Who gets what in pushing hands

Postby tai1chi » Tue May 22, 2001 6:31 am

Hi Ripdo, and All,

fwiw, I agree with Mario's and other's opinion that "soft" does not mean "mushy" or "weak" or "unrooted". I tend to prefer the term "soft", but I guess the question is about the interpretation of "rou" being to defeat "gan" (hard), and the "flexible and yielding can overcome the inflexible and unyielding." Even though this is found in the tjq Classics, I'm not sure that it's strictly a tjq concept. Perhaps on another thread, Audi asked about the relation of western wrestling strategies and techniques to tjq techniques. Mario, I believe, rightly, sees a comparison between the skill-sets needed for a good judo, or aikido, student and those needed for tjq. "Listening," attention to balance, "rooting" when necessary, etc. OK, even if we don't see the comparison, which some do, there's not really a question about whether judo/aikido, etc., "works". This gets to Ripdo's question. There are arguments about which is "more" effective, judo or tkd, say. But, few argue that they can not see the possible effectiveness of these arts. IMHO, part of the reason is that, for lots of reasons, striking has not been emphasized in most tjq schools. More specifically, the majority of tjq schools, if they have a martial curriculum, "do" emphasize striking. Tim Cartmell, probably the most well known, and others, like Frank De Maria, practice tjq that has been influenced by shuai jiao. The reason that many of the fighters YLC, and his descendants, had to beat were wrestlers. (I should put this in the appropriate thread, but I'm busy grading papers. Anyway, there are two basic approaches to a "shoot" (or single-leg take down): 1) don't let the opponent grab the leg; or, 2), let him. There are plenty of things in the form to help, depending on what one wants to do. In a very general sense, it has been suggested that "if one is grabbed, hit; if one is hit, grab.") Anyway, I personally think the Classics suggest that everything is relative. I don't think one can quantify "soft." I take the advice to mean that one must always attempt to use "less" brute force than the opponent --only because one can never depend on having "more." Of course, that's the only way an older, weaker person can defeat a younger, stronger one. If one can master the art of "using" softness, then it's possible. How long it takes? Mostly it will depend on your training. It will take "no less" than it takes for any other martial art. It's really simple to teach someone how to effectively harm someone else. How to defend oneself from the 400lb wrestler is another thing. Defending your children from a hungry bear is yet another case. Motivation is also very important. Well, this has gotten too long, but I'll say that, although it may not be an idea specific to tjq, if one can defeat oneself, then one's art has reached its pinnacle --at that point.

Steve James
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Postby mnpli » Tue May 22, 2001 10:35 pm

Hi all,

<<<Mario, I too have difficulty with the view that T'ai Chi is uniquely soft.>>>

Hi Audi, I'm going all the way and saying that tai chi chuan has nothing to do with soft, limp,or relax, as we in the west associated these word in our western

<<< My understanding is that traditional Yang Style, and perhaps most T'ai Chi, is soft on the outside and hard on the inside. >>>>

O.k. can you tell me im more details what does "soft on the outside and hard on the inside"
means to you.. It sound like a great place to start from.

<<<Also, as I understand it, not all kinds of "softness" are acceptable.>>>

No part softens is expectable in tai chi chuan . let's not forget these words lest to us by our predecessors. Essential hardness , hard like Steel, Does anybody
remember the famous story of when on of the Yang's can't remember who, was bitten by a dog and the dogs broke some of it's teeth on Yang's leg.
Now i know some may say it's just a story and that may be the case , but the point that come across is opposite from being soft.

<<< Yang Zhen Duo has made the point that traditional Yang Style should not be soft-and-mushy (ruan3), but soft-and-yielding
(rou2). In his book, he even uses steel (as opposed to rigid iron) as an example of yielding softness.>>>

Well ,now here we may get a hint at what they mean when they say soft , they use the word 'steel' and not just iron . why? steel is flexible when and if bend it
will spring back to it's original shape . Iron will not, cause it's softer is not ?

