Friday, December 4, 2009

Some notes on Chin Na

When I was young, I was facsinated by the arts of those sifus (teachers) who could easily submit a big guy with chin na technique.

It looks as if the rationale behind a chin na technique is simple: You use the strength of your arms / body to control a weak point (usually his joint) of your opponent (the "Weak Point Principle"). However, you will soon find that this is not the case, as you can not do it as smoothly as your sifu.

Your opponent will never cooperate with you as your training partner does. Your opponent will move his limbs and body instinctively, and it is quite natural, when he feels a pain in his joint. Once he modifies his posture (so as to relief his pain), the optimum position to control his weak point changes. Either you let your opponent go and you change to another technique. If not, you will find yourself end up locking horn with your opponent.

Ironically, the Weak Point Principle easily becomes another version of the Strong Man Principle.

The reality is: Whenever a sifu performs a chin na technique, he will first do some tricks to destroy the balance of his opponent. Once the opponent's balance is altered, he loses his ability to adjust his body position and is easily submitted to the chin na technique of the sifu. The best sifu can do the unbalance together with the chin na at the same time - the chin na technique is also the unbalance technique.

The key is to control your opponent's balance, not just his joint or weak point.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

The Art of Throwing in Taiji

The basics of the art of throwing in Taiji can be illustrated by the ring children.

1. It involves the centre - the eye of the ring.
2. It involves circular movement - the outer ring.
3. It involves balancing - the turning babies.
4. It involves the joints - the folding arms, bodies and legs.
5. It involves the technique of Yin and Yang - the boy and the girl.
6. It is used on solid ground - where the statue stands.

Comparing taiji with other schools' throwing applications, there is no big difference in the "form" used. The difference lies in the way as to how an opponent is unbalanced before he is thrown.

Apart from Yin Yang Conversion, one of the techniques used in Taiji is the applying of a slight force on a critical joint of the opponent so that his centre of gravity is altered. The opponent can then be thrown without using strength. Many "beginners" are fascinated by such "magical touch".

Not relying on brutish force, such application technique should be supported by the body condition acquired through the basic trainings. Without the support of a natural body, this technique is only workable in demonstrations (for art appreciation) and not in a contest.

Applying a slight force on a critical joint of your opponent is the final touch before a throw. Prior to this, you have to slip (like a fish, taking advantage of the natural body - it is not breaking in using brutish pushes or pulls) into the defensive ring of the opponent, attach to him, cross the bridge, take over the centre, and convert the Yin and Yang. These should be done in one go. In fact, once you convert the Yin and Yang, you can almost do anything on your opponent. The importance of the joint movement should not be over-emphasised.

In reality, no one will let you do the final touch freely on him as you can do so in a demonstration where your partner "cooperates" with you. Without the flexibility, sensitivity and power of a natural body, it is difficult, if not impossible, to unbalance an opponent, in accordance with the taiji principles, in a real confrontation. It is therefore essential that a practitioner gets the basics correct from the very beginning of his training - the line between martial art and morning exercise should not be blurred.


Some notes on the use of the technique on solid ground: Solid ground is the most effective venue of using the throwing technique as it will cause your opponent the greatest damage. In the old days, people practised the technique on solid ground without soft mat.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Theory & Practice and the Three Levels of Achievements in Taiji

1. Theory and Practice

The taiji martial art system comprises of two aspects: the artistic - the conceptual, the body of the art; and the martial - the technique, the use of the art.

The artistic aspect provides a practitioner the conceptual tools to work out the best positioning. The martial aspect provides a practitioner the techniques to destroy.

Dealing with the art of taiji in the pure artistic way is just like treating it as an academic subject.

Developed from the pure artistic is the artisticalisation of the martial art - the art is practised as soft physical exercise. The stress in the exercise is on the spiritual aspect and the will power.

It should be noted that, without the support of training in fighting , a theoretician (soft physical exercise is generally not sufficient, unless having reached the level of achievement), no matter how knowledgeable, is like one who has a useless body .

Dealing the art of taiji in the pure martial way is different, it stresses on usefulness / effectiveness.

Developed from the pure martial is the martialisation of the martial art. It emphasises the strengthening of both the internal and external physical power (with more emphasises on physical strength). In action it calls for meeting the positive force with negative force - using intentional softness to dissolve the positive force. This is where taiji becomes a fighting art.

It should, however, be noted that, without the backup of the artistic, a fighter can only apply the techniques in a mechanical way and will not be able to deal with an unexpected situation which he has never been taught.

2. The Three Levels of Achievements

Upper-level: The practitioner starts with both the artistic and the martial from the very beginning and get the best of the art.

Mid-level: The practitioner starts from the artistic and develops the martial subsequently in accordance with his studies. Alternatively, he starts from the martial and works out the artistic from the applications. In both cases, the practitioner reaches a higher level through devotion to his art.

Low-level: The practitioner focuses on either the artistic way or the martial way only and manages to work out the best of either stream.

