Stretch Goal

In a previous post here I mentioned the book Smarter Faster Better.

This morning I moved into Chapter 4 on Goal Setting and read about the Yom Kippur War and General Electric’s SMART goals.

The origin for stretch goals can be traced back to the events beginning in 1950 that led to the creation of the Japanese bullet train in 1964. After learning of the background that resulted in the invention of the bullet train Jack Welch, then the head honcho of GE began to implement stretch goals or what he termed back in 1993 as “bullet train thinking”. As mentioned on page 125 of Smarter Faster Better Welch wrote :-

“stretch is a concept that would have produced smirks, if not laughter, in the GE of three or four years ago, because it essentially means using dreams to set up business targets – with no real idea of how to get there. If you do know how to get there – it’s not a stretch target.”

In the training of Tai Chi I would say that this is similar to what folks say about a teacher opening the door and you having to walk through it. Learning the form, knowing what intention is about is only one half of the story. The other half is how to actually implement the use of intention in push hands.

When we push hands most of the time we just, well, push. I saw a video of a long time lady practitioner of a Tai Chi style two days ago. One of her videos showed her doing push hands. I have heard praises of her push hands skill from practitioners up north. So here was a video of her doing it and I can see how she really is and perhaps learn something.

Indeed, I did learn something but not what I had hoped. Instead, I learned that without a mental model of what you want to achieve in push hands then the practice of push hands is for all intent and purposes useless for learning about combat. I saw her movements, good and tight, indicative of someone who has practiced for a long time but she was still basically reacting, without a clear plan for achieving a dominant position. Or perhaps that was the idea all along, to just push without caring for winning though that didn’t seem to be the plan watching her at it.

Our stretch goal, to use intention in the practice of form and push hands seem impossible, perhaps even silly. To many the question of how to get there is begging. But as Duhigg pointed out on page 127 :-

Studies show that if a stretch goal is audacious, it can spark innovation. It can also cause panic and convince people that success is impossible because the goal is too big. There is a fine line between an ambition that helps people achieve something amazing and one that crushes morale. For a stretch goal to inspire, it often needs to be paired with something like the SMART system.

Further along the page :-

It’s often not clear how to start on a stretch goal. And so, for a stretch goal to become more than just an aspiration, we need a disciplined mindset to show us how to turn a far-off objective into a series of realistic short-term aims…….. Stretch goals, paired with SMART thinking, can help put the impossible within reach.

So learning to put the intention into push hands is not an impossible goal after all. It is entirely possible though the first thing to do is to learn what it truly means to use intention within physical movements. The solo long form is the starting point to learn how to map one’s movements in three dimensional space. When you understand this you have a physical chessboard on which to mentally move through space. The different postures will represent your chess piece.

For example, Kao (Shoulder Stroke) represents a particular way of moving much like how a bishop can only move in a certain way across the chess board. The transition from Kao to White Crane Spreads Wings offers a map to move along. Or if the situation does not permit moving to White Crane Spreads Wings then perhaps the transition change from one Brush Knee, Twist Step posture to another could be considered. We could also simply just apply Ward-Off. Why not? Why not?

When you have studied Push Hands Game for some time you will not longer react for the sake of resisting an attack. Instead, you will now know how you can move, the options of responses available, how to implement a game plan, how you can keep flowing and not be caught with a non-response, how the opponent’s movements will tell you how to move, where to go, how to secure your position and keep it, etc. You can say that each part of the Push Hands Game comes with its own SMART goals to make learning easier. Once the pieces of the puzzle fall into place you have the entire game which essentially is but a tool to unlock the use of the form. You can also use it to expand on how you can play push hands and ultimately help you to Master Tai Chi Today.


Want to learn Tai Chi in Singapore? At Singapore Tai Chi Yang Style (TaijiKinesis) 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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