Taiji Classics


Or if reading is not your thing try holding  Mūla Bandha {Dai Gung} while you play a sport like Rugby, which is relatively similar in its physicality to fighting.


I am reading through some translations of old Chinese Martial Arts Books often referred to a Taiji Classics, the one I am revisiting at the moment is


by Wu Zhiqing
[published by 大東書局 Great East Bookstore, March, 1931]

[translation by Paul Brennan, March, 2011]


Quite early in the pice it reads..

If we cannot assemble the boxing teachers of the nation and combine their experiences, then we cannot know the extent of their skills and the good and bad points of their art. But commonly people talk of the two schools of internal and external. One who has ability in the internal school is as rare as a phoenix feather or a unicorn horn, and I do not yet know of anyone.
Although the external school has a great variety, generally speaking, it divides into the two branches of passive strength and active strength. Active strength uses hardness to win. Passive strength uses softness to win. Each reaches its extreme. Neither is better or worse, except when discussing how the body is nourished and then the passive strength does not compare to the active strength. The passive strength restrains the body to avoid opponents, with the chest hollowed like a monkey’s and the ribs shrunk in, the energy gathered and strictly confined. The active strength extends the arms and lengthens the sinews, moving with vigour. To begin training in the boxing arts these days, surely the active strength is the suitable one.


With the current trend, at least here in Australia to regard Wing Chun as an Internal Martial Art  {something that I do not agree with}  I found this quite remarkable especially as it was written in 1931.

Something that really caught my eye in this passage was the reference to the passive strength ‘chest like a monkey’, this is remarkably similar to the yoga practice of Uḍḍīyana Bandha, this is a well known meditation practice.

Internal Wing Chun followers talk highly of what they refer to as Tai Gung, which is of course the yoga practice of Mūla Bandha another meditation practice.

I did Yoga for many years as a young man and fully understand the benefits of these practices, but they foster stillness and not movement, passivity and not dynamism.

The Yoga Bandhas, or ‘Body Locks’, Jalandhara Bandha, the neck lock, Uḍḍīyana Bandha, the abdominal lock and Mūla Bandha the perineum lock are intended to keep all energy centred inside the body, an essential part of meditation, but if we are fighting we need to be able to issue our energy outwards to the striking limbs, we do in fact need to be able to ‘unlock’ the energy channels.

If like me you are doing Wing Chun as a fighting art then I advise that you do some research on the practice and usage of the Bandhas, and come to your own conclusion about their practicality in a dynamic activity like trying to save you from random violence.

Or if reading is not your thing try holding  Mūla Bandha {Tai Gung}, while you play a sport like Rugby, which is relatively similar in its physicality to fighting.







Take the saying ‘Learning the usual ways will allow later variations’.


In the world of Wing Chun, two words are thrown around and used interchangeably that are in fact very different.

They are CONCEPT and IDEA.

How we use and understand these words has a direct and very real effect on our understanding of the core message of Wing Chun.

My understanding is that…

A Concept is abstract, vague, dynamic and self-generating, what it generates are multiple and quite diverse IDEAS.

While an IDEA, {the product of an earlier Concept} is static, concrete, fixed, the finished product, IDEAS may be built upon but never lose their identity, they are always recognisable as themselves.

However, individual IDEAS can be separated, taken out of context and used to function as a stand-alone CONCEPT to produce more IDEAS.

What makes the concept/idea definition such a bone of contention, is that depending on each individual’s level of education, and what thinkers/ philosophers they were exposed to at school, we can be coming from radically different directions.

While all thinking we are on the same page.

And then there are the problems that surround the quality of translation.

My teacher, {Jim} Fung Chuen Keung would say that Wing Chun does not translate to English because of the thinking and not the language. Western thinking and Eastern thinking evolved down different paths, with different thinkers, different philosophies.

My view is that a CONCEPT is an abstract notion, that through mental effort and creative thinking manifests into something real and useable.

An IDEA is a way of perceiving the CONCEPT.

The Sil Lim Tao Form is often referred to as an IDEA, or even THE IDEA, if this is the case what was/is the CONCEPT that created it?

This may seem like an overly academic reflection but I do not think that, if we do not know where the IDEA came from we are simply heading in the direction of BELIEF over EVIDENCE.

After many years studying Wing Chun, it has become pretty clear that many of the parts do not function as well as intended.

It doesn’t work very well.

But I do not think that it was ever meant to.

If Wing Chun is a CONCEPT driven martial art it was never meant to teach someone how to fight, it was meant to generate IDEAS that could be used in fighting.

