Student Notes – Big to Small

From big to small. From outer to inner. This is the approach I taught one student to take in order to master push hands.

He has not done the form long enough to be able to shrink and internalize the movements properly. So we worked on push hands to understand this idea which once he gets it he can incorporate it back into the form.

Rollback to create and maintain emptiness to lead your training partner off-balance sounds easier to do than it actually is. Students typically learn two Rollback motions – RR and RL i.e. Rollback to the Right (RR) and RL (Rollback to the Left).

Of the two, RR is more difficult to do as the waist has a smaller motion to work with. Because of this many students when encountering an attack to their right (assuming the right leg is forward) will instinctively step back with their right leg. Normally, if their training partner is slow on his feet due to using too rooted a stance then the student will be able to get away from the attack and think that this solution is good.

However, when training with more experienced partners they would discover that stepping this way only opens them up to a powerful follow up attack from which it is difficult to stop. Thus, to prempt this learning how to do RR properly is a must because its an often used position.

For the average student their attachment to not losing means that faced with the training partner’s power they will react by tensing their arm or leaning their upper body against their training partner’s arm in a bid to stop the attack. Neither will work against a training partner who knows how to adapt and change with the flow of movements. The best counter is to learn how to lead the attack to emptiness, render the training partner’s power useless and cause him to lose his balance before counter-attacking. This is the approach of the big frame movement with a very Yin (soft) flavor.

Doing RR successfully means the student must learn the proper procedure step-by-step with the attendant logic. Then his training partner will work with him on the proper timing, distancing, mental intent etc so that he can execute the movement properly. As his skill and confidence increases then the training partner can increase the speed of the attack, the power and pressure, and do the attack randomly. It is also important to work on eliminating bad habits that can render RR ineffective and open up the user to counter-attacks.

A caveat – if a training partner is a fellow student this type of training is more difficult for the learner for the reason that the fellow student may not understand enough of the movements he is feeling and what they mean as a performance deficiency and use them as basis to improve the student’s performance. Some training partners may actually not want to really help their fellow students to improve, fearing that their status and skill as a senior will be diminished. Thus, a teacher who really wants to transmit this aspect of Tai Chi to the student will have to work closely with the student offering a lot of hands-on touching, explanation, experimentation on the right & wrong ways, and corrections.

Good RR requires that the student masters his own posture. The movement for RR is found in the transition from Press to Push. In the sequence of Ward-Off, Rollback, Press and Push we actually have quite a few RR and RL sequences for solo study.

After mastering the big frame version (outer) of Rollback the student can move on to picking up how to do the small frame version (inner) way of Rollback. This requires a high degree of Sung in order to execute the counter and attack in the blink of an eye. Normally, the Wu (Hao) form that I teach at the intermediate level is suitable for studying how to apply the techniques of Tai Chi in this manner.

To Master Tai Chi Today particularly the soft expression of neutralizing power try beginning your study with RR.

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Want to learn Tai Chi? At Singapore Yang Style Combat Tai Chi lessons covering forms, weaponry, push hands, fajing and applications are offered. Lessons are conducted in English. Send enquiry today at the link here.

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