Poagao's Journal

The Adventures of the Worst Student in the Pushhands Class

May 03 2009

5/3 at the park

The usual crowd at the park this morning. Little Qin was chatting with Teacher X, while Mr. V and Little Mountain Pig practiced with some guys from other groups. I warmed up with the empty-handed form before practicing with Little Qin. I told him about the photos I took a couple of weeks ago, and we talked about just what was going on there. He told me that there are many things going on that are no immediately apparent to the outside eye. “When he exerted force, I internalized it and jumped back,” he said, adding that Master Song and Master Yu, our “fore-teachers” as it were, did similar things when practicing with students. He related a story about when a well-known martial artist was going around challenging people. Eventually he challenged Little Qin, and they had an exchange where the guy pushed Little Qin away in an apparent “victory”. But such were the subtleties of the exchange that both the martial artist knew what had really happened, and the guy told Little Qin “You’ve got class.” After that he stopped going around challenging people.

We worked on the concept of “attraction”, i.e. pulling your opponent off balance with a combination of subtle moves and will/intent. “Most practitioners can use their palms like suction cups,” Little Qin said. “If you’re really good, you can do it with any part of your body, creating a well into which your opponent’s energy falls.”

“Or like air into a vacuum,” I said.

“Yeah. Use the contours of your opponent’s body,” he said. “Now grab my shoulder blade and pull me around.” But, try as I might, I couldn’t find Little Qin’s shoulder blade. I did manage to pull him around a few times, despite the roundness of his back.

Teacher X suggested that I practice with someone outside our group, and introduced me to an older fellow wearing dark blue. Practicing tuishou with him was like pushing wet noodles. Very animated wet noodles. He was pretty good, and polite enough to keep it mellow.

Later, after I went through the sword form a few times, Little Qin told me that I had the moves down but not the spirit. I told him I was looking for some video of the forms done in our style, and he said he’d look into making some later, when he could “get back into it.” He said that, like me, he has trouble keeping various forms in mind at the same time, no doubt a bigger problem for him as he has studied stick, baton, sword, scimitar, fan and empty-handed forms. “But it’s like pointing at the moon,” he said, alluding to the title of a book on Taoist philosophy. The phrase basically means, that, once you’ve pointed out the moon to someone, the fingers you’ve used to point are no longer important.

As I was preparing to leave, I was drawn into a conversation with a small man sitting and talking with Little Mountain Pig. He said his name was Lin Hong-yu, and that he was a former national champion. He said he wanted to teach me “real” martial arts, which he said was Southern Style Kung-fu. “All of this,” he said, waving his hand at the people practicing in the area, “this is all useless. A kid in an alley could whoop your ass.”

Little Mountain Pig was smiling. Lin went on about how he could make me a master and I could teach in Taiwan and abroad, etc. I waited until he was talking to Pig before making a quiet exit.

posted by Poagao at 9:37 am  
Apr 25 2009

Last week

A Malaysian guy joined our practice at the park last Sunday, and we ended up practicing tuishou together. His movements puzzled me, his hands making little jabs at me instead of being used to push. It seemed to me that he wanted to hit me instead of push me, but when I asked if he had a boxing background, he told me that he’d studied ba-gua before. I got used to his style eventually, though; it was just a matter of taking these predilections into account. I told him he should practice with Little Mountain Pig, who was more into that kind of thing, but when we got together, Pig told Malaysia to practice with Teacher X’s son first. He drew a ring in the dirt around them with his foot.

Once surrounded by the ring, the Malaysian guy just wailed on Teacher X’s son, jumping into the air and jabbing at him left and right, quick spinning hits and chops raining down on him. After a short time the kid’s face was streaming blood and his hand was sprained.

Little Mountain Pig had a talk with the Malaysian guy and then they went at it, this time much more peaceably, mostly because Pig knows a lot more about this kind of thing.

Meanwhile, a tall, skinny foreigner had approached Teacher X and was grappling with him, using all of his force and seemingly know knowing when to quit. He paired off with Mr. V, which I felt might be a mistake, but at least No Lose Guy wasn’t around. I was talking with Teacher X when the foreigner and Mr. V came crashing down nearby, Mr. V’s head nearly hitting the concrete wall.