<<<Mario, I would be curious if you (or anyone else who cares to comment) think that relatively high level Karateka and T'ai Chi masters demonstrate
essentially the same set of skills. <<snip>>You also asked me what I meant by using mind <<Snip>>and how doing so in T'ai Chi would be different snip>>
if I feel that the important part of T'ai Chi is how our minds <<Snip>>Rote learning and repetitive drills activities Snip>>>

Audi don't take these the wrong way. I'm responding to you with an open heart and good intentions. "Your thinking too much"
in tai chi it's O.K./. to think a little bit only if we supplement it with working a lot .. it's in the Classics.

<<<<For instance, you mention the importance of flexibility, even more than "softness." I would agree,but I presume by "flexibility" you do not mean an
"enhanced ability to contort the limbs," snip>>

And why not? both mind and body must be flexible , like steel Image

<<< Few other arts concentrate so much on >For example, in wrestling and in Sumo, it is important for the arms and hands to be able to do things
independently of the torso, because the arms and torso often have different jobs to do.>>

Tai chi chuan is exactly the same way . don't confuse one idea "moving as a single unit " as being a static thing , this then make your mind and your body

<<<Mario, if you would not be giving away any competition secrets,>>

I wish i had some Image

<<<I would be curious to know whether
your push hands training still includes a fair proportion of set drills.>>>

Sure I work on some ideas or favorite techniques , to better ingrain them in my body for a natural response later in free play ..

<<< Do you see the fixed-pattern push hand sequences and da lu more as stepping stones to more "sophisticated" moving drills, or to free-style push

Yes of course, if what you practice does not become a natural response in free play , you haven't spent as much time as needed in the practice.

<<< Do you see any simple relationship or training sequence to qi gong, individual form, fixed-pattern push hands, da lu, standing "meditation" (zhan zhuang),
and sparring?>>>

All of what you mention above play a part/ role, in training the body and there's still more...

Happy training,

Please forgive my english

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Postby DavidJ » Wed May 23, 2001 1:22 am

Hi ripdo,

How long does it take to be able to successfully defend yourself with Tai Chi?

Excellent question.

I've read in several places that it can take 5 years of practice to be able to defend oneself well with Tai Chi Chuan.
I think, however, that there are too many parameters to give a single answer.

I met someone who successfully defended themselves with Tai Chi about 3 months after beginning instruction.
Then, again, I read an article by a master who said that a friend of his had been doing Tai Chi wrong for 50 years.

All things being equal, it depends on several things:

It depends on how good a teacher you have, and whether your teacher shows you applications.

It depends on how quickly and how well you learn the forms. The average person, in my experience, can learn the long form in 45 hours of instruction. In this instance what I mean by "learning the long form," is acquiring an initial foundation upon which to build.
Someone in good shape with a good kinesthetic sense can learn in 35 hours or less. I know of someone who took 21 hours and another who took 77 hours; both learned it really well. Part of what I'm saying is that people learn at different rates of speed.

Tai Chi isn't the movements, per se, it is the principles of movement, and the application of these principles to movement.

It depends on how quickly and how well you learn the principles. I've seen people who have practiced for years, but who don't undertand what they're doing, and I've seen others who's grasp of it grew (grows) very quickly.

What I'm really getting at is that it depends how long it takes to internally process the forms and principles: immediately, 3 weeks, 3 months, a year and a half, 5 years. Again, it's a very individual thing. I mean this in general, but in truth, the learning never ends. Twenty years from now you may find that you are still learning something new every day. Even masters improve, and there is no end to improvement.

It depend on how "alive" you keep the learning process and the skills: Do you practice daily, or every other day, or once a week, or once a month, or at the solstices and equinoxes, or only on New Year's morning?
People who practice daily do so for different lengths of time. The average is probably somewhere between 30 minutes and two hours. But a number of people practice longer. From my experience, and from what I've read, if you are going for world-class athletic level and want to make real progress, then 3 to 4 hours a day (or more) would be appropriate.

So, in my opinion, in the best of all worlds, a person in very good shape with an excellent kinesthetic sense, and a very good teacher, who practiced diligently and intelligently for 3 to 4 hours a day, could become competent inside of a year.

Now, none of this is taking into account things like confidence, adequate sleep and a good diet, and who you might be defending yourself against. Who knows? You may already have that one indispensable element, the ability to think on your feet.

