Sunday, October 25, 2015

Hold the line, don't move it

Today, while I practiced with Ernie, I was getting tied up with him with his right hand holding my right wrist, and his left arm across my chest being held by my left hand. I created a split at my right shoulder-kua line to enhance the lock. There was a line from his elbow to his right(rear) foot. My right leg was in front of his left leg with our thighs touching. While holding that line, I moved my right foot back towards his left leg (there was no hitting of the leg though), he fell straight down to the ground as if falling into a hole.

Holding the line was so important while execute a move.  We just needed to follow a procedure.
There were definitely cases when it didn't work as well. It was because I moved my top while moving my right leg.  Having a clear separation of not moving and moving was the key.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Learning Yilu…15,000 times and counting

When I first studied practical method in Nov. 2009, there were a few things that made a long lasting impression. They were:
  1. In with elbow no hand, out with hand no elbow.
  2. Don’t move
  3. Yilu, which is made up of only positive and negative circles.
Many beginners including myself usually ask the following questions:
  1. How did you (Master Chen) know to do that?
  2. How can I not move?
  3. What can I do that myself?
  4. How do I train that?
Most of the times the answer was to do yilu. In fact, when I first heard about yilu, I wondered about the funny name and what it really was. Yilu was actually mandarin pronunciation for  一路 meaning first road/first routine. How can yilu be so magical? The next thing I heard was I had to do 10,000 yilus to understand. That was a big number. How many times would I need to do each day/each week in order to achieve that? The immediate thought was that I might never be able to achieve that.  One of the things that Master Chen mentioned was to video-record yilus periodically, and I would be able to see progress if I practiced.

Although I was following someone to mimic the yilu movements during my first 5-day workshop, which was the third Toronto workshop, I only practiced positive and negative circles for 3 months between my first and second workshops, as those were all I could remember. In order not to embarrass myself, I cramped the first 13 moves into memory just before the second workshop. Since the Toronto group was young and no one knew the whole form, Master Chen taught the form move by move. I found it difficult to follow the movements during the workshop in such a fast pace to remember much of the details. I decided to prepare better and learn the form from the video ahead of time before the next workshop. I followed a plan to learn a set number of moves each week. It took me about 5 months to learn the basic choreography. Just before my fourth workshop, I was able to perform a complete yilu on my own, that was about 9 months since I started Practical Method.

Master Chen’s Detailed Yilu Instructions video was excellent. It wasn’t just the follow-me along kind, he explained each move in great detail. I learned from the mandarin version, and later also watched the Yilu Energy Alignment series.

Although I didn’t really think that I would ever reach 10,000 yilus as I only practiced twice a week at first at a pace of about 15 yilus a week, I did use the yilu counting tool to record the number of yilus I did since day one. In Oct. 2011, I started practicing 5 yilus daily (well, almost daily), then 6, 8, 10, 12, 15, 18, back down to 10, and recently at most 20 (which lasted for 8 months) before back down to 10. Later on, I realized counting yilus was like saving money in a bank with regular deposits, the balance would increase gradually.  It was a satisfying feeling.

Reaching the goal of 10,000 yilus (Jan 2015) or 15,000 yilus (Oct 2015) didn’t give me any magical power, theyilu training, however, gave me a better structure, I understood more about why the form needed to be trained in a certain way. My understanding of body posture and structure increased. I was able to see the energy path better and could see the line that Master Chen often talked about. I had no clue for many workshops when he talked about the line, but one day I started seeing it.  During the yilu practice, I often had ah-ha moments, which happened more often then than in any other time.

Master Chen corrected my form bit by bit in each workshop and through my yilu video-recording. He often picked a move to correct, and asked me to put the same concepts into the rest of the form. We must have a focus in every yilu practice, otherwise we are just going through the motions without a purpose. Here are some of my focuses, which I had 1 or 2 at a time, over the years:

