Postby gene » Tue Mar 15, 2005 6:48 am

Hi everyone:

They do practice sparring at William C.C. Chen's school in NYC (with gloves on!), which I think is CMC lineage. I've also seen them practice at William Ting's school in Cherry Hill, NJ (which is Wu Ji Jing Gong style, not Yang, though). My first teacher was dead set against sparring on general principles. He felt that, God forbid any of his students ended up in a bad situation, he didn't want them pulling punches (his theory was, you fight how you train). So he would use focus mitts and contact drills instead. My own opinion is that sparring can be a healthy supplement to a taiji program, as with any other martial arts program. Why? (1) It's fun. (2) It teaches the student to deal with fluid situations. (3) It teaches the student to move nimbly with the feet, something we tend to forget when we're only used to fixed step push hands. (4) It shows that even in a controlled combat situation, many classicial combat applications are impractical because they require a cooperative partner.

I don't think there's a right or wrong answer to this. It depends on your preferences and goals. But I would avoid shrouding it in mysticism. It's a teaching drill, like any other, and if it makes you better, why not try it when you think you're ready? In the past, I've found it easy (and fun) to flow into controlled sparring situations from push hands. I enjoyed it.

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Postby Gu Rou Chen » Tue Mar 15, 2005 8:16 am

Bamboo Leaf,

I enjoyed the spirit of your comment,

“One must be ruthless, and totally honest in their approach to this”

and I totally agree that they are completely different training methods. The problem is that it is extremely difficult to force oneself and one’s training partners to swear to abide by such principles. Finding a like minded training partner is just as important as finding an enlightened teacher. Sparring with training partners who are not like minded slows down or stifles progress. Once one has achieved a stable command of certain internal principles it may be less debilitating, but nothing, not even a good teacher can replace a group of good, like-minded training partners.

Your Beijing group sounds similar to Wang Yongquan’s disciples. Are they related?

Gu Rou Chen
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Postby bamboo leaf » Tue Mar 15, 2005 4:12 pm

(They do practice sparring at William C.C. Chen's school in NYC (with gloves on!), which I think is CMC lineage. I've also seen them practice at William Ting's school in Cherry Hill, NJ (which is Wu Ji Jing Gong style, not Yang, though).

If you read the history of taiji, I think you will find that when they did have contest or examples of skill the priority was on the skill not winning. Many of the yang family members of that time had skills sets that where so different from other arts that there was no doubt about what it was.

I feel this is very different then what is mentioned, and also very different then what I have seen and felt. I understand our linage is from the Yang Jianhou line as taught by one of his students to the master many yrs back before the culture revolution.

As you say you need a high level example of what it is and is not, or you need a very clear understanding of what it is that your trying to achieve. The skill sets are real, but maybe not so common, so much so, many doubt weather they ever existed at all.

The master would watch us push, and at times he would laugh and say something like (no this is not taiji skill) with a slight tap he would send us flying all would laugh. He can tap you twice and you bounce out twice.
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Postby bamboo leaf » Tue Mar 15, 2005 10:55 pm

(It shows that even in a controlled combat situation, many classicial combat applications are impractical because they require a cooperative partner.)

it only shows that the applications are not really understood on many levels.
I never understand the words resisting and cooperative used with taiji.

If you fall off a cliff are you resisting the fall or cooperating with the gravity on the way down, either out look will not change the way your body and mind reacts, you still fall.

Taiji is the same it is neither resistive or cooperative in use, it merely responds seeking the most natural way your movement fits into this way, not the other way around.

[This message has been edited by bamboo leaf (edited 03-15-2005).]
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Postby Kalamondin » Mon Mar 21, 2005 8:26 pm

Hi everyone, this response is sparked by David's post, but not completely related.

Some further thoughts on why sparring isn’t common in tai chi chuan:

1) We run the risk of never learning softness and thus practicing tai chi as an external art.
2) It’s too dangerous in the early years of tai chi chuan training.

My teacher is of the opinion that whoever created push hands was a genius. Formerly there were a lot of injuries involved in training. Push hands provided a really smart tool for training the things one needs to know to fight well in an internal style without much risk of severe injury.

We know that tai chi chuan combines softness with hardness. Push hands trains the element of softness in a way that sparring does not. Softness can help us gain good skill at push hands— the abilities to listen, stick, connect, follow, and understand. Moreover, push hands trains us to remain calm, relaxed, alert, and flexible.

