Cook Ding's Kitchen

Cook Ding’s Kitchen

Mental Traps in Taijiquan Practice

Posted: 03 Sep 2019 05:00 AM PDT

“Stop setting snares for yourself. Relax and see where it takes you.” -
Daoist Drinking Song

Below is an excerpt from an excellent post at Slanted Flying. The full post
may be read here.

…Since we were toddlers, we have trained ourselves to lean into, or
brace, against force. When first trying to push something, toddlers push
themselves away instead, ending in them seated on their diapers. Leaning
into the object allows toddlers to use whatever weight they have against
the object that they try to push. Our minds have therefore become
accustomed to replying to force by applying more force, and to lean or
brace when doing so.

But Taijiquan teaches the opposite; to avoid using force against force! We
train to issue force from the ground – from our feet, developed by our
legs, directed from our waist, expressed in the arms. In push-hands (推手
tui shou), interacting like a “butting cow” (顶牛ding niu) is considered
to be an error indicative of poor quality Taijiquan. Butting against a
partner or opponent reflects our lifetime habit (since we were toddlers)
of leaning and bracing, and resisting force with force.

We instead want to “receive” force into our “root” (into the ground). We
want to remain comfortable and aligned, and if we conduct incoming forces
downward (e.g., by bending our back leg) rather than bracing backwards
(e.g., straightening the rear leg), then the incoming force is more
aligned with gravity, which healthy human bodies are comfortable with due
to naturally “resisting” gravity every time that we stand.

We have habitual mental images of responding horizontally, pushing forward
and pulling backwards, instead of pushing/projecting up from, and
pulling/absorbing down into, our feet. The horizontal tendency is what
produces the “butting cow” posture during push-hands practice. The
“butting cow” loses the resiliency of the rear leg which stiffens instead.
One would then lose the quality of “loading the spring” (compressing into
one’s root – the ground) that is more appropriate for Taijiquan.

When one’s joints stiffen or lock in response to force (either incoming
from an opponent, or outgoing from one’s own issuing of force), the body
loses its changeability. We may appear stronger (at least in the one
direction that the force/resistance is directed towards), but we also
become less adaptable.

Taijiquan seeks to maintain changeability/adaptability even when under
pressure; we want to maintain the openness of our joints, like they are
well oiled and free to move, rather than locking/tightening them in place.

Many people when they want to bend lower or raise their leg higher for
example, try to use force or momentum to do so rather than trying to relax
more. This “try harder” or “do more” approach seems to be what humans have
learned to do rather than relaxing (doing less). Unless someone is taught
stretching or yoga, or something similar, the tendency is to bounce harder
and harder in order to force a greater range of motion.