To a certain degree you won't know how well you would do until after you've had need of the skills.

That's the best answer that I can come up with at the moment.

David J
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Postby ripdo » Wed May 23, 2001 9:23 am

Thanks David very helpfull, I will take all above into account. I do on average 1 hour per day with 2 privrate lessons per week.

What makes a good instuctor?
Is there any structure or program to tai chi?
ie is there a sequence of things you learn or does a instuctor just pull out what he wants to learn you to his own way of teaching.

Sorry if Im keeping this thred going to long.
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Postby gene » Thu May 24, 2001 5:08 pm

Great thread, everyone. Here's a question I would like to put on the table. When you feel like you're "in the zone" in push hands, when everything is clicking, is your mind consciously engaged in looking for opportunities and thinking of possible applications? Or do you do best when you clear your mind and allow your body and mind to do whatever comes naturally? Or some combination, or other perspective?

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Postby jacob » Fri May 25, 2001 10:57 pm

Hello all,
In response to David's question of rooting out an opponent's attempt to lift you: my recent Wu endeavors have brought out a softness that moves the fulcrum of my body into my feet. If you try to lift me, you have to work against that fulcrum. To push or lift me, you must first find and then raise my root. (If your root is deeper than mine, than this is effectively raising my root, because it is the relation of root which matters)
About my push hands preference: I do not like the monotonous rigid circling that characterizes most of what I have seen. I prefer free-style pushing, with restricted but not fixed step. Fixed step teaches you to hold your ground when that is not necessarily the best solution. Restricted step allows the body to make adjustments that are necessary to stay relaxed and maintain advantageous position, yet forces you to stay contact with your partner. With no fixed rhythm, you must really stay soft and listen. Nevertheless, I think various circling techniques are indispensible to pracice, and I hope to expand on that myself. I think that there is room for all kinds for practice to be complete. I even like standing still, rooting each other out. But I think it is important to keep in mind the "not having any idea of what the opponent might do next" notion. How can you obtain this when you stick to a fixed pattern. I feel that any fixed pattern (or form)is an exercise which exists for the sake of isolating certain principles- very important and helpful, but should always be viewed in the context of the greater goal of wu wei, which brings up my next response:
When pushing we must not think about attack, but only follow the opponent. When I think of applying a particular technique I lose my ting (listening) and miss several other opportunities not suited for the particular offense(s) I have in mind. Nevertheless, we must at all times be prepared to attack. Like the tiger who prays on a rabbit, it is not thinking of attack but has the unmovable intention to do so. When your opponent exposes his weakness, you are already there. It is like when a potter makes a bowl: the air fills the bowl immediately, because it was already there.

[This message has been edited by jacob (edited 05-25-2001).]
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Postby DavidJ » Thu May 31, 2001 9:27 pm

Hi ripdo, et al,

An hour a day is good. Most people don't have more time than that to spend on things like Tai Chi, and one can develop steadily doing an hour a day.

> What makes a good instuctor? >

I don't know if I can answer that directly. I know what I like in a teacher. But what makes a good student is part of the whole equation. Two sides of the same coin as it were.

When I began studying I asked my teacher to demonstrate a movement, then to do it again while describing it, then do it with me, and then to work with me until I got it. Then I had him sit down while I put it firmly in memory (he liked that part!)
Then we would go on to the next move.
I really like that my first teacher adapted to me in this way.

I encorporate this sequence in my teaching, but I've formalised the "putting in memory" part, usually doing the move 5 to 10 times can put it into muscle memory.

I also begin class with the long form, which is not uncommon. Before doing the long form for the first time I tell a new student two things 1) to pay attention to the position of the feet, the angle of the hips and the angle of the shoulders, and 2) to follow a second or two behind, so that they have time to react to what they see, and so they don't feel like they are "running behind" and need to catch up.
By doing the long form from the very beginning it often takes less time to learn the third section than it did to learn the first.

It can be intimidating to not be able to do something initally that you see someone else do effortlessly. I think that a good teacher should try to encourage students not to be embarrased or intimidated. To carry this further a good teacher will inspire a student to excell, even if it has an element of competition. If a student thinks, "If he can do it, I can do it," for me that's all to the good.