The distinctions are for illustration purpose. They are not in hierarchical orders as the emphasis is on the effort and achievement of the practitioner.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Useful training tool - The Taiji Ball

This is a taiji ball with its training table.

When I say "Taiji Ball", I just follow what people usually call it nowadays. Training with a wooden ball / stone ball is not monopolised by Taiji. The discussion below relates to training exercises from an internal martial art / taiji perspective.

This taiji ball is made of solid wood and weighs 7 pounds. It is made from a single piece of wood.

For advanced training, some martial artists use balls made of stone. Stone balls are heavy. The weight of a stone ball varies from 30 to 50 pounds.

A stone ball

A high quality wooden ball is costly and is usually much more expensive than a stone ball. A taiji ball made of combined wood is cheaper.

If a wooden ball is not readily available, a beginner can use a basket ball as a temporary substitution. However, one must note that a heavy ball is essential in developing the internal power. An alternative is to get a no holes bowling ball. Stone ball is good but is not for a beginner, who should always resist the temptation to use a stone ball.

I note that some people talk about the importance of the material from which the ball is made, saying that certain material is "chi" friendly. I have no comment on this. My view is that so long as the material does not hinder the rolling process or if it is not too heavy for your physical capability, it is useable.

There is no, and should not be any, "standard" size or "standard" weight. Imagine the absurdity of asking a small built and weak person to train with a large size stone ball; or asked a big guy to train with a small size and light weight ball.

I also note that there are "taiji balls" painted with colourful "taiji" symbols. Other than price, the colourful symbol does not and will not add any value to your training - know what you need and get what you need.

Back to the first photo. The training table has a concave surface. It was originally designed for the elderly to practise ball rolling exercise. The concave surface of the training table helps to control the movement of the taiji ball so that it will not roll outside the table area and drop onto the ground. The exercise is simple, you put the training table on a desk and the taiji ball on the training table. You then use your hand(s) (single or both) to roll the wooden ball, in a clockwise or anti-clockwise direction. It is said that the exercise assists the elderly to relax and increases the flexibility of their joints.

Internal martial art training exercises are complicated as there are various methods to roll the ball. A beginner can, however, take advantage of the concave surface of the training table for initial training. Following the ball's motion, a beginner learns how to do circular movements correctly. The ball's motion will rectify your motion. The training also assists a beginner to strengthen his torsos, and enhance the coordination of his mind and body. It will also enhance the beginner's sensitivity and the ability to detect the other's "centre".

After passing the initial training stage, a beginner can discard the concave training table and roll the ball on the desk top direct. It requires greater skill to roll the taiji ball on a flat platform. A higher level of control is also required as it is easy to drop the ball onto the ground and hurt your feet and / or damage your floor (this also destroys the taiji ball). When rolling the ball, the practitioner should imagine that his internal energy is flowing out like water from his "dantin" to his hand and use the energy, instead of the arm's muscles, to roll the ball. It is not necessary to use the palm to roll the taiji ball. One contact point is sufficient to rotate the taiji ball if internal power is used.

The next stage is to roll two balls at the same time, each hand controlling one ball.

It has to be noted that, it is not safe to roll a taiji ball (or two taiji balls at the same time) on the desk top without any precautionary measures. Some people put a towel on the desk but this will limit the rolling speed of the ball. Personally, I use a rectangular wooden plate with railing to do the exercise.

Apart from table top rolling, there are other rolling exercises such as rolling the ball on the wall or on edges of table. Use a basket ball for these exercises- don't take the risk to use a wooden ball or stone ball. In addition, there are some taiji ball standing exercises. A practitioner holds the taiji ball in his hands and performs various sets of specially designed circular movements - a wooden ball, instead of a stone ball, should be used. Through these exercises, a practitioner learns how to transmit internal force through circular movements, taking advantage of the centripetal force and the centrifugal force.

The training is not for muscles building. A practitioner should not fall into the trap of the Strong Man Principle. That's why it is not desirable to train with a heavy stone ball at the initial stage - one will even get hurt if his body is not fit enough for the stone ball.

The purpose of the training is to use external movements to activate internal movements - It is very difficult, if not impossible, to activate internal movements by practising empty-hand forms alone. You need to ignite your internal energy before it can be developed into internal power.

The taiji ball is a catalyst.

Some Training Tips:

(1) Do the table-top double hands ball rolling exercise. Once you have strong "chi" feeling in the arms, stop the ball rolling exercise. Do the Taiji Form whilst the "chi" feeling is subsisting. Compare the quality of the form exercise with that without the assistance of the ball rolling. How does it feel?
(2) Do the table-top double hands ball rolling exercise as a warm up before you practice push hand exercises with your training partner. How does it feel?

[Last Edit - 11.06.2011]

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Understanding the "Force"

In my previous posts on the Taiji principles, I discussed the concept of "Getting back to the Origin" and the Stages of "knowing oneself" and "knowing others".

These are the keys to decipher the meaning of "Understanding the Force".

