Practicing Push Hands with my practice buddies earlier today, I received an insightful suggestion: when I am being pushed and locked into a position where, seemingly, I have no other alternative but to use force to try and free myself (usually not a good idea in Push Hands as by doing so I broadcast my center to my opponent, thus exposing myself for a quick defeat,) rather than fight my way out, it is better to yield momentarily, allowing to be pushed in the direction imposed by the opponent, and then use his momentum to turn him around in a spiral move. This is not as simple as it sounds as our immediate instinctive response, when being pushed, is to resist and push back. A Tai Chi Push Hands player may spend decades uprooting the habit to respond with force, before reconditioning himself to yielding.
Using this idea, that it is better to manipulate the aggressive power rather than immediately responding to force by using more force, I cannot but notice its application in real life. Much like in Tai Chi, it may take a lifetime to master, but it’s well worth the effort. An example may come handy to further illustrate this.
Say a fellow employee bursts into your office, throwing accusations of your wrong-doing with respect to mishandling a work-related matter. Maybe he or she heard you spread a rumor about them, or maybe they suspect you took credit for work they championed. A typical response would be to push back – deny and attack. That would likely lead to an escalation, a crisis and a lot of bruised egos and feelings.
The Push Hands approach to handling this situation, would be to yield and then turn the force around itself. In the office scenario, it means, for example, start with an apology — a general one, not an admission of guilt. “I am so sorry this is the situation. I really feel bad seeing you so upset.” This part would stand for the ‘yield’ element. It is worth noting that in Tai Chi there is a clear distinction between being soft and being weak. We usually tend to think of these terms as one and the same but they are not. In our office example, sympathizing by means of an apology is being soft, whilst dropping to the ground and asking for mercy is being weak.
The first step (‘yield’), it should be stressed, is very brief; you do not allow the other person to respond. This is not a dialogue, but rather a calculated move. In Tai Chi it means the yielding is actually done at the hand level – a slight relaxation so to not broadcast your center, while sensing the other person’s direction of force. In Push Hands the next move would be to sink into the direction of the aggressive power, and then, using a spiral move from the waist area, redirect the opponent where you desire them to go. In our little office conflict, that first apologetic line, will lead immediately to the next, e.g. “how can we fix the situation?” With that simple question we are establishing that we are in this together. It is no longer you against me, it’s us.
As in Push Hands there is no one answer fits all; one response that is a formula for everything that may happen. There are endless moves, infinite possibilities, and one needs to pick the best available maneuver for the specific situation at hand. This takes vast practice and, in the process, a lot of frustration. Yet it beats repeating a solution that doesn’t work – not for individuals, nor for groups or nations: letting a small push lead to an all-out war.
Learned from: that extra little inward move before pushing back in Push Hands.