I think that a teacher should encourage a student to ask questions. Sometimes when a question comes up, in the natural course of events, it doesn't get asked, and that's a real shame because that is the best time to get an answer.

I think that a teacher should let the student know of his/her limitations. My understanding of Tai Chi is growing, and I don't want to give the idea that it is complete. At present I can take someone only so far. Also, I like learning as well as teaching and I learn a lot from those I've taught.

> Is there any structure or program to tai chi? ie is there a sequence of things you learn or does a instuctor just pull out what he wants to learn you to his own way of teaching. <
If I remember correctly, Yang Chen Fu developed a sequence that is in use today by lineage holders. Even when there is variation from this there is a sequence embodied in the long form.
Beyond this there are general ideas, like fully developing a smooth, light and easy touch to the whole of the long form before working on Fa Jing.
That being said I haven't been exposed to enough teachers to tell you how much variation there is in the sequence of what is taught.

I hope that this incomplete answer is good enough for the time being.

Note: I like Mario's and Jacob's approach to push hands. I think that they are probably closer in concept than it may appear.


David J
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Postby Audi » Sun Jun 03, 2001 10:04 pm

Hi Mario and all,

Mario, thank you for elaborating on your push hands practice. Thank you also for the advice about "not thinking too much." I appreciate your delicacy and what I can guess may be your intent; but hey, I am what I am. Image I may also be in search of a "clue" and a good sense of humor Image, but with only so many hours in the day, I take what I can find. Image

You also asked about what I meant by "soft on the outside and hard on the inside." In my view, "soft" basically means yielding, and the yielding provides the power for the hardness. I believe decent analogies could be drawn with a hand pressing on a beach ball, the action of gravity on the Sun (whispy outside, diamond-hard center), or the buoyancy of water acting on a surf board (the water yields, but does not compress). I also believe that this is the same for mental, tactical, and physical aspects of T'ai Chi. Do you view this differently?

As an aside, I believe applying this concept to the majority of my Karate techniques would have decreased, rather than increased their effectiveness. I think Karate and T'ai Chi can be mixed to some degree, but this is by no means a straightforward exercise.

For instance, almost all the basic Karate "blocks" I learned were quite modular and optimized to "injure" on impact through hard tension, not to control my opponent's center through yielding to their energy. What I understood to be the theory of the passive (or "yin") hand involved in any technique was also very different from what I understand to apply to T'ai Chi.

All of this has analogs for push hands, where in my view T'ai Chi does not have a monopoly on "effective" techniques. Whether this matters to one's individual goals is, however, another question. I, for one, have only minor interest in "effective" techniques or strategies that I may have already been exposed to in Karate or wrestling.

You seem to have a distaste for some of my "abstractions." What do you (or anyone else interested) make of the following excerpt, with which you may well be familiar. It is from Chen Kung/Stuart Alva Olson's Intrinsic Energies of T'ai Chi Ch'uan, Vol. II.

"If there is no neutralization, there can be no issuing (this is a guarding and an attack). Without a neutralization you'll be unable [to] make the opponent extend all his force so you can issue. You must also take into account the neutralization....

"Never give an opponent an opportunity to guard and attack, or put yourself in the position of having to guard and attack. This way you will avoid many potential threats to your spirit and vitality. These words truly embody principles. If you don't pay full attention to this, then you must pay attention to guarding and attacking, because your spirit and vitality will become divided and dispersed."

In my opinion, one can perform quite "well" in push hands by guarding and attacking, which I understand to be Karate and wrestling strategies; however, I do not think such strategies are the best for developing T'ai Chi insight or skills. Again, does anyone see this differently?

Best regards,
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Postby Bob3 » Wed Jun 13, 2001 2:36 am

Forgive my jumping in at the end of this useful discussion, however I may provide some different views on this subject. Recently, I have attended several workshops on the subject of push hands, with different instructors. This has been very valuable experience.

