In taiji two-person training, we are told to “find” or “stick-to” or “search for” the other person’s Center and how important it is to be relaxed/sensitive to do learn to do this. I have tried to keep this little article rather general in the sense that I refered to the person you are doing [or trying to do this] with as your “partner”. I suppose I could have made it sound a bit more martial by writing “opponent” but many who study taijiquan are interested in formal push-hands training as a sensitivity exercise more than as one of the many tools needed for self-defense — much less fighting for fun or as a competitive sport where youth and fitness are essential — so I will keep my comments to the civil side of taiji two-person training.
By the way, in talking about a partner’s Center in taiji, we are discussing, at a basic level, the practicaliities of training your own physical touch to establish how well connected to the ground the other person is in structural terms [for example, do they feel stiff in some parts of their body or overall? do they feel segmented in terms of their upper and lower body or uncoordinated in general? do they feel solid but relaxed? etc.,]. All this has to be done while moving your body in the manner prescribed by the style/teacher that is supervising your efforts. With time and effort, you can learn to do this “your own way” but that is sometimes difficult to reconcile with stylistic needs.
He was tested... and not found wanting." Consequently, it gives me great pleasure to announce that Lloyd Keane has today successfully completed the necessary apprenticeship and demonstrated the technical requirements for becoming an instructor of the Baguazhang solo forms and methods that I teach: Stationary & Moving Qigong, Circular Solo Set from the Jiangrongqiao traditiion, Core Linear Fighting Methods, Solo Staff, Broadsword, Straight Sword, Double Knife & Semi-Circular Knives Forms as well as a variety of two-person training methods for both empty hands and weapons-play.
One of the challenges and joys of teaching something like Baguazhang is passing on one’s skill and experience to a younger generation of practitioner/instructor who can use what is taught to research the art to develop their understanding and make it their own while still staying true to the origins of the art and those who taught them their basics. I have every faith that Lloyd will continue his study and teaching of this discipline for many years to come.
Thanks to Lloyd for his patience with me over the years and for having been a good training partner. A good teacher can only become that way by having students who challenge and stimulate their understanding of whatever martial discipline they choose to teach.
Thanks also to Justin Dickie who trains with Lloyd for having agreed to witness the test and I trust that it will stimulate him to continue his baguazhang studies with Lloyd now that he has seen almost all “the secrets”.
Copyright Michael A. Babin ©2018
A traditionalist would argue that one should always practise outside, preferably in a garden or park and whenever possible in the early morning. I have known practitioners over the years who would refuse to practise indoors and instead risk frost-bite or getting wet in the rain. Good for them; but that's not for me. Where I live it seems to rain or snow a depressing amount of time, year-round, and the ground outside is often too slippery to risk doing solo forms. At my age, a broken hip or wrist is no laughing matter -- no matter how good your sense of humour.
So, as my stealing a phrase from Star Trek would suggest, the answer for those of us who are geographically-challenged by the weather is to look for enough space [indoors] to practise safely and in some comfort. However, you may already know that isn't easy if you live in a small apartment or the wife objects to you swinging a sword in the living room while she is trying to watch tv. Of course, some apartment buildings have recreational rooms or gymnasiums that can be of some use for regular practise but your fellow tenants may object, overtly or otherwise, to your taking up space with your slow-motion/strange movements, especially if you are using a staff, broadsword or sword.
As this old ad for Listerine™ from a 1939 magazine illustrates, real fisticuffs tends to have little in the way of style. Despite that, traditional martial arts have long assumed that a practitioner will shape their techniques by the tenets of whatever teacher or style they follow. It is usually implied or stated flatly that this is the best way to learn how to fight or defend one’s self.
This was perhaps true in the old days when different styles cherished their secret or trademark moves. It is true that even strange tactics can be used to good effect assuming that the opponent is less experienced and adaptable than the person using it. But, guess what, experienced fighters can adapt so quickly that your secret “Flying Fish Fingers of Death” technique won’t work again if it doesn’t work the first time. I’ve seen this time and time again in sparring with practise swords with a good partner. If your new technique works the first time you use it on an experienced partner; the second time, it won’t work as well and the third time, he will have figured out a counter.
I recently spent a very pleasant 90 minutes or so doing free-style swordplay games with three taiji colleagues [thanks Jill, Adriaan and Daniel] and had a lot of fun, scored a few “victories”, was ‘’defeated” or fought to a tie-match many times and learned a few more valuable lessons about unstructured, though controlled, sparring with swords.
I should clarify that we were engaged in dueling with weapons of equal length and type with no or little protective gear [just forearm protectors and gauntlets]. I mention this because there is quite a difference in tactics between what we did that day and doing free-play with fuller “armor” which allows more use of close-range tactics with the free hand or even the legs. Weight and strength make a greater impact when training to fight in armor and I’m getting to be an old man so I have to keep my opponents at a distance to avoid being grappled, kicked or struck.
Like any other aspect of taijiquan, skill in push-hands comes, if it comes at all, from practising regularly with a variety of partners under the supervision of someone who has such skill and is willing and able to share it. The main approaches that one commonly finds today are structured and free-style or a mixture of the two with the structured exercises usually being learned first.
If you can find a teacher who still teaches the interactive side of taijiquan, structured practices are the most commonly used. For example in the Yang style; the main techniques or martial keys are Single and Double Push-hands, both fixed step and moving which are used to teach the four main energies of Ward-off, Roll-back, Press [also known in English as “Squeeze”] and Push; followed by “Four Corners” [also known in English as “Big Pull-down”]. This last method is usually only taught as a moving exercise to cover the other set of four key energies of Pull-down [also known as “Pluck”], Elbow, Shoulder and Split.
43+ Years of Experience Training in the Chinese martial arts; 33+ years experience teaching taijiquan and 24+ years experience teaching baguazhang