Key Essentials of Tai Chi Chuan Push Hands Practise -Part III


This is the third and final part of the Art of Pushing Hands and context can be little difficult without the previous two parts. However, they are available in the archives. The preceding articles consider some of the more useful perspectives and purposes. This third part leans towards the more advanced problems of evolving a multi-dimensional practice approach whereby you may extend your appreciation of the Art of Pushing Hands.

The Art within Pushing Hands Method and its Demands

It is no mean feat to develop the rudiments and technical skill necessary to perform well, the solo handed set routines whatever the style. It is one thing to connect various postures together but quite another to develop what is both complex and expressive in nature. The Martial Arts hard or soft are language forms defined by their principles and metaphors. A passion for language and expression is at the heart of the internal martial arts. It is a struggle to develop. At times a call of passion. Maybe we should duck and cover? But in time a true interest in Martial Arts will develop a passion for internal sense and appreciation. The internal arts have an advantage over some martial arts because “The Three Sister Arts of T'ai Chi Ch'uan, Hsing-I and PaKua Chang” are directed by theory and metaphor towards passionately expressive technique.

Is the Pushing Hands Method essential to T'ai Chi Ch'uan?

I have come across two commonly motivated responses as to why people pursue T'ai Chi Ch'uan. Firstly, and perhaps appropriately, the mass of people will reside in the realm of the casual practitioner. In the main they are motivated to restore balance, stabilise health and "feel" relaxation. They like the look of T'ai Chi and its gentle appeal. The martial contents will probably be given a cursory acceptance as it is a "soft art just for self defence" or something equally vague and diffident.

Secondly, the serious student with a strong interest, takes to heart their artistic expectations but finds at times themselves to be at odds with their own disposition and expressive needs.usually taking the form of an old internal struggle, where to change habituated form towards the desire of principled artistic expression is a bit of task. To be metaphorical, in Taoist terms, one may say it is the Universal Wheel of Yin and Yang that is struggling to be refined. We have to resolve our own or at times’ others, personal sensibilities and vision to understand the Way. I suggest there are perhaps two levels of acceptance. One may take a fast track or slower one to arrive with satisfied artistic vigour and perfection. Some people view perfection as unattainable, but this is an unhelpful perspective. Perfection is what perfect does! A thought can be a perfect expression. Martial expression is no more than the extension of plain good sense mixed with healthy levels of open enthusiasm(spirit) and fruitful enjoyment(vigour).

My advice is, please, if you are a serious practitioner/student then your expressive good sense and effort should eventually be free from the niggling multiple qualms or reactions of reluctance. No worry or complacency should be present for long. Terminate disruptive vagueness and encourage naturalness.

Why bother with Martial Content?

The expressive nature of the Internal Arts are heavily reliant upon the technical and strategic applications(Mind). Such skills must become second nature throughout the solo set. Creatively speaking first nature(Clear Intent). Any long term defects and the Art and its transmission are diminished. However, this is not a bad thing, more an opportunity to enjoy further still the inner quest! (Yes, I know everyone wants to "do" a Tai Chi evening class to "relax and exercise". But please, these are the benefits of an Art form rather than an expressive purpose). Admittedly, only a few people motivated towards this stage of intermediate practice.

If you are a bit of a realist, then it is advisable view artistic expression as a leap of conceptual exploration and faith. Idealism alone may not be enough. Expressive purpose must become deeply rooted in your practice and it can be a bit of a bind. If you are at odds with the process of learning through an experiential trial and is this an error? ? method then progress may be arrested. Certainly a lot will be rejected. More importantly useful amounts of valuable experience will be self dissuaded.

To sense an appropriate change whatever the application you have to hand often requires a purposeless trial and sacrifice of expectations. To break disruptive habit’s one must investigate the meaning of each change as a whole rather than looking for a fast resolution. Understanding the transitions will then enable you to progress quickly to "getting it right" and develop an internal sense of space and timing. This process of investigation I call the internal language of "becoming the change".

"Becoming The Change"

This "becoming the change" process is simple and therefore difficult. To accept simple change is often in conflict with the more comfortable and clear cut process of step by step learning methods. To be accomplished, naturally, in the internal arts is not easy. Ha, another of life’s fine jokes! Our motivations are often idealistic and oddly tailored. Learning can be stressful at times, for various reasons we stumble over great vistas of the self confusion and confidence. Or maybe you are lucky? Anyway, my point is that "Life", like the T'ai Chi Ch'uan learning experience is to be savoured as an expression. A language form.

"Becoming the Change" is the acquisition of earned enjoyment and relaxation through breathing, movement and exposition of intent. The freedom to allow the mind to express change develops into self liberation that can operate at many levels. This is the notion of "becoming the change" in the spirit of martial action. Spirited, skilful freedom. Weaponry is but another form of such freedom. In Zennist, Chan Buddhist terms,

I have no purpose, I make emptiness my purpose

Some people make progress other do not. How is this possible?

