KAT: Of course, because in the art just as in life, there must be continual progress. The world and society progress; today is the age of the computer and people's thinking progresses and improves, so that the way we think about things nowadays is different from twenty years ago or ten years ago or sometimes even yesterday.

For example Zheng Man Qing talked about the yin yang cross-connection between the weighted foot and the opposite hand. Nowadays I don't emphasise this, instead I concentrate on the Taiji ball, but I'm sure that if Zheng Man Qing were here today he would be very happy.

NS: So you think that your art is evolving beyond what Master Zheng taught?

KAT: We must remember that Zheng Man Qing was a man not a god or an immortal. What he could do we can do. Just because we admire somebody doesn't mean that we should take everything that they say as the absolute truth. We must research for ourselves; make it true for ourselves.

As teachers we can tell our students how things should be done; we can show them how things should be done. But how many of those students actually do what we tell them or show them?

To return to my previous example, that of the yin yang cross-connection, I believe that this is not as important as making every part of the body into a small taiji ball. We don't do the yin yang cross-connection in the sword form - it's impossible.

NS: You seem to be suggesting that the role of the teacher is not as important as that of the student?

KAT: The student must rely on himself and must honestly and bravely check himself. You cannot rely on the teacher.

Many people train for decades but gain no results. This is because, at the most basic level, they have not developed the ability to be self-critical; to listen to their own movements, to listen to what their body is telling them. When you are "song" and you listen to whether your body ids balanced, whether if one part moves everything moves, then you can make progress.

Too many people practising taijiquan are like shoppers in a supermarket. One minute they are attracted by this bargain, the next by that offer. They don't stop to think what they really want and then set out to get it.

How often have you heard disgruntled students saying that they have wasted ten years with this or that teacher? These people are stupid. Whatever experience you have you can use to improve. Such students must develop and use their powers of discrimination.

NS: So how does the student check him or herself?

KAT: Everything comes from form; your form represents what you have learnt and trained. If your form is not correct then your pushing hands and fighting will not be effective.

Form is the most important thing. Pushing hands is to train "ting jing" and "dong jing". It is not as important as form when it comes to training the usage of the art.

I used to say that if you train form but don't train push hands then you have only half the art. Now I firmly believe that the form is the most important. Definitely, if you only do pushing hands and don't do form then you will never get taiji's real skills. But if you do the form correctly then everything else will come from it; push hands, applications, sword, everything.

How then do you know if your form is correct? This is a question of looking at what your emphasis is in practising the art. If you want to do beautiful movements then this kind of aesthetically pleasing form will not lead to the real taijiquan. But if you know what you really want and you constantly check whether your form is correct in the light of your expectations then form becomes the basis of everything.

What exactly is this real taijiquan? Well this is when your centre of balance feels so small, so smooth that your arms and legs, your body seems to disappear. In taijiquan the smaller the circle the better. The smaller this point is, the greater the skill.

Another name for taijiquan could well be "mistake-correcting" boxing or "intelligence boxing" The latter doesn't mean that you have to be a PhD or good at studying but rather that you have to be intelligent in following your aims and correcting your own mistakes. Do the form correctly but keep asking yourself why it is that by doing the form correctly taijiquan works. You must find the answer for yourself.

Zheng Man Qing said that taijiquan was for health. He did not go to great lengths to explain how it was to be used this way or that way yet he was able to use it. Therefore if you are able to practise the correct taijiquan, if your form is correct, then you will find that you can use the art. But if your form is just an empty shell then you can train for a hundred years and still not get it.

NS: Master Koh I notice that you have referred several times to "using" taijiquan. Could you elaborate?

KAT: If you can't use taijiquan for fighting then you can't call it taijiquan. When an opponent's fist is coming towards you, you must feel happy. Taijiquan as a martial art must be the opposite of what other martial arts are.

This means that you don't want to know what your opponent is going to do to you, and you don't want to have any idea of your own response.

The skills your need for real taijiquan application all come from the form.

What is real application? It means that there is no shape and no form. You needn't think what you are going to do. Instead it automatically comes out. If you have to think your reactions are slow; you are not "song".

Your mind, your awareness must be very "song" and without fear. The word fear must not appear in your mind. There should be no such word in your vocabulary.

A mind that is "song" is more important than a body that is "song" because everything comes from the mind. What in Chinese martial arts is referred to as "dan liang" (guts) is trained by repeatedly practising the form - in this way it comes naturally. Repeated practise in this manner develops a kind of calmness.

In taijiquan, fighting is waiting relaxed for the opponent to come, not knowing what you are going to do, just letting it happen.

People who take up a stance and clench their fists tightly have fixed themselves into a state of rigidity.

Real taijiquan in application is like lightning, not like thunder which makes a loud noise and arrives late. I'm always going to be faster than my opponent because I am where he wants to be. He ha s to cross a distance to get to me, I am already here.

To continue using the imagery of nature, in taijiquan zhou and hua (yielding and neutralising) are like the wind, while da (striking) is water; but it is the water of deep and angerous currents.