Sparring has its uses, but I don’t think it’s a good idea until the advanced stages of practice tai chi practice if one really wants to understand the internal elements of the art. It impedes learning softness and good internal skills. How is it detrimental? My teacher has explained that training in sparring too early can reinforce hard tendencies, so while a tai chi chuan practitioner may have gained some skill at using the waist, or using applications to good effect, the execution of their movements will be hard and they will use more stiff strength (hardness) than internal strength. The lingering hardness will prevent them from gaining really high-level skills in listening and understanding, etc.

IMO, if we begin sparring to early, we may never really understand what it means to be soft or how to use softness in combat. We know that people generally will do one of three things in the face of overwhelming threat: fight, flight, or freeze. Training applications slowly, softly, and gently (at first) trains us to remain calm and relaxed about incoming force. Increasing the speed and force gradually over many years trains the nervous system to treat incoming force as information to be processed, instead of a threat to be countered. A strike becomes a trajectory to be altered, in good time, without distress or panic.

When we begin sparring too early, it only reinforces some of the defects of early push hands practice: tension, overextension, and separation. Sparring can be very exciting and stimulating and great fun on the one hand, but we may not notice if and when our adrenaline kicks in and this physiological response can exacerbate the above defects.

Tension can be related to the freeze response or the fight response. Some of us have experienced a momentary freeze during applications practice where the brain suddenly goes out to lunch and the body stops moving. This is very dangerous—if one is frozen, one cannot fight. Ideally, in push hands, our partner is tuned to us enough to use our stopped energy to their advantage if it is safe to do so, or to stop immediately if it’s not safe—as in the case of training split energy on the joints. But in sparring, if one person hasn’t trained listening energy well enough, and the other person freezes because they haven’t trained mental calmness enough, then there will be an unnecessary injury.

Tension can also be a part of the fight response. We know we’re not supposed to really let loose and whale on our practice partners, particularly if we know they cannot counter us. So we can become tense when trying to control an impulse to fight. Better to remain calm and not have to suppress anything.

Overextension of joints, muscles, and ligaments can also be a part of the fight response. Adrenaline allows us to perform amazing feats of strength and speed—but at great cost to our bodies. If we train or spar from a charged up fight response, we may find when we go home that we’ve sprained joints, or torn muscles and ligaments. Sure, this is par for the course in any martial art—but we are trying to reduce the incidence of this sort of injury. It’s less likely to happen when we are relaxed and calm.

It’s also possible to overextend mentally when sparring or pushing from within the fight response. We can easily fixate on our opponent as the enemy or someone who must be beaten. When we define someone that way, we commit the error of predicting their actions instead of really listening to what they are really doing. In this space, we may unwittingly escalate a fight instead of practicing avoidance, deflection, and mercy.

As for fleeing: I’ve never seen anyone run away from push hands or sparring, but I do see people retract their hands, as if from a hot stove, in anticipation of a blow. They anticipate a trap or a push and rush to get out of it too quickly, leaving themselves open for attack because their defending arm has “fled.” For this reason, slow push hands practice is really useful for the early stages of chin na application training. Going back and forth with a partner and trying to lock the joints can be nerve-wracking and distinctly uncomfortable. It requires complete trust in one's practice partner, and going very slowly helps to foster this trust.

For my part, I’m not ready for sparring yet. I can still see the way all three of those defects play out in my push hands and my fellow students’ push hands. I trust that my teacher will teach us to spar when he thinks we’re ready. I am glad that he is taking the time to lay the groundwork and make sure our foundation is solid before he takes that step.

The truth is, the applications are really dangerous, and there’s that saying, “A little bit of knowledge is a dangerous thing.” I am gradually learning to be calm, but for now, I don’t trust myself not to freak out during sparring and exhibit one or more of the above problems. I think that all of these things can be categorized as a kind of mental “hardness.” These are patterned responses that lack flexibility, reason, and mental agility. This is the kind of hardness that breaks instead of bending. For tai chi chuan skill, it’s useful to train to dissolve this kind of hardness before going on to sparring. This way, when we get to sparring, we’ll be able to deliver the momentary hardness of a whip, confident that our sparring partners have the skill to dissolve, deflect, or take that kind of blow.

