Thursday, May 26, 2016

My personal Pushing-Hands experience

When I first learned Tai-Chi from Master T.T. Liang he wouldn't allow me to do pushing hands right away because of my weak lungs due to a childhood of asthma, allergies, and pneumonia. I spent a lot of time learning forms and studying theory until Liang said I was healthy enough to do partner work.

At one demonstration I was asked to assist Master Liang. In the middle of the demonstration Master Liang said to the audience" No one can push my student over. Does anybody want to try"? Immediately a very athletic person jumped out and said they'd like to try to push me over. Master Liang said that my root would be so strong this person could not move me. I would be rooted like an oak tree. This person walked right up to me, and pushed me over with no problem. He pushed again, I was pushed back again. He pushed a third time, and I was pushed as easily as a small baby. Master Liang scowled at me and then stood in my place and said" come on". As hard is that man tried to push, he couldn't move Master Liang. When that man cleverly changed the angle, Master Liang turned his waist to neutralize and the man stumbled.The Master showed softeness overcoming hardness.

 For me it was one of the most shameful times of my life.

I knew a lot about pushing hands in theory, and in conversation, but when the time came to put it to practical use I fell far short.My pushing-hands was a “bounced check.” From that time on, I practiced hard, concentrating on pushing hands and sensitivity in my private classes with Master Liang. I suffered many losses and defeats and was pushed around quite easily, but I learned. 


Master Liang always said "small loss-small gain, big loss-big gain". I started to pay attention and began to learn the art of pushing hands. Many times Master Liang would remind me of my defeat, which I know now was to intimidate me, to humble me, and fight against my pride and ego. One day, however, when we were practicing pushing hands he said to me” Remember that man that pushed you so easily” . I said "yes " with a red face. Master Liang said," I don't think he can push you now. You are quite strong, and have learned a lot, but you still have a long way to go."

One of the highlights of my pushing hands experience was at another demonstration, which was attended by most of my senior classmates. Master Liang called for a partner to come out and demonstrate the pushing hands. After two of my seniors demonstrated with him, Master Liang dismissed them quickly, then called out to the audience," Where is Ray? He is my student. I will demonstrate with him". After that time, I was his main demonstration partner.

One time I was practicing pushing hands and I was in a bad position. My partner pushed, and I just turned a little and issued. They easily went flying away, over ten feet. The look of shock on their face told me they were as surprised as I was. My next class I related to Master Liang what had happened, using the word “effortless” to describe my push. Master Liang said’ “I’ve been waiting to hear this from you”.

After teaching pushing hands for over 25 years, three basic lessons stared me in the face. The first one is that men need to learn how to relax, and be soft and sensitive without losing their masculinity. Women need to learn to acknowledge their power, and skill. All need to give up fear and tension.


Tuesday, May 3, 2016

A Brief Histroy of Pushing-Hands, Sticking-Hands, and Two-Person Sensitivity

The goals and problems of all martial arts are the same; how to develop a perfect defense, how to control the other person, and how to get enough power in your offensive technique to stop, or put down, the other person. To understand the various joint-hand practices and the development of sensitivity, we need to look at three basic distances in martial arts.

The first is the long-distance, which means it will take your opponent a jump, or one or two steps, to get close enough to strike you with a kick or long punch. The second distance is the middle distance which means your opponent is already in kicking distance and needs to step to strike you with their hand. At this distance, some grappling, and tripping or sweeping, may occur. The third distance is the close distance where you are close, or in contact with your opponent. Most kicks at this range cannot be executed, but all hand techniques and close techniques such as head-butting, elbows, knees , shoulder strikes, joint-locking, throwing, and many other short techniques are all available. 


Master Choi says,”Close distance is more complicated, you can do more techniques. Far distance has simple moves". It is at the close distance that the sensitivity training of sticking hands, or pushing hands, comes into play.

Almost every style has some kind of sticking or joined together practice. There are some martial arts that emphasize this, particularly the internal styles. If we look at the physics theory of weight x speed = power, if my partner can move at me and throw their body weight at me while they execute their technique, they will increase the power of that technique. Just by staying close to them, by sticking to them, we take away their ability to spring at us and gain benefit from their body weight. “Control them, so they can't move and double their power, because weight times speed equals power” Master Choi told us. 


Many times in a Western boxing match one of the boxers will clinch, or grab a hold of, the other boxer. This not only ties up their hands, but stops them from utilizing their body weight. Master Choi said," We are the opposite of (Western) boxing. We need to get close and tie them up so they can't punch. When it's 50-50, he can punch, you can punch, it's not so good. It's best to control them. Take out insurance against his punch or kick."

The internal styles can be looked at not only as styles, but as the strategy for fighting the external, long-distance martial arts. External martial arts require strength, speed, and distance to be effective. The principles and practices of joint hands are the counters to these formidable weapons. For instance, by being in contact with opponents, we are feeling where the power is coming from. 

We may deflect, as well as move away, thereby taking the power away by not being there for it to land on. Keeping in contact also takes away some of the opponents speed, because although their speed may fool my eyes, they can't fool my sense of touch and I will feel when their technique is coming. Master T.T. Liang taught, “ In pushing hands, whoever is softest will win”. If you are more relaxed than your partner, you'll be able to sense their intentions. Also, the more relaxed you are, the more energy, you can generate to counterattack.

The chin-na techniques and joint-locking are very effective ways of controlling the opponent. They can only be done at a close distance, which puts you in the opponents punching range. Before you can apply the joint-lock, you must have a good defense. At close distance, the problem of getting power becomes apparent. There is no time or space to “wind up” or “cock” the technique. Whole body power has to be developed, directed by the mind, put into action by the Chi, or nervous system, and executed in an exploding manner from nine joints. This forms the core of the internal style.

In the Shao-lin, or external martial arts, we see many joint hand practices. Northern Praying Mantis has the Jim Lim ( contact-cling) sticking hands whereas the Southern Praying Mantis has the Moi-Sao (grinding hands )sticking hands. The Wing Chun style is famous for its chi sao, which literally means sticking hands. Western boxing has the clinch and Thai kickboxing has the phlam, which is the close-distance fighting during the clinch, and is considered the most advanced technique in that system. 


I witnessed a demonstration of a single-hand sensitivity practiced by advanced Goju Ryu Karate practitioners called Kakie. Even the Vikings had a close quarters unarmed fighting method called Glima.In the Wu-Tang ,or internal martial arts, they emphasize the close range, and therefore practice many kinds of sensitivity. 


In Tai-Chi, the pushing hands has many aspects, which will be explained in this course. The Pa-Kua style has many methods of sensitivity used in conjunction with circular and evasive footwork. The Hsing-Yi style, although emphasizing intercepting at the close distance, also has its own methods of sensitivity.

Master Wai-Lun Choi told me that the old Hsing-Yi Masters practiced and taught sensitivity. They kept it as a secret, and didn't let their students write about it in their public books, that's why few know about it. He said the great Master Chang Chao-tung was nicknamed" lightning hands" not only because of physical speed, but because of how fast his sensitivity and reactions were.  

The Yi-Chuan style uses the single hand horizontal, and the two hands "flower picking" methods to catalog many practices of sensitivity. In the Liu Ho Pa Fa style, Grandmaster Wai-lun Choi calls the three sensitivity methods "Chase Hands." In the Wu-Tang Sword style, sticking and sensitivity are key parts to the defense and control of the other fencer.