Tuesday 7 February 2012

Push Hands - exploring your Limits!

The concept of "investment in loss" can be difficult to truly accept. The idea of individual effort and success is a cornerstone of western society. In 1997 I travelled with the team of my Chinese Taijiquan teacher to compete in the "International Atlantic Cup", a tournament with competitors from Hong Kong, USA and a number of other countries. Over the previous 15 years I had taken part in lots of karate and kick-boxing tournaments. This was my first go at push hands competition and it would be an understatement to say that I was excited. Then came the bombshell - there were 3 weight classes - and we had one heavyweight and two middleweights, myself and a good friend of mine. "Decide who is going to concede if you are drawn against each other". I thought I was hearing things, but the teacher explained that in China the most important thing was the result of the team. It was usual, it seemed,  for teammates to concede defeat if pitted against each other and coast during a bout to make sure that the one most likely to succeed went through to the next round fresh. After all my hard training I definitely wasn't going to concede.  And my teammate obviously felt the same! As it happened we didn't meet until the final so, in the end, there was no problem - I won a hard contest after an extension. If we had met earlier it would definitely have weakened one of us!     

I read a facebook comment posted by one of the students in our school  who recently started to learn push hands after four years or so of Taijiquan practice. He described his experience as "exploring the limits of what you know - and do not know - about the realities of taijiquan, in a friendly and supportive environment". This reminded me of a conversation from over a decade ago when I was training with GM Zhu Tiancai in Singapore. Zhu is an enthusiastic teacher who likes to intersperse his classes with anecdotes of his training with his own teachers Chen Zhaopi and Chen Zhaokui. During a break in one session, he descibed his experience of push hands as a youth in Chenjiagou. Push-hands, he said, was approached as a cooperative and analytic activity. People of all ages of either sex would train together, carefully working out the nuances of each angle and position. Ego and competitiveness played little part in the day to day training. He recounted one exception - a bigger and older student who used excessive force each time he pushed with Zhu. All he could do was run away. When he told his teacher Chen Zhaopi told him not to worry and at all costs not to try to use force to stop his opponent. As long as he didn't do this, moving away from  his opponent didn't mean that he had lost.  Later in another exchange between them Zhu reversed the forceful attack of his opponent and broke his (the opponent's) finger in the process. When the big guy complained, Chen Zhaopi  scolded him and told in no uncertain terms that it was his own clumsy force that had broken his finger!

Singapore 2001 - Pushing hands with GM Zhu Tiancai

Introducing Gabriela Morgado - translator of the Portuguese edition of "The Essence of Taijiquan"

Gabriela teaches in Lisbon, Portugal.She is a linguist who started her Taijiquan training with Yang Style in 1993, moving over to Chen Style in 2000.She has been to Chenjiagou a number of times with our school and has done a great job bringing "A essĂȘncia do Tai Ji Quan" to Portuguese Taijiquan players.

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