I think back about myself, losing balance sometimes when I practise my routines.

Taiji is practise slowly, because it is only by practising slowly can you pay full attention to all the details. And one of the details is balance. About sensing how you shift your weight, how to maintain balance at all times. With practice comes proficiency, and with proficiency comes confidence. And with confidence, you can relax. You won't be tensed up when facing an opponent, because you have confidence in what you can do, because you know you have put in a lot of effort into training.

With training, everything becomes second nature, including maintaining balance while moving. Knowing your own centre of gravity becomes second nature. Knowing how to keep that center of gravity stable becomes second nature. No matter how you or your opponent moves, you are able to maintain your balance. That is half the battle won.

And that is why I practise. And practise.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Keeping a Training Log

Besides tracking my training in terms of hours and sets each month, I have been writing down the details of my training in a notebook. Not just how many sets of what routine, but also how many repetitions of basic exercises too.

This not only helps me track my training, but also serves as motivation to train too. I am more motivated to train daily so that I have something to write in the notebook. And when I don't train for a day or two, I am reminded of this whenever I flip open the notebook (all entries are dated). Guess this is a habit from a career that worked with logbook entries.

But it is great motivation, so I am going to keep this up for a while.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Chinese Martial Arts by Peter A. Lorge


I just finished reading this book, and thought I would introduce it.

It doesn't talk about how to train, there are no pictures on styles, but this is a good book to read to understand how martial arts in China evolved into their current shape. Martial arts in China is very much a part of China's history and its evolution was heavily affected by the times.

For the serious practitioner who is interested in history, this may help provide some hints on how to go about improving your own practice, by understanding how things became the way they are now.

The Mind Knowing is not Enough

I was at an event and someone was giving a speech. While it had nothing to do with taiji or even martial arts in general, what he said was quite applicable in all aspects, and I have tried to see how it can help in my own taiji journey.

He said that just knowing something in one's mind is not enough. Your heart and body must be able to do it for it to be meaningful.

Thinking back to taiji, I think what this means is that just knowing how the movements are like, and how they can be applied, these are all in the mind. But if these do not come out naturally, if these are not part of your heart and body, then they become just empty talk. Yes, it is important to know something, but mental exercises can never replace actually physically practice in developing skills.

Practice leads to better understanding. Understanding leads to better practice. Both must go hand in hand in order to grow.

Sunday, November 08, 2015

Practise to Understand

Read somewhere that you practise not just to improve your skill, but to improve your understanding.

Totally agree. I was practising the other day when I discovered yet another way to apply one of the movements in Yang style 108. And how it is but yet another variation of the basics of taiji.

As you practise, you understand more. As you understand more, you realise that they are all the same.

Thursday, November 05, 2015

Why So Many Styles?

Why are there so many styles out there?

Because everyone is different. What works for one may not work for another.

So when someone finds something that works for him, he practises it. And passes it down. If it suits his student, that student passes it down too, forming a style. And because everyone is different, we have so many styles. Even within the same style, every practitioner is different, adapting small portions to suit him or herself.

Which brings us to the question: is there an authentic style?

People claim that what they practise is authentic. "This is how the founder practised it." "My teacher's lineage is so and so, right to the founder himself."

Yet, do authenticity and lineage mean something is practical and can actually be used?

Maybe styles that are passed down are just broad systems. Each style works for people within a certain category. But in order to be effective, the style still needs to be assimilated into oneself, and adapted to one's needs, characteristics, strengths and weaknesses.

So maybe authenticity and lineage are important, but what is even more important is to eventually bring everything within oneself to create something that works for oneself.

Because we are all different. And that's why there are so many styles. Because there are many categories of people.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Getting Back On Track

For the month of October 2015, I have practised 21 hours of taiji, including:
23 sets of taijiquan (4 Chen, 12 Yang, 7 Sun)
24 sets of taijijian (12 Chen, 12 Yang)
12 sets of Yang taijidao

I am slowly getting back on track... yes!

Besides routines, I am also spending time on basic exercises. These take about 30 minutes to an hour each day, and especially good for busy days when I know I won't be able to practise full sets.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Practising With The Spear

Back when I was in Singapore, I learnt some basic spear techniques from my teacher, Master Kwek Lee Hwa. The most basic, of course, is 拦拿扎 (lan, na, zha).

