The following text is part of a thesis written in 2003. It has been written for people who are just finishing a school for energetic healing but do not know much about Taiji. So it gives a brief overview as well as a short in-depth introduction to my favourite subject, the art of non-fighting, Push Hands or Tui Shou.
Some part of the texts found their way into the Book "Taiji. Die innere Kraft von Himmel und Erde", available in German.
I'm not an English-pro, but I hope the content talks more to you than the mistakes in language. I put it on the web for people who speak no German and are interested in a slightly different approach to Taiji than you find in many schools. This approach sees Taiji as an integral art that involves the whole human being, physically, energetically, psychologically, spiritually, in the context of self and culture (and that's where the Push Hands comes into play) and culture, evolving naturally and with its own wisdom as we allow it to and relax into being and into life. I have created some easy-to-learn exercises who will lead you to this place, and the website with its material in German guides you through this process (although it is important to say that while relaxing into being is ultimately the only and easiest thing you can do, the way to it means practise, even with easy-to-learn exercises. Practise leads to experience. Experience leads to relaxing into a dynamic, evolving, ever-changing being).
"As we become more integrated, we become more relational. Our capacity for understanding and working with outer relationships is enhanced by the sophistication of our inner one. Instead of relating from a single part of ourselves, which makes us inflexible, we have a broader base from which to relate. There is simply more there for another to be attracted to, and more of us there to meet them."
(Anodea Judith, Eastern Body, Western Mind)
Imagine: You are walking along the beach. The sun sets. A soft, warm breeze touches gently your shirt and skin. The sound of the water talks of billions of years.
Suddenly something catches your intention. Two people facing each other with wide stances, pushing each other back and forth. You stop and watch. Against the evening sky you see them as two shadows. You wonder what they are doing. First you think they are investigating in a kind of fight, but as you keep watching it seems more like a dance, a smooth flowing of the two. They push each other without any outer effort, but don't get pushed off even though it looks like they are not resisting the attacks. Their feet remain firmly on the ground. You keep watching this harmonious dance of energy, this gentle but powerful exchange, this complete harmony of two people melting into an ever-changing, dynamic unity. As their bodies Start to dissolve in the settling darkness of a clear night, you separate and go on on your way, wondering what you have seen.
That's what often happens when I practice Tui Shou outside. People are fascinated watching it. They don't resist it, and it looks beautiful. It does not fit into anything we know. Tui Shou is part of Taiji. It describes a whole universe of interaction. I will focus here on what happens in the dance of opposite forces, when the two become one. I have decided to write my Thesis about Tui Shou as a mind-opener for something I truly love and of which my dream is to bring it into the world as a way of learning and having true joy and fulfilment. Also, I intent to close a circle with it. Through Taiji I came to Snowlion. During the training, I had to drop some of the principles of Taiji-interaction, because they simply didn't fit. The worst time came as I couldn't do Tui Shou anymore because I couldn't handle the amount and depth of information that I got by touching others. I finally learned to deal with it. Now, with a broader base, a deeper awareness of myself and others, I return to it, and after Snowlion, it will be my main focus again. The Thesis is one Step of this.
On the other hand, the grounding, rooting and centering effect of Taiji gave me the ability to go into processes without ever fearing to loose my center. Taiji provided a save vessel for me that always kept me in contact with my Hara.
The most profound effect the practice of Taiji and especially the interactive part Tui Shou has on me is still unfolding. It changes my whole perception and way of being, my way of interacting in daily life and in my healing practice. Everything becomes more and more a dance - a joyful, healing, dynamic, open way of mindful "playing" with energy. I dance with my problems. I dance with my clients. I dance with all the pain in joy, praising its beauty.
A short introduction - What is Taiji
This sign made its journey around the world - the Yin and Yang. But who really knows the real name of it? It is Taiji (also written Tai Chi). We associate with it something like harmony or balance. The literal translation from the Chinese means something like the highest ultimate. The martial art that has its foundation on Taiji is originally called Taiji Quan, but only Taiji is used normally to name the martial art. Quan means fist. So it means fighting with the principles of Taiji.
