Learning from Mistakes

Some students have a desire to try out what they know against friends. If I am asked I would tell them whether they are ready to do so.

If they are not as ready as I thought but still want to go ahead I would offer suggestions on what they can try doing based on what they can best achieve competently, that is using the best of the worst.

Sometimes I get to hear of their testing sessions after the fact. I would be curious to hear their feedback, what they thought they were able to achieve, able to apply, observations and so on. This can be used a a gauge from which to move forward.

One latest feedback is a student X trying out against Y whom he has known for a long time. X said that Y was softer than him but he was still able to apply some techniques from the repertoire that he had learned from those times that we touched hands.

X found that using the body method from our Tai Chi he could easily move Y’s hand applying pressure on him. X found one particular technique for neutralizing strikes useful when they added strikes in at a later part of the session.

I asked X questions based on his feedback and from there explained to him what he was still lacking in his understanding of push hands. I can re-summarize and add on to what I told X earlier :-

  1. X’s found that though his use of the high blocking movement prevented Y from hitting him it left his elbow vulnerable to being lifted. I explained that this is a problem that can be fixed by not over moving, keeping the awareness and knowing the options to counter any attempts to lift the elbow. This is where training flow rather than power is important. I demonstrated that Y’s attempt to lift his elbow is actually good as it can be countered by a variety of responses.
  2. Pushing around in circles means waiting for opportunities to apply your technique. It would be better to create the opportunities through a game plan. One of the core principle we use in our push hands techniques is based on the Tian Ji Horse Racing Strategy which is recorded in Sun Tzu’s Art of War. You can read this article to get an idea of how this early example of Game Theory works within the Tian Ji Horse Racing Strategy. The diagram below which is extracted from the article summarizes the principle vividly :- horse
  3. Principled habits must be a natural response if we are to be able to use the techniques from the form. I find that 99% of students still do not train the form enough. They may remember the sequence but this is not enough. To be able to use the lessons from the solo form training we must know why we are training it and what we can get out of it. A simple example is the flying elbow syndrome. The principles of Tai Chi calls for the elbow to be kept lowered but students commonly violate this principle when I apply pressure on their arm. If they are unable to control this untrained reflex they will always have a weakness that can be exploited in push hands. Our required standard of performance is that the elbow must be kept lowered always.
  4. Strength conservation – do not use too much strength if it is not called for. I find that students use too much strength when the task does not require as much. For example, if you want to open up your opponent’s guard using more body strength may not make it easier for you to pry his guard open. Instead, it would be much easier to apply the slot machine handle pulling principle to do so. This would comply with the principles of physics and anatomical considerations, making the task more efficient.
  5. Do not go against the will of heaven – basically do not force your opponent to do what he does not want to. If you try to force your opponent to do something he will fight you tooth and nail, making it difficult to apply your technique. X had limited success using the Faan technique against Y. However, after a while Y found a way to counter it and thereafter X could no longer use it. Faan is a versatile technique that is not so easy to counter unless you have limited understanding of how it works. Y’s defense against Faan can be exploited if X can learn how to flow and keep flowing instead of giving up when a technique does not work. When Y used his elbow to angled Faan off X could work Y’s elbow angle to create a better, bigger opening from which to launch a few continuous Faan strikes that Y cannot stop


Everything I pointed out above can be fixed by understanding the 108 form in greater depth and learning how to apply the principles within a proper framework for learning push hands.


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