Tag Archives: taijiquan

A Bit Hard

Getting heavy.
I had a problem in a class recently. Someone stopped ‘feeling’ and began ‘doing his moves’.

We were doing some partner work, and one of the participants did what he thought might be the next move.  In other words his ‘next move’ didn’t evolve from his partner’s previous move; his move came about as a result of attempting to follow a pre-defined pattern which bore no relation to anything that his partner was doing.
He did this without noticing that the other person wasn’t going with him, and as a result, he applied force, ending up by hurting his partner (no broken bones, just a strain).
Of course, you could argue that the partner should have ‘followed’ the over-assertive movement, but unfortunately that isn’t what happened.

‘Trying to do the next move’ is not such a problem in fixed-step pushing hands, where movements are fairly repetitive, but in the Dui Lian (2-person form) it is a big problem.
This is a set routine and each person is meant to follow her part, but at the same time if you just ‘do your moves’ it’s all a bit meaningless, and just becomes a dance.  In fact done this way (which is how I learnt it for years), I don’t think there’s much point to it other than to show some basic applications.

So what do you do?
In 2-person work (and this applies to pushing hands also), when your partner does an action which affects you, you need to put him in such a position that there is only one way for her to get out of it, and that one way is whatever is the next move in the 2-person form. In other words, you close down all other options so that he can only escape through the loophole that he creates.
This way, one move follows on naturally from the previous move, and nothing is forced.

This doesn’t stop the problem of someone being over enthusiastic, but it does mean that, in the act of attempting to close down all options for the other person, you’re feeling what the other person might be able to do at any point if you give him the slightest opportunity.  In this way, all of the connecting movements for both partners stay very alive and conscious.

It’s a game.
The whole 2-person game is like playing chess, or in fact any game. You try to reduce the other player’s options, ideally forcing her into a position where she has to sacrifice something.
That ‘sacrifice’ is the moment where his energy runs out, her control is lost, or his energy is dissipated. This then allows you to do your move, which can’t be done if the other person is still able to control youand that’s the crucial point.

When you walk, you can’t step forwards with your back foot if you still have weight on it.  In 2-person work, you can’t do your move correctly if the other person is still partially in control, therefore limiting your movements!

But it’s unusual!
I should say that it’s rare for someone to be hurt.  Working with someone else is a dialogue via the senses, and occasionally verbally, and this was actually the first time that I’ve had the problem occur, although in the past I myself have been hurt on many occasions through my partner ‘doing his stuff’ without any awareness of the result of what he was doing.

…And there are places where practising any 2-person work is, to say the least, … dodgy!

Details of Tai chi and Qigong classes with James Drewe here.

When You Move, I Move.

… or to put it another way, if something around me changes, I need to change as well.

By and large we don’t like change, unless we consider it to be positive. Change is worrying for
newton-ball-cradle-2many reasons, perhaps the main one being that we have to remain conscious – we can’t afford to go to sleep because we don’t know what’s just around the corner, and it means we can’t rest; we feel that we have to be on our guard. This isn’t just ‘going with the flow’ stuff, it’s extremely practical. Perhaps it’s really about fearing and not fearing; it’s about taking life as it comes and adjusting to the new situation.
As Alan Watts would have put it, this is ‘The Wisdom of Insecurity’.

It’s making your relationships work; it’s getting what you need out of your work; it’s about not being stressed by events; it’s about coming to terms with change, even when the change isn’t what you’d hoped for; and, not very surprisingly as this is about tai chi & qigong, it’s also doing both solo tai chi as well as doing partner-work.

Practising changingDominoes falling
Normally no one practises adaptability or change; there are no mechanisms in place, no lessons in school, no times in our lives when we deliberately work on accommodating change.  By and large, we learn it through trial and error, with the help of parents and friends perhaps.  Even then we don’t really focus on the process, we’re more interested in getting through the uncomfortable moments than in understanding the process and mastering it.