Tui Shou is a part of Taiji. Taiji is practiced in our culture as meditation in movement, or even as movement only, but it originally is a martial art, where meditation in movement is one aspect of it. There are two kinds of martial arts, the inner ones and the outer ones. The outer ones, like Karate, Taekwondo and Jiu Jitsu use muscular strength, called Li in Chinese. The inner ones, Taiji, Xingyi and Bagua use internal energy, called Qi. The Japanese word for Qi is Ki, which we also find in Aikido.
The main principals of the inner martial arts are relaxation, centering, rooting, connecting, a clear mind and a strong intention - all the important aspects of healing as well. There are many stiles in Taiji, and within each style, there are many forms to practice. A form is a fixed set of movements that enhance relaxation and all the other principles. Yet there are people who know ten forms but don't know how to relax and sink into the ground. There are people who know the form very well, and even know how to apply all the principles. But they still have a problem, and you may be able to relate to it: It is relatively easy to sit in peace on a meditation cushion, but as soon you get up, you struggle again with all the daily problems and people and loose your center again. The same is true with the form. A meditation cushion is not life, and a Taiji form is not life. It does not enhance our interacting and connecting skills. It does not teach how to interact with different people, with different energies. It does not teach how to stay centered in the stormy struggles of every day life. There is no interaction, and therefore no mirror that shows us what still doesn't flow freely, no feedback that brings up aspects of ourselves that we don't see when we are alone. Since Taiji is a martial art, it is primarily an art of interaction. The way to practice interacting and connecting skills in Taiji is Tui Shou, also called Push Hands, which is the translation from Chinese words. There are two types of Tui Shou, the Fixed Step and the Moving Step. I write about Fixed Step Tui Shou.
Fixed Step Tui Shou is the most focused form of Taiji interaction. While moving around, it is still possible to compensate failures of relaxation, centering and grounding through quick movement. With a fixed stance, it is not. In Fixed Step Tui Shou, we pure down to the very essence of Taiji.
There are also two different ways of practicing Tui Shou. One is called Pattern Tui Shou, the other Freestyle Tui Shou. As the name says, Pattern Tui Shou works with patterns - short, repetitive movements that are so long repeated until they are internalized, or as I would say, become a habit. Basically, it teaches: "If someone attacks likes this, react like that. If someone pushed like this, do that." Pattern Tui Shou is a. programming of the body-mind, what comes out of it is a programmed response. (The word body-mind describes the unity of body and mind in a centered Hara.) This makes sense as it replaces responses that are not appropriate in
a healthy, dynamic interaction (as resistance, or counterattacking during an attack, for example), with a response that is more appropriate. Freestyle Tui Shou goes the other way: The body-mind is given permission to flow with whatever comes in whatever way as long as it stays centered and relaxed. This way, the body-mind is able to unfold its own wisdom. There are no programmed responses and it is therefore not predictable. My way of learning and teaching Tui Shou is basically the free style.
Fighting and consciousness?
When I introduce Tui Shou in a Taiji class, people often say: "But I don't want to learn to fight. I just want to have some peace here". Then I tell them that how to break someone's nose or arm, or even to kill someone is taught through the peaceful movements of the form, because every movement has one or even more fighting applications that can be used if needed. Now, with Tui Shou, we learn how not to fight in an interaction where someone attacks us and still remain unharmed, relaxed and centered. Tui Shou has no fighting intention. It is a deeply peaceful spiritual discipline.
What we learn in a rather physical way has its effects on every level of our being. So as we learn Tui Shou, we also learn to deal with energies on a verbal level, for example, or a pure energetic level. The way of moving is easily translatable into the way of speaking and listening to someone: Do I block, resist, or give up immediately? Am I able to receive information or a verbal attack fully, root it into my being and, if appropriate, give it back without hard or invasive force? When somebody talks to me, can I get the essence, the center, and interact on that level so that no resistance is given or needed? Can I speak from my center and bring my partner into his center through simple resonance?