And just for kicks, a small indication of how long traditional training takes: when my teacher began push hands training, he was not permitted to push or to attempt any of the applications for three years. For three years, he did nothing but circle and get pushed around. So at the end of three years he said he had a pretty good understanding of energy. Can you imagine? Three years! I don’t know how long the training took before he was taught sparring. After all, I believe it’s skill at listening, sticking, following, connecting, adhering, and understanding that is the major prerequisite for safe sparring. Three years of not pushing would certainly train those skills. And if he had three years of intense training softer skills before learning to do the applications, then it just emphasizes how very important those softer internal skills are for tai chi chuan mastery.

This is something like what YJ said his grandfather said: Internal martial arts require two things: understanding of energy and good martial techniques. One without the other is not an internal martial art.

Happy spring!

[This message has been edited by Kalamondin (edited 03-22-2005).]

[This message has been edited by Kalamondin (edited 03-23-2005).]
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Postby gene » Tue Mar 22, 2005 7:10 pm

Hello everyone:

One thing I wanted to throw out there. Several posts have expressed the concern that sparring is counterproductive because of the emphasis on winning, or defeating the opponent. I think that the object in taiji sparring is to work on clearing the mind of these things. Participants should flow with the situation while expressing proper taiji principles. The problem comes when we "try" to defeat the opponent. (Although, obviously, in a real combat situation, defeating the opponent is the ultimate goal.)

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Postby Bamenwubu » Tue Mar 22, 2005 10:27 pm

There are going to be a lot of people who will be surprised by what I have to say about the whole idea of push hands and sparring, but I see things a little differently now than I did in the past.
I used to spar. A lot. In a different system.
I did so only after spending about three years on form, then three years on push hands training. My teacher felt I had learned all the necessary skills for sparring, like listening, yielding, falling correctly, etc, etc.

That said...
I haven't sparred in about seven years now.
I moved out of state and had no partners who were capable of sparring in all that time.
I didn't push hands for nearly five years of that time either.

I seem to have lost the skills of listening, yielding, falling correctly, etc, etc.
Lost them nearly completely. When I touch hands with someone now I find myself anticipating, resisting, basically not doing what my mind knows it should be doing but my body doesn't remember how to do yet.
I feel pretty confident that I will regain these skills in pretty short order when compared with someone who has never been trained in them, but it will still take me a LONG time to do so I'm sure.

So I now have a different perspective about these things than I did before.
In the past it was likely I would have championed sparring early on in training, to get a feel for what you're going for in the long run. Understanding applications can give you a good insight into the forms movements and give you a good "sense of opponent" in your form practice.
Both of these things are very good to have.
However, when it comes to actual sparring I think I have to change my mind on that count.
Doing the limited push hands training I have access to now has shown me clearly that push hands is a complex, difficult skill to learn. It encompasses so many of the skills of TCC that it must be learned under a qualified instructor and the proper practice maintained at all times in order to gain the necessary skills, then to retain them.
Take it from me, please. You can and will lose these skills in a relatively short amount of time if you don't maintain them.
I'm proof of that.
Since the skills required for sparring with TCC are even greater than those required for push hands, I guess I now fall firmly in the camp of "Don't do it until you know how".
I was really looking forward to sparring again. I felt sure that once I got back to pushing hands it would only be a matter of a few weeks hard practice until I was back to the old grind of sparring with my partner.
Well, let me tell you. I can see now that it will more likely be a few YEARS of hard practice at the more basic skill sets of push hands before I would feel the least bit comfortable sparring with anyone.
My partner, fortunately, also sees the wisdom of this approach. He is also a former student of a different style and he also had at one time reached the level of pushing hands, though he didn't get as far as sparring. He has had a longer time in between his last push hands and our current push hands and he also appears to have lost his skills at listening, yielding, falling correctly, etc, etc.
We're in the same boat. The mind is willing but the body is completely incapable.
In our minds we were both still up to push hands levels, but in our bodies we have lost the sensitivity required to do so.

Let that be a lesson to everyone here. Once you get there, DON'T STOP!
For anything.
I know we won't. We've both been down this road once before and now we both face the certain sure knowledge that we have let our practice go for far too long and have lost most if not all of our former levels of skill because of it.