In the "Know Your Own self Stage", you "understand the force" within yourself. You start with activating your sleeping parts.

In the "Know Others' Stage", you "understand the force" outside yourself. The training is different, you should learn how to adhere to and get contact with the other's body. You learn how to make use of the force of the opponent and control him. That's where the push hand training comes into the picture. You learn how to adapt and adjust to different movements of the opponent and respond with "reflex action".

A beginner starts with the single-hand push hand. The high level push hand training has no form and involves a lot of throwing techniques. Strictly speaking, the push hand syllabus should only be started after a person has completed the "know your own self stage" training - Without first having known yourself, how can you possibly know the others?

Through the "Know Your Ownself" training, the practitioner regains a natural body which gives him the flexibility to adapt to different situations without losing his centre and balance - the principle of "giving up yourself and follows other" should be backed up by a natural body. Equipped by a natural body, a practitioner should be able to pick up the application techniques in a quick pace.

Those who start the push hand training at a "pre-matured" stage will inevitably end up finding themselves locking horns with their classmates. Not knowing the importance of and the rationales behind the basic trainings, the "beginners" (in the sense of knowledge, not seniority) find it difficult, if not impossible, to "dissolve" the brutish force of their classmates without also using brutish force to counter act. They end up doing weight lifting at the gym, condemning the Taiji Classic as a piece of nonsense.

Friday, September 18, 2009

The importance of "Kua"

The "Kua" is the connection between the upper part and the lower part of the body. The post on Back Power analyses the importance of the back and its key role in the upper part of the body. Activating the upper part alone is not sufficient. If the coordination with the lower part is not possible, exercising "coherent force" is an unattainable dream.

Many people talk about the principle of the "Three External Coordinations" without knowing what exactly it is. The "Coordinations" as emphasized do not simply mean different parts of the body doing things together. It is the transfer of power from the lower parts to the corresponding upper parts that counts.

To achieve the "Three External Coordinations", one should know the precise answers to the following questions:

1. Where is the "Kua"?
2. How to "loose" the "Kua"?
3. How to motivate the "Kua" to coordinate the upper parts and the lower parts of the body?

The saying that "There is no hand in Taiji" has highlighted the importance of this coordination through the "Kua".

The "Kua" is usually considered as the "big fist" in human body - we use the power coordinated by the "Kua" to hit, the hand is just part of the medium in the power transfer process.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Adding and Releasing

Adding and Releasing are 2 complementary application techniques in Taiji.

In the post on Spherical Body, I explained the technique of Releasing:

"Imagine you are a ball filling with air inside.............. If your force is directed to one side only, it will piece through the wall of the ball. The "air" is released, and you lose the power: you are in an unbalanced position."

What then is Adding?

In order to maintain the optimum position, the air inside the ball should be no more or no less. If more air is injected inside the ball, it will become unstable due to the increased pressure: You are in an unbalanced position.

Balancing oneself with 2 legs is not an easy task as one normally conceives - it is a result of continuous daily practice since we first learned to walk. Once this take-for-granted mechanism is disturbed, it is very difficult for a person to main his balance.

Adding and Releasing are useful tools for disturbing your opponent's balancing mechanism. One way to do it is to add air into the ball and then release it - an application technique applying the Yin / Yang Conversion Principle.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Taiji Sword as a Training Tool

The taiji sword is an advanced level training tool.

One has to consider the taiji sword from 2 different perspectives. The sword as a weapon and the sword as an extension of the limbs.

I may write something on the weapon aspect in the future.

The second aspect relates to empty-hand combat. It can further be sub-divided into 2 sub-headings:

1. Power enhancer: A sword used for power training is different from a demonstration sword. A "real sword" (like the one in the photo) should be used for the purpose of power training. A "real sword" is much heavier than a demonstration sword. Manipulating and making use of the weight of a "real sword" requires specific technique.

In a taijiquan form, it is the body that leads the limb. In a sword play using a "real sword" it is the limb that leads the body - the purpose is to enhance the flowing of power like "mercury in a bamboo pipe". One has to note that after the flow of power is achieved, you revert back to the "body leading the limb" principle, with the kua doing the decisive role - this is the Negation of the Negation.

2. Application Techniques: The sword form embodied the advanced level application techniques in the taiji martial art system. Apart from the hand techniques, it has many complicated footworks. This complement the limitation of the Taijiquan form.

Looking at the sword form from a different angle, you will have many interesting discoveries.

The sword play is not equal to sword dance.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Borrowing of Power in Taiji

It is said that the Taiji symbol comprises of 2 fish. One in white, representing yang, the positive force; the other one in black, representing yin, the negative force.

It looks as if the white fish is chasing the black fish, and vice versa.

What does this mean?

It means that Yin and Yang are interrelated. In their extreme forms, the Yin force will transform into the Yang force and the Yang force will transform into the Yin force.

