Franklin Chuah

DaQingShan is a place I have fond memories of. Previously, I had visited in May 2016 and Apr 2018, and each time I returned home with a bountiful harvest. Firstly, the training intensity is on another level compared to our local training in Singapore. We train four times a day starting from 6am in the morning and ending at 9.30pm in the evening, with meals and rest in between. Secondly, the environment is extremely conducive for training; the weather is cool and dry, and the air is fresh and fragrant from all the natural flowers and vegetation. Thirdly, there are many like-minded students with various different backgrounds passionate about learning and sharing the Practical Method system. Lastly, food and lodging are provided at a very affordable rate. To me, these are the ideal conditions for training and improving one’s skill.

Ever since COVID-19, it became near impossible for International students to travel to DaQingShan. But finally in 2024, DaQingShan is once again reopened for the International students. I took the opportunity to travel here from 3rd to 12th May 2024, along with two other Singaporean students who also wanted to experience the life here. During this period, a workshop was held from 1st to 7th May, followed by the 2024 China Wulian 8th Fucai Cup Daqingshan Taijiquan Invitational Competition from 9th to 11th May. The competition comprises of various events: moving step push hands, fixed step push hands on wooden piles, group and individual performance. Of course, I registered for every single one of them other than the group performance event.

The mood on the day before the competition was incredibly tense and exhilarating. Starting from the afternoon, competitors around China began streaming in one by one, greeting one another like old friends. When it came to the time of measuring our body weights, these competitors stripped down to their underwear, and that’s when I really noticed how lean and muscular they were. I could tell each of them had put in a lot of time and effort into their training, and they even kept their weight as high as possible within the weight category they are fighting in.

My objective for joining the push hands competition was simple: to pressure test myself against other competitors to see how I would fare, so I could identify the areas to improve on. The competition uses a double elimination bracket system, which meant participants need to lose twice before they are eliminated. This was great news to me, as I believed I would be able to acquire more experience from this competition regardless of winning or losing. Unfortunately, during my first match, I accidentally pulled my left shoulder and right thigh muscles, and was unable to compete in the subsequent push hands matches… Nevertheless, I’ve gained plenty through that one round.

Set Your Own Tempo

During my match, my opponent came in strong and fast, and my body reacted to it subconsciously. I tried several times to regain back my control, but kept reverting back soon after due to the intensity of my opponent. And as expected, once I played into his game, I was not able to beat him in terms of his physical abilities. Setting my own tempo is something that I haven’t quite comprehend yet, but I believe I’ll have to accumulate even more push hands experience to truly appreciate.

Continue Working on Foundations
During the match, I was still unable to execute my moves properly. When I watched the video recordings of my match, I noticed that my body was disconnected and I was trying to rotate with the top half of my body. Furthermore, the stability in my lower body was still lacking. After seeking some advice from my senior brothers and sisters, I realised I was not focusing on the right areas when doing some of the basic foundations, which telltale signs are shown during the match. This is something that I’m currently working on every day since returning back to Singapore.

The Opponent is a Tree

Outside of the competition, one of the biggest takeaway I got from shifu Chen Zhonghua during the workshop is to imagine myself as a monkey and my opponent as a tree. A monkey does not try to push or pull the tree, but rather swing around its branches and manoeuvre around it. It does not seek to break, but to utilise the branches to its advantage. This mindset is fascinating to me, and I’m looking forward to incorporate it into my future push hands training as well.

Overall, the three of us from Singapore really enjoyed the trip, and would have loved to stay longer had it not been for work commitments. We trained a lot, ate a lot, and made many new friends along the way. We look forward to the next time we meet again!

It’s been seven years since I started the Chen Style Taijiquan Practical Method in 2016, but it was only over the past two years of practice that I’ve really gained better understanding and appreciation of the system. Part of the reason why I was so interested in Practical Method is its practical aspects aka push hands, which seemed very unconventional compared to other martial arts.

My first push hands experience was in Dec 2017, when I participated in Singapore’s K Shanmugam Cup Push Hands Competition. I was able to clenched 3rd place for my weight category, but I knew what I did was not Taiji. Back then, I was still active in the military and was at the peak of my physical fitness. I was able to power my way through using brute force and stamina, beating opponents who were lighter and weaker than me. However, this was not what I was looking for, otherwise I wouldn’t have picked up Practical Method.

