Teachings from Laozi’s tenth chapter in relation to Supple Taichi
In the tenth chapter of the Daodejing, Laozi writes : “By focusing one's efforts to attain suppleness, can one become like a baby again?” To become like a baby is to recover a child-like innocence. In this way, people over 50 years old can nurture their health and cultivate their mind, but it is also a training method for supple Taichi and pushing hands. Perhaps by letting go of one’s egotistic attitude and intentions, only then will one recover the innocence of a child? A child still retains his original innocence because he is inexperienced and naïve. He has no knowledge, no skill and no intention. These are not only three psychological qualities, but also philosophies for dealing with worldly affairs. Therefore, the wisdom of Laozi and Zhuangzi reads : no knowledge leads to concentration, no skill leads to flexibility, and no intention leads to detachment.
(1) No knowledge leads to concentration : The problem with “knowledge” is that it dampens one's curiosity. Because of our upbringing, education, past experience, we may believe we already “know” and have no interest to concentrate on new things. It is only by letting go of one's knowledge that one can listen attentively to another voice, and thereby acquire new knowledge and learn about other cultures. While practicing pushing hands with a partner, it is only by abandoning the idea of using force that one can feel and respond appropriately to the intentions of the opponent. Only then can one train tingjing (listening to the opponent) and dongjing (understanding the opponent). Only then can one reveal the skill of “softness overcoming hardness”.
(2) No skill leads to flexibility : To show “no skill” is to forget whatever postures, movements and techniques one has learned in the past. If we have no skill, how do we deal with our pushing hands partner? The only solution is to focus on neutralizing his attacks by making the body light and nimble. All the better, as neutralization is a key skill to practice. It trains the ligaments, tendons and muscles of the body to be very relaxed and supple. It is the philosophy of “losing to gain”.
(3) No intention leads to detachment : When letting go off one's egotistic attitude and not obsessing about an outcome, when facing events with a polite, modest and respectful attitude, then one can start to listen attentively, then one can deeply comprehend the essence of things. By literally doing nothing, anything becomes possible.
By cultivating the wisdom of no knowledge, no skill, and no intention, and thereby recovering the innocence of a child, and while applying it to the Taichi form and pushing hands, be relaxed and be supple!
“Life in a valley doesn’t die, for here is like the womb of a mother. Continuously replenishing itself, never depleting itself.”
A valley can harbour all kinds of plants and animals, as well as chi, because it is empty and silent, welcoming everything that enters and lives in its space. Like for the rest of Mother Earth’s creation, generations follow each other, one generation giving birth to the next.
The neutralization skill of pushing hands in Taichi can be compared to the void of a valley. Body, mind and spirit are relaxed; true capabilities remain hidden. When practicing and unceasingly yielding to our partners’ attacks, over time the range of the neutralization skill broadens, the skill of tingjing (listening to the opponent) becomes more acute. Eventually, even brute force can be rendered void and the art of “softness overcoming hardness” can be reached.
Supple Taichi Workshop in the Netherlands and Belgium
Taichi is a treasure amongst the cultural heritage of the Chinese Martial Arts. Its techniques open a gateway to the ancient philosophy of the Yi-Jing, which describes the mutual relation between Yin and Yang. They offer an insight into Wuwei, the Way of non-doing to reach the Dao, as taught by the great philosophers Laozi and Zhuangzi. Through practicing the form and pushing hands training drills, the focus lies on polishing the skill of suppleness and cultivating the modesty of yielding to the opponent. In this way, health and vitality are strengthened while simultaneously pursuing the martial art skills of “softness overcoming hardness”, “stillness overcoming motion”, “small triumphing over large”, “slow controlling fast”, etc.