Our connection to the past of Wing Chun is through the Kuen Kuit, the fact that these sayings are vague and difficult to pin down is, to me at least, a nod towards CONCEPTS over IDEAS.

Take the saying ‘Learning the usual ways will allow later variations’.

Why would this be suggested if it was not meant to be taken up?

Why has it been handed down from generation to generation?

When Ip Man taught his ‘Closed Door’ students they would spend 6 months on each Form, this again is consistent with developing a CONCEPT that each student could then spend the next 5, 10 or 20 years developing IDEAS out of.

Wong Shun Leung’s Wing Chun was very different than his clanmate Chu Shong Tin’s, a case of different minds creating different IDEAS out of the same CONCEPT.

I do not think anyone would argue that these 2 men were giants of Wing Chun.

To spend long years studying the Forms was not the way under Ip Man, which if you are from one of the Ip Man lineages means it is not the Wing Chun way.

I do not think this change has anything to do with an individual’s available time, more just a complete misunderstanding of the base data.

Again from the Kuen Kuit…

‘Learning the techniques without developing the skills will never bring any accomplishment’.

I do not think it cruel to substitute the word FORM for technique.

I have been fortunate to have attended numerous workshops held by the late Chu Shong Tin, he would conclude by saying something along the lines of ‘nothing in Wing Chun is written in stone’.

This is also consistent with seeing the Forms as CONCEPTS and not IDEAS.

I mentioned earlier about the difference in the philosophies between the West and East that creates the problems with translation and understanding, especially with Western students.

I have heard fellow {Westerner} students, especially those returning from the pilgrimage to Hong Kong use the terms Wu Wei {the action of no-action}, Wuji {infinite, unlimited, boundless} or Pu {the uncarved block}, but then in the same breath talk about how to do things correctly, this is a contradiction, this is misunderstanding the difference between CONCEPT and IDEA.

Many see the Sil Lim Tao Form as THE IDEA, but if it is an IDEA it must be as PU, the uncarved block, not as an operating manual as it is so often used.

The function of any and all Forms is to generate individual IDEAS.

IDEAS that can then be used to function as a CONCEPT.

A CONCEPT to generate new IDEAS, and so it goes, the wheel keeps turning.







IDEAS are departure points and not destinations.


Wing Chun is a concept-driven martial art, or so we are told.

Concepts are about thinking.

Think about this.

A Form, any Form in any style is simply a key to understanding.

If a person spends days, weeks, years even looking at the key, finding out everything there is to know about the key, holding it, feeling it, loving it what have they learned?

Apart from the fact that they now have a key has anything changed?

Like all keys, the value only manifests itself once we find the lock that pairs with it.

Keys allow us to open boxes, trunks, or even better to open doors.

In Wing Chun, the Sil Lim Tao Form is the key and the door it opens is the IDEA.

I know many people that have spent countless years studying this key, they know it intimately but to what value?

When they play their Form they play it the same way that they have played it since the beginning, nothing has changed.

Surely if someone studies an IDEA something changes?

IDEAS are departure points and not destinations.

If there is no progressive transformation we must ask ourselves ‘what is the use of an IDEA that does not bring about change’?

This type of IDEA becomes nothing more than a window, something to look out of and wonder if there is more outside than the restricted view on offer.

If, as I truly believe, the IDEA is a door we need to step beyond it to begin the journey, not stay inside polishing the key.

What is ‘The Little Idea’?

More importantly, what does the IDEA need to deal with?

Wing Chun is a martial art, a fighting style, it makes little difference that we may all perceive this aspect differently, internal/external, soft/hard or whatever floats your boat, there is a commonality to every approach, whatever we do must be able to affect another human being in real-time.


And then the next hurdle is how can we accomplish this with the tools on offer?












Imagine that we live on a small ‘Tropical Island’ that has a large extinct volcano


History has proven over and over that the greatest impediment to rapid progress is outdated information.

Old Wisdom.

Seeking direction for the future through Old Wisdom does not make for an easy or clear journey.

Those travelers amongst us that progress more quickly than the main group and send back updated information of what is ahead, are disbelieved sometimes ridiculed for the sudden and often severe change in their views from what everyone else sees before them, in some situations these vanguards are branded heretics or some other negative term.

Why do fearful people always shoot the messenger?

In the Martial Arts, especially those of China and South-Eastern Asia participants pride themselves on working exclusively within the Old Wisdom.

