Saturday, December 18, 2010

Bamboo and Mercury - training with a sabre

One of the characteristics of the bamboo is straight outside and hollow inside. Ancient Chinese scholars used it to signify the upright character of a respectable gentleman.

Internal Martial Art requires a practitioner to utilise his internal force like "mercury in a bamboo pipe", to facilitate non-dissipation of power during force transmission process. In an ideal situation, the force as transmitted should like mercury flowing freely within a bamboo pipe.

In the classic article "The General Principle of Consecutive Taiji Sabre Techniques", Master Wang Yu Yau (1615-1684) disclosed the secret of using a heavy sabre to develop the free float of energy. Wang criticizes the mistakes of those people who use physical strength to maneuver a saber of light weight. In reality, such a practitioner gathers his strength first before moving the sabre. The end result is unsatisfactory as his strength has been locked up in his bones - the movement turns out to be slow and the weight of the sabre will not assist.

Making use of the weight of a heavy sabre and maneuver the same with a relaxed body, a practitioner's internal energy flows towards and inside the saber - like the flowing of mercury inside a bamboo pipe.

The weight of the heavy sabre leads the body, assisting a practitioner to develop the connection of power channels within the body.

Unlike training with a sword (with "gate of life" opened most of the time), sabre movements lay importance on the closing of the "gate of life".

Trainings with heavy tools should be performed with care - do not go for it if your body is not fit enough to master the tools.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Nei Gong - the internal power

Nei Gong is a mysteries subject in internal martial art.

For an internal martial art practitioner, power is re-acquired through awakening the sleeping parts of the body, so that he can utilise coherent bodily force. To fine tune this re-acquired power, the awakened parts should be conditioned so the power transmission process can be maximized . This is where the Nei Gong Training enters into the picture.

Nei Gong Training looks like breathing exercise. However, Nei Gong Training emphasises full inhalation and full exhalation. This is done, and should only be done, on the basis that the sleeping parts of the body have been awakened.

The rationale behind full inhalation and exhalation is to let the body go through a series of "high pressure" and "vacuum" conditions. The practitioner takes advantage of these conditions to direct / force the energy to break through the desired channels in his re-acquired "natural body". It will also assist to withstand pain when being hit.

In the Taiji Martial Art System, the Nei Gong Training is taught at the advanced level and mostly handed down in person - increasing its mysterification. However, one must not over emphasize the importance of Nei Gong and consider it as the ultimate goal of the art.

Nei Gong should be treated as a supplement to the yin yang conversion application technique so that the practitioner can utilize the technique more efficiently. Relying solely on or putting most of the eggs in the basket of Nei Gong will unfortunately turn a practitioner into a slave of the Strong Man Principle, reducing the art to another form of horn knocking exercise.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Shoulder Joints

In the course of fundamental training, the shoulder joints of a taiji practitioner should be loosened.

Reason for loosening of the shoulder joints: To obtain greater flexibility and power in dissolving and /or emitting force.

In dissolving a force: The loosened shoulder joint works with the coordination of the back power to divert those forces which come through the arm to a different direction. This can be done by making just a small turn in the shoulder joint. Such economy of action enables a practitioner to maintain his optimum position, whilst diverting / dissolving the force, so that he can counter attack immediately within a close range without the need to step back and forth or to make various body adjustments to maintain his optimum position.

In emitting coherent bodily force: a practitioner, the loosened shoulder joint(s), can send out the force arrow by making a small circular turn of the shoulder joint - there is no need to hold the arm back and strike again.

In the process of Yin Yang Conversion, dissolving and emitting are accomplished within one circular movement of the joint.

Loosening of the shoulder joints and other principal joints have to be done by the teacher - DIY is not possible. Don't believe that you can loosen the joints by practising the Taijiquan Form alone. The Form can, however, be used to regulate and optimize the coordination of the body, making use of the loosened joints.

