In the last post, we looked at a well-known secret on the easy way of getting good at taiji. However, there is also a not-so well-known secret that sits alongside it. And that secret is that a large proportion of taiji practice involves working with a partner.
Why Partner Work Is Important
You may recall from an earlier post, that our internal movement in taiji is expelling bad stuff (binqi) and bringing-in new good stuff. This action originates in the martial art of taijiquan. We neutralise our opponent's attacks by taking their force through our body and either sending it away or giving it back to our opponent. This isn't a trick you can learn overnight. It requires practice of the quality I described in last week's notes.
You need to explore what it feels like to become a conduit of an opponent's energy, to conduct and send that energy away, or to fold it back into the opponent. Through this exploration, you gradually become adept at doing it correctly without conscious effort. And by doing this, you become adept at the internal movement of taiji.
Perhaps the most well-known partner exercise in taiji is 'tui shou' (pushing hands). This is a fairly sophisticated, structured sparring exercise, where the partners are trying to cause one another to lose balance. Other, even more sophisticated sparring exercises, are 'da lu' and 'san shou', which also incorporate foot work. The only way to learn these things properly is through instruction and practice.
However, before we get to these partner forms in our classes, we need to spend some time learning some of the principles employed. We do this using 'sticking hands', 'two-handed yielding', and a basic form of 'ba gua'.
In practising sticking hands, we are learning to generally perceive our partner - their position, movements, energy - without using our eyes. Not only that, but we are learning to trust our perception. This is the beginning of our understanding of how to sense subtle movements and changes in our external environment.
In two-handed yielding, we up the ante slightly. In this exercise, we have a defender and an attacker. As the defender, we are learning to hide our centre of gravity, or 'root'. As the 'attacker', we are learning how to seek-out our partner's root, and thus cause them to lose their balance.
These exercises can really only be learned through live teaching, and they will are gradually introduced to students as they become more comfortable with the basic solo work.