However, all of us know instinctively that as we progress from one level of our training to another we reevaluate and update what we know, in this way we are constantly updating the Old Wisdom, converting it to Today’s Wisdom.

Even as we do this we fail to understand that soon what we see as Today’s Wisdom will also be outdated, will be just more Old Wisdom that needs to be updated and yet we deliberately delay, we resist change, falter in the face of progress.

If we could accept that in time that the idea of Tomorrow’s Wisdom that is so confronting will be the Old Wisdom with which we are so familiar, perhaps we would be more comfortable seeking out Tomorrow’s Wisdom, today.

Climbing a mountain is a fairly common allegory in the Martial Arts, it helps us to understand our insignificance, although we all struggle and a few amongst us reach the top we never in truth conquer the mountain because after we are long gone and forgotten the mountain remains.

Lets us engage in a thought experiment.

Imagine that we live on a small ‘Tropical Island’ that has a large extinct volcano, one side of this mountain, let’s say the Eastern side is covered in trees, the other side of the mountain is clear of vegetation thanks to along forgotten lava flow.

At base camp #0, before we begin the climb, we look East, nothing but trees. We look West, scrub, and pasture. We look South, the blue ocean stretches to the horizon. We look North, only the mountain.

At base camp #1 to the East are still the trees, to the South the ocean still stretches to the horizon, to the North there is still only the mountain, but to the West, we now see fields, farmlands, small communities.

At base camp #2 to the East are still the trees, to the South the ocean still stretches to the horizon, to the North there is still only the mountain, but to the West we now see the land laid out like a tapestry, different crops, different land-use depicted as swatches of varying colour.

At base camp #3 to the East are still the trees, to the South the ocean still stretches to the horizon, to the North there is still only the mountain, but to the West we now see the land running away to the horizon all details merged into a homogenous grey/green/brown cut by rivers running towards an unseen coast.

When we inform the people at the lower base camps of our recent and surprising discoveries doubts are raised, questions asked.

At base camp #4 we climb way above the tree line, to the East are still the trees, below us now stretching away forever a carpet of green, to the South the ocean still stretches to the horizon, to the North there is still only the mountain, but to the West we now see the rivers meet the ocean and understand yes we are an island.

At base camp #5, the next stop is the summit, to the East are still the trees, like the rivers we now see that they also march to a distant ocean, to the South the ocean still stretches to the horizon, but now there is a landmass on the horizon, another side to our ocean, to the North there is still only the mountain, but to the West we now see a sameness that is difficult to explain, except to know that it is our island.

When we inform the people at the lower base camps of our newer discoveries again doubts are raised and we can hear people talking of altitude sickness and occasionally we hear laughter.

At the summit, we see uninterrupted for 360 degrees and finally understand our island, everything we knew, held dear and considered to be important, specific, the very essence of our island has blended into one unrecognisable mass.

Up here at the roof of our world we see a distant continent filling the horizon to the south and west, a continent that through the Old Wisdom we did not even consider could have existed, a continent that we are more than likely part of.

The only thing we do not see is the mountain.

It has vanished from view at this level, it is now just a part of the totality of the land, and we begin to think that from this height maybe all mountains are the same that all lands look the same.

That all Wisdom is the same.

When we inform the people at the lower base camps that we are at the very top we advise them to wait and see for themselves, but for those that do not make the summit, there will always be a nagging doubt.

Do they stick with the Old Wisdom, the world they know or do they trust in the vanguard?







 ‘shadow boxing is good training and great fun, but shadow boxing never won a fight’…

Knowing what to do in Solo Training is harder than we may imagine, there is a saboteur lodged in our head that works against us.

It is our Brain.

Our Brain is a self-organising pattern maker, it looks out at the Chaos around us and starts clumping things together to give us a reference point, a means of recognition.

This is both a good thing and a bad thing.

Good for dealing with the general chaos of life, bad for understanding the finer details of dynamic movement, for instance, the type of movement found in Forms.

Our brain loves patterns, they are literally in our D.N.A. so we do not notice when we fall into them or overlay them where they do not belong.

Given the choice between paying attention to the overall shape of the pattern or the individual content of the pattern, our brains choose the shape of the pattern.

At the very beginning of our training, we are told that every single move of every Form is a Form in and of itself, but we forget this in the flood of new information and end up just following the pattern.

This is not restricted to the martial arts it is everywhere in life.

Following patterns feels so natural and right that very few amongst us notice the problem, only the artists, the poets, and the philosophers recognise this problem and work hard to change the contents of their patterns.

