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.