Monday, August 23, 2010

Training and Application

In response to the last post, Chris wrote:

"What do you think is the problem that push hands is trying to solve, and that is mostly solved with a stinging slap too?"

It's a good question, especially the way that Chris couched it, because very little in the world is about what is and much is about what we think stuff is.

So here goes, Chris. Both push hands and sticky hands, IMO, are sensitivity drills. They are designed so that if you get good you can touch your opponent (not just in sparring, but a real bad guy) or get touched by him and know, in an instant, where every joint and bone of his body is, where they are moving towards and where they are about to move.

The next step, and it may take longer than an instant of contact, maybe a quarter of a second, you are drawn to where his structure can be manipulated, whether it is strong structure that can act as a lever arm against his base or weak structure that can be folded.

That, IMO is what the drill is designed to do. That is the application. The drill becomes a thing in itself very quickly. A game played by its own rules no longer connected with a separate purpose. So people play at maintaining structure moving and disrupting one another's structure. And that's a fine skill too, but a very easy skill to remove from context.

Within the game, a quick, stinging slap destroys the concentration, and that, in most cases, shatters the person's structure. Because in the game, structure comes from concentration. If you are doing it right, in real life, structure is a habit and a sudden sharp pain will move you towards habit. It is separate from concentration.

Which may be why judo players have better structure under stress than tai chi players (again, IME)--when your thoughts focus on tactics while people are trying to knock you down, structure must become a habit. When structure is the focus of your thoughts, always conscious, it never digs into the older parts of the brain. Just a theory.

A lot of training drills designed to handle critical fractions of a second get abstracted and become games. If you think about it, the benefits I describe here for push hands and sticky hands are the exact benefits I try to draw out with blindfolded in-fighting drills. A little more consciously, a little more context-aware... but the basic purpose is the same.


9 comments:

Lise Steenerson said...

That is an awesome drill and it DOES achieve that purpose... IMO ;-)
It is a good thing to quit depending on your eyes only.

The Foundation Members said...

Hi Rory, to use the words of one of your Friends...It Depends...in Sticky Hands {Chi Sau} sensitivity is only a very small part of the story, especially picking the right type of sensitivity, many, many, many many people do Sticky Hands {Chi Sau} wrong simply by the fact that they both "Stick", this is not the aim of the drill, the aim is to find the weakness in your partners structure by imposing your "Intention" onto them, they end up in a situation where "They" either "Stick" to you and allow you the chance to manipulate them or get hit by the original intention or if they are good enough they turn the tables on you and try to enforce their intention. But as you noted often the Drill becomes a separate entity than the application, when this happens we really should stop calling it "Sticky Hands", it is this type of Bifurcation that leads to things like Chi Sau {Sticky Hands} competition and eventually to the degradation of the Skill. Sadly in the World of Sticky Hands {Wing Chun, Chi Sau} most of the people who teach do not truly understand. But hey, is this really NEWS?

Jay Gischer said...

I don't personally do a lot of judo. I have read judoka recently saying that they felt that something had been lost in judo - the sense that one could become a ghost - something which could not be caught.

I have pushed hands with one master who could, by his touch, make me feel like he was too far away. I couldn't reach him. He hadn't moved. This is touch not just as sensitivity, but as neurohack.

Push hands may not be the only way to learn this, but then, what is the right tool to learn it from?

Jay Gischer said...

By the way, this post is enormously helpful. Thanks for digging deeper.

Chris said...

Thank you for the clarification. There are so many people doing so many different things, and calling them all "push hands", that it can be difficult to know what one is talking about without the context provided either by a lineage, a video clip, or a long explanation.

I think you will be hard-pressed to find an art where practitioners are expected to spend more time rewiring their habitual subconscious structure, than in Tai Chi. Whether the average student actually rises to those expectations is another story, but the intent is clearly there, reflected by the emphasis on solo form work, and the strict requirements traditionally placed upon it.

Mac said...

We-e-ll; on the surface, push/sticky hands is designed to find weakness in your partner's structure. But it is REALLY designed to find the 'sticky' parts of your own structure - the areas (bone, tendon, ligament) where the 'chi' (energy) gets stuck; doesn't flow. To put it in terms a combat stylist is familiar with, if you hit someome with the weight of your arm, it can have some effect, but if you hit them with your weight behind the punch, the blow goes from annoying to damaging. Think Mike Tyson. Push hands (removed from it's original combat methodology) is about awareness of your own weakness and ability to project power (intention).

Scott said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Scott said...

I would normally argue that push-hands is a social activity designed to teach the physicality of non-aggression. But no doubt it has many forms and interpretations.

I'm willing to admit that no one ever attacks me, so I don't know if my stuff "works" in that 'taste of blood' sort of way. But I prefer to teach students to have superb structure before they even begin push-hands. I'm familiar with your way of practicing (I think) but I use push-hands to teach people to abandon structure and replace it with emptiness. The main reason for teaching push-hands to fighters is to teach them not to root! Like most things Chinese, you have to teach them how to root before you can teach them to abandon it.
Isn't rooted structure like freezing? Even if it only lasts a split second?
Also while sensitivity training has lots of applications in life, in fighting I think it is a bit overrated. If contact with the opponent causes them to collapse, they're in trouble, and if contact causes them to create structure then they've given me something to break and they are in trouble again. Whether they collapse or respond with structure, I can still apply the same techniques. If they neither collapse nor create structure then we are like too wild animals, and we see who is wilder.
I don't care much about my opponent's structure I care about their gaps in perception of space. For that I need to see, not feel.

Rory said...

That's an interesting comment, Scott, especially since this is definitely your area of expertise. It sounds like we use the words structure, rooting and emptiness but we mean slightly different things...or that in my world I see different values in them. In my world, rooted structure is not a freeze, but an instant in time where your body can do what a grounded spear can do to a charging boar. And seeing gaps is too slow once you learn to feel gaps.

Will I finally get a chance to meet you in SF in September? I still owe you a beer.

Rory