Master Wu Rong-Huei in the lineage of Yang style Taichi transmitted by Grand Master Song Zhi-Jian will teach Supple Taichi skills, during workshop will take care/handle, in compliance with the essentials from the Taichi Classics, to fix up/plan in detail the basics/fundamentals of physical relaxation, form, pushing hands absorbing/neutralizing, and advanced pushing hand moves/tricks training drills, along with comments on the Classics etc curiculum/program. This includes the ten essentials from Yang Chen Pu : “raising the crown of the head” , “draw in the chest and pull up the back”, “relax the waist and the abdomen”, “settle down on the pelvis”, ”sink the shoulders and drop the elbows”, “dissociate the full and the empty”… From Master Cheng Man Qing “Beautiful lady’s hands”, “not moving the arms”. From Master Song Zhi Jian “original space position”, “original body position”.The training drills of three Masters of the Yang tradition.
Laozi’s second chapter reads :
Existence and absence, difficult and easy, long and short, high and low, high-pitch and low-pitch, forward and backward, within every pair the one generates and complements the other.”
This statement seems very contradictory, yet all these apparent contradictions stimulate the emergence of life’s deeper potential. It is a philosophy of life and a principle for self-cultivation. It teaches us that whatever our current situation is, it has the potential to change. And it teaches that things may actually be the opposite of what they seem.
Similar contradictions are found in Taichi. They describe the natural balancing between Yin and Yang. So, in Taichi, we find the skills of “stillness overcoming motion”, “small triumphing over large”, “softness overcoming hardness”, “four ounces toppling one thousand pounds” and “Yin and Yang mutually sustain each other”. The skill of “Yin and Yang mutually sustain each other” is to emerge naturally; the key is to hide the usage of Yang and to display the effects of Yin, or to hide the usage of Yin and to display the effects of Yang.
Master Benjamin Lo, a True Tai Chi Practitioner
By Wu RH, Compiled and translated by Tang YY and Rick Yoder
My Tai Chi team has taught training courses in suburbs of Washington, DC, with three devoted students of Ben Lo. Since 2000, in collaboration with David Chen and Joanne Chang and, after David’s untimely passing, with Charles Votaw, we had many great experiences working with American T’ai Chi players who embraced the teaching of Master Lo.
In his class, Ben taught only what he had learned from Cheng Man-Ching. Ben did not add his personal opinion or splashy frivolous techniques. Zhanzhuang (standing like a post) and form correction--the most fundamental of all teaching methods in Tai Chi Chuan--were also among the most favored activities in his class.
Even going back to 1990, post standing and form correction were all Ben taught in a class that Tang YY, my long-time translator, in North Carolina. That workshop was organized by Frank Wong, a Cheng Man-Ching student, but it demonstrates that Ben Lo’s teaching style did not waiver over the years.
In that class, YY recalls, Ben would, for each posture, correct one student until he was satisfied before he moved around the room and did the same for the next student. All the while, all students were sweating as they stood, body weight on one bent leg. Their weighted legs were burning, no doubt, but they were enjoying the class very much. Over the course of a few hours, and only a few postures, the class would learn the valuable lesson of simply holding the posture until the body could find the correct alignment and relaxation. Ben Lo would correct and position each person, but their body had to remember it.
The source of their burning thighs was “bend knee down low”, or “bend low”, which sounds almost just like Ben Lo. “Bend low” is almost a trademark of Ben Lo’s training method.
Bending low usually means burning thigh muscles for a practitioner. Burning in the thigh, more specifically the quadriceps, is essential to learning Tai Chi Chuan. Indeed, “no pain, no gain” has been Ben’s core training discipline. In addition to his love for T’ai Chi Chuan, David Chen was an accomplished artists. Building on this concept, he captured Ben Lo’s teaching in this epic painting: a practitioner in post standing, a flame burning on his weighted thigh, underscored by the caption ‘No Burn, No Earn’.
In “no burn, no earn”, Ben pointed out clearly the path he took to learn Tai Chi Chuan--a way forward for Tai Chi Chuan practitioners everywhere.
Master Ben Lo passed away on October 12, 2018, in San Francisco, California at the age of 92.