It is easier for the teacher to get the job done if the student learns the art at around 10 or even earlier. It takes a few years' regular training to complete the process. It is very difficult, if not impossible, to loosen the joints if the student has already reached full age.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Utilisation of the Back Power

For an internal martial art practitioner, power is acquired through awakening the sleeping parts of the body, so that he can utilise coherent bodily force.

In Taiji, this is called the "Know your own self" stage . After you have revived your body and mind coordination, you can then enter the "Know others" stage to learn the application techniques. It is an incorrect approach to learn the application skills (know others) before your body has been revived back to the original conditions (know your own self), as your body and mind coordination is not yet fit enough to manage the application techniques.

An important part of our body which needs to be awakened, for the purpose of regaining coherent bodily force, is the muscles on our back plus the related power transmission channels. Whilst we do use our back muscles in our daily activities, many of us could not utilise these muscles to their full potential. The inborn ability to use the back power gradually disappeared as we started to learn to use our muscles separately and independently. Without going through proper training, we will not be able to regain this ability and we have little control over our back muscles. It is normal that a person does not feel the existence of his back muscles unless they are being touched by external objects. If one cannot coordinate the waist, the back and the shoulders to work together simultaneously, there is serious dissapation of power in between these parts.

One of the methods to call up the back muscles and the related power channel, and to enhance the coordination of different parts of the human body, is to practise standing exercises. Some standing forms, like the "Santi Forms" are specially designed for this. They are effective tools which help activate the back muscles and open the related power transmission channels. Appearing to be relaxed outside, a practitioner feels great tension from within while doing these trainings. Through these trainings, an internal martial artist re-acquires the ability of utilising his back power. It is not an exercise on the back muscles alone (otherwise the practitioner should go to the gym and consult a coach on this rather than doing internal martial art) but an exercise to facilitate the coordination of the mind and the body as a whole. The involvement of will power (for opening up the power transmission channels and control of the back) is more important than simply strengthening the muscles.

An indicator of success is a control of the back muscles at will and utilisation of the back power in combat. The practitioner should feel that he is now more powerful. He can "hit" with the back (a very important and decisive achievement) and can "float" up an opponent by making use of the movements of the back.

He should then be able to use the technique of "sticking" at the later training stage and should be in a position to really appreciating what it is meant by "Chi at the back" as referred to in the Taiji Classics.

[last adjustments: 12.06.2011

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Footwork- Entering the Taiji Ring Circle

"A teacher only teaches hand techniques to his student; the footwork is kept to himself. If not, the student can defeat the teacher."

" Retreating from the Ring Circle is Easy; Entering the Ring Circle is difficult,"

Footwork is not really that secret but it is true that the same is often taught in the advanced level in most martial art systems. In the preliminary stage, a junior student learns how to coordinate his mind and body in a static position. There is no point to teach the juniors any footwork as their body condition is not fit enough to master the skill. The demand for coordination is much greater if one moves forward or backward. Yet, footwork is not limited to coordinating the body and mind whilst moving forward and backward.

Footwork provides a martial artist an additional momentum in action.

The old saying "if your feet do not follow the hands, you are not able to hit your opponent; if your feet come together with your hands, hitting your opponent is as easy as picking up a grass from the ground", refers to the effectiveness of this additional momentum.

Furthermore, and perhaps most importantly, it enables a martial artist to take a good offending / defending position by moving around his opponent - an effective way to avoid locking horn with the opponent. Some footwork are designed to get oneself to an advantageous position in split seconds without alerting his opponent - I see you, but you don't see me; I was in front of you a moment ago, but I am now at your back..

In the taiji martial art system, footwork is not explicit in the taijiquan form. Other than some turn arounds, it seems that you move forward in a straight line in the form training. If you move in a straight line, how can you execute centripetal force or centrifugal force effectively in action? The best you can do is to "roll" vertically or horizontally or in whatever angle a static ball can do.