I practiced the sword form; I feel I’m getting rusty and should probably re-learn some parts of it. I should also take my sword up the mountain in the morning so I can do that as well as the empty-handed stuff.

The next week, I went to practice at Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall, to find only Teacher X and his son there. I practiced with Little X, whose hand was bandaged after his bout with the Malaysian guy. “It’s strange; we learn all this stuff and then find it’s useless,” he said. I held my tongue, as, at least for me, Little X’s skillz aren’t exactly at the “all this stuff” level yet, though he has improved.

Teacher X showed me some useful tuishou approaches, and later on Little Mountain Pig showed up, but it was late by then and I had to go. Before I forget, Little Qin has a Youtube page with some videos of him doing forms and tuishou.

posted by Poagao at 9:48 am  
Apr 13 2009

4/12 park

The park was full of tourists when I got there on Sunday morning, including several foreigners. Teacher X even walked over to talk with a couple of foreign guys sitting and watching us practice. It felt like summer. I warmed up with some formwork and then practiced tuishou with The Dentist, whom I am thinking deserves the moniker “Mr. V” more than Mr. V himself these days, as he is all about trying to overpower his opponent. It was tiring. UPS guy was in the fighting ring wrestling with a guy from the other groups, and a fighting class practiced nearby.

It was one of those rare times where Little Qin showed up, so I practiced with him for a while. He is always full of good ideas about technique, and showed me how just one touch with one hand completely changes and strengthens the dynamics of the other. I commented about how hard it was to grab and maintain a hold on his shoulders, and he said that most tai-chi practitioners end up with thick shoulders, or as he put it, “A back like a turtle and legs like a stork,” as someone described Master Zhang San-feng at one point.

Later on, an older guy in a yellow shirt came up and told Little Qin to hit him. He did, and the guy kept saying, “No effect!” He was really proud of his ability to be hit and not feel it. Then they did a kind of tuishou stance, and the guy in the yellow shirt would throw Little Qin off with such force the Little Qin’s feet would actually leave the ground. If you know how not little Little Qin is, you’d know that this is no mean feat, though I suspected he was doing it for show. I took some pictures of this and a line of us all trying to push the man in the yellow shirt. It was pretty funny.

push sequence

posted by Poagao at 12:14 am  
Apr 05 2009

The past couple of times

Last Saturday I hadn’t really warmed up when someone pulled me over to practice tuishou with a little older guy sporting exactly two (2) teeth. He was skinny and very flexible, and kept advancing as he pushed, but he didn’t get much of anywhere with me, at least during that session. It was educational, though; practicing with people outsider of our group pretty much always is.

This Saturday I was warming up when another stranger walked up to me. One of his eyes was smaller than the other, and he wore a hearing aid. “Are you the foreigner I practiced with yesterday?” he asked. This gave me pause. How could he actually not know? I hadn’t gone to the park the day before in any case, so I was pretty sure I wasn’t. “I don’t think so,” I said.

“That foreigner said he had practiced tai-chi for 20 years,” he said.

“I’m pretty sure it wasn’t me,” I continued. “That guy is probably older than I am.” But he just looked confused at the concept of some people being older than others.

“Anyway, you foreigners don’t need tai-chi, you’re all so big and strong that you just pick us up and throw us!” he said. I glanced at Little Mountain Pig, who is just one of our students who is bigger than I am, and concluded that this fellow wasn’t quite right in the head.

The other groups were fighting in the circles, trying to push each other over the lines in the dirt. One of the guys wore a t-shirt that read “I (heart) giving blood.” I hoped his opponents didn’t take that too literally.

I practiced the forms and sword work in an empty space nearby for a while before noticing that Teacher X’s son was fighting in one of the rings. Not tui-shou, but actual boxing, it seemed. I walked over to have a look. The kid was staying well away from the boxer, who was slapping quick jabs in and jumping around. Afterwards, LM Pig gave it a shot, using tuishou and taichi to deal with the boxer, engaging him and pushing him around in between blows. It was interesting to see how the two dynamics interacted, but I think I’ll stick with tuishou, for now.

posted by Poagao at 10:07 pm  
Mar 19 2009

3/15 At the park

I was late again, it being a Sunday, but it didn’t really matter. A couple of kids and their father watched me do the sword form; the boys wanted to play with the sword, which was taller than the younger boy. His older brother grabbed it and started waving it around, so I took it back and astonished them by driving it up to the hilt in the ground, and then then into the trunk of a tree. It’s my collapsible practice sword, of course, but they didn’t know that.