Recently, I have started to include this as part of my own training. Nothing complex, just that basic spear technique. And I kind of have an inkling as to why martial artists of the past all practised with the spear.

Because the spear is a long and heavy weapon. Yes, you can use it with muscular strength, but your arms will eventually grow tired. But if you learn to use your body as a whole, you can thrust with more force, and pull back the spear faster. And repeat this for more times.

Seems to me that lan, na, zha is one of the keys to learning fa jing. So it is going to be in my training regime for a while.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Painting a Picture


"Styles are like colors, one’s heart is the paper, and the teacher is the brush." - Matsuda Ryuchi

Eventually, the picture is drawn by the artist himself.

Sunday, October 04, 2015

Practising Outdoors

It is a new thing for me to practise outdoors.

After all, most of my practice had been indoors, and even when outdoors, the practices were at community centres. Which means that when it rained, the CC staff would find an indoor venue for practice to continue.

But not now. Not when I practise on my own in a park.

When it rains, I end up doing basic exercises in my room.

Hopefully, I can settle into a rhythm for practice soon... and with it, find a suitable venue for indoor practice as well.

Thursday, September 03, 2015

Slow Start

Since moving to Japan, things have been busy.

So busy that, for the month of August, I only managed to practise 16 hours of taiji, including:
15 sets of taijiquan (3 Chen, 6 Yang, 6 Sun)
14 sets of taijijian (7 Chen, 7 Yang)
13 sets of Yang taijidao

Compared to July 2015, when I practised 54 hours of taiji, including:
35 sets of taijiquan (5 Chen, 14 Yang, 16 Sun)
39 sets of taijijian (24 Chen, 15 Yang)
28 sets of Yang taijidao

The whole week of rain didn't help, especially since I have yet to find a place indoors to practise (I practise outdoors at the nearby park).

Hopefully, I pick up some kind of practice rhythm soon.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

On My Own

From today onwards, I am on my own.

Mr Kwek, my teacher, has given me permission to teach taiji while I am in Japan, as part of my learning journey. I will do my best to uphold his good name and to help spread his teachings and traditional methods.

From now on, all the more I need to be correct in my movements, else those who follow me will get them wrong too. All the more I have to practise, so that I continue to improve and maintain a high level of standard, so that I can bring my students towards that high standard too.

My teacher has shown me the door into the world of taiji, it is time I walk through that door into the world on my own two feet.

For those interested in learning traditional taijiquan (Chen, Yang, Sun styles) in Yokohama, Yokosuka or Tokyo, do drop me a message.

Saturday, August 08, 2015

Thanking Mr Kwek

Today is my last lesson with Mr Kwek before I leave Singapore.

I have been learning from Mr Kwek for the past 10 years. Moving to Japan means I won't be able to learn from him as regularly as before (5 to 7 times a week will soon become maybe once a year) but that does not mean I am no longer a student. It just means that I will continue my learning journey in Japan in another mode.

Friday, August 07, 2015

More Haste, Less Speed

Sometimes, we are impatient. We want to be good at something as quickly as we can. We want to rush. So we try to find different ways to improve.

But sometimes, things take time. To be better at something, sometimes, it really is about the amount of time put into practice, and how what you practise.

So by trying different ways to improve, we end up wasting time that could have been spent sticking to one way to improve (and actually becoming good). It is like trying to go in five different paths, and attaining level 3 in each of them (beginner) when if you had stuck to one path, you would have been at level 15 (master).

So yes, more haste, less speed; the more you try to rush, the more you try to get somewhere faster, the more you may end up walking into detours and taking an even longer time to get there.

Thursday, August 06, 2015

Don't Teach, Don't Share, Revisited

Well, I once talked about not teaching and sharing until one is ready.

Another thing about not teaching and sharing is about basic courtesy.

We all have our own experiences. Some may have learnt different things in the past. Some may be practising a few different arts at the same time. But when one comes for a lesson, that lesson is about a particular style, a particular art. It is then basic courtesy to stick to that. Because one is a student in that lesson; one comes to learn. Not teach. Especially not teach something else.

A student came to pushing hands class, but started to teach another student about chin na. To me, that is being very disrespectful to my teacher, who is teaching pushing hands, not chin na. If my teacher wanted to teach chin na, he would have started a chin na class, not pushing hands.

Teach and share when you are ready, but stick to what the class is about. That is basic courtesy. If you want to teach and share about something else, start your own class, be your own teacher.