When Bill showed me a push hands drill last week, I froze up completely. The drill was one I'd done thousands of times in the past, and he was simply going to remind of how to do it so my partner and I could practice it this week.
One push and I froze, because I could not remember the first thing to do. My mind remembered the patterns, but my body was too slow and out of practice to even begin to follow them.
My listening jing is gone. Plain old gone. I anticipated his movements instead of listening for them. I didn't even remember to try!
When I realized what I was doing I instantly became double weighted in body and mind and everything froze.
It was a unique experience, to be sure, after a long time THINKING I still had these skills, to find out I in fact do not.

I think the Yang family has a saying about practice. It goes something along the lines of "One days practice returns one days skill, one day not practicing loses ten days of skill"????
Something like that anyway.
I can now attest, first hand, that if you don't push hands or spar for five years or more, you will lose those skills you worked so hard for so long to gain.
So I feel that saying has a LOT of merit.
Along the same lines I can see that it doesn't take me as long to re-acquire a skill I once possesed, it just seems that way. I will probably get back into the swing of push hands and sparring pretty quickly once I get going full time, but at the cost of a lot of hard work I've been through once allready.

Hope my little lesson can be a good one for everyone here.
PRACTICE EVERY DAY! Don't skip out. Don't stop. Get up, get moving. Do it.
Or you will lose it.
I can promise you that.

Back to pushing hands as often and as long as possible. With a lot of practice and effort I will hopefully one day let my body catch up with my mind again.

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Postby bamboo leaf » Thu Mar 24, 2005 5:24 am

(I seem to have lost the skills of listening, yielding, falling correctly, etc, etc.
Lost them nearly completely. When I touch hands with someone now I find myself anticipating, resisting, basically not doing what my mind knows it should be doing but my body doesn't remember how to do yet.)

my thoughts on reading your post: I would say you lost the skills from incorrect understanding or practice of the form rather then not having contact with anyone else. The basic point is not understanding what softness is, and really leading the movements with your mind forgetting your body. Just some thoughts nothing more.

Once a certain understanding is reached sparing with others should be no problem should one chose to do so. I think, thinking that sparing with others will some how improve ones understanding of taiji or taiji skills is a mistake.

Softer, softer and more soft is the key. For this you really need to look for others more advanced to understand and appreciate what it really is and can do.

Reading the many posting on line about training and taiji, some how the practice is equated with other arts. People say things with out really understanding or gaining true taiji skills sets.

There is no ultimate art, as some seem to be looking for. There are arts whose perspectives are so different that it tends to give one an advantage when used against others with outthem.

Taiji is such an art Image

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Postby Bamenwubu » Thu Mar 24, 2005 2:27 pm

While I generally agree with your overall view of the art of TCC, I respectfully disagree with your opinion of my current situation.
I'm really, really out of practice, that's all.
I still CAN do these things, I have since found out, I just can't do them naturally, unconsciously, with ease, after not having any real practice at them for seven years. I have to work at using the skills of push hands in order to pull them off now and I'm not used to that in my practice after reaching a point where I could do so with little effort.
I think the other day I was bit maudlin due to being very ill and carried on a bit too much because I had just found out I was not up to my old standards. I got the Creeping Crud up my nose a week or so ago and I was having trouble even breathing, much less doing PH.
However I'm much better now. Last night my partner and I were pushing hands, really just doing listening and following drills, and I began to once again feel the movements becoming more natural. Slowly through the evening my partner and I began to feel ourselves loosen up, relax and we nearly hit our stride. Neither of us could have been said to be "good" when we were done, but we sure both felt better that at least there had been some improvement.
I'm not going to be back up to my former skill set anytime soon, that's for sure, but it's not the total loss I thought it was the other day.
If you don't use it, you'll lose it. I still believe that, but fortunately it's not turning out to be the total train wreck I was fearing.
The only real other experiences I've had with this phenomenon are in the fields of dart throwing and archery.
I used to throw darts about an hour a day and eventually I got on a league, quite highly ranked, and we won all kinds of tournaments. Then I got a new job where I had to work a lot of nights and the dart throwing went by the wayside for about two years. When I got another job where my nights were free again, I went back to the old haunts, started throwing darts again, but I couldn't even hit the board for about a week.
I was used to throwing those darts to any point on that board I chose but after two years of not even throwing a single dart I had seemingly lost my skill. However after about two months I was even better than I was before.
I had nearly the exact same scenario with archery. I could hit a birds eye at twenty yards in the dark for a number of years, then work and family life got in the way and I didn't shoot for quite a long time. Again, when I next picked up a bow I couldn't hit the broad side of a barn for a few weeks. After some time and a lot of practice though my skills seemed to improve over what they had been before.
So while I was initially quite depressed about the "losing" of some of my PHs skills, I have to believe that with time, practice, effort and perseverance I'll reach my former level again and if I'm very lucky and work very hard I will hopefully then be able to improve upon the original.
I can hope so anyway.
I was going to carry on a bit about how I've also changed styles of TCC since that time and have had to retrain my body to move in a large frame whereas before I was strictly small frame, but I'm not sure that's as relevant as the simple fact that I let things go lax for quite a number of years.
I think YCF said it very well:
"I'm not good yet. I need more practice."