I did some form work with Teacher X for a while, but then he grabbed me by the arm and literally pulled me over to practice with a teacher from another group.

It started out well enough; the guy wasn’t too violent, and we got into a give-and-take rhythm. He paused a few times, which I took to mean he felt he had me in a bind, but I suppose I am not yet advanced enough to realize such subtle conditions. I tried a few experimental “attacks” but he would just fold up like a chair, such was his agility. I would push to a point that I felt appropriate and then let go.

As we continued, he grew more aggressive and a little antsy. I realized that his friends, possibly his students, were watching us practice, and he might feel some pressure. “Come on!” they called, “What is this, free massage class?” The teacher began to try harder and pushed me off balance a couple of times, but not very decisively. I didn’t have anything invested in the exchange except gaining experience, so I was pretty relaxed. The teacher, on the other hand, began to launch quick shoves that Weeble would have been proud of. Not only was this kind of thing a step backwards, it often didn’t work. I felt a bit disappointed at the way things were going and told him I was tired. Still, it was educational.

posted by Poagao at 5:51 am  
Mar 08 2009

At the park on Sunday

It was raining pretty hard yesterday, so I didn’t attend practice at CKS Hall. After spending most of the day inside working on photos, I decided I needed to get out of the house today and make up for my laziness by going to the 2/28 Park, where our group practices on Sundays.

I’d never been to a Sunday practice before; I’d assumed that it would be just like the one on Saturdays before, but I noticed immediately as I exited the subway station how many more people were there than on Saturdays. Not only were there more people; they were a lot more aggressive than the Saturday group. Our group was somewhat scattered; I saw Yang Qing-feng practicing with a stranger in black nearby, and Mr. V with another stranger in another spot. I asked him where Teacher X was, and he pointed at the horse statue a ways away, where Teacher X was teaching a group of new students.

I found Little Mountain Pig not far from our usual spot, and decided to put my things down there and find a place to go through the forms, despite the fact that everyone else in the vicinity was wrestling, pushing or downright fighting. After I finished I spotted Little Qin, which was unusual; I hadn’t seen him at practice for months, so I went over to say hello. We practiced for a while, and as usual I learned a lot from him; Little Qin always has a different perspective on things, both physically and mentally. It’s too bad he has so little time to come to practice; he also teaches students at the military base where he’s stationed. As we were practicing, the sun came out for one glorious moment, raising the temperatures noticeably.

A large circle had been scratched into the sand nearby, and guys were using it in sumo fashion, trying to push and/or knock each other out of the ring or on the ground, their clothes covered in dirt and their arms and necks red from all the grabbing and twisting. As I went through the sword form, I noticed a guy watching me very closely. He was dressed in dark clothes and carried a sword of his own. I tried not to let it distract me, but I was ready for all kinds of criticism when I finished. Instead, he just clapped. I’m sure it was insincere, as I was just doing the first warm-up form and wasn’t really into it yet.

I practiced with LM Pig a while, going through the usual drills with him; I have to say they help a lot, though they’re a little monotonous. Then Pig pulled me over to the group of guys who had been wrestling rather violently before, and before I knew it I was practicing with them, one by one. The first guy wasn’t nearly as big of a challenge as I’d thought he would be. He kept looking for chances and I wasn’t giving him any. The second guy, a short fellow with protruding teeth, did better and forced me over a few times. Then I was practicing with an older guy whom the others obviously looked up to. He played his cards close to his chest, pushing tentatively, advancing slowly and taking his time to understand how I moved, becoming slowly more aggressive. All the while all of the guys were complimenting me on my form and my “softness” which they said was a hallmark of Teacher X’s students. I knew better than to take their words seriously, though; they were just being polite. Finally the older guy stopped, and another man who had been very complimentary stepped up. This, I gathered, was their leader and possibly their teacher. He demonstrated his “softness” to me with a few moves where his arms were completely rigid. Maybe he was alluding to some strange definition of “soft” that I’ve never heard of before, but to me he was anything but yielding. In fact, none of them were really yielding at all and seemed very rigid to me.