Imagine you stand firm on the ground and use all your strength to push forward. In a normal situation, you will choose the best body position in order to exercise your strength effectively. You are then in a balance position. But if you try to extend your hands and / or body a little bit forward without moving your feet, your strength will decrease as soon as your balance position is altered. Instead of increasing your strength, the extension decreases it. Your Yang force is transforming into Yin force. This is of course only a crude example to help you appreciate the mechanism involves. Obviously, the other party will not do an own goal to unbalance himself. Martial art involves the interaction between 2 human bodies. The transfer of power between 2 persons is more complicated.

Transformation from Yin to Yang requires special technicality. This is not just an increase of force from within a practitioner's own body. Whilst a taiji practitioner is able to exercise powerful internal strength after completing the traditional trainings as explained previously, this is not the flower of the art. Taijiquan emphasises balance, coordination of mind and body and not to use brutish strength. Facing an attack, a taiji practitioner will not use brutish strength to counter-act. In response to a powerful attack, a taiji practitioner merges the Yang (positive) force of the other party with his own force, and then directs the force as merged to such a way that it serves to enhance the momentum of the taiji practitioner.

This is what people usually called the "borrowing of power".

Windsurfing is a good illlustration of what it is meant by borrowing an opponent's power to our advantage. A windsurfer takes advantage of the wind to drive his surf board forward. Likewise, instead of countering an opponent's positive force with positive force, a proficient taiji practitioner makes use of the force of the opponent to increase his momentum.

The increased momentum serves to increase the power of the taiji practitioner It also serves to break the opponent's balance and take all his power out - in their extreme forms, the Yin force will transform into the Yang force and the Yang force will transform into the Yin force.

The positive force generated as a result of the increased momentum will be directed back to the helpless opponent, who has been deprived of his power, and destroy him,

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Spherical body

Imagine you are a ball filling with air inside.

Although your mind determines which part of the ball is to hit, the "air" fills the internal sphere of the the ball in an even manner. When you push forward, your back goes backward; your head pushes upward; your leg goes downward; your right side maintains the force to the right; your left side maintains the force to the left, etc. That's the idea behind the eight directions diagram above.

The force is exercised as a coherent whole: You are in a balanced position.

If the force is directed to one side only, it will piece through the wall of the ball. The "air" is released, and you lose the power: You are in an unbalanced position.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The Theorem Against Double Bases

1. Basic Principle of the Theorem

It appears that we are more stable if we stand with both legs rather than with one leg.

Taiji lays importance on balancing oneself in action but it would appear that its Theorem Against Double Bases ("TADB") is at odd with what we normally think about balancing. According to TADB, a double based position is a bad position.

Why single based?

Look at the top in the picture above.

The foot of a top is small. It will fall down easily when it is static. However, a top will not fall down whilst spinning.

To name one obvious advantage: A spinning object generates centripetal force or centrifugal force.

A double based object cannot spin around easily. Likewise, a doubled based person will not be able to spin his body easily in action - he can only do so by putting all his weight on one leg.

In order to overcome the Strong Man Principle, a weaker party has to move around quickly and deal with the stronger opponent with suitable techniques.

Not knowing the secret of the TADB, a double based party will ironically, and inevitably, end up locking horns with his opponent!

2. Moving Forward

At the beginning of the taiji martial art training, a practitioner learns how to maintain his balance. At the later stage of the training, it is the reverse. A senior practitioner should learn how to make use of the force generated by the lose of balance. This is not a situation of really losing one's balance. The unbalanced position is somewhat "intentional" by making use of the TADB. It is "created" as a result of "sticking, adhering, connecting and following" to an opponent to such an extreme that one can no longer maintain his balance.

A skillful practitioner can, however, make use of the power produced by such an "unbalanced" position to uproot his opponent and, through uprooting the opponent, maintain his balance again - he is now in a recovery mode. It's just like holding the hand rail in a moving train to maintain one's balance. The power as generated by an unbalanced body is not enough to move a train, but it is more than sufficient to uproot an opponent.

This is the conversion of balance and unbalance, the conversion of Yin and Yang.

Monday, July 20, 2009

The Myths of the Taijiquan Form

1. The Myth of the Standard Form

These ceramic figures represent some postures of the "Standard Form" Yang style taijiquan prescribed by the Wushu authorities in Mainland China.

This so called "Standard Form" has been set up for many years and it has been practising by millions of people in China and all over the world.

Some time ago, there was a video clip circulating on the web purporting to be a demonstration by the late Master Yang Shou Zong (the fourth generation gate-keeper, great grand son of Grand Master Yang Lu Chen, who stayed in Hong Kong after the 2nd World War), practising the taijiquan form on his 70th birthday. While following the same sequence, the form as demonstrated by late Master Yang (showing, inter alia, a 100% to 0% balance) is obviously different from the "Standard Form" in many respects.

The Yang taijiquan was originally passed down by the Yang family.

Who defined the standard, the Yang family gate-keeper or the Wushu authorities?

Different people may have different answers.