When I was pushing hands with Huang Hsing Hsien and he was unable to push me over he started to hit me. I ponted out to him that this was dangerous and that I too could do the same to him. By hitting me he was giving me a shape or form which I could use should I choose to. This is because as soon as you have the idea of attacking anything then you are straying from the taiji principles, which require that the attacker's force is used back against him.

The moment the opponent uses force against you he is lost because this is force that you can borrow.

Taijiquan is like the sea but it is not the beautiful noisy explosions of the waves beating on rocks, rather it is the deep, deadly undercurrents.

NS: Master Koh you have mentioned your encounter with Huang Hsing Hsien can you tell me more about this?

KAT: when I pushed hands with Huang six other people were present. Three of them were Huang's students, indeed two of them were instructors, the rest had come with me to visit him. Zhen Yuan Liang and Chen Hua who taught for Huang were there with Chen Siu Lan, a student of his. The others present were Qiu Jing Bao, Huang Wen Yong and Feng Da Hun.

When I talk to you about Wu Guo Zhong or Huang Hsing Hsien what I say about them is based on my actual experience with them. I pushed hands with Huang and although I have heard people say that pushing hands with him was like being uprooted by an iron bar, I would have to say that this is nonsense. All of this happened in front of those people that I have already listed. They had all been flung here and there by him but he was unable to move me so he started hitting me.

All of the people present heard Huang admit that his skill was 70%White Crane. They also heard his response when I asked him why he didn't teach White Crane exclusively. His reply was that it was easier to make money with taijiquan.

You know a lot of teachers use their own students to demonstrate their "amazing skills" on and all that you end up with is at best an exaggeration and at worst what amounts to a con-trick. You only have to think about empty force for example. I don't believe it because I have never met a teacher or exponent who could do it to me.

NS: So what should we emphasise in our training if we are to progress?

KAT: In practising your form emphasise the circular. A circle has no angles so that you can move a great weight or deal with a great amount of force without using strength. Grandmaster Zheng Man Qing illustrated this, using the example of a pulley-system using ball bearings, in his "Thirteen Chapters".

Movements in the form that use explicit horizontal circles include rufeng sibi (apparent close up) and the change from roll-back to press. But note that these movements are based on internal circles not external flowers.

The more circular something is the smaller the area in contact with the ground therefore the more light and agile the object can be. In taijiquan we try to use our body to exemplify the same principle.

But we must also be careful to distinguish between agility and floating. We are not talking about a balloon filled with gas. If you want to be able simultaneously to borrow your opponent's strength (jie jing) and discharge it (fa jing) then you must be round.

If you have a shape there will be angles but if you are round every part of the body which comes into contact with the opponent may be used.

When you can do this then all the various aspects of the art will be on the inside. Peng jing is something that is on the inside not the outside. When you really use taijiquan you cannot see peng, lu, ji and an. These are all on the inside. When you can see something it has a shape and the highest level of the art has no shape and no form.

The smaller the movements the higher the level of gong fu.

If your fa jing is correct then your opponent will have no opportunity to be "song", no opportunity to yield or relax.

Even if you face an opponent who seems completely still, they still have movement you can exploit as they must still breathe. Only a dead person is completely motionless.

NS: Is partnerwork important then?

KAT: Recently one of my students asked me this very question. He wanted to know if it was necessary to repeatedly practise defensive or attacking moves with a partner in order to learn taijiquan for fighting. My answer was an categorical no. In fact I would say that if you practise like this it is very far from the real taijiquan.

Many teachers say that pushing hands equals fighting but in saying this they merely demonstrate that their taijiquan skill is based on hand methods, on techniques, but remember the teaching - in taijiquan there are no hands!

When we say in taijiquan that the hand does not move it doesn't mean that the arms a re held in a fixed position but rather that we take what the opponent gives us and give it back; we don't set out to do this or that to the opponent.

Even if you are a pushing hands tournament champion it is not necessarily true that you can use the skills of taijiquan in application.

Being good at pushing hands does not equate to being good at fighting - especially if we are talking about the bullfighting contests of strength which often seem to pass for pushing hands. If you use those kind of skills against a skilled opponent you just give him force to use against you.

NS: Finally Master Koh how do you see your art progressing?

KAT: Things improve and evolve and taijiquan is no exception. If Zheng man Qing were here today what would his taijiquan be like? Compare Zheng's art with that of the Chen family which seems more akin to Shaolin boxing.

People ask me why I am so intent on studying Zheng Man Qing's art when I never met the man himself. But let me ask you: There are millions of Christians in the world who have never met Jesus, millions of Buddhists who have never met the Buddha but they still regard their teachings as being worth following - are they wrong? Zheng man Qing left a record of his teachings, his books, which point to the Dao he followed. I think these teachings are worth following.

Ask yourself why did Zheng Man Qing choose to call his last taijiquan book "A New Method for Self Study"? Because all the answers are there - this means that you can study the art yourself and reach the highest levels providing you follow his teachings.

My students sometimes ask if I'm not worried that Zheng Man Qing's students will come to visit me, maybe to call into question the things I say; but I can honestly state that I would welcome their visit!

NS: Master Koh thank you.

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