The beauty in this is also that it is not only an exchange of energy, but it is also creative. If someone attacks me verbally, I receive two things: the energy of the words, and the intention. The energy may be sharp and violent, but on a very profound level it is only energy. With this in my consciousness, I can receive it only as energy. Then, there's the intention that formed the energy. With practice I can become skilled enough to get the intention into my Hara, and as it arrives there, it neutralizes, it heals immediately. Then comes the creative part: What do I do with the energy and the healed intention? I am free to take the energy into my system and use it for myself (physically speaking: what is a push different than a massage?), I can root it into the ground, or I can recirculate it, that means give it back in a circular motion. And also, I can give the intention back, but now it is realigned, and what the person sent out with the intention to destroy comes back with the effect of healing. Wow! That's one of the true treasures of Tui Shou: I learn to receive the world as it is and to deal with it in a healing way. Not only during practice or a healing session - always, in every single moment. Tui Shou serves as a direct biofeedback system. We can talk a lot about how relaxed, centered and grounded we are. But as we get pushed of, it is no question that we are not; there is no 'but'. (Although, of course, it's still possible to deny the obvious. There is a story about a man who practiced Taiji for thirty years and pushed with the well known Taiji master and gifted teacher William C.C. Cheng. This man got pushed of all the time; he had no chance to stay on his feet. He finally asked master Cheng why he could get pushed of so easily. Cheng said: "Well, my friend, you are not relaxed." The man was sure that he was relaxed and didn't believe what Cheng said. Even though they went on pushing and he still was pushed of very easily, he kept denying the obvious fact that he wasn't relaxed.)
That's also why many people who do Taiji don't like the part of Tui Shou. It is not possible to pretend anything in Tui Shou. You are seen naked, without any mask and with no excuse. When you fall, you fall. You can't pretend you're rooted when you're not. Tui Shou is a direct bio-feedback-system that gives you immediate bodily feedback on the whole body-mind system. It shows on the physical level where there are blocks, where parts are not integrated and where they are, it points out gaps and leaks in the energy field as well as the full and strong spots, it brings patterns of behaviour to the surface, it shows the condition of intention (Hara).
Taiji is the merging dance of two opponent forces. The two become not-two. Like water flowing around a stone. The stone has its own uniqueness; the water has its own uniqueness. They don't loose their identity or their essence as the water follows its nature to flow and the stone follows its nature to stay, but in this very moment they become one of a bigger whole. The stone and the water are not the same, but they are not separated.
What I want to say is: We talk a lot about boundaries, so where are they in a merging dance where separation means that you don't succeed? There is a form of boundaries within unity. Or even: two. One describes the auric boundaries, the other one a completely different kind. The more you are rooted in the earth, the more you can expand your field of awareness. The more you can go down, the more you can go out. In Tui Shou, it is crucial how deep you can go into the earth. For three reasons: the deeper the roots, the deeper your partner needs to go to uproot you. And, the deeper you go, the more you are able to expand, which means, you can wrap yourself energetically around your partner, and he's not able to push you any more. The third reason is that the deeper you go, the more energy you get from the earth, which makes you fuller, more aware, more sensitive. The more energy you have, the more you can feel the energy of the partner.
This all happens on the auric levels. The crucial point is rooting. As long as you are rooted you have your boundaries.
The second level is the one of the Hara. Hara is not only a state of being, it can be used as a defence where feelings are avoided, but it is also a form of boundary. Being in the Hara is being in your very middle, is being in clarity, and is being in a state where it is very difficult to be harmed at all. If an opponent wants to push you off when you are in this state, he needs to break your Hara-Line. Now, with practice, it is possible to make this Hara line at the same time stronger and thinner. It gets dense and denser until it almost dissolves, but it is extremely powerful.
It is hard to get a real idea of the Hara as a boundary, because we are used to think of a boundary as something out there that doesn't let things in. But the Hara is not really "out there". It works different. The Hara gives me the ability to blend. What isn't separated but fully integrated can't hurt. What is dancing in the great circling dance of Yin and Yang does not find resistance. And it needs resistance to hurt. (Remember: It is not the falling that hurts, but the arrival on the ground.)