My view is that if you do not understand the fundamental principles of taiji martial art and their relationship with the taijiquan form, a form is only a form. An empty form has very little value from a martial art perspective. However, if you only treat taijiquan as a morning exercise, and you do find that the form you are practising is beneficial to your health, why bother?

On the other hand, if you already have a good understanding of the fundamental principles, it should not bother you either. You should have no difficulties in identifying which form to practise.

2. The Myth of the Fighting / Application Form

In the past 10 years or so, we start seeing people telling the world that there are in fact two types of taijiquan forms. The "Health Form" is for health purpose and the "Fighting / Application Form" is for fighting applications. According to these people, the "Health Form" was designed for the general public and aim at promoting good health only and that the "Fighting / Application Form" is the "real" art and reserved secretly in the Masters' small circles and was transmitted on secretly.

I have no comment on the authenticity of these claims. Be that as it may, do we really need such kind of form distinction?

As discussed previously, practising the taijiquan form is good for health for, amongst others, the following reasons:

1. For body and mind coordination; and

2. For recovery from injuries and illness.

When I first learned taijiquan, there was no such "health form" and "fighting / application form" distinction. Whether you learned the form for health purpose or for martial art training, the teacher taught you the same form - If you know how to coordinate your body and mind efficiently in your movements, you obtain a balanced body and you will have good health. For martial art training, you also need to develop a balanced body before you are in a position to learn the application techniques, so you practise the form as part of the training (you will need to train in other things to reach the martial art standard). Hence, everyone learned the same taijiquan form from the very beginning.

After a practitioner's body has revived back to the balanced position (in the martial art standard to be exact), the form can be used to fine tune the body and mind coordination. You do the form slowly, in accordance with the martial art requirements, so as to check if each part of the body has been fully activated. However, this is not something a beginner or a practitioner in the intermediate level can appreciate.

The reality is that practising the taijiquan form is only part, and the elementary part, of the Taiji Martial Art system.

Whilst taijiquan form is important to the system, it is incorrect to believe that one can acquire some super-natural power by learning the "right" form or that one can become a fighter by practising the form alone. There is no shortcut to success. In order to become a real taiji martial artist, one has to undergo a series of hard training. There is no secret in this.

In order to develop a balanced body, you will of course need to prastise the taijiquan form in the correct manner.

3. The Myth of Soft as if Without Bones

As the taijiquan form is good for health, a lot of people practise it everyday as "morning exercise". However, it appears to me that not many people know how to do it in a "correct" manner and, therefore, cannot get the best out of it.

By "correct" I mean meeting the requirements as set down in various Taijiquan classics.

One such requirement is that "when you move, the whole body moves; when you stop, the whole body stops".

The purpose behind this requirement is that, you coordinate various parts of your body to do a task. For morning exercise purpose, this trains a practitioner to keep good control of his body and learn how to maintain his balance (reducing the chance of falling down due to lose of balance on slippery floor). While the muscles power of a practitioner may not be be strong, he can still be active if muscles in different parts of his body can work together in carrying out a task.

The requirement is to move different parts of your body coherently. There should be a linkage between these separate parts such that the movement of one part will enhance the movement of the other related parts.

You gain very little benefit, if, for example:

(1) after your main action has stopped, you extend your arm / leg slowly, pretending to be artistic, relax and soft; or

(2) separate parts of your body do things separately / independently, pretending to be soft as if without bones.

In these 2 circumstances, a practitioner uses individual parts of his body separately and independently. Hence, he cannot get the benefit discussed above. You can regard this as a kind of exercise nevertheless, but this kind of exercise can not be regarded as up to standard in the taiji system, and there is no room for further development.

Taiji emphasises "softness and relaxation". Such "softness and relaxation" is a kind of "coordinated softness /relaxation" engineered by "will power". It does not equal to the misinformed concepts of "absence of strength" or "soft as if without bones" - such misconceived "softness" leads to the defect of "detach" in application techniques.

Apart from coordinating the mind and body, there are other requirements, such as: relax your shoulder, lower your elbow, sink your chest, pluck up your back, upright your tailbone and upright your head, etc.

All these requirements, like the requirement of coordination, have their respective rationale in the martial art aspect and should not be taken literally.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Bow and Arrow

Taiji learners like to talk about the five bows in the body. It is said that "Fa Jing" is like shooting out an arrow.

However, very few know exactly how the bows operate. Without knowing how the bows operate, one can never shoot out an arrow successfully, not to say with power.

The most important member of the five bows is the body bow. Many contemporary taiji commentators say that the body bow is the spine. According to them, what you need to do is to curve your spine and make it straight again, just like pulling the string of the bow and release it, in order to send out the power.

It gets you nowhere if your follow this method.

It is true that you need to move your spine in order to send out the internal force. However, it cannot be done by curving and straightening your spine in the normal way. You need to activate your back muscles and the related power channels in the very first place in order to utilise the power of your body bow. Before your back muscles are activated and the related power channels opened, the purported curving and straightening of your spine is meaningless - You only curve / straighten your body by contracting / extending the muscles in the front part of your body. Your spine is still sleeping.