  1. Learn the choreography by dissecting each action into either a positive or negative circle. It is mostly not a full circle as done as a foundation exercise, it may just be an arc.
  2. Make sure elbow-in and hand-out are done for all of those positive and negative circles.
  3. Make sure the foot work and orientation are correct. Most of the stances are half horse stances, some are just oriented in an oblique way, e.g. Brush Knee.
  4. Breathe through the nose, and keep the mouth closed. Breathe deeply into the diaphragm.
  5. Every move needs to be clear. Elbow in, hand out. Segmented, robotic. No extra/unnecessary actions.
  6. Keep the same height throughout the entire form, e.g.- Don’t stand up at the end of Golden Warrior Pound Mortar or Six Sealing Four Closing.- Don’t stand up before kicking for Rub Right/Left Foot.
  7. Negative circle for the left arm in Block Touching Coat.
  8. Negative circle on the left arm in Step Back to Double Shake Feet.
  9. Keep vertical axis straight in Turning Flower From the Bottom of the Sea. There is no turning on the left foot.
  10. Rear knee pointing up in half horse stance
  11. No tossing of the centre.
  12. Keep back straight at all times. Tuck in the tail bone. Normally, we have a curve on the lower back.
  13. Stick front kua up to touch the opponent.
  14. Don’t look down.
  15. Front knee not moving as the rear leg moves up, e.g. in Cloud Hands and Six Sealing Four Closing.
  16. No shoulder pop as I do hand out in positive circles, e.g. last right hand out in brush knee.
  17. Tie the shoulders to the kua or the ground throughout the form.
  18. Heel out for front foot going forward, toes out for foot going backwards.
  19. Initial closing: Elbow in through dantian to rear foot.
  20. For positive circles, hand must always be above the elbow.
  21. Wrist straight at all times. This trains other joints to stretch move and do more work.
  22. Elbow bent at all times, and the tip of the elbow always point to the ground.
  23. Low stance. How low? As low as possible as long as the kuas are above the knees.
  24. No leaning or bending forward.
  25. Every move needs to have a fixed point.
  26. Stretch at the very end of every move.
  27. Front kua must always be higher than the rear kua.  Front kua is supported by the rear kua, which in turn is supported by the rear foot.
  28. Train with power. Don’t be loose.
  29. Keep the stretch going throughout. No gap. No power fluctuations.
  30. The front hand needs to be connected to the rear foot.
  31. Every move should have two dots that are moving opposite to each other.
  32. Always maintain a spear forward from the bottom.
  33. Don’t turn the torso when doing cloud hands, fist drape over body, just after White Crane. The arm movements need to wrap around a solid fixed rod.
  34. Keep the head not moving, so the centre line does not get dragged into the movements, and only stretches vertically.
  35. Don’t move the front hand, stretch the rear leg.
  36. Every move must start from the waist.
  37. Add fajin into a few moves to train the power from the waist.

I knew I had to be patient, and couldn’t be greedy in corrections. It took many repetitions to make a bit of progress. I often trained each point for some period of time and moved on to the next focus when I was sort of doing it without thinking too much about it. It didn’t mean I got it perfectly, as I would never do. In fact, I needed to keep reminding and checking myself on those points. At one point, a regression happened as my buttock started protruding again, and Master Chen noticed and said to me, “What happened to you?” I then spent a few months fixing it. The above points would warrant revisiting as additional insights could be gained in the future.

Out of the many Master Chen’s videos, I loved the yilu correction ones the most. I often found ideas on what to work on next. Everybody’s mistakes are my mistakes too. Those videos helped so much in between Master Chen’s visits.

One last important note about practicing yilu is that we must have good grip with the floor. We should not train on a slippery surface, otherwise the wrong muscles will be engaged and trained.

I used to have pain at the neck, shoulders, lower back due to sitting in front of a computer in long periods. After about 4 years of practice, I noticed that I didn’t need to go to chiropractor and massage therapist in a regular basis anymore.

The following video reflected the body structure changes gained through yilu practice:

This next one was my yilu recorded at around 15,000 yilus:

This “First Road” is an never-ending one, there are new sceneries every so often. We need to know what the ideals are, and keep training towards them as well as constantly find a method to breakthrough. I encourage you to share your yilu story too. Happy Yilu-ing!

You can record your practice at:

Same article on main site:

Reaching 15,000 yilus

On Oct 16, 2015, I reached 15,000 yilus.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Points about Taijiquan from Master Chen Zhonghua

1. At a higher level, power cannot be seen.
2. Movements that can produce power cannot be seen.
3. Power must come from the ground, or whatever that have the property similar to the ground.
4. The body only acts as a conduit. It should provide a structure, a point of reference, or an aiming devise. The body should not be part of the power. It should no contain power.
5. Taiji is the art of making the opponent fight the ground, or something stronger than the taiji practitioner.
6. Whatever we want to do, it will appear to be the opposite. For example, we want to use the waist but in taiji movements, the waist should not move or turn too much. We want the hand to be strong but we cannot move the hand.

This came from:

Friday, October 9, 2015

Notes for Practical Method Toronto Workshop Oct. 1-3, 2015

We had 19 people attending the Toronto workshop this time. 5 of them were first timers. We started off with Master Chen talking about the positive circle, and continuously focusing on its various aspects.

Here are my notes:
  1. Only move your foot forward towards the opponent, everything else does not go towards the opponent.
  2. Don't do the action you want to do, do the opposite.
  3. Power comes from the back.
  4. Positive circle: only rotate the elbow, shoulder, kua, waist
  5. One of my students told me that Master Chen told him to be song/relax at the elbow, which was contrary to what I told him before. I asked him to go back to Master Chen to ask him to clarify since I wasn't present in the original conversation. It turned out Master Chen was telling him not to tighten the muscle the way he did at the time. The student took as needing to being "song" using his prior non-Practical Method understanding of the word. The lesson to me was hat 1) we couldn't use our previous understanding to learn new things, 2) there was no need to guess when we can ask directly.
  6. To get power, train power
  7. Exercise: To train power. Hold up right hand, move only the the fingers. Make sure the power does not get stuck on the right shoulder.
  8. Stick, rope and rock. Stick and Rope are the yin and yang. Stick is hard material of the body: bones. Rope is the soft material in the body: muscles, ligaments. Rock is the dot (not moving point). The Rope needs to wrap around the stick.
  9. Power is only created by differential of speed. That's why tossing produces no power.
  10. Cover more space means more speed, e.g. hand-elbow differential (first and second count of positive circle)
  11. Catch the opponent on the top, move the bottom. Always finish the move I set out to do regardless of whether it will be successful or not.
  12. Once I catch the opponent, zoom into/focus the power/aim at one point on the opponent, e.g. press down on his front kua.
  13. Rotate waist/kua exercise: Elbow in, lock the elbow to the front kua, rotate the front kua. Look for the special spot where the elbow is tied to the kua. This is used to train kua power.
  14. Kua needs to be the leader in each move.
  15. Different stages of power: tearing, shearing, explosion, implosion.
  16. Ding zhu liang tou da zhong Jian 定住两头打中间。Fix the two ends, break/move/rotate the middle, e.g. the opponent is pushing my chest, I put my hand on his shoulder. My hand and his hand (the two ends) forms a line, put force in his elbow (middle) to break it.
  17. Anything that you are not used to, you will feel it to be bigger/more abnormal than usual.
  18. Zhuan Guan/°°/Turning over of the joint produces mysterious power. Master Chen may also say "to go over" or "to go to the other side" or "to go over the threshold". We do need to create the threshold, and go over the threshold without moving the threshold (Yin/Yang separation).
  19. Outer space is anywhere above the ground. Project that dot into outer space, so that it is not rooted/supported by the ground.
  20. Carry out your agenda, don't derail.
  21. When your movement is done right, it is very clear. Don't drag other things into it.
  22. Place your power where it needs to be.
  23. Push Hands: Engage and lock the top, move the feet.
  24. I must finish the move otherwise the position I am in is dangerous for me. Similarly if someone comes in, I must act otherwise I am in a dangerous position.
  25. Lock the chest, in with elbow. Lock the back, out with hand
  26. Find the dot behind to match the forward action. Exercise: Hit that dot on the back to the wall.
  27. Horizontal moves are supported by vertical support. Vertical moves are supported by horizontal support. Think of how a typical backyard wood fence is set up.
  28. To pull (in with elbow), lock on one dot, the feet come up to that dot to lock it.
  29. Taiji is a balancing act. Match the opponent 50/50 for a long time (learn to move the counter weight). Later, one can change the pivot position to create a long lever that can be used to overthrow the opponent.
  30. Earth is dantian. Earth nourishes things so they can grow. Once they leave the earth, the sun will cause them to die and go back to the earth.
  31. Five fixed points cause rotation.
  32. Intent is pure energy movement without displacement.
  33. Exercise: Find the opposite dot to the hand. Push the dot against the wall.
  34. Suck, stick swallow, spit实用拳法:对吸,贴,吞,,吐混元:敷,盖,对吞Once you suck, it sticks to the back, swallow down, and spit it out.
  35. If someone pushes on my chest, I want to connect it to a dot on my back, and split that energy on the chest. The split is like creating a dish on the front while keeping the back straight.
  36. Everything has to go to a focal point.
  37. Stance: Put a bar beside the inner knee/calf. For any forward movement, the inner knee can't press into the bar.
  38. Positive Circle: Not moving the shoulder. Front ribs pointing to the front, elbow move to the chest, front shoulder/kua line not moving. Hand out, shoulder not moving, shoulder/kua line not moving. 
  39. Cable-like action: Point under bicep, pulled by point on the side ribs, then pulled by point under thigh.
  40. While checking my half horse stance, Master Chen said that my waist was too thin.
  41. Horse stance: it's like there is a ball underneath. You can't squeeze a horse while sitting on it, there is always a curve under you.
  42. Principles->Concepts->Actions: When in doubt, always go back to the principles.
  43. Elbow in exercise: To get rid of the shoulder during the pull, connect a dot at the back thigh with a point in the front upper arm.
  44. If I understand it, I can do it. If I can't do it, I don't really understand.
  45. Don't lose track. Stay on it.
  46. Exercise: Let the opponent grab my forearm with both hands, push and stop in front of the grabbing point, switch to behind the grabbing point to pull (it's a pull relative to the grabbing position).
  47. Exercise: In order to conquer the fear of falling, Master Chen asked us to get in against the opponent to the point that we fall by ourselves. He said you were already very close to the floor in that position, it shouldn't really hurt. We also did one variation of it that we got in and switch to go to the other side.
Sandy Doeur's Toronto Workshop notes can be found at:

Paddy Hanratty's Toronto Workshop notes can be found at: