Stephen Frost: Shenlong Australia
In Part I, I discussed what happens in the moment we first connect with our push hands partner and just before following through with Fa Jin. It explained why we need to follow what our mentor, Grandmaster Wu Kuo Chung, taught us about why we need to totally eliminate any form of physical, emotional and mental tension in order to activate and apply Fa Jin.
In Part 1, I also proposed that it is not our own internal energy that directly uproots our partner. This does not mean that our internal energy is not relevant or used; rather it acts as a trigger applied to our partner’s tension. It is their own activated tension that is initially causing them to move. In a real sense, they are defeating themselves because of their own inability to resolve their own tension – they are the source of their own demise. Our own internal energy can then be applied after this trigger effect to amplify, to control and direct what happens next. This is the theme of this article (Part 2).
Interacting with the Etheric Body (Qi Cloud)
Fa Jin literally means issuing energyand the aim is to affect your partner’s internal energy using your own internal energy. But the challenge is how to do it without tension, hard physical force, and minimal tension in our own structure.
Previously, I suggested that we can avoid using too much hard force by interacting with our partner’s etheric body, also called the energy body, or the subtle body. In esoteric literature the etheric body is a non-physical body that is made of internalnon-physical energy, but importantly, co-located with the physical body – overlaying it like a suit of clothes.
The Taiji Light Touch
The light touch is an essential principle to adhere to if we want to connect to our partner’s etheric body. Any hard force will push right through it and by-pass it completely. Master Wu would often say that his teacher, Professor Cheng Man Ching, would tell him that in push hands don’t apply or acceptmore than four ounces of pressure. At other times he said to consider that your partners arms are made of razor blades, or that your arms and body are covered in gold dust and you don’t want your partner to take any of it. I know most of us have heard that many times, but do we really believe it and practise it? Do we make it an essentialpart of our practice – a principle that can’t be broken?
Master Wu would often say to me that in push hands we should only touch the clothing of our partner and push the clothes and not the body. Why did he say this? Surely, you have to touch and connect to your partner’s physical body more heavily than that to apply Fa Jin? However, he insisted that we push our partner’s clothes and not his body – why?
Firstly, as I have already said, it connects us to our partner’s energy body. Secondly, it develops our listening energy – Ting Jin – making our fingers and hands more sensitive and our push less physical. I understand that this is very difficult to do because it is so counter-intuitive, but we must take it seriously. Thirdly, it gets our mind in the game by giving it something to hang on to. Our mind is like a wild horse running madly in the wind. Our mind is a thinking machine – that’s what it does. However, for Fa Jin we need to tame and direct our mind to keep it on task.
Professor Cheng Man Ching said “When both your hands touch your opponent’s body, before attacking, you should not use too much force; otherwise you will give him a chance to interpret your movement and as soon as you start to attack him he can counter your weight slightly and you will fail to uproot him. He also said you should push your partner as though they were made of tissue paper that the slightest over-exertion will tear the paper.
Master Wu said “In Tai Chi, both you and your opponent use strength (he is speaking about Tai Chi tenacious energy, not brute strength), but your strength is ahead of him. Likewise both you and your opponent use the mind, but your mind is ahead of him. Mindis the thought or intention. The very first thought may undergo a myriad of changes in a split second. Whoever is first to grab the opportunity at the right time and maximise it to the fullest, he will be the winner.” He would often say that Tai Chi was the fastest martial art, because it was applied within 0.3 seconds. In this space your partner’s conscious mind had not yet been activated and he has not yet had time to react or have a change of heart.
Therefore, the first requirement is being attuned to the right time; taking the opportunity when it presents itself to issue energy. The second is applying theJinor the power. These two aspects must be combined, balanced and applied together.
But how do you recognise the right time to apply the power?
The Resistance Wave
Professor Cheng said you can recognise a wave of resistance in your partner’s body if your listening is a high level. This is similar to what I describe as connecting to our partner’s conscious or unconscious tension. The Professor said “When your hands lightly touch him you have to detect a slight wave of resistance in your partner’s body. By taking advantage of this wave, you will be able to attack him decisively. It is rather difficult to detect the wave in a person. If you do pushing hand practice over a long period you will find it.”
Li Yaxuan was a well-known student of Yang Cheng Fu and he puts it this way:
“Whenever the right opportunity comes to your hands, your internal energy’s automatic reaction instantly sends him sprawling out. Therefore, in pushing hands you need not seek out a particular time or chance to push him, no need to force anything. When the chance has perfectly developed on its own, you’ll feel it jump straight to your hands.”
In my early martial art days I studied Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). Part of my training in acupuncture and Chinese massage was to learn how to receive the qi. I could tell from a slight jump or jerk of the needle, or a feeling in my fingers that I had received or connected to the qi of the person I was treating. For example, when I touched a patient’s body, I would lightly place the pads of my first three fingers on them and wait and listen with my fingers for their qi to connect to my fingers. This connection feels like a pulse, or as Li Yaxuan says, a jumptomy fingers.
Another way to describe this is from Scott Meredith:
“In the simplest case, you merely follow your partner’s moves passively, then occasionally (or continually, depending on the partner’s level) you will feel something almost like a little spark or twinge in your fingers and hands. If at that moment you simply push very gently, quickly or slowly, you will find you’ve caught his tension at a maximal point, and it takes almost no physical effort to knock him back…Of course it’s only a trigger effect. Your partner is actually moving himself with his own tension. You’ll feel as though he is (unconsciously) actually trying to manoeuvre his area of greatest tension directly onto your hand. In this simple case, a simple, not overly forceful, physical push is all you need to unbalance your partner.”
Aim in one direction of your opponent
Master Wu said that double weighting in the hands was against Tai Chi principles. He said that this came directly from his teacher Professor Cheng.
Professor Cheng said “when attacking you should not use force with both your hands. The Taiji classics say that when attacking it is necessary to aim at one direction of your opponent. To use force with both your hands is technically known as double weighting and contradicts the principle of Taijiquan. The correct way is to use one hand while the other hand simply touches the opponent’s body without effort… The position of your hands and arms to your body before attacking should remain the same as after attacking. The disproportionate stretching and shrinking of the hands and arms when attacking will affect the unified action of the tenacious energy from your leg and the efficacy of the up-root will be greatly decreased.” Master Wu added that the other hand that Professor Cheng was speaking of does not pushbut simply guides and controls the direction you want your partner to go.
Yin leads; Yang follows
Master Wu also said “When attacking you have to withdraw slightly with the concept of going downward first and then going up so that you can up-rootyour opponent. The Taiji classics say that if you want to push upward you must first go downward. For instance, if you want to pull something up you push down first and the root will be naturally broken off.”
My understanding of this is that two things are in operation when you first touch your partner (assuming both hands touch). One hand connects and slightly withdraws– the other also connects and issues– Yin leads; Yang follows. In the beginning it can seem like these two energies are separated by a half-beat when being applied. And for learning purposes this may be permissible, however, it reality both energies are applied as one.
Ting, Dong, Hua, Na, Fa
It is important to consider Fa Jin in the context of the other terms and energies used in Tai Chi Chuan.
Ting: this is usually translated as listening.
Dong: this is the understanding or knowing skill.
Hua: often this is translated as neutralise, however, in my discussions with Master Wu, he preferred the word transform.
Na: this can mean seizing, capturing or controlling.
Fa: this means issuing or releasing.
The skill of Fa Jin should be considered in the context of these other skills/energies; otherwise there is the risk that our practice will encourage the use of brute strength to issue. Fa Jin is not the highest of all these other skills, and it could be argued that Fa Jin is a natural outcome when all of the other four skills have been mastered. For example, once you Nayour partner Fais easier. Master Wu said to me that he spent more time developing his Ting Jin and the other skills compared to Fa Jin.
Ting Jin means to listen through your skin, much the same as a snail listens through the sensitive horns on its body. This skill is continually developed over time using a good partner who understands the principle of the light Tai Chi touch. The hands and fingers are the most sensitive parts of our body. We have used them our whole lives as our primary source of connecting to the physical world. Therefore, in the beginning we primarily use our hands and fingers to make contact with our partner. Later as our skill develops, we learn how to use other parts of our body in the same way. The skill of Ting enables us to sense the physical speed, force and direction of the applied energy of our partner’s push or hit.
Naturally, there is overlap in all this these skills, they are not separate. As one progresses, listening will morph into understanding and you will be able to detect (understand or know) the origin of your partner’s push (i.e., what part of his body he/she is using to issue strength). For example, some people favour initiating apush from their base (i.e., feet/floor/ground). Others use their Tan Tien, or their upper back. Only when Ting has been developed can Dong Jin (Understanding Power) be achieved. The skill of understanding or knowing enables you to access deep into your partner’s body, rather than listening at the surface. It will even provide access at a highly developed level to the intention of your partner, so you are able to understand what he is intending to do before he moves.
The better your knowing skill, the more effective will your ability be to neutralise or transform any force coming your way. In the beginning we use the Push Hands drills to learn how to neutralise and transform. The deeper you go with this the less physical movement is needed to apply it. This is why you see high level Tai Chi masters appear to move very little, but with a big result. I always remember the feeling when Master Wu would touch me – I could hardly move if he didn’t want me to, or he could transform my every attempt to apply force to his body.
I think of the skill of Na Jin as finding and seizing the tension in my partner’s body or as Professor Cheng said, capturing the wave of resistance. It is important to note that this is not seizing in the physical sense, e.g. Na in the art of Chin Na. Seize or control is the ability to connect to your partner’s tension – either conscious or unconscious – and direct your intention to that area of his body. Often this tension is located where they issue their power from. As mentioned above, some people may favour using their base, or root under the foot to issue from. If we are able to connect our intention to that area, we can seize or control/transform it before they have a chance to do anything. You will know when you have correctly applied this skill, because you partner will feel as if they are stuck and can’t move.
All the other skills of listening, understanding, and transforming enhance your ability to seize and control. Once you have added a high level of Na to your skill repertoire, then to Fa (issue) will almost be an automatic outcome. The hallmark of this kind of Fa Jin feels effortless. And the result far exceeds the amount of energy used.
In summary, when triggering our partner’s tension we are accessing it through his energy or Etheric body using the light Tai Chi touch.
Connecting to your partner’s Etheric body depends on your level of listening skill.
Using the skills of listening, understanding and seizing we are able to locate, connect and control the resistance wave, or tension in your partner’s body.
Once you connect and seize that tension, it will automatically trigger that tension in your partner’s body breaking their root.
At this point it becomes a choice, under your control, as to how much follow through you wish to apply.
This article is not a how-to guide for Fa Jin. My intention is to highlight principles that you can use as a guideline in your approach to push hands to develop the other skills of Ting, Dong, Hua and Fa. My hope is that it will encourage all of us to explore the art of Tai Chi Chuan as it has been gifted from our mentor and now being passed on through our senior Shenlong Sisters and Brothers.
I have tried to illustrate what I have said using examples from our own mentor Wu, and his teacher Professor Cheng. I have also used examples from other people in the Yang and Cheng lineages to illustrate that this is sound teaching from a long line of Tai Chi masters.
Grandmaster Wu Kuo Chung said, “Nurture your courage so you are not afraid. Your Chi will then grow … practise until you have turned your practice into a habit … our method is based on sound principles; therefore, being sound it will survive. You need to read a lot of books and do your own self-study to elevate your knowledge … the earth and heaven Chi is plentiful, so don’t be greedy and try to borrow too much.”
published in “Yuan Ji" journal, vol. 2, 2018.6