As we progress in our taiji from simple movements, short form, long form, applications, to free style, there is still one phase of taiji (tai chi) that is rarely spoken about or taught. The process of learning to take punches, hits, blows, or pushes is very important to help us deepen our practice and ground us in our taiji. Unfortunately, people believe that taiji is this pretty soft style where everyone floats around and is spaced out; where no real contact or rough stuff goes on in class. Well, without contact, our taiji just becomes this floating balloon that is not grounded on the earth plane.
No matter how gentle and soft we want to be in our taiji, we live in a world that is very aggressive and we are constantly being pushed, hit and shoved around. Unless we can learn how to use our taiji in the world it becomes just a meaningless art. Our taiji should reflect our practice in class and in the world. Too many students have a false view of taiji, believing no one gets hit, pushed or knocked down. These ideas come from too many books, movies, magazines and stories of masters of taiji never getting hit; or how they can push people without touching them. All of this is completely false. In fact learning to take blows improves and deepens ones taiji. Learning to yield and accept blows teaches us how to deal with all sorts of problems and situations.
Every human being at times has been pushed, hit, or knocked down. Whether it is the area of sports, school, business, children, relationships, driving, etc. Whether its emotional, mental, physical, or spiritual, we are engaged in this great struggle of pushing and pulling. We just need to look at nature, or better yet, our solar system and the universe, to see that this energy always exists. The questions is how do we deal with all this energy coming towards us? How do we learn from this energy and not keep it in our bodies and souls? And how can we stop fighting this energy and learn use it for our benefit?
Testing Our Taiji
The main principle of taiji is to understand the flow of energy, our energy as well as the energy of others. The question is how to deal with energy coming towards us in any form, whether it is physical, mental, emotional or spiritual. In taiji we hope to learn to distinguish different types of energies and the degree of force that is being directed towards us. If we have no experience or concept of how intense or gentle a force is, how can we possibly know how to deal with it? Many students of taiji are not trained to deal with this situation, either from the lack of an experienced teacher or feeling that it is not necessary. If you have no concept of how intense different degrees of energies can be, how can you know how flexible you are? How will you learn what the correct counter move is to use? One counter move or movement (i.e. double push, step back, or crane) will work on one type of force while another will not. By learning to take hits, blows, pushes and punches you will learn how to handle different energies while testing and adapting your own style.
To begin to test your taiji, stand with you feet shoulder width apart, knees slightly bent, hips and shoulders relaxed and eyes closed. Have someone push or hit you, not so hard at first. See if you can flow with the hit or push, or do you stiffen up? Do you feel like you will loose your balance and fall over? Do you feel stiff and hard and not very flexible? This is a great test and a simple thing to do. You will learn a lot about yourself and how really flexible, gentle, and soft you truly are. Here again we find the need to learn the balance with the experience. The balance of being too soft and falling over and the balance of being too hard and falling over. The idea of this test is to see if you can move with the energy that is coming at you and how well you can disperse that energy.
In taiji we talk about how the form (taiji) can adapt to any situation. How taiji acts like water and flows and moves and adapts to everything. The question as students and teachers is how well do we adapt to situations that are either physical, mental or emotional? This tells us a lot about ourselves, our taiji, and the depth of our practice.