So let's have a look at how a strong Hara gives me the ability to join a dance where boundaries are not out there, but the dance itself is the boundary.
There are basically four kinds of energies in Taiji. Three of them are Yang, outwards going, one is Yin, receiving, neutralizing. The way of learning Tui Shou is basically the way of learning to receive energy and neutralizing it. The Yin-aspect is emphasized because it needs the most relaxation, rooting, alignment and so on. As the Yin-aspect unfolds, the Yang-aspects - projecting and releasing energies outwards - are enhanced with them almost automatically.
Let's use our imagination to look at an attack and how it is possibly neutralized in a Taiji-way. We'll do it in slow-motion to have the time to look very closely. The person who is neutralizing goes through five different stages:
Center: The push comes. I see it coming. I feel it coming. I center mind and body, for both is crucial. I drop my energy very low. I bring everything together and in alignment. I connect the three Dantian along the Hara-line. I am connected with my wholeness. I need my wholeness to meet what comes, since I don't know what it is that comes. I need everything I have to meet the other person authentically. Centering means to be authentic. No more pretending. Pretending won't work. Centering is gathering my wholeness on the line that connects everything. It means to become fully present. I am ready. I am Yin. It can come, the Yang.
Open: I open my energy-gates, open the joints of the body, the meridians, and the chakras, open the charge of energy from the earth, and open my awareness. It is like inhaling. Everything becomes alive. The Yin is full, it is alive. The Yang comes closer.
Expand: I expand my field of energy; I expand my field of awareness while staying complete and centered. I may physically expand an arm to meet and join the arriving arm. My arm says a wholeheartedly welcome! To the other arm. I don't grab it, I just connect. My arm is connected to my center, physically and energetically. It expands by opening up the whole body even more. By touching I get more information about the partner's intent. I may adjust posture to be able to be turned by the incoming force like a wheel around the Hara.
Blend: The arm comes even closer. My arm now has the same speed. With my gentle touch, hardly to be felt by the partner, I have a connection that allows me to connect my center with my partner's. What was two becomes one. I guide my partner's arm with my center and therefore move his center. We start to dance. Now creativity unfolds. I can root the incoming energy. I can transform it. I can give it back in a circular movement. Or my partner changes -quality, direction, whatever. The arm may touch my torso. I dance with it. It is like a part of my body.
Integrate: After the dance has finished, I honour it. There is something to learn in it. Always. For both parts. I integrate it by becoming still. It is the stillpoint of the interaction. Integration can last very long, since Tui Shou happens on all the levels of the auric field, the Hara, the Essence and the body. Especially in the beginning of my practice, integration of some interactions took place for as long as three weeks. It happens very holistically. And the dance goes on.
The little difference: Moving the c from two to one – from reacting to creating
Commonly, in Tui Shou and in every day life, we find three kinds of reaction. The first one is resistance. It is very common to resist change. Everybody who starts Tui Shou needs to deal with that in the first years. It is deep in our system to resist something, coming from the outside or the inside. When we push someone who's resisting, it feels like a rock.
The second is being the victim. Once we let go of resistance, there is nothing else. Tui Shou students then change from too hard to too soft. With it, they also let go grounding and centering. They are floating in empty space - and therefore can be pushed very easily, and, since they have no ground, and can't push (try once to push when you're floating in empty space). It is like pushing a balloon filled with air.
The third common reaction is denying. People stand there as if nothing would happen, and people fall as if nothing had happened. It is like pushing a statue or a vase.
All the three reactions come out of a split. Reaction is an in time shifted action to an action that happened before. As soon as I re-act, I am not present any more. As soon as I react, it means duality, there is no oneness with the partner anymore, and he can manipulate me whatever
way he wishes, because I will always in a certain way re-act to his action. What happens is depending on him.
