Let me try now to say some of things I meant to say before I accidentally deleted my post.
What i meant is how to actually do it. I think that we will disagree on how it should look and feel when it is done. however we also do soft fajing for healing.
We do not do "soft fajing for healing." Or at least, I have not been taught this. It sounds quite interesting however. I think what you refer to as fajing for martial effect is a subset of what we refer to. I think it is important for our method that people not associate fajing only with strikes. Let me give an example.
Our push hands instruction begins with a basic single-arm circle that most traditional styles seem to teach. There is also a double-arm version that begins to show real martial applications and situations. The details of our circle seem a little different from the way many other teachers teach it. For instance, for us, it is not a big deal if the ward off arm retreats all the way to the abdomen and makes contact. It is, however, a big deal if you close your armpit.
I personally try to illustrate why closing your armpit is generally a bad idea by demonstrating some short fajing from contact, using a technique I first saw in a videotape Yang Zhenduo and Yang Jun made at a Taste of China. I do this only with people I feel are comfortable with me; however, I do it in such a way to try to reintroduce a small taste of intimidation to help their imagination and help them make their intent more precise. It is hard to defend against a threat you do not even perceive or respect. If people are overly impressed by this demonstration or keep making the error as we practice together, I simply take advantage of the error by pressing on their arm in such a way as to make them double weighted and unable to move and keep their balance. If people have practiced other martial arts and are perhaps not impressed enough, I combine the two techniques, change them slightly, and show something I would want to attempt only if I felt my life were at stake. This usually ends any doubts about whether push hands has any martial intent or usefulness. In both cases, I stress that since both techniques begin from contact with the opponent's arm, there is virtually no warning and no ability to block.
Sometimes, demonstrations like that can end up too focused on power and speed. If we have time, I ask my students to attempt the same techniques on me. My skill is not what it should it be, so I am often unsuccessful; however, what I try to show is that even those same techniques can be countered if your "ting jing" (listening energy) and understanding of full and empty are at a sufficiently high level. In other words, it is not actually the technique or what happens outside that is important, but what happens on the inside. You want to use positioning or stillness to beat the opponent's speed. You want to discriminate full and empty more finely than the opponent so that he or she cannot find a useful place on which to issue energy.
Once these basics are understood and learned through sufficient practice, it is not a long step to generalize the same principles for issuing strikes and defending against them. For instance, on the instructional DVD I posted about earlier, Yang Jun shows a way to practice the strike in Brush Knee Twist Step in a relatively safe way. He shows it as simply one of the manifestations of split energy.
What i meant is, i still practice the form solo and very slowly but when i'm in training sessions i tend to express the harder side more. You could say creating a balance from the extremes of either side.
This makes sense. For our part, I think we view the form as being soft, practicing fajing as hard, and push hands as hard or soft depending on you method of practice and your goals. Most of what people show in push hands is the softer, safer part; however, you can do more.
One of the stories I have heard or read about Yang Shaohou is that he used to slam his students against the wall during push hands. With practice partners who don't mind practice a little like this, we just bounce each other off the walls--that is, when the walls can take it.
On the other hand, I have also heard or read that one of the things that brought attention to Yang Luchan is that he often defeated opponents without hurting them. I think this refers to the fact that he used to "push" opponents off the leitai stage rather than just trying to knock them out, cripple them, or beat them into submission like most fighters.
For example doing only form without combat should give you a great unnderstanding of the energy and how to move it around your body but you would lose some of the healing you would gain from combat (bone hardening/strengthening). This is my view.
This is interesting. I think we try to strengthen the tendons and sinews, but not the bone for martial effectiveness. Doing the form will, of course, strengthen your legs and probably your bones, but we try to create hardness from the softness, rather than harden our bodies. What one of my teachers once explained is that you can win if you are hard enough or soft enough, but we generally follow the soft way.
This is very Bruce Lee, but i know what you are saying. You can use your energy in any given situation and the appropriate energy will be used. YOu can adapt for anthing.
I was trying more for Sunzi than Bruce Lee, but I will take what I can get.
Just to be clear, I was trying to describe not so much the ability to adapt, but the focus on energy itself. In most martial arts, people think of a punch as accelerating a hard part of the body (i.e., the fist) as fast as possible and striking at the last moment in a rigid way to maximize the hardness. If relaxation is discussed, it is often only in the context of increasing the speed. Softness is not discussed at all. I think that for us, this approach is at once not sufficiently precise and not sufficiently general. We would be more interested in what kinds of waves of energy your fist can transmit and how. We want to think about striking with energy through the fist, not the fist itself. The energy should come out hard and fast, but this does not come from focusing only on accelerating a hard fist. In fact, we generally do not hold our fist too tightly since this would inhibit the transmission of energy. The hardness must come from softness. Depending on your skill and your goals, different punches will have quite different effects. We would say that the energy is rooted in the feet, developed in the legs, directed by the waist, and only manifests in the fist. Focusing too much on the fist ignores these other aspects of the energy that can be generated and limits the possibilities.