The taijiquan form is not an all inclusive system. Whilst it may be arguably correct to say that the form has footwork embedded in it (e.g. before stepping forward, the front leg should make a slight outward turn), you need a teacher to decipher it for you - just like you need a teacher to decipher the application techniques embedded in the form. In any event, you have to train on the footwork as deciphered separately and intensively, as the movements in the form training are far from sufficient to enable a practitioner to be fit enough to apply the technique. You are then in fact practising a different set of skill. That is not to say practising the form is useless - it is an essential element in fine tuning the body / mind control (if you know how to do it) - but a practitioner should know its limitation.

The circular footwork are taught at the advanced stage. The disclosed form (i.e. what you can see from the published material) includes the "Da Lei" push hand form, which include a variety of circular footwork. The weapons forms also include a number of advanced footwork. Don't think that the footwork in the weapon forms is limited to weapon applications.

Footwork in Taiji enables movement of the body like a spinning top. You move from the outer ring into the centre; your opponent is driven from the centre to the outer ring.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Advanced Training Tool - Taiji Pole

This is a traditional "White-Wax Pole" and is about 10 feet in length.

The long pole is a tool for advanced training in the Taiji Martial Art System.

One most common training method is the shaking of the pole. You can find a lot of published material on this subject and there are many related videos circulating on the internet.

I do not intend to analyse the published training methods here but it seems to me that without knowing how to handle the pole; and without knowing the role of the pole in the Taiji Martial Art System, a practitioner will easily fall into the trap of the "Strong Man Principle".

If you wish to develop strong muscles, shaking the pole with all your strength may produce the desired results. But what additional benefit can you obtain by shaking a pole instead of doing weight lifting in a gym?

The Taiji Pole is a high level training tool. Before you take up the pole, you should already have a clear understanding of the fundamental principles in taiji, knowing which part(s) of your body is the focus of the pole training; and anticipating how the pole training could assist you to improve your skill.

One rationale behind the shaking is to acquire the skill of applying the force to a destinated part of the opponent's body through body contact.

Apart from shaking, there is also the training of sending out the pole through the opening and closing of the "Kua".

10 feet is the minimun length. A shorter pole cannot provide the flexibility required.

The long pole is for those who have completed the "Know you ownself" stage. Leave the pole alone if you are not yet ready for it.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Abandoning Oneself and Following the Other

[Note: this article was originally Part VII of "Occupying the Centre". A substantive part of it has been re-written. ]

A bridge is a structure that allows things to cross from one side to the other.

In order to control an opponent and to take over his centre in close quarter combat, a connection between the two bodies has to be established.

One of the "know others" techniques is the setting up of a "bridge" between oneself and the opponent through body contact. Once a connection is made, the opponent loses his centre. The two bodies merge as one and the centre of the opponent dissolves. He who occupies the centre takes charge of the next step.

Bridging is an application of the technique of connecting. A continuous connection is necessary to maintain the control. If the connection is not established, the condition amounts to the defect of "detach", the centres cannot be merged and you will be in danger of being hit.

In an ideal situation, you take over the opponent's centre once you cross the bridge. Your centre becomes the centre of the two bodies. You then unbalanced him in any way you like. It is, however, difficult to achieve this in reality. In case your opponent is alerted of your intention and retreats, a connection is difficult to establish. Your opponent will not cooperate with you to let you make the connection at will in a real confrontation. Once he feels he is in the verge of being controlled, he will move instinctively and break the bridging.

To overcome this undesirable condition, the technique of connection should be supplemented by the techniques of adhering, sticking and following. Instead of letting your opponent get away, you stick to him even if it will end up losing your center - a skillful practitioner will abandon his centre and "hang" himself on the retreating opponent and use the opponent's centre as the centre of the merged bodies. Whilst the centre appears to be staying outside of one's "own body", the connection enables extension of control from one's body to the opponent's body. This ensure continuous connection notwithstanding the opponent moves his body and tries to escape. In a continuous connection, the more the opponent moves, the more difficult it will be for him to maintain his balance as he has to support the weigh of two bodies - you and he sharing the same centre with you controlling it.

The practitioner abandons his own centre with a view to controlling the opponent's centre.This is an example of how the principle of "abandoning oneself and following the other" is put into practice.