They choose the Red Pill.

Any Form is just style preferred specific information collated in a way that is easy to remember, it is only the individual bits of information that have any genuine value.

Left to its own devices our brain will focus its attention on the whole Form and not the bits of information, when this happens we are just dancing, you know how it goes  ‘this move follows that move and then we do this other move’.

Just a dance, perhaps a sacred dance, but never the less just a dance.

Solo Training allows us the chance to deconstruct the existing familiar patterns and explore them in their own right, if for no other reason than to see if it is even a useable pattern.

Focusing on anything except the specific thing we are doing physically is not going to bring about the results we are after, how could it, all training is task-specific

If we are thinking about the Form, focusing on the Form, trying to be mindful and become one with the Form, what we are learning is the Form, do not expect to learn anything else.

To put it into a sports perspective, world-class ball hitters, tennis, cricket, baseball you pick will set the ball machine to deliver the same shot over and over again, this is how we improve, little by little, first fix this problem then move on to the next.

What they do not do is set the machine to send out variable balls, to different places at differing speeds, this would be completely useless, more than likely a lot of fun, but nothing to learn here.

When we focus on the whole Form we lose connection with the reality of whatever we are moving, we will not think so because our brain loves this pattern, it is comfortable and familiar.

Does doing something comfortable and familiar sound like a tried and tested way to learn something new or to take the old thinking forward?

Years ago my tennis coach had a saying .. ‘if it feels right it must be wrong, only bad habits feel right’.

Finally, concerning the IDEA that doing the whole Form is a way to prepare us for any necessary spontaneous action, my boxing coach would tell us all … ‘shadow boxing is good training and great fun, but shadow boxing never won a fight’…



For me, solo training is an opportunity to deconstruct what I know and then find a newer, better way to put it back together, to rewire our interaction with ourselves {Ego} so that it is no longer an operating system on autopilot, but rather a ‘heads up display, a personal user interface’.

To learn anything we must stay with authentic reality, remain rooted in the absolute certainty of the lived experience.

Otherwise, everything is just make-believe.


Work on your weaknesses, play to your strengths.





At the moment we begin thinking we stop paying attention.


What is Solo Training?

At its most obvious it is training on our own, our own space, our own time, agenda and intentions.

In the Martial Arts solo participation in a Form provides us with the tools to approach our training on an even footing, to see it as it is and not as how we think it is or might be told it is.

This is the main purpose of all Forms, they achieve different reasons later but initially, it is this.     Objectivity.

The ultimate expression of any Art, Martial or otherwise, is to become one with it, lose one’s identity and become the thing we do.

But there is a paradox afoot here, doing is not being, in fact doing prevents being.

‘Doing’ requires thinking, ‘Being’ requires attention.

At the moment we begin thinking we stop paying attention.

We arrive at an awkward situation, once we start to actively do the Form, in a certain manner, to a certain pattern, once we begin to follow the instruction we enter the world of the subjective, and just like that {imaginary snap of the fingers}, doing the Form becomes a contradiction of the reason we are doing the Form in the first place.     Objectivity.

However, if we can explore the space between the contradictions of being and doing we can learn, or perhaps it would be more accurate to say discover, how to become creative ‘in the moment’, how to turn something that is on the surface quite useless, such as a Form, into a useable and powerful action.

The key is ‘Intention’.

But in this context what is ‘Intention’?

If we think of causality then Intention is the effect.

This is a mental game, not a physical game, and it can be a real head spin, the effect is the thing we achieve with the being state, not the doing state.

How do we transition from doing to being to effect?

Once we are working in the realm of different mental states it does not need to be bounded by any limitations that our Martial Art may require stylistically.

This means we do not need the Form to understand the Form, and by extension, once we reach this understanding we no longer have any reason to physically do the Form.

Go ask Alice, I think she’ll know.

In the last 50 years, there has been remarkable progress in the fields such as neurobiology, psychology, psychoneuromuscular theory and even technology through A.I. and machine learning that gives us a very different explanation of how we do stuff.

My own experience with this began in the late 1970s with Timothy Gallwey’s ‘The Inner Game of Tennis’ and in the early 1980’s Sybervisions Tennis and Golf psychoneuromuscular training systems and it is why to this day I approach things via sports.

In particular, Gallwey’s book could very well be ‘The Inner Game of S.L.T.’

If you are one of the many people that spend a large amount of time doing the Form there is a very real chance that you are working against yourself.