Observing the way shifu Chen Zhonghua and Chen Xu pushed with others as well as experiencing it myself, I knew I was still lacking in many ways. If I have to use a word to describe their moves, it was “precise”. A precision that could only be acquired through countless hours of practicing and honing their skills. They are able to end the fight the moment you touch hands, instead of the typical drawn out struggle we usually see between two competitors.

In the past two years, I’ve attended the weekly push hands zoom classes of both shifu and Chen Xu to continue working on my fundamentals and identify my weaker areas. I have to admit I was a bit skeptical of its effectiveness at first since the lessons were conducted online through zoom, but it turned out to be the best decision I made. From the lessons, I’ve practiced many useful and interesting exercises which I would have never known. Through observing all the zoom participants including myself perform the moves and listening to the feedback from shifu and Chen Xu, I’m better able to recognize whether a move is done correctly according to our principles.

In end Nov 2023, I went to Bogor, Indonesia and took part in the South East Asia Elimination DaQingShan Push Hand Competition. It’s been a long time since I last participated in a push hands competition, and I was pretty nervous and excited about it knowing that Indonesia is much more competitive in push hands as compared to Singapore. Most importantly, I wanted to know what my current Taiji ability is. In summary, I was delightfully surprised at the results. It was not about getting 2nd place, but rather the changes I felt compared to before. These past few years of consistent practice have finally sprouted a Taiji seedling in my body that changed the way my body moves!

You are Your Biggest Enemy
As cliché as it may sound, I have always been my biggest obstacle. Whenever I come into contact with an opponent, my first instinct is always to fight back. The bigger the opponent, the harder I push. Otherwise, I’ll definitely lose if I can’t resist him, right? That was my mentality when I was younger. Of course, the result is I ended up exhausted and was still unable to do anything against my opponent. During the Bogor competition, the biggest change I felt this time was a shift in my mindset: I’m not going to resist and simply accept whatever the opponent is going to do to me, what matters is whether I can get in close to him and execute my move. What a world of difference it made!

Trust in the Process

Strangely, everything changed once I stopped resisting. The opponent who was aggressively attacking suddenly started to back away from me. And in turn, that made me feel more confident to get close. I could feel the moves the opponent made were not as effective and he was getting more and more tired as the match continues. And finally I was able to take advantage of a moment when he was trying to execute a move to execute mine and scored a point. Shifu has demonstrated this many times, that he is able to get in close to his opponent effortlessly. He has always reminded not to power up, but somehow it has always felt very counterintuitive for me before. I had tried not to power up but there was always some hesitation within me in the past. It is at this stage of training where I fully trust in the system that I appreciate his words. What appeared to look weak turned out to be really strong!

Just Keep Practicing

I realized the only way to truly trust in the process and remove all doubt and hesitation is through consistent practice. Even if you do not feel it now, all the practice will slowly accumulate over time and bear fruit eventually. In the past, I was not able to feel the effectiveness of the system and thus was not confident enough to rely on it, so I always end up falling back to my physical strength. But through all the practice, I began to become more aware of the various connections within my body and am now able to execute moves that my body was not capable of in the past. This year, I’m finally able to feel my lower body’s connection to the ground, which in turn strengthen my mindset that no matter how hard the opponent pushes, I’m confident that I will not fall so easily. So at the end of the day, it was the practice that brought about the change in mindset. So practice, practice, practice!

My journey into the Chen Style Taijiquan Practical Method started in 2016. In May 2016, I went to DaQingShan to experience first-hand what it feels like against someone who practices this system. At that time, shifu Chen Zhonghua was there and he told me to just try anything on him. Before I knew what happened, I was already on my hands and knees on the floor. I thought I was probably not ready that first time, so I tried again. The same thing happened. I tried a third. I just couldn’t understand how he made me fell to the ground so easily without me putting up a fight or any resistance. It felt so magical to me at that time, a feeling which I simply couldn’t explain.

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