You need to think about "fa jing" from the perspective of exercising coherent bodily force. It is not just a matter of opening the bows (all five bows). It is the coordination of the whole body, whereupon the whole body contracts or extends coherently and in a very short slice of time, with your back performing the decisive role.

Assuming that you have activated your back muscles and opened the related power channels. The next step is to find out the way to pull the string of the bow. The method is to contract the back muscles and then extend it. It is the converse of opening the string of a physical bow where you extend the string first and then release it to let it contract again.

It is the expansion of power that sends the power arrow out. You cannot send out the arrow by the other way round.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Lock Horns

The lock horns position is a typical example of positive force versus positive force. He who is stronger will win the contest (the "Strong Man Principle"). However, no matter how strong you are, your body condition will decline as time goes by and you will meet people stronger than you.

The Taiji Classic said, if the stronger person will always win, what's the point of learning an art (of martial)?

Most martial art schools have their own specific application techniques to overcome the Strong Man Principle.

In Taiji, the Yin Yang Conversion Principle is the answer. Applying the Yin Yang Conversion Principle, a weak party makes use of the strength of the strong party to defeat the latter. It does not mean that a strong body is useless - you still need a strong physical body to support your skill. It's just that muscle strength no longer plays a decisive role here. The weak party and the strong party have equal chances. He who has the higher skill and can apply the yin /yang principle creatively has a higher chance to win.

As a starting point, a taiji practitioner should first go through the "Know Your Own Self" stage to recreate the coordinated body condition. This is the foundation of the art. An internal martial artist builds up a natural body rather than a body with strong muscle power.

Some misinformed internal martial art practitioner over emphaize the importance of "Fa Jing" or "Coherent bodily force". It is correct that after acquiring a natural body, an internal martial artist becomes very powerful as he can utilise coherent bodily force. However, no matter how powerful he has become - he is still a slave of the "Strong Man Principle" if he simply uses his power to defeat a weaker opponent.

A buffalo is strong. We appreciate the strength of a buffalo, but we do not want to act like a buffalo. With the suitable skill, a small boy can control a buffalo by knotting a string to the buffalo's nose. That's where the application techniques come into the picture.

It is not to say that a natural body is not important. A Taiji practitioner will not be able to skillfully apply the Yin Yang Conversion Principle in the absence of a natural body. You will need the flexibility of a natural body to exercise the application technique. With a natural body, a Taiji practitioner is qualified to enter the "Know Others" stage and start learning the Taiji skill.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

On Positive And Negative - Towards a Theory of Yin Yang Conversion

Some technical notes on Occupying the Centre:

Each person has his own centre. When in action and in contact, a proficient taiji practitioner, through body contact, uses Yin (negative) force to meet Yang (positive) force and merges the centres of 2 persons into one. Technically speaking, there can only be one centre in a coherent moving force. The practitioner will either use his own centre to take over the other person's centre or use the other's centre as his own centre (advanced technique). The purpose is to procure Yin / Yang conversion between the 2 persons. The centres separate again after the conversion.

+ and - ---> O ---> - and +

separation (Yang / Yin) ----> unification ----> (Yin / Yang) separation

Where there is no movement, there is no Yin and Yang, and there is no room for taiji.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Recovery Mode - The Four Corners

Four Square Forces can be applied in a circular manner. There is no difference between a "Square" force and a "Circular" force.

The Four Square Forces are the four main forces in the Taiji martial art system.

Some contemporary writers consider that the Four Square Forces can only be used in 4 straight forward directions. According to these writers, the Four Corner Forces were introduced to make up the balance such that a practitioner can deal with his opponents from all directions. Some even said that the Four Corner Forces are high level forces which are more powerful than the Four Square Forces and that they are embodied in and practised through the "Circular Forms". These views are however, a departure from the Taiji martial art principles.

Four Square Forces can be applied in a circular manner. There is no difference between a "Square" force and a "Circular" force, if you know how to do it. Likewise, there is no such distinction between a "Square Form" and a "Circular Form" if you know the essence of the art. Hence, there is no need to introduce to the system "new " measures to "make up the balance".

What then are the Four Corner Forces?

According to "On the Art of Taiji", the Four Square Forces provides a Taiji practitioner the ammunition required in action. However, a practitioner, unless extremely skillful, will inevitably alter his best positioning in action. What can he do then? The answer is in the Four Corner Forces.

The Four Corner Forces are remedial tools available to a Taiji practitioner when he loses his optimum position. Hence, they are supplemental to the Four Square Forces and the practitioner should recover back to the Four Squares after regaining the optimum position. When a practitioner uses the Four Corner Forces, he is in a recovery mode.

[typo (underlined) fixed on 1 May 2014]

Saturday, May 30, 2009

The Four Square Forces - What are they?