From most of the instruction, the emphasis is put on performing aspects of the Tai Chi form to a partner, who is cooperating in this exercise. This is an exploration of what the application of the movement of the form has on your body, and the application of that form on your partner. Most people I have encountered do not know how to move within the Tai Chi form. This may not apply to those engaged in this forum, but many of the replies indicate this is so. The first principle is to learn how to move. The second principle is to learn how to appropriate respond to different levels and direction of chi energy. With appropriate application, a very small amount of chi energy is sufficient to disrupt a person's root. This can be true when a large amount of chi is not able to disrupt a person's root. It all depends on the application.

There is much discussion of "soft" and "hard". These are relative opposites that co-exist with each other, like yin and yang. One can't have one without the other, yet often a degree of softness is deemed desirable. In Tai Chi, the amount of internal energy that meets somewhere on an opponent should be sufficient to accomplish your intent. This is a matter of practice, as well as some experience with push hands. No matter how well a person is able to do a set of Tai Chi, if the intent is not present to at least meet the partner on equal terms, the person will be upset. The intent is also needed to determine how much energy to utilize to respond to the partner's contact and then the resultant motion can be directed within the principles of Tai Chi movement.

A word about weights. While weight lifting in the Western sense is generally not supported in Tai Chi terms, there is some history of Chinese training with weights to develop some external strength and to help the body to train to become accustomed to handling excess weights. Usually, these weights take the form of balls or bricks that are held in the hands while the hands are used to move in the form. In this way, the body is trained to respond, and the muscles are not subject to the repetitive movement common with static weightlifting. Also, to build wrist strength, sometimes weights were added to sword blades to exercise and build wrist and arm strength for sword forms.
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Postby ripdo » Wed Jun 13, 2001 9:23 am

Thnakyou for you added comments Bob3 very interesting.

Thnaks to all for your responces.

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Postby Audi » Sun Jun 17, 2001 2:22 pm

Hi Ripdo, Bob3, and others,

Bob3, thanks for your comments and especially for the reminder that T'ai Chi does indeed have somewhat of a tradition of strength training. In addition to the practices, you mentioned I might add doing form in low stances to strengthen the legs (e.g., the stories of performing under a table) and also performing with a weighted ball, as described in the latest edition of T'ai Chi Magazine.

I find the concept of strength and power (my principal understanding of the meaning of the word "jin") is very important for checking the correctness of my T'ai Chi and often more "accessible" or "testable" than the allied concept of qi. One of the things that attracted me to the Yangs' methods is that they seem very comfortable discussing T'ai Chi in terms of jin/strength/power.

For instance, in the transcript to the Yangs' video, Yang Zhen Duo says in translation: "Having jin means having strength. Generally speaking, this is so. Taijiquan also follows this principle in its training."

I would like to hasten to add, however, that what methods one uses to obtain strength and power (jin) are said to be very important. Subsequent to the passage I quoted above, Yang Zhen Duo makes statements like the following:

"By following the idea of 'using your mind to relax,' you will attain power naturally. You should intentionally let loose....You will have power without the need to exert forceful muscular strength....Without having to think about it, you will have jin.

"If you practice for jin and are overly concerned with jin, you may let jin bind you in a continuous loop and be restricted by it. Taijiquan is a whole body exercise and involves extending the entire body. It is like this when you follow the principles. If your mind is on only jin, then you pay too much attention to the hands and forget about the rest of the body."

Happy practicing,
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Postby Erik » Sat Jun 01, 2002 2:31 pm

Hi Guys,

Here's what has worked really well for me. I like to practice push and sticky hands cooperatively such as the formal exercises, non-cooperatively working on root, the same only working on balance and mobility, and sometimes focusing on take-downs and throws. I've found that mixing it up keeps me from getting bored and my skills well-rounded. Sometimes I add striking but mostly to distract my opponent so I can set up a throw.

Formalized push-hands drills - ever notice how you are always on the "outside" of the opponent's arm? That's one of the main points...to get an angle or a better position in relation to your opponent. Try to be aware of this point as you go around and around keeping one hand on the opponent's wrist and the other on the elbow all the time. This is a very important control position (bouncers out there...help me on this). It allows for easy leverages, gives a better attack angle and makes it a bit easier to get to the opponent's back or side. If you practice your applications diligently you'll notice that a HUGE % of Yang style and almost every other Internal Martial Art techniques are initiated from this position.