As my partner pushes me, I let him push without re-acting anything. It doesn't mean that nothing happens, but I blend and merge with the energy and let the moment unfold out of this unity. This is a direct action, not a re-action.
There are two aspects to reaction: reacting to something, and reacting something. Instead of re-acting to another person or to circumstances our own past or a pattern we copied from someone/somewhere, we learn to act.
Here we also see the big difference between the 'western' and the 'eastern' way. Psychotherapy mainly focuses on the "re", the past, in order to enable us to act appropriate in the present. Tui Shou works on the "acting", the present, directly, and dissolves the "re" with it. So it is a completely different way of working with oneself.
In psychotherapy, we go through the auric level and then, if at all, into the Hara. In Taiji and all the Inner Martial Arts, we start with the Hara. As it begins to stabilize, connect, realign and strengthen, the energy starts to build up as in a pressure cooker. Once there is too much energy for it to contain, the steam spreads out, the energy flows into the auric level and does clear, charge and realign on these levels as well. These, of course, are two completely different processes. Psychotherapy eventually leads through the chaos to the center, while the 'eastern way' starts in the center from where we explore the turbulences.
The dissolving of the "re" into presence is part of what the Daoists call Wu Wei. Wu Wei has no real translation in English (or any western language), which is a clear sign how unfamiliar and hard to understand it is for the western cultures. Wu Wei is translated for example as "action through non-action", "non-action in action", or, as I prefer, "acting through allowing" or "acting through being".
To understand this, we need to grasp an idea of non-action, allowing and being in relation to interaction. Usually we associate with it lack of intention and energy, a state of numbness and powerlessness, of giving away one's power to someone else, of loosing control, of a lack of will and so on. But there are powerful states of being, where nothing is done, but a lot achieved.
And so it is with Wu Wei, which is just another name for one of these states of being. It is a state of being in the Hara. But it is in no way static, it is joining and dancing, flowing and dynamic. It is through Wu Wei that we achieve not-twoness.
Wu Wei is being with or in intention. Unfortunately, and this is another aspect why it is hard for western people to understand, we associate with intention a goal, something we do, something we need our will for. But in the Hara, there is no will. The will exists on the auric level.
Will is "being" projected into the future. I want something to be different in the future and I use will to make that change happen. The English language is of great help here. Or shall we consider it a simple coincidence that the word "will" also means the future of to "be"? Now, the Hara-level is beyond time, beyond future, and therefore beyond will. So the Chinese word for intention, Yi, describes more a state of awareness.
In Taiji we learn to direct energy by focusing our awareness. This is the Qigong aspect of Taiji. This is the level where we direct the quite dense, almost physical energy called Qi
through our body, which increases health and aliveness. Yet there are other levels as well.
True intention does exist alone, and doesn't need any additional energy to cause changes in the world. The physical expression of this can be found on very high levels of Taiji. As we learn Taiji, we learn to direct energy with our intention (and not our will, as beginners try).
On high levels, we learn to use intention without adding energy. Highly skilled Taiji masters are able to push someone with very little, hardly visible movement, and the person literally flies very fast and for many meters. (Of course this is not the goal of Taiji but a side-effect, although I know many people who practice Taiji for achieving such skills. Nevertheless it is a
great demonstration of the power of intention). To set an intention means to put the boat on the river. Once the boat is on it, nothing needs to be done. We will get there.
The Dao De Jing describes it this way:
Act without doing, work without effort.
Rushing into action, you fail. Trying to grasp things, you hose them. Forcing a project to completion, you ruin what was almost ripe.
Therefore the Master takes action
by letting things take their course.
He remains as calm
at the end as in the beginning.
He has nothing,
thus he has nothing to lose.
What he desires is non-desire;
what he learns is to unlearn.
He simply reminds people
of who they have always been. (64)
In the pursuit of knowledge,
every day something is added.
In the practice of the Way of Flowing,
every day something is dropped.
Less and less do you need to force things,
until finally you arrive at non-action.
When nothing is done,
nothing is left undone.
True mastery can be gained
by letting things go their own way.