So, I'll practice more, and more, and more, and hopefully I will once again be able to turn and follow and listen and fall and do all those things once again.
Hard work, but worth it.

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Postby Kalamondin » Fri Mar 25, 2005 2:39 am

Hi Bob,

Hope you're feeling better. As to your post, sure it can take a while to get back into the swing of things, but as you indicated in your second post, these things do come back and often with improvement beyond the last benchmark.

I wanted to suggest the possibility that you've actually _improved_ from when you were doing push hands before. The intervening solo forms practice without having push hands partners may have increased your body awareness to the degree that what _used_ to feel comfortable and natural and effortless is now feels awkward, worse, or choppy.

I know you've been at this long enough to know what I'm talking about: how practice goes in stages--how just when things are feeling comfortable and like you're finally getting the hang of it, you ascend to a new level and realize how little you actually knew and discover errors abound...then it levels out and feels comfortable, then you have another breakthrough and it's all wrong again...

So maybe you've actually improved...only it doesn't feel like it yet. Also, I don't know anybody who does things well when they are sick.

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Postby Bamenwubu » Fri Mar 25, 2005 4:58 pm

You may be right.
I am standing differently, I fold and sink differently now, even up to the point where in the Wu style you keep your toe on your unweighted foot pretty verticle, but in the Yang style it's nearly lying flat on the floor.
In the Wu style you keep your arms much closer to you, not as much "spring" in them, or at least not as overtly. The incoming energy is allowed to come much closer in to you because of that. Your turns begin later than in the Yang style....
It very well may have a lot to do with the change in style and stance.
Though I don't know if I'm "better" and don't know it yet, as you say, it may be that I'm "different" and still working it out.
Certainly food for thought.
Bill showed me some things last night that are also profoundly different between the styles. Mostly related to folding and sinking. I have still been folding forward quite a bit, like I was taught in the Wu style, as I sink, but in the Yang style you don't do that, you sink and fold but you sink more than you fold.
Or at least that's how I understand it at this point.
He had me work on that and my push hands began to improve a lot in a pretty short time. Mostly because it's harder to get plucked forward that way than how I was doing it.
Also I was apparently dropping my head forward when I was folding, folding my neck along with my waist and spine, so I was going out of alignment.
Bill has given me the necessary pointers to stop doing these things over time.
And yes, I was quite ill, not to mention on medication at the time, so I may have been not up to peak because of that also.

I can sure see you have a point.

One aside here.
I just, just got GM YZD's book last night. I had not had the opportunity before, I've mostly been working off of Fu Zhongwen's book.
I have to say, I spent half the night working out of the GM's book. It's truly awesome in its breakdown of the form to the movements and the "important points" section for each posture is invaluable information.
I am half asleep as I sit here typing this, due to the fact that my wife had to get up in the middle of the night and pull me kicking and fussing to bed.
But I feel GREAT.
I got up this morning and got right back to it, my daughter had to drag me out the door to drive her to school and take myself to work.
This is a GREAT book. I'd say it's a MUST HAVE for any student of TCC.
The applications section opened my eyes to a lot of things as well.
Get the book!!!!!
I wish I had years ago.

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Postby Kalamondin » Fri Mar 25, 2005 6:11 pm

Hi Bob,

Luckily, I have that book, and I agree, it's a really good one to have on hand. My dad picked it up at a booksale.

