Pushing Hands – Absorbing
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When we initially sense incoming force in pushing hands we can use absorbing techniques to dissipate some of the incoming energy. The word absorbing in this sense is to absorb the incoming force, in a similar way to a shock absorber on a car. This does not mean to take the energy into your body but to move in the same way a shock absorber does, to move with the force. Moving with the force allows you and the force to become one; this can be described as joining with or following the force.
Joining with or following the force has an effect to neutralise it, bring it into void, in the same way that if two cars are moving along a highway, if they run into each other going in opposite directions then the energy is transferred between them. Even if they are moving in the same direction but at different speeds a large amount of energy will be transferred when they connect. But if both cars are moving at the same speed and direction even if they are touching bumpers there will be no energy transference between them.
In this way instead of resisting incoming force, if we instead join with it and follow its path, then this will have the effect of neutralising it. If we then follow the force until its end, that initial incoming force will dissipate, this is what’s meant by absorbing. There are many other ways of dealing with incoming force but for this article I will just be dealing with the technique of absorbing in relationship to tai chi. This is because absorbing is the initial means of dealing with incoming force as all techniques initiate with letting the force in and joining with it. At higher levels of skill this absorbing and letting in becomes such a small movement that it is hard to perceive with the untrained eye.
The Three Stages
Absorbing can be defined as containing three different stages, the stages are applied in a specific order and you enter into each one depending on the strength of the incoming force. These movements can be found and studied in your slow form as the movements contained in the posture repulse monkey.
The first stage is to let the force in; you do this not by collapsing your arms but by shifting weight from your front leg into your back leg. This then moves your whole body with the force and allows you to dissolve some of the force by moving with it. One thing to be careful of here is never collapse your arms as a way of moving back, always maintain a fist and thumb distance between your elbows and your body. To understand the proper stance that this is referring to please read the article called Tai Chi - Foundation as the body mechanics I am referring to are very particular to Wu style tai chi.
The very act of moving backwards with the force is similar to the cars I mentioned earlier, the timing for this is dependant on your listening skills, the techniques for developing these can be found in the article Pushing Hands - Listening. During this first stage of absorbing through shifting back, it is important to practice this so that you neither increase or decrease the pressure between you and your opponent, if the movement is correct the forces will become one and you and your opponent won’t feel separate in any way.
The second stage is to sink the force down, once you have shifted back as far as you can if the force is still incoming then you need to bring that force somewhere. You can do this by sinking the force into the ground, the initial feeling of shifting back is like a straight line, once this force is joined you can sink it, the sink is like adding a curve into the ground on the initial sink back. It then brings the force into the ground, this is reliant on a strong foundation in your posture, and it has the effect of lengthening the distance of the initial shift back allowing you to dissolve a larger amount of incoming force.
Sinking is partially a physical movement and primarily an internal movement, bending your back leg is the physical part but mentally you need to think deep down into the ground, this will have the effect of sinking your chi which in turn will sink their incoming force. The feeling is as if you knocked a stake deep into the ground using a heavy hammer or as if your feet had spawned roots like a tree that went deep into the ground. This rooting can be enhanced by breathing into the ground through your feet; with the correct feeling your lower body will feel very heavy.
The sinking of your chi has the feeling of water being siphoned, after the water is initially sucked down the hose it will draw all other water with it in a continuous flow, in the same way when you shift back and then sink down your chi, your opponents force will get sucked down into the ground.
The third stage is to step back, if your opponents force continues to come in you can step backwards to create more space. This stepping is the special type of stepping used in repulse monkey and it creates a link between the first two stages and the third. The important thing to do when you step back is that you step your front leg back and your back leg becomes your front leg. This means that you end up with you’re your weight on your front leg, not back, in the same position you were in at the beginning of stage one.
The reason for this is that when you step back there should be no change of pressure between the points of contact between you and your opponent. This retreating stepping when practiced can be done in such a way that your opponent will not even know that you have stepped back. This gives you the advantage as what you have done by stepping back is created space in which you can go through the three stages of absorbing again, and so the cycle can go on.
Using the three stages of absorbing you can dissolve any incoming force because of the distance backwards that you travel when applying them. Of course there are many other techniques that can tie into these that will make them more efficient but when studied and practiced within them selves you will come to understand how to maintain your balance when you receive incoming force. This will change the stability of your push hands practice, create a solid viewing platform and build the foundation for deeper techniques.
When practicing your push hands isolate these techniques, study them and see what they have to reveal to you. Shift back, sink down, step back, that is your circular mantra for absorbing force.
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This article was written by Stephen Procter, instructor from Tai Chi Health for Life, Australian College of Tai Chi & Qi Gong and Meditation Instructor from Meditation in the Shire, Kirrawee NSW, Australia. If you wish to post this article on another website or in a publication please respect the author and reference / link back to this website, thank you