You may not be, but the recent findings in the applied fields of human behavior would suggest that more than likely you are.

Don’t panic, this is not a dead-end, but it will require a change in direction, or at least a major change in thinking because it does not matter what we are doing physically, what style or shape, fast or slow, you can safely keep the old body patterns.

This post is about Solo Training, and about changing our thinking, a good place to start is to ask ourselves a few questions, there is no right or wrong answer the purpose is simply to put a pin in the map and see where we are.

Q. What is the Goal of Solo Training?

Q. Do we know why we are doing this?

Q. Can Solo Training exist in a group situation?

Q. Can it be realistically thought of as Solo Training if we are in a room full of people doing the same thing?

Q. Why train on our own if we can have a partner help us?

Q. If we are in a group situation why not use the group?

Q. Can Solo Training teach applied techniques or practical applications?

Q. If not what do we expect to learn?


Sometimes we see more clearly when we look at things from an alien perspective, such as looking at out training through the lens of economics.


The economics of Solo Training.

Q. What is the cost against the returns?

Q. Do I take out more than I put in?

Q. What’s in it for me?

Q. When do I expect a return on my investment?


This is a big area to explore, I will come back to it later on.








We cannot find something that is not there.


Why is it that different schools, different lineages even different teachers think so differently about the Wing Chun Form?

Why is there no overall consensus on what the Form is all about?

The issue, if we consider it an issue, is not with the different schools, lineages or teachers but to be expected is with ourselves.

Each individual student.

Q. What can we expect to get from practicing the Wing Chun Form?

A. We can expect to get the same thing as we would from any empty vessel.

We can only take away what we put in.

If you want softness and relaxation then you must put in softness and relaxation.

If you want strength and speed then you must put in strength and speed.

If you want to observe balance and stability you must put in balance and stability.

We cannot find something that is not there.

How could it possibly be any other way, that would require magic or at least the intervention of an outside magical force?

As always I like to relate all things Wing Chun to sports and sports training.

Today I choose Tennis.

If we have an important game coming up in a couple of months we decide to prepare for it by 6 weeks of daily, intensive training.

But imagine if all we train is our forehand, what do we think will happen to our backhand?

If we train nothing but groundstrokes from the baseline, what do we think will happen to our volleying or dinking?

If all of our training is with a Ball Machine set to the same speed/force always into the same corner of the court how will we learn to cope with rythm changes and speed changes, drop shots or lobs?

And during all this time the most important shot of all, our service, is going to the dogs due to lack of use.

It is foolish to think we can engage in one aspect of training and yet learn something completely different.

What many students expect to get from the Form is at best unrealistic, most, if they think about results at all, expect to get multiple benefits from a single action.

Where else in life does this happen?

If you know please leave a comment, we will all benefit from such information.

We can take away only what we put in.

We have been hearing a variation of this since we were kids, but what does it mean?

Most of us, and I have most certainly been guilty of this in the past, think it just means more effort, longer hours, to engage more attention to the subject at hand, to get a better teacher.

None of the above have anything to do with what we put in, only how we put it in.

If I was to ask you to go into the forest and find me a Rana Caerulea the very first thing you would do was find out what the hell it was.

No one would just trot off into the forest hoping that somehow they would stumble upon it.

But that is exactly what most people do with the Form.

We can take away only what we put in means that we must know what we are looking for.

As with all training, a good place to start is to seek advice from someone skilled, but no matter who that person is they can only tell you what they were looking for, tell you what they found.

What I put into my Forms today has nothing in common with the things I put in to get me here, where is the value in describing the destination without pointing out the path?

‘Intention’ is a nebulous word, hard to pin down to a single IDEA but that is what we put into our Forms, this is not a ‘get out of jail free’ card, a one size fits all type of answer, it leads to other questions such as what is Intention? What are you Intending to do as you practice your Form?

What are you putting in?

Many years ago I was diligently practicing my First Form at my Sifu’s school, I knew he was watching so I put in extra effort, applied more focus, engaged more attention.

Sifu came across to me, watched as I played Tarn Sau and asked ‘What are your feet doing right now’?

He knew by my blank expression that I did not know what my feet were doing.

‘Why would you expect that Tarn Sau to be effective if you do not know where your feet are, what they are doing or how they relate to the rest of your body’?

We tend to think that wisdom and knowledge arrive like a flash of lightning out of a clear blue sky, the reality is that wisdom and knowledge are a hole in the ground that we accidentally fall into while walking in the dark.

What we need is a flashlight.