"10 out of 10 Taiji practitioners do not know what Peng, Lei, Ji, An actually are"

The Four Square Forces are interrelated. The "Peng" and the "Lei" form one pair. The "Ji" and the "An" form another pair. You need the "Peng" to do the "Lei", and the "Lei" to do the "Peng". They are "two in one" and which forms "three". This is the "Harmonization of Water and Fire". The same holds true for the "Ji" and the "An".

Each of the Square Forces has its own power generating direction. These power generating directions are located in such a way that they form an imaginary "cross sign" in the body. Further, "Peng", "Lei", "Ji" and "An" each represent a direction in the I-Ching system, and which 4 directions form a "cross sign". Hence, we have the Four Squares.

Many people (not only the morning exercisers) mistakenly equate the postures in "Grasping the Bird's Tail" with the Four Square Forces. While the "Grasping Bird's Tail" embodied the forms of "4 Squares" and "4 Corners", it is only a demonstration of certain aspects as to how these forces can be applied.

The saying that "10 out of 10 Taiji practitioners do not know what Peng, Lei, Ji, An actually are" may be an exaggerated statement, but the secret of the Four Square Forces is always jealously guarded and kept away from those outside the door.

"On the Art of Taiji" considers that the abilities to generate the Four Squares (and the Four Corners) Forces are inborn. We lost these abilities because of "civilization".

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Second Principle: Turning Yin and Yang Upside Down

The principle of "Turning Yin and Yang Upside Down" involves the harmonizing of two antagonistic forces so that they give rise to a new force.

In "On the Art of Taiji", the benefit of this harmonization is explained symbolically: Water and fire are two antagonistic elements, with fire burning up and water wetting down. Putting the fire on the bottom and the water on the top is like turning Yin and Yang upside down. However, it requires special treatment to deal with the new position. The method is to put a bowl in between. The water cannot go down and the fire has a ceiling. We can then have warm water. This is the harmonization of water and fire.

"Turning Yin and Yang Upside Down" is the key to decipher the real meaning of the Eight Forces (The Four Squares and the Four Corners). Each of the Eight Forces is the result of harmonizing two antagonistic power generating directions from within the body. These Eight Forces are not to be used separately. They are interrelated and complementing each other in pairs like the Water and the Fire.

First Principle - Back to the Origin

Can you see a man practising Standing Exercise in the picture?

Standing Exercise is one of the core exercises of internal martial arts. A practitioner stands in a particular posture and does not appear to move his body for the whole training session.

The purpose of the Standing Exercise is to enable a practitioner to "get back to the origin".

It is said that when we were at the infant stage, our whole body moved coherently. This was an inborn ability. However, in order to learn those civilised acts such as walking and writing, we learned to use our muscles, joints, etc., separately and independently. In order to do so, we let some of the "useless parts" of our body "sleep" such that they would not hinder the effectiveness of the "useful parts". From then onwards, we lost our ability to exercise coherent bodily force. Through the Standing Exercise, an internal martial artist calls up the "sleeping parts"of his body. Based on this, a martial artist can then, through further trainings, maximize the efficiency of his body. In Taiji, we call this the "Know Your Ownself Stage".

"Absolute stillness gives birth to motion" is the key behind the Exercise. The main purpose of the Standing Exercise is to call up the sleeping parts of the body and not, as some misinformed persons believe, a training of leg muscles - to get a firm "horse stance".

After calling up the "sleeping parts" and having learned how to coordinate and strengthen various parts of his body on the basis of an awakened natural body, a practitioner can, and it is only then, start learning various application techniques.

For "External Martial Arts", you train up your body by strengthening your muscles power. In "Internal Martial Arts", your power comes from the awakened natural body.

One has to note that before the "sleeping parts" are activated, there is no point learning advanced moving exercises and application techniques. Otherwise, all these moving exercises are useless "empty forms" and all those application techniques are simply impracticable.

Without first "know your ownself", you will not be able to "know the other".

- [ Last Edit - 29.04.11]

Taiji - Martial Art or Morning Exercise

"Is Taiji a martial art?"

"The movements of taijiquan are too slow. How can I use it to defend myself?"

"I know that taiji is powerful, but why can't I make use of its techniques in self-defence after practising it for so many years? Should I go to the gym to train up my muscles? Should I try hitting sand bag?"

These are questions frequently asked by the "taiji beginners".

Taijiquan practitioners are all familiar with the stories of Yang Lu Chen learning Taijiquan in the Chen Village and how he became the teacher of the princes and generals in the Royal Palace. It was said that Yang Lu Chen and his two sons (and his grandsons) were great taijiquan fighters and no one could defeat them at their time.

Nowadays, many people practise the taijiquan form(s) but most of them do not know how to apply the form(s) in action.

We have to understand that the taijiquan form is only one of the essential elements in the taiji martial art system. In order to become a real taiji martial artist, one has to undergo a series of hard training so that his body condition is fit enough to learn and apply the techniques. This is a really difficult task and it requires a practitioner to invest significant time and effort. Further, the teacher's effort is required to loosen up the joints - your body condition is the end product of your teacher's effort!

