The main focus of today’s seminar is Tai Chi “Jin”. Jin is a form of energy. Confrontational sports involves a contest of force. There is a saying “The bigger, the stronger. A stronger person can defeat 10 skilful persons.” This saying advocates physical strength. Let us also examine the advocation of youth. For those of us aged over 50, if we are to ultilise physical strength to fight those in the 20 to 30 years age range, then we will be at a severe disadvantage. Physical strength deteriorates quite significantly after middle age. Older people ultilising physical strength to fight younger people are disastrous attempts to turn back the ravages of time.
If the above discourse captures the truth of the matter, why then does the Tai Chi classics advocates such claims as “An aged person can skilfully fend off a throng”, “Small force can triumph over larger force”, and “Four ounces deflect a thousand pounds”? Here is an excerpt from Wang Zhongyue’s “Taijiquan Treatise”: “There are many styles of martial arts, each with its distinctive forms. Generally, they amount to no more than the strong bullying the weak, or the fast overcoming the slow. They use strength to strike those without strength, the slow succumbing to the quick.” While strong physical strength is a fine attribute, it may not work to your advantage if you have an overt reliance on it in overpowering others. In instances when it does not work, you are rendered powerless and clueless. Tai Chi Quan emphasises skill but not strength, preferring to utilise a smaller force to overcome a greater. How is this seemingly impossible feat to be accomplished? The following sentence is revealing: “Concentrate your energy”. The power from this concentration of energy is what we call “Internal Power”. The application of “Internal Power” is to “avoid the opponent’s force and strike his weak point”. Merely being relaxed and soft is not enough to achieve “Small force subduing greater force” or “Four ounces deflects a thousand pounds”. “Four ounces deflects a thousand pounds” is a perplexing Chinese expression. It is a scientific impossibility for four ounces to deflect one thousand pounds. Softness is the foundation of Tai Chi. But there is hardness in Tai Chi application. The key point is what I have mentioned above. You must, through proper training, concentrate your energy/power. This “Whole Power” that stems from concentration training is what we call Tai Chi Quan’s Internal Power. That is the core of Tai Chi form training.
The above “Whole Power” training is the “Know yourself” aspect of Tai Chi training. From the martial art perspective, there is the “Know your opponent” aspect of training. In “The Art of War” it is written, “Know thyself, know thy opponent, a thousand battles, a thousand victories”. Tai Chi Push Hands training is the “Know your opponent” aspect of the training. Push Hands emphasises sensing. Sensing through your body, not ear. Sensing skill is developed via a training process that follows the principle of “Adhere and Follow”. Concentration of your energy will result in high sensitivity. This type of Push Hands training aims at attainment of the level “I know others, others know me not”. With the ability to “Know thyself and know thy opponent”, one can accurately sense the incoming force, yield to it, lead it to emptiness, then with the control of your mind, attack your opponent’s weakest point or rigid point. Such an attack will result in your opponent’s loss of balance. This strategy is propounded in the Tai Chi classics as “Guide the force to emptiness, then issue your Whole Power”. “Guide the force to emptiness” is yielding, and “issue your Whole Power” is concentrating your energy to strike your opponent’s weakest point. This is the secret for a physically weaker person to overcome a stronger.
The above is a discourse on Whole Power, Sensing, Yielding and Issuing. These are corner stones of Tai Chi Jin. Through the process of “Comprehending Jin”, Tai Chi Push Hands training is the key. “Taiji Quan Treatise” mentions that “In mastering the movements, one may gradually comprehend the principle of Jin. From comprehending Jin, you will be enlightened”. “Comprehending Jin” is a necessity, long this process may be. Push Hands training is a necessity to attain the “Comprehending Jin” stage.
I will now deliberate further on the functions of form, Push Hands training, and the relationship between the two. Form training dispels rigidness and stiffness. It develops suppleness and the ability to concentrate on Whole Power. This is the “Know yourself” aspect of Tai Chi. Such traditional Tai Chi styles as the Chen, Yang, Wu, Wu/Hao, and Sun are all proficient in this. Although their training methods differ, the principles are the same. When my Chen Style teacher, Master Lei Mu Ni, trained us in issuing power, he used to say “When you are ready (after adequate training), the power will come. Do not force yourself to issue”. This is quite different to modern fight training. This is why Tai Chi training benefits one’s health, not the other way around. There is a saying “10-year Tai Chi training before leaving school.” With over 2 decades of teaching experience I believe I can shorten the requisite time.
Tai Chi training is grounded on the principle of Yin and Yang. First, understand the thirteen principles in form training, then apply them in Push Hands training. Without confrontational training, one will not grasp the essence of these principles. For example, some practitioners, while learning form, indulge in application of the movement. While this may come across as theoretically sound, it is ineffective in real confrontation. The problem lies in their mechanical understanding of Tai Chi application. Tai Chi emphasises “Giving up oneself to follow other”. The classics says, “Follow others, not yourself. In following others, you will be agile. Following yourself, you will be rigid”. When you deliberate on application, you have already made the “Follow yourself” mistake. In Tai Chi, do not have a preconceived mind. Sensing the other and you will discover the opportunities to fight back. This is “Start late, in control first”. Test what you have learnt from form practice during Push Hands training. Then, correct the deficiencies revealed in Push Hands training when doing form training. Form and Push Hands are equally important as they compliment each other. If you practice Tai Chi as a martial art, you must pay attention to Push Hands training. It is a necessity for comprehending Jin. It is a bridge and pathway for combative Tai Chi.