No arms in Tai Chi (NAIT)
In Tai Chi Chuan, the arms never move by themselves. Instead, they move only as a result of a preceding movement in the waist or the leg. In other words, the arms are moved by gravity, ground reaction force, or inertia.Only when the arms don’t move by themselves can a practitioner remain light and agile, with which he or she can control steel with cotton.
On the peculiarity of Taichi to refrain from using force
By Wu RH, Compiled and Translated by Alex
The Taichi classics read : “Energy comes from the feet, expands through the legs, is controlled by the waist, and is released through the fingers.” To transmit the ground reaction force through the body from the ground up, movement must be self-restrained so as to not use force. This is because if the arms use force, they will hinder efficient transmission of this ground reaction force, and furthermore, the body will not able to unfold its whole-body energy. Therefore Cheng Man Qing said : “Don’t move your arms in Taichi”. According to the Treatise on Essential Points, the meaning of “Don’t move your arms” is that “movement of the arms is initiated by the waist and the legs, change of the stance is initiated by the body”. It means that the body and the arms only move when they are made to move as a reaction to circumstances, but they don’t forcefully make attacking or defensive movements. This is the fundamental training principle for accomplishing the supple martial arts that is Taichi, where “softness overcomes hardness” and “stillness overcomes motion”.
By keeping the hands passive, the mind remains clear like the mind of a spectator, which is essential to train the skills of listening to the opponent (tingjing (聽勁)) and understanding the opponent (dongjing (懂勁)). It also allows the body and hands to be sensitive and to be linked together as one. “Sensitive” must start from relaxing all the major joints so that they remain fully independent; but the joints must also be able to tighten and support each other in an instant, this is “linked together”. According to the Taichi Classics : “Extreme softness is followed by extreme hardness”. By first being soft and nimble, a strong attack can be neutralized. Right afterwards the whole body links together as one and can transmit a strong counter-attack. “Sensitive” and “linked together” interact mutually like Yin and Yang. Switching between the two is important practice, as it will lead to a deeper understanding of the saying “Yin is never far from Yang, Yang is never far from Yin, alternating between Yin and Yang leads to dongjing (懂勁 - understanding the opponent).”
Push Hands with the Blind
Written by Wu RH, Translated by Tang YY
Sightless people face obstacles almost everywhere they go. Often because they can’t exercise easily, they don’t. Many of them gain weight as their quality of living declines and their health deteriorates.
The video shows blind folks at the Institute for the Blind of Taiwan practicing Tai Chi push hands, getting all sweaty, which they don’t get often.
Tai Chi form and push hands are among very few exercises that the blind can do and can do well in spite of their disability. In fact, their ability to push hands may be enhanced by their lack of sight, and consequently a lack of visual distractions. Sightless people are more sensitive than sighted people in the sense of touch, and that is a precious property in the practice of push hands.
Therefore, the blind and perhaps even people with other disabilities are a population who can benefit greatly from the practice of Tai Chi Chuan push hands.
Suppleness in pushing hands
By Wu RH, Compiled and Translated by Alex
Most people believe pushing hands to be a difficult skill to learn with a risk for injury while training. This misconception results from erroneous ideas and inappropriate technique.
Suppleness in pushing hands means to stick to the opponent, to listen and follow his movement, to move in a continuous way without using force. Practicing in this manner not only safeguards from injury, but it also stimulates the body’s deeper potential. At a higher level, the skills of neutralization and fajing (discharge) are refined, as the coach draws the opponent’s upper body joints (wrists, elbows, shoulders, back, waist) to disrupt the structure of his lower body joints (hips, knees, ankles). For most people to keep their balance, they will need to rely on the full participation of their brain and nervous system, on the whole range of movement of their muscles, joints and ligaments. It is in this way, to keep the body stable, that the deeper potential is activated.
A coach must be light and agile with his body and hands. He should not clumsily push and pull with hard strength, otherwise he might cause injury or bring about unwanted results. Not being light and agile also preempts the development of the skills of tingjing (hearing the opponent) and dongjing (understanding the opponent). As for his mental attitude, the coach must cultivate the qualities of humbly receding, yielding, and guiding.