There should be no secret in this.

Bad art drives out the good

This is a strange world:

I did actually see a "taiji teacher" telling his students that they can utilise the taiji power and techniques by only practising the taijiquan form everyday.

"You will gradually know how to apply the techniques by doing the form day after day. You will be able to fight rightly in the taiji way instinctively, " said the "taiji teacher"..............

I have also seen people investing their money, time and effort to learn the "true" and "rare" taijiquan form(s), dreaming that they will become a grand master some day - probably they will take part in some taijiquan form competitions, win a couple of gold medals, and start a new school of taiji.

Perhaps this phenomenon is another exemplification of the economic theory of "Bad money drives out the good".

Purposes of doing the form

What then are the purposes of doing the taijiquan form(s)?

Here are some of them:

1. For body and mind coordination: The form was designed to enable movement of the human body in a coordinated and efficient manner. When you move your hands in a taijiquan action, your legs and your spine are usually moving correspondingly in support as well. You mind is trained to move many parts of your body in one go.

The guiding principle behind the first aspect is the maximisation of the efficiency of the human body:

(a) If you can do a task by using one ounce of strength, you should use one ounce only, nothing more and nothing less - save your energy. A correct and balanced body structure will assist you to best utilise your strength.

(b) A group of weak mucles working together could be more powerful than the force produced by an individual piece of strong muscle.

2. For recovery from injuries and illness (internal and external): the slow and coordinated movements of taijiquan enhance the self-recovery mechanism within a human body. If a practitioner gets hurt in a contentious practice, the teacher will encourage him to do the taijiquan form to enhance the recovery process. The slow motion form is a form of "chi" exercise which enhance your intrinsic power. With suitable breathing rhythm, the external movements activate the movements of the internal organs, fostering recovery from diseases caused by mental stress, over drinking, over smoking or lack of exercises.

3. To enable the students to remember the application techniques: There are various styles of taijiquan and each style has its own small circle and big circle forms. Each form embodies a separate genre of fighting techniques. Some on joint locks, some on throwing, some on striking. These techniques make good use of leverage, take advantage of centripetal and centrifugal, and most importantly apply the yin / yang conversion principle. The forces utlised in Taiji Martial Art are completely different from the power acquired through sand bag hitting or weight lifting. The techniques are jealously guarded and seldomly taught (you are not able to study them through any published material). Many of them are impracticable without the support of the required body condition. These techniques are exercised beautifully but the damage done on an opponent could be horrible. They are the results of profound researches on the human bodies. In action, a taiji martial artist's movement is very fast.

Morning Exercise and Health

For those who wish to obtain good health by practising the taijiquan form(s), the first and the second aspects are very useful.

The first aspect trains a practitioner to keep a good control of his body and learn how to maintain his balance (reducing the chance of falling down due to lose of balance on slippery floor). While the muscles power of a practitioner is not strong, he can still be active if muscles in different parts of his body can work together in carrying out a task.

The usefulness of the second aspect is self-explanatory. It has been proved by many researches that the taijiquan form helps to speed up the recovery processes of patients, in particular from resporatory or gastial diseases.

For health purposes, a good understanding of the first 2 aspects should be sufficient. However, one should note that training of the form in these two aspects alone is not qualified or adequate to be regarded as martial art training - Up to this point, the form can only be regarded as a kind of "morning exercises". One has to note that, without going through the training in the "Know Your Own Self Stage", the level of body and mind coordination acquired through doing the form alone is low. Such level of coordination is sufficient for normal daily activities but inadequate for martial art applications.

How about learning the third aspect?

Appreciation of the Art

For health purpose alone, a morning exerciser need not learn the application techniques. As mentioned earlier, it is very difficult to put the techniques into practise without the support of the required body condition. Having said that, I would say that it is a pleasure to have a good understanding of the application techniques embodied in the taiji form.

Appreciating the applications is different from putting the applications into practice. It is similiar to the appreciation of artworks.

In order to appreciate the quality of a great painting, you need not be an artist or a painter yourself. Not every art museum visitor wants to become a painter. But in order to be able to truely appreciate the quality of a great painting, some basic understanding of the drawing techniques is essential.

With this in your heart, the taijiquan you practise in the morning will no longer be an "Empty Form".


Martial Art and health appear to be conflicting. Real Taiji involves destructive techniques and cannot be considered as a healthy activity - there are also chances of getting hurt during training, which is unavoidable if you want to acquire the skills. On the other hand, morning exercise is not qualified to be a martial art training. I have therefore brought in the element of Appreciation as a balance, in contrast to the "Taiji Teacher" I met previously.

So we have the following elements in the semiotic diagram above:

1. The Taiji Martial Art;
2. The Taiji Martial Art Appreciation;
3. The Taiji Morning Exercise; and
4. The "Taiji Teacher"