Conversation with Dad:
Me: "Can I have this book?"
Dad: (hemming and hawing) "Well, I was going to read it first..."
Mom: "You have 50 other books that you're going to read first."
Dad: (reluctantly) "Well, OK, I guess you can borrow it."

This from a man who refuses to study tai chi, even though he has fallen twice and broken bones each time. Ah well. At least he was interested to get a book. Perhaps in time. But until then, I'm making very good use of his book.

The "Points to remember" sections are immensely helpful for teaching. It's one thing to make corrections. It's another thing to have memorized the full range of possible student errors for each movement and discuss them when you teach the movement. I rely on this book to point out ones I've forgotten or hadn't realized.

I also like the applications section. There are occasionally applications that have alternate applications that I had forgotten or wasn't thinking of correctly. It's all very good.

I've ordered my copy of Louis Swaim's latest, and am looking forward to perusing that.

Glad you're feeling better. I can't compare Wu style to Yang style, but am interested to know more about turning earlier and allowing the arms to come in closer in the Wu style. Why do you think this is so? Are you talking about a specific circling drill? Free-form fixed step?

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Postby bamboo leaf » Fri Mar 25, 2005 6:55 pm

(If you don't use it, you'll lose it. I still believe that, but fortunately it's not turning out to be the total train wreck I was fearing.)

hope your feeling better. My point was and is that form practice is the foundation, push hands only serves to show things that are not correct plus teach one other aspects that can only be gained working with others. Ting jin being the main one.

One can be good in pushing with out having a form to practice, but I feel the development is kind of limited even though the skills may be quite good. I have met people in both camps.

So after 7yrs there may be some things wrong with the way one practices that will only come to light during push hands. One does not become good by only pushing, one becomes good by constant practice and deep understanding. Pushing only confirms and helps to develop other aspects.

My post is not really directed at your post or you but to those reading who may not have anyone else to practice with. Understanding and doing the movements correctly is very important. Many people seem to take some things lightly. For example what is straight, what is song, what does all parts moving together mean?

A few things that if really not worked in, will tend to have an effect on pushing, sparring or any other physical encounter using taiji you will find and have problems.

(was going to carry on a bit about how I've also changed styles of TCC since that time and have had to retrain my body to move in a large frame whereas before I was strictly small frame, but I'm not sure that's as relevant as the simple fact that I let things go lax for quite a number of years.)

a few words shared spoken to me. The small frame is more internal centered, it helps to condense the qi and develop the sprit.

Large frame is good for conditioning the body, opening the body but tends to scatter the qi. The focus is different. My own teacher condensed his practice to small frame after many yrs, and now only teaches his small frame style. FWIW

good thoughts towards your health improving Image


[This message has been edited by bamboo leaf (edited 03-25-2005).]
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Postby bamboo leaf » Sat Mar 26, 2005 3:10 am

(Everything comes from form; your form represents what you have learnt and trained. If your form is not correct then your pushing hands and fighting will not be effective.

Form is the most important thing. Pushing hands is to train "ting jing" and "dong jing". It is not as important as form when it comes to training the usage of the art.
I used to say that if you train form but don't train push hands then you have only half the art. Now I firmly believe that the form is the most important. Definitely, if you only do pushing hands and don't do form then you will never get taiji's real skills.

But if you do the form correctly then everything else will come from it; push hands, applications, sword, everything.
How then do you know if your form is correct? This is a question of looking at what your emphasis is in practising the art.

If you want to do beautiful movements then this kind of aesthetically pleasing form will not lead to the real taijiquan. But if you know what you really want and you constantly check whether your form is correct in the light of your expectations then form becomes the basis of everything.

What exactly is this real taijiquan? Well this is when your centre of balance feels so small, so smooth that your arms and legs, your body seems to disappear.

In taijiquan the smaller the circle the better. The smaller this point is, the greater the skill.)


sharing some thoughts Image

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Postby Bamenwubu » Mon Mar 28, 2005 2:22 pm

The reasons for the differences in practice of push hands are due to circle sizes.
Smaller the circle, closer to the body you would have to allow the force to come. Larger the circle, farther away.
Take that to the next logical step, the closer the force comes the longer you will have to wait before you can begin to turn due to the influence of the force.
Not to mention the forward lean of the Wu style, but I said we won't mention that, so I won't.

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