June 08 2009
Softness triumphs over hardness,
Feebleness over strength.
What is more malleable is always superior over that which is immoveable.
This is the principle of controlling things by going along with them,
...of mastery through adaptation.
- Lao Tzu
The other day, a student emailed me and asked: "What is the point of Tai Chi practice? How effective is it at all, for self defense. Soft is weak, slow is not powerful and will not defend yourself. I don't get, what's the point? I want to defend myself powerfully, not be weak."
....And that, dear student,....is where your current weakness lies. It lies in your interpretation of "weak".
Now, this student is an "external" Wushu student.....not a Taiji student....he has been around long enough to know the movements, but not long enough to know the "art" yet. I pondered for a day before responding to his email. At first, I took it sort of personally,....I thought he was putting down Taijiquan and labeling it a weak method. After thinking about his email, I realized that he was genuinely curious about something he does not understand.
I did write back, citing the above mentioned quote, and attempting to explain that Taijiquan does not teach one to be slow and weak. But how do you explain it while typing? Its something that has to be shown, experienced, felt. So, the next class the student was in, I introduced the "slow and low" approach to Taolu (forms) training. I had the whole class practice the 1st basic routine, with 2 stipulations: 1) They had 10 seconds to do each movement...they could NOT be done with a movement before the 10 second timer went off, and 2) Their upper body movements and lower body movements had to precisely timed to end at the same time....no stances being finished before the hand motions, and vice versa.
We did this exercise for about 10 minutes, and at first, I noticed that everyone "cheated", by establishing the stance first, then finishing with their arm or hand movements. After the exercise, I mentioned that they would need to work on moving slowly, in order to move quickly in an effective manner. I said "Lao Tzu has a quote...."Softness triumphs over hardness, Feebleness over strength.What is more malleable is always superior over that which is immoveable.This is the principle of controlling things by going along with them,...of mastery through adaptation." This doesn't mean that you have to be weak, flaccid, lacking strength. It means that you shouldn't always rely on brute strength alone. If you determine victory solely by size and strength, you'll one day experience defeat when your strength wanes. You guys are using so much tension and strength just to do 10-second movments.....relax a little, take your time instead of timing yourself! Be aware of every movement, how it feels, where your body is in space at all times. Establish and keep your aligned posture". I then showed them some tips on how to move effectively while moving slowly.
After another 15 minutes of practice, they were beginning to get a bit more versed in moving slowly.....not quite picture perfect Taiji form, but they at least were getting the idea. I ended the exercise with "That, everyone....is Taiji. It doesn't matter what movements you do, so long as you keep Taiji principles. You don't know the principles by academic standards, but your felt them tonight. Now, lets do some self defense!"
I noticed, that all the students moved a little more swiftly, with a little more flow and little more agility. Without much thought, all the students applied "ting jin" (listening energy) instead of merely throwing strikes and kicks in hopes that they would hit something, or put up a blind block or blind parry. At the end of class, I said "Thanks for practicing Taiji with me tonight. All of you fought well in the self defense drills......we do the same in Taiji class....different form movements though. Other than that, know that true martial arts use BOTH hard and soft energy.....never just one or the other."
As we were prepping the studio to leave for the night, the student who sent me the "what's the point of Taiji?" email, approached me and said "Thanks for answering my questions". I laughed and said "YOU answered your questions....by struggling through what you initially thought was soft and weak. Now you know how to adapt to your sparring partner's movements and attitudes"
Hopefully, this student will understand how softness and hardness, can pretty much be the "same"......