Sometimes I just want to tell people: I am disturbed by your lack of cooperation! So, let’s speak a bit about why cooperative Tai Chi techniques and applications are important – and how to practice in a good cooperative manner.
Tai Chi Chuan as a martial art is not based on individual techniques and specific applications. Instead, it is based on principles that could be expressed in many different ways. The principles could be described by words like adapting, following, blending and mirroring. “Energies” or refined skills as Peng and Lu are not techniques. So how do you practice them? Is it reasonable to practice them as “techniques”?
This is one of the reasons why many Tai Chi people completely reject the kind of practice that incorporates one person launching a punch while the other person do an exact respons. There are many reasons to agree with people who believe that this type of practice is artificial and can lead to bad habits, as well as as a wrong perception of fighting in general.
However there are also specific methods of using things as angles and leverage to break or control the opponent’s balance and structure, that need a very high degree of precision to work. If you want to develop the ability to understand and handle a more subtle use of angles and leverage, it is absolutely necessary to practice in a very precise and exact manner with a partner. This kind of practice demands a high degree of cooperation.
Many types of practice demands a high degree of cooperation. For instance, if you want to understand how to make a throw or a joint lock, you need the opportunity to practice the exact angles which will give the beast leverage and the best effect. For a throw or for a take down, you need to know how to step in and how close, and in what angle to apply pressure or pull. In a real fight, how will you ever be able to apply any technique if you don’t understand them in a precise manner? For sure, in a real situation, you might apply something in a different manner, in another way. But to be able to do anything more specific, you need to the angles and positioning where to apply force.
But here’s the problem: Many people just don’t want to cooperative. They don’t want to help others to succeed. I believe that there are many people who will never reach any respectable level in Tai Chi Chuan merely by their lack of ability to cooperate. Over the years, I have practiced with so many people, or rather tried to practice with many different people, who just don’t know how to – or even more common – don’t want to cooperate.
I remember countless of times in different martial arts classes when the partner didn’t understand what to do, or how to do something, or just didn’t want to follow a teacher’s instruction. I remember many different times like once in a Bagua class when we practiced a technique about how to handle an incoming kick. The so called “partner” would pull back the leg before I had any chance to step in. I guess that practicing how to grab, hold on to, or how to pull back a leg while kicking, could be good things to practice. But here, the task was to get a sense of how to hold a kicking leg, and step in to apply pressure in a certain manner on the opponent’s body and guide him to the floor.
Oh, I really hate this type of person who just don’t want to cooperate. And frankly, Tai Chi people are the worst of all martial arts practitioners I have met and studied with. They can handle cooperative push hands drills to a certain extent, but many people have a problem with anything beyond that. One problem is that they mostly don’t have any other kind of martial arts background, so they don’t even know how to throw a general punch.
And a part of the other problem is that many just don’t want to play a neutral “dumb” attacker. Instead they will try to use Tai chi methods to counter-counter the application and technique. This is the most obstructive a practictioner can do, both against others and against themselves, because they will never step outside of what they want to do for the moment and in that moment also close themselves to learn more.
Yes, you can see overly cooperative videos everywhere. When a teacher wants to give the impression that something overly compliant is “real”, then we might have a problem with it. It’s something disingenuous and deceptive about much what you see out there. But still, your own mind-set when you practice with others must be a cooperative mind-set.
But here is the thing: In my own experience, it’s always the people who know how to cooperative and help each other who will learn fastest, and have the best development in their overall Tai Chi journey. And they are in fact often the people who a teacher will be willing to teach more advanced things to. If you don’t want to cooperate and learn things in the specific way your teacher wants to teach, how can you ever expect your teacher to open up and be generous about what he teaches?
I would like you to know that, in fact, it is very often the students themselves who are the cause of different teacher’s reluctant attitudes and unwillingness to teach any more advanced stuff. You really need a humble approach and show that you are wiling to listen and to do what your teacher says.
I remember interacting with one of my own teachers who I have no contact with these days, and sadly in opposite roles. He would ask me things when I had been to seminars and summer camps, about what we did and asked me to show him. But soon I stopped trying to show him anything, just because of his own attitude. He always had a very dismissal attitude. More than to understand, he wanted to show how something didn’t work. He often complained that people could never show things they practiced in seminars. People were indeed reluctant to show him things. But I soon learned that it had to do with his own attitude and not with theirs.
And there are other reasons. Some people keep on to small things they have learned very hard, and treat what they know as treasures. They don’t like to show or tell others about what they have. They are afraid to test what they have learned on others, because the other person might learn something.
Their own selfish, greedy attitude is what makes them stop developing. I can see the same tendency in every aspect of interaction in the human society. Greediness, stinginess, pettiness, not being able to generous and not being able to give will always halt your progress regardless what you want to achieve in life. Regardless it’s about business, building relationships or Tai Chi, this kind of attitude will never lead to anything good.
So in Tai Chi, as well as in life in general, it is extremely important to attain a generous attitude, share and give what you have. A good way to show a good attitude and that you are willing to share is by cooperating, by cooperating with your classmates and with your teachers. And as a teacher, you need to have the same attitude to your students. Cooperate by giving good replies to their questions, showing them what they ask about and make sure that they, by your own actions, feel just as much respect from you as you want them to show you.