On occasions I have had lively discussions with people who have disagreed with what I have said. Usually they say that they use the same method, even though to me it seems that they do not. What I have sometimes done is asked people to demonstrate a short punch on me. When they start to punch, I simply reach out with my palm and jam their fist in the cocked position. Since i can tell that their mind is only in their fist, they cannot generate any energy. This is how I first learned to punch in Karate. It is not necessarily inferior, at least in my opinion, just different. Since I do not want to demonstrate a successful punch on them. I ask them to brace a large book against their body or brace a small book with outstretched rigid arms. I then stand in the posture we assume at the end of Parry, Block, and Punch at "full" extension and place my fist right against the book. Without retracting my fist at all, I then issue a "punch" with enough force to knock them back a foot or two. I can do this, not because my skill is so good, but simply because I am not focused on generating power in my arms or fist. Even at "full" extension there is enough energy in my body to issue like a bow sending out an arrow. Using these techniques, my fist cannot be jammed against my body since my arm is not initially involved in generating energy. Once my fist is "cocked by my armpit or the side of my body, I can punch with strength.
We worked on this principle in class the other day. I had everyone do a version of our standard ward off application and asked everyone to feel the "bow" in the legs, use them to stick Qi to the spine, feel the taut "string" in the arms, release the energy with the waist like the fingers releasing the string and the other hand pushing on the bow, and then sending their practice partner flying like an arrow behind them. This is again about learning principles and using a safe method. If someone masters this, it is not hard to teach or learn nastier applications.
I have come across few who can do this well even among members of our association.
Unfortunately, this seems to be a universal problem. Our association is trying to take steps through certification and ranking to continually improve the level of practice and instruction, but it can be difficult. I think it is great that so many people can benefit from Tai Chi with only a little effort; however, to get more benefit and reach an intermediate level of mastery of the form takes years of practice and instruction. Few people invest this amount of effort. To gain some real knowledge of Tai Chi, you have to do some push hands to know both the yin and the yang. Even fewer people can or want to do this. Even if you want to learn, it can be hard to find good instruction and good practice partners. I had to be uncharacteristically persistent and creative to learn what I have learned so far, since I do not live near any of my teachers.
Even supposed instructors lack a basic grasp of the energys involved in push hands. I got lucky and found an instructor who could do this well. I find he can manipulate me in any way he wants. He basically (excuse the language) makes me his "B!*ch".
Most of the push hands I do is pretty gentle, but sometimes we too mix it up a little. When I teach our standard roll back, I sometimes have students slowly and smoothly force my face to the floor. (Better me as the teacher than them as the student, right ?
) I do this not because I crave rug burn on my cheeks, but to try to force them to "forget the self and follow the other." Without this, I find some people try to rely on muscle or focus too much on themselves and the mechanics of the movement. As a pretend opponent, I find the former can hurt somewhat, but doesn't overpower me. It even makes me feel pissed off within my persona as an opponent and spoiling to fight back. The latter makes me feel that I can wait for an opening to issue a revenge counterattack. When the movement is done correctly, however, I feel like a rag doll at the mercy of my partner and grateful he or she did not push me to the limit. It feels as if there is no opportunity to struggle or escape. You are focused on survival, not counterattack or revenge. It's actually a lot of fun to be the victim of good technique like this, as long as you are practicing with people of good character. It always feels so surprising and gives you an opportunity to "fly" a little. Or maybe it's like dogs rolling each other around and play biting on the throat while having a great time. It's boisterous play with a hidden serious side.
We actually don't use many traditional terms in classes. We just train the methods.
This sounds reasonable, especially for people who are not verbal learners or who might want to mix it up as early as possible. Talk sometimes never rises beyond that and to do it well takes time. Even then, it can be boring for some.
For me, I have found that learning many of the terms, reading about Chinese philosophy, studying the Tai Chi classics, and learning some Chinese has helped my practice a great deal. I can reinforce or supplement things my teachers tell me through reading. I also find some of my opinions about many of the things I first read about Tai Chi have changed drastically as my understanding has increased.
I think there is much misunderstanding about what many terms mean and, sometimes more importantly, about what they can mean. I have begun to cringe when I read or hear someone start off an explanation with a statement like "all true Taijiquan requires ...," since many styles focus on different meanings of common terms. Based on the way I have been taught and the way I have learned, I use a lot of references to Yang Chengfu's Ten Essentials and to other classical aphorisms in my teaching and practice. I try not to just say them, but to have everyone physically feel them and demonstrate them. Saying something like "launch later and get there first" is not that useful if you don't know how to apply it. If people have a background in these concepts, it makes everything much much easier. If they do not, it can be hard to explain quickly what things like "empty" and "full" can mean in our style. Even such simple terms as "relax," "energy," "push," "ward off," "press," "split," "waist," "elbows down," "sticking," "lean," "stance," "shoulder stroke," "root," "posture," "yin-yang mutuality," etc. are often problematic for people with minimal grounding in the theory and/or philosophy. I have had serious learning and teaching problems with each of them and more.
A common refrain among people I practice with is that you may have first heard something ten years ago and thought you basically mastered it five years ago, but then you hear it in a new light and realize you may not have really heard or understand much of it before at all. The more of a background in the theory you have, the more you can also generalize a single application to many circumstances. The concept of "distinguishing empty and full," for example, is important to almost all the applications and counters I know, but it manifests in unique ways in each. Since we want to focus more on the method than on a limited number of techniques, it is hard to make progress in our style beyond a certain point without coming to grips with the theory.