Sticky Hands

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I Fu Shou - The enlightened hand

I Fu Shou is a section of T'ai Chi that fascinates every practitioner of the art, and brings to light powers that everyone possesses but very few people realize they have. That is why in some parts of China, I Fu Shou is sometimes called the 'Enlightened Hand'.

I Fu Shou is an exercise in which two people participate. Each person tries to upset the balance of the other whilst maintaining their own stability. Contact is through the arms and hands throughout the exercise. No matter what stance is adopted, there may always be a weakness in the balance of the body whether one moves left or right, backward or forward, upward or downward, and it is by taking advantage of these six directional weaknesses that the participants in I Fu Shou try to 'uproot' each other — to cause the other to lose their footing. The most difficult way to do this is to lift the other off the ground, but even this may be achieved provided that one has practised diligently and developed a faultless technique.

Sensitivity

Without a doubt, uprooting your partner by lifting them completely off the ground is the summit of achievement in I Fu Shou, but it is the heightened sensitivity that you develop by being in constant touch with your partner that is the chief value of the exercise. Slowly, and through constant practise, you will be able to tell whether your opponent is at all tense, which of their feet is carrying the most weight, and which part of the foot is experiencing the greatest pressure. You must also estimate the degree of pressure and even the direction in which it is being applied. Thus there is a lot of sensitivity involved, and through your training you will eventually be able to judge your movements so that you can succeed in uprooting your partner.

Once you have begun to acquire the sense of being in constant touch, the next step is for you and your partner to close your eyes and practise the same techniques. You will find that this greatly enhances your sensitivity. You will begin to understand what is going on inside your opponent's body, and this will increase your understanding of what is going on inside yourself — your partner becomes a mirror in which you can see your own reflection. If you dedicate yourself to this type of training you will soon find, even if your partner does not move at all the arm or the hand that is in contact with you, that you will be able to tell precisely how and in what direction they are moving (the other parts of their body. Ultimately, after a great deal of dedicated practise and expert tuition, you will be able to feel and fully understand the same sensations as your partner, without being in actual physical contact with them at all. This illustrates another important aspect of the ultimate objective of T'ai Chi is hyper-sensitivity.

Concentration

All aspects of T'ai Chi need dynamic concentration, so that the right and proper technique is used at the right time, and in learning this you will acquire greater mind control and a much higher level of mental and emotional consciousness. Through diligent practice you will soon notice a distinctive and marked change in your daily life. You will find that decisions become