One of the least talked-about aspects of push hands is this very point. Getting to the outside of the opponent's arm, controlling it for a blink and initiating a technique from there.

Yes, yes I know...what about Qi? Forget about it. Do your push-hand drills until you feel stable and relaxed (mentally too) whether you're stationary or moving around. Keep in mind that you can have tremendous stability, neutralizing skills and relaxed power but if you can never put yourself (or your opponent) into a position to use that power (to strike, off-balance or throw), then you're missing half the picture.

There are so many push/sticky hand drills that are very detailed and documented from all styles. Most teachers do a pretty good job at teaching them. The problem is making the jump (in real fighting) from the initial strike or contact to the struggle for position (this struggle being REAL push hands) to gaining a better position to attack using an application. And as the guy is landing on his butt and you are sticking and following him down to the ground (still push hands) and he is squirming and struggling (still push hands) and you are trying to take a limb and lock it or put your knee on his torso (still pushing hands) and he's trying to push your knee away (still pushing hands) and you're trying to finish the guy - it's all pushing hands. Sensitivity - fighting for the better position - neutralizing his counters - it's all pushing hands.

Pushing hands is not just the "try to make me take a step" game. Try pushing hands with light gloves on and not letting your intent, structure and mechanics go out the window when you get popped in the nose. That's what its for really so practice it really ALSO. Do it with a friend so you don't get angry or competitive.

Have fun with it but remember it's just a drill to increase ability. It's not a substitute for good application. You have to balance your training by working on putting it into practical application just as much. In fact I like to focus on practical application (semi-cooperatively) and supplement it with push hands. It's really helped my free-fighting.

Good Training - Erik
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Postby Michael » Sat Jun 01, 2002 4:25 pm


I once had a teacher that only allowed single hand and a step with an attack---which was very seldomly allowed.

I suppose most teachers do not allow the type of push hands you advocate because of the tendency for many of us to start wrestling. Once good developemnt of ones "listening" skills has been achieved there are numerous stages of training in pushing hands to be explored. You are right, it is a method by which we develop skills for "good application".

One thing I think is often lacking in free fighting (and maybe in a looser form of push hands) is in the simple fact that both of you are are using taiji. Rules make for predictability---which can be very good for some types of training. In the real world this is not the case. You are most likely going to come up against someone untrained (very unpredictable) or maybe someone with a little Karate or TKD (more predictable) training. Some training should be aimed toward this type of situation as well. It is doubtful that Joe thug yahoo out there is going to try and stay in contact with YOU "attacking" with chin na, rollbacks,.....

One trouble with the more realistic push hands you describe (of which I am an advocate) is that it can be just too much fun. The danger is that we can easly lose sight of the principles. Training NOT LOSING sight of the principles might be what these more "realistic" variations maybe most useful for (besides improved application). It does not take long to find oneself using a little more muscle or something. Constant vigilence is necessary. But let's face, it once in awhile it is just plain fun to let loose in a "contolled" manner and "wrestle" just a little.

Good Practice to you,


[This message has been edited by Michael (edited 06-01-2002).]
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Postby Louis Swaim » Sun Jun 02, 2002 12:14 am

Greetings Eric,

Did we meet in San Antonio? Good to see you're staying sharp.

By the way, was this the training door, or the lecture door?

Just messin' with ya!

Take care,
Louis Swaim
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Postby Erik » Sun Jun 02, 2002 4:50 am

Hi Guys,

Michael - We're on the same page, so to speak. I would never try to replace the traditional manner of training sensitivity. The practice has lasted this long in all the internal arts because it works. I'm talking about adding to it. It's a shame that many practicioners actually believe that it will take many years to develop martial ability from their Taijiquan. What I'm talking about is adding to it not replacing it. I'd just like to see some more discussion on this aspect of training sensitivity. I believe this was a big part of the old-timers' training.

Louis - Hey there! Yeah we did meet in San Antonio. Good to talk to you again. Sorry if I sounded like I'm lecturing. Just trying to stir things up a bit, as usual.

Good training guys - Erik
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