Practising adaptability in solo tai chi & qigong
In solo practise, exactly the same thing is happening but is much harder to feel because no one is there to help you, you only have your own body.
You therefore have to start paying attention to what is going on inside you, feeling how not only the sides of your body support each other, but also how the front and back, and the head and the feet do precisely the same.
To take a couple of examples, if your left arm moves nearer your centreline, then your right arm somehow needs to create a balance.  Or if your hands push forwards, then something needs to go backwards.

Practising adaptability with another person
It’s easier to achieve this end in tai chi two-person work because you have to feel what is taking place in your body due to the changing pressures being exerted upon it by someone else.

First you create an event; for example, the simple action of your partner pushing against
your arm.  If you do nothing you will be pushed backwards. Symbolically the event has trashed you!
The great thing about this is that, whereas most normal events only happen once, in this case you can get your partner to repeat the event as often as you want, i.e. you can practise.

change-2So what do you do about the push?  Perhaps you lift or lower your arm, or move it left or right… it’s not important, what is important is that you are finding the best way to deal with the issue, and what is more, you are starting to ‘listen’ to what is happening is the event, in this case the push.  The more you listen, the more nuances you will find in the push; no single push will be the same as another.

You will start to notice the subtleties in:
and how all of these can alter.

You will also start to notice:
…How you tense or freeze…
…How sometimes you only move one part of you without the rest being involved…
…How difficult it is to find the balance between excess strength and weakness…
…And then you’ll begin to notice how the person with whom you’re working has similar problems and, even whilst pushing you, doesn’t balance him/herself correctly.

Tai chi and qigong classes with James Drewe here.

Yang 24-Step Form: Horizontal & Vertical

‘The word Peng’ (pron. ‘pung’ as in ‘sprung’) is used in a general way to explain the feeling of expansion/protection of the body as though you are inside a large balloon; the front and back, left and right, and top and bottom are all working together equally, so that, for example, if you were to push forwards, you would feel an equal expansion backwards.  The operative word here is feel, because you naturally wouldn’t be able to ‘push’ your back in the same way behind you!

However, the word ‘Peng’ is also used to describe one of the 13 Principles, occurring in every style of tai chi in one way or another.  In the Yang 24-Step form it appears at Forms 7 & 8, following the 4th Repulse Monkey (Step Back and Push); at this stage in the set of movements – assuming you began the form facing 12.00, you are facing 9.00.

In Form 7, the movement consists of the left arm simultaneously sinking (lowering) and drawing in (towards the body), before lifting up the centreline of the body to project forwards again at approximately shoulder height.
Peng directionIf you turn your body to the right during the sinking-and-drawing-in process, the movement that follows, i.e. the lifting of the left arm, changes from Peng to ‘Lie’ (or Lieh, depending upon your preferred method of spelling the word… Pinyin versus Wade-Giles ).
‘Lie’ is a sideways or horizontal movement, and is another of the 13 Principles. You can see this being used in Parting the Wild Horse’s Mane (i.e. Form 2 in the Yang 24-Step), first by the left arm, then by the right, and then by the left again.PTWHM Direction

In the previous form, i.e. Form 6 (Repulse Monkey), each of the 4 backward stepping movements is initiated by turning the body to right or left; so it’s almost automatic for beginners (and sometimes for more advanced practitioners also) to turn the body once again.
However, it shouldn’t turn, or at least it should only be a very small amount.

To stop the urge to turn the body to the right at this point, focus on the role of the right hand. Instead of allowing it to wander aimlessly out in the 1 o’clock direction (assuming you began the Form facing 12 o’clock), give it the intention of reaching towards 9 o’clock as though to grasp your opponent’s clothing, or shoulder, or even the back of his head. The right arm will still lift up into something resembling a ‘hold ball’ shape (although in reality you’ll never arrive at this shape), but the right hand’s intention will stop the body from turning to the right because the hand is leading and is reaching forward.
All of a sudden the body will feel better balanced in this movement, the left and right sides of the body will coordinate better (see the previous blog on ‘balance’), and the right arm will no longer feel so ‘useless’, or functionless.