Pushing forwards goals and levels of practice with rigid domains of expectation is rarely a smooth path.Many personal attitudes and beliefs/agendas will prevent any Mind whatever body state you possess to interrupt your clear intent. When this happens, the body is heavy and fragmented. Totality and harmony of flow is lost. Common indicator is the inability to move ones energy except in a squaring type of effect. Tempo and timing is largely lost and the energy does not return. Be cognisant that what thwarts progress is a type of language difficulty. Vague or rigid intent can cause the greater Mind to pre-empt or simply misinterpret the process of being conversant with your level of expertise. The spirit of a language form defines internal movement senses and expression. Disconnected intent actually encourages an overly reflective/controlling mind. The mind finds an unquantifiable obstacle to spontenity. In physical terms this is demonstrated by stiffness, or weakness of form. Here the waist actions are misplaced in relation to the hands. The weight is doubled and leadened. The dynamism of change is missed. Unless one forgets onself, which happens at times. And great expressive moments they are! Accomplishing a paced change is an effort of acceptance. By improving acceptance, competence of intent is improved gradually. After a while the classics say the mind opens and the nerves settle to foucus the Will. Energy/Chi(qi) can flow. Further the classics texts are less difficult to fathom. Clarity and an easy Will improves competence of Intent. In the internal arts one should not use simple force but learn to issue energy to produce unruffled effect. But please, be realistic. No one is perfect at every moment in technical terms. Perfect intent is perfect only if it is unbroken and fluid.

 The sequence shows, Roll back right which creates an opening to facilate double Pushing. This is resolved (right player) by Adhering and Roll back. An opening is felt, which produces a double palm Pushing, thwarted somewhat by Phil's raising of the right arm/energy, which is resolved by transferring the Pushing power to the right palm.

Some Classic points on which to hang the "Becoming the Change" process

Natural progress is a big method. A zig zag course. Think of the body as neither strong nor weak. Quick or slow. Formed or formless in the exposition of a change. There is the centre. Use the maxims or songs. In practising all movements it is said, ",,,the body is like a wheel. The waist is like the axle." The solo exercise is largely rooted in the opening and closing of the waist. The appropriate use of the waist creates great fluidity of form. This must be a true expression of fluidity not an artistic interpretation of it. Contact improvisation is not in any way the equivalent to pushing hands practise. However, it is a useful stepping stone. I have seen dancers do Tai Chi as dance only badly. The body-mind set is constructed. They produce only a pale imitation of the art. One may argue that it in not T'ai Chi Ch'uan at all. To be natural is to instil skilled practice. The hands ectera, responding as the mind interprets not as a western dancing art but as a spirited martial one. This distinction is crucial to competence.

There is genuine peak awareness at times through regular practise. In terms of Taoist metaphor the meeting of contradiction can produce clarity. Consider this classic quote concerned with strategy, in "looking up, the player appears even higher. Looking down, they seem even deeper. Advancing, the player is even further away. Retreating, they are even closer." Such advice does appear to be obscured by metaphor until you make the experience yours.

The first maxim refers to leading the opposite player’s force so that it arrives into emptiness of reaction. So if the energy of an attack is upwards, lead even higher. The second maxim declares if the attacks is downward, lead even lower. Similarly the third maxim asserts if the attack is directly forward lead further in. In each case one may direct ones partner to an empty place. There is in Taoist fashion neither struggle nor opposition but simple becomingness in change.

To accomplish creative push hands practise it is better to seek out the curve and the transition that opens a change. Avoid straight advance or straight retreat. "Advancing and retreating require turning the body and changing the steps." The energy of the body is rooted in posture and stance. The mind is not. You will find that the feet are clumsy when the mind is encumbered with concern. Focus the senses broadly. In seeking out the curve one must not linearly advance or linearly retreat alone. The corners of one’s movements must be accommodated towards the curve. For instance, in the advancing motions of ward off and press be aware of both left and right. In retreating similarly turn and step towards the left and right as a rule but do not hurry. All of the advancing and retreating movements are like this. Because turning and changing allows one to use the retreat as an advance, therefore it is not a true retreat. A true retreat would mean thoughtless defeat.

The boxing treatises say,..."Advancing is advancing. Retreating is also advancing,,,"

There is no contradiction here for as the classics say,

"Every step advances forwards; then you are without peer under heaven."

Perhaps most famous of all the metaphors is the reference to Lightness,

"A feather cannot be added, a fly cannot alight,,,"

In pushing hand’s one must act with acute sensitivity. “Then even if a feather or something as light as a fly falls on the body, it will be felt”. This emphasises the sensitive nature of T’ai Chi push hands, where each player must overcome the difficulty of interpreting action and reaction. As you progress one need not allow the opponent to make use of your force. They can neither apply strength to you nor "borrow" strength from you. Similarly, when confronted with sheer speed one must jam the swiftness of the opposite player. This is a most important and basic theory of push hands.

A final word. Pushing hands is not fighting. Combat is emotional and not of the greater Mind. It is essential to offer the opposite player some form of resistive dialogue and opportunity. It is a partnership. Find the curve, sense the opportunity, interpret the change in the moment. Be lively, break the rules, apply tricks with a good heart and avoid causing injury.

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