The object of the I Fu Shou exercise i.e. Tai Chi Sticky Hands Practise is to upset your partner’s balance. This is not because it is a competition with a winner and a loser. Although sadly I see that ‘Pushing Hands competitions’ are starting to appear, with some Tai Chi Organisations subsequently advertising that one of their students won this or that section, presumably in the belief that this will attract more students to their organisation.
The types of students that this attracts are the ones who want to win competitions and show off in front of a crowd. I feel this is a retrograde step that moves away from the true spirit of Tai Chi. I do not consider that I Fu Shou should be presented as a form of competition which inevitably breeds a winner and a loser. I consider it to be a voyage of self-discovery. The practice of which will enable the practitioner to develop a heightened state of awareness, firstly of themselves, then others they come into contact with. There is nothing to lose but your ego. And the prize to be won is humility.
Perhaps by looking at the names given to this exercise we can understand the different philosophy behind them. Firstly, to push, this word is defined as meaning: to exert force on a thing, to move away from oneself or from the origin of the force. This in essence seems rather an aggressive attitude.
This type of philosophy leads to ambition, desire, and glorification of the self and the wish to make oneself superior. This inevitably leads to separation from the Tao (way). There is no harmony here; only conflict. ‘Sticky’ is defined as tending or intended to stick or adhere. Adhere is defined as: stick fast to a surface, another substance, etc. Also, to behave according to, follow in detail or give support or allegiance. These words explain the essence of the instruction I received from my Master Chee Soo. He always taught me that once contact has been made it must be maintained, and that this contact should be light, so light in fact, that if a feather where to fall upon your arm it would sink under the weight of the feather. He also taught me that the object of the exercise was to follow the movements of your partner, not to force them to change the direction but to allow them to move their hand and arm in whatever way they wish. Learning to work within this framework whilst maintaining your own balance, giving in to their force which completely negates their strength and allows you to gently guide them in the direction they wish to go. Gently, helping them on their way.
If you offer no resistance, then no matter how much force is used against you, it cannot restrict your freedom. By giving in to that force and offering no resistance your partner sacrifices their balance when they exert force against your arm. By this action they create a weakness within their posture that can be exploited allowing you to maintain your balance whilst upsetting theirs. The object of this is not to gain power over your partner, but to learn to remain in control of your own balance whilst being put under pressure by your partner. This helps us to deal with the problems we encounter in everyday life without losing control and resorting to violence. And by violence I do not necessarily mean physical violence but also mental violence, which is the modern way to bully and make people fear you. Power hungry people weave their webs of mental manipulation, praying on the weak within our society – we are all weak at some time or another as we fall into our yin periods during our journey through life.
There are no laws, that can be enforced effectively, that will eradicate this kind of mental violence that we all have to suffer at some time or other at work, from parents, teachers and countless enthusiastic exponents of officialdom. We just have to learn to deal with it. We have to learn to take responsibility for ourselves. Instead of becoming physically or verbally violent which can only escalate the conflict, we have to learn to absorb the energy thrown our way.
In doing so we strengthen ourselves and weaken the perpetrator, but more importantly we remain entire.
by Howard Gibbon
© Copyright 2012 Howard Gibbon – all rights reserved
Howard, who was a student of the late Grand Master Chee Soo for 21 years has been practicing and teaching the Lee Style of Tai Chi and related arts since 1973.