It can't be gained by interfering. (48)
Stephen Mitchel, who translated the Dao De Jing, gives also the following comment:
«Nothing is done because the doer has wholeheartedly vanished into the deed; the fuel has been completely transformed into flame. This "nothing" is, in fact, everything. It happens when we trust the intelligence of the universe in the same way that an athlete or a dancer trusts the superior intelligence of the body. Hence Lao-Tzu's emphasis on softness. Softness means the opposite of rigidity, and is synonymous with suppleness, adaptability, endurance. Anyone who has seen a Taiji or Aikido master doing not-doing will know how powerful this softness is.»
It is from this point of dissolving reaction that creation can unfold. What I learn through Tui Shou is how to create my life instead of reacting to circumstances. As long as I try to catch happiness, I won't get it. Because I re-act. Happiness, fulfilment, truth, mastership, can't be found in the past, but only in the present, in the now. They all are a creating, never ending and always unfolding process.
Embrace the Tiger and Return to the Mountain
There is a movement in the Yang Taiji Form that is called Embrace the Tiger and Return to the Mountain. It has always meant a lot for me. It means finding one's power and internalizing it. Many movements have such poetical names. Some explain that with the preference of the Chinese for poetical expressions. But, as many people are not aware of, Taiji has its source in shamanism, and there is a great shamanic fullness in the Taiji movements and Qigong postures. We can understand (and with understanding I mean holistically, not only mentally) each movement and each interaction on different levels - the level of the body, the level of Qi, the shamanic level, the psychological, the spiritual, the relational and many more. Once we really open ourselves up to a simple Taiji movement or to a deep interaction, it becomes a door to dimensions far beyond anything. Taiji becomes a journey without an end. It becomes a way, a path, and a discipline.
Everybody is different. Everybody pushes different. With Tui Shou, I get in physical and deep energetic contact with hundreds or thousands of people. I learn about them, and most of all, I learn about me in relation to them.
In Tui Shou, we open ourselves to the world and learn how to dance with. We don't start to argue how the partner should be pushing. In terms of learning to push and in terms of the principles of Taiji, there are definitely many "wrong" ways of pushing, but there is no "wrong" way to get pushed. The wrong way would be to start to argue about it instead of dancing with it. Can I still relax while people get nasty, aggressive, egoistic, tricky, use external force? Can I open myself to whatever comes, blend with it, guide it, and integrate it? Or do I resist, become tense? In Taiji, nothing is ever blocked. There is no "no". Can I say yes to an attack?
Even a psychopathic attack is energy. Can I blend with it in a way to receive the energy, whatever form it takes, root it, transform the fiery intention behind it and give it back through my heart as love? Who wouldn't consider this an art? And that's for me why martial arts are martial arts, not because the movements are so artistic.
In order to cause a change in the world, we need to merge with it. We can't change it from the outside. We can't change it with a "no".
We open ourselves to the world as it is in the present moment and learn how to dance with it in a genuine healing way. That makes Tui Shou a deep, most peaceful spiritual discipline.
Again and again I am amazed how deeply resistance is settled in our individual and collective system. I find it in myself and around the world in almost every body I pushed with. On the level of humanity, I ask myself questions like "What is it that humanity resists against collectively?" "Why does humanity resist?" And over and over, also in my Healing practice, I find that people (or even peoples?) use a lot of energy for two things: trying to let go and resisting relaxation. It is like two opponent forces that bang into each other constantly with their heads front to front; and all that would need to be done would be to stop these two
We can't force to relax. We can't try to flow.
We fall into being.
In the end, there is no path.
It happens or it doesn't.
Meanwhile, I enjoy Tui Shou.
I find in it so much I love in live - movement, expansion, unity, emptiness, humility, integrity, kindness, trustfulness, stillness, patience, detachment, instinct, simplicity, guidance, empathy, nurturance, interdependence, yielding, joyful laughter, spontaneity, sharing, a centered heart, and much more.
And I am happy when as many people as possible enjoy it with me.