Sunday, February 10, 2008

Tacos, Beer, And Push Hands

Yang Chen-Fu in Classic Ward-Off Position

People react in various ways when they find out you are a practicing martial artist. Some are curious and ask questions. Some keep their distance and never talk about it.
Now, I have to say, I live on "The Island Of Lost Boys", a rural "Never-Never-Land" of guys that have arrested development from their skateboard era, and others that work hard labor in the field and construction industries. Beer-fueled rowdiness is the name of the game. I've been at parties where someone will come up and grab you around the neck and see how you react, and events like this can be interesting opportunities to try out a spontaneous technique or two.
Such was the case at the last Super Bowl party I was at. Our local tavern hosted a gig with free tacos, hot wings and the works. I personally have no interest in football. I didn't even see one play of the game, could care less. But free tacos?
At some point, I walked to the restroom to make room for more beer. I washed my hands, opened the door, and was looking back at the wastebasket as I tossed the paper towel away. Little did I know, a big dufus guy I know was waiting for me outside the door. He yelled and jumped toward me, to see how I would react I assume.
Naturally, I was startled at first. I felt myself draw back, puting some space between us. But then, in a completely natural and unrehearsed manor, my right arm rose into the Tai Chi Chuan "peng", or "ward-off" position, against his chest. My left palm was directly below the ward-off, pushing against his belly. At that instance, I had siezed his "center", and began pushing him backwards. As he flailed his arms trying to regain his balence, I slightly re-positioned and steered him directly through the door and into the WOMENS restroom a few paces away. The bar erupted in cheers and the beer flowed.
There were several things I learned from this experiance:
First, If this had been an unfamiliar bar, it could have been someone blindsiding me (which happened once before) or whacking me with a pool cue. On friendly turf, I had let my guard down.
Second, practicing push-hands gives you a distinct advantage in beer-fueled shoving matches.
But most importantly, I realized how we react to this as described by my Tai Chi Chuan instructor, Michael Gilman. At first, when startled, I pulled back slightly and sunk into my lower dantien, in the lower belly. Gilman teaches this is where our animal instincts reside, our raw reactions are centered there. Then, I raised my arm into ward-off and made contact. This is where the energy has moved into the heart dantien, our interaction with others resides there. And finally, when I realized I had fully siezed his center, the energy had risen to my dantien at the third eye location in my forehead. This is where our intelect and spirituality resides.
Amazingly, I actually felt the subtle transitions between these stages of energy and contact, something I may have experianced before, but did not rationalize. I'm still mulling it over, and it may change the way I approach my practice.
And finally--
Lesson learned: Never let your guard down!

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