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.