It was approaching 3 p.m. by that point, and I was hungry for lunch, so I took my leave. It was a very interesting and educational experience, and makes me wonder if perhaps I should try to attend more Sunday practices at the park.

posted by Poagao at 9:49 am  
Feb 27 2009


I was free earlier than expected last night, so I went over to Sun Yat-sen Memorial to practice. The veranda was packed with dancing teens. I swear, with the amount of practice all of these kids do, why isn’t Taiwan the Teen Dance Capital of the World? Oh, I know, it’s because they’re just annoying copycats who can’t be bothered to turn their music down to tolerable levels.

I was really out of it, though. I haven’t managed to get back into things since Chinese New Year. I feel like all the other students are advancing while I just tread water. I practiced with Mr. Hu and performed miserably. The new girl has already finished studying the empty-handed form; I think she learned it in about half an hour. I realize that I am probably the worst student there, but sometimes it depresses me more than others.

posted by Poagao at 12:55 am  
Feb 16 2009

Valentine’s Day practice

Valentine’s Day wasn’t particularly notable for anything for me, but I did manage to drag my ass to practice that day. Nobody from our school was at the park when I arrived, however. I figured they must all be late or something and went through the forms as best as I could until I got a call from Teacher X, who told me that they’d moved back to CKS Hall since the construction work there is finished. They still practice at the park on Sunday’s though.

I walked over to CKS and joined the group there. It was a gray day, cool and somewhat forbidding after a week of solid sunshine and warm days. I was tired and really out of shape after such a long hiatus, and UPS guy pushed me over several times. I had a better time of it with Mr. V.

My Tuesday and Thursday nights are almost full up, though, so I’m not sure how quickly I’ll be able to get back into the swing of things.

posted by Poagao at 4:40 am  
Jan 03 2009

A New Year

I showed up early, for me, for my first class of 2009 at the park. Only a couple of students were there, but Teacher X, Mr. V and Qingfeng showed up later. It had been so long since I practiced that I lost my place a couple of times while practicing the sword form. The empty handed form is feeling better, though.

An older guy came up and introduced himself as being from Yuanshan and wanted to practice tuishou with us. Teacher X said ok, and the guy started to practice with Mr. Hu. Next he practiced with me. He was very soft on the outside and rigid inside, and we soon began to do moving tuishou instead of stationary for some reason. I could smell some kind of alcohol on his breath and wondered if it were medicine or just booze. He got weary of pushing at me with no real results; I was disappointed when he began resorting to quick, violent shoves. Still, it was interesting to practice with someone outside our group.

I then practiced with Qingfeng, who is really into researching and thinking about tuishou. He is the hardest of anyone there (besides Teacher X, of course) for me to push. I then practiced with Mr. V, who has given up on the quick shoves but is still convinced that rigid, unidirectional power is the way to go. I got pretty tired as I’ve been out of things for a while for various reasons, but it was good to get back into it a bit.

posted by Poagao at 10:51 am  
Dec 13 2008

Dec. 13

I was sick last week so I didn’t go to classes until this morning. When I exited the subway station in the park I couldn’t spot any of the familiar purple uniforms our group wears, but as I approached the spot I found Teacher X and Mr. V sitting talking with the guy who bangs his wooden stick on things. Nobody else had bothered to show up for some reason.

Mr. V was tired of sitting around, so we started practicing tuishou immediately. Usually I like to warm up with forms first, but it’s not that big a deal. Mr. V’s technique has improved a lot as he implements more subtlety to his strategy, but eventually he will resort to the quick shove. One of the biggest differences between us is how we lose. When I get pushed, I just take a gentle step back, but when Mr. V goes down, he quickly jumps back a few steps, even though I never use that much force. He’s like a spring in that respect.

The weather was strange today, warm and sunny one moment, cold and cloudy the next. After the others left I went through the forms, but I felt like I shouldn’t have still been there. Tai-chi practice in the park is mostly a morning thing, and by the time I left it was pidgeon-feeding time for the kids and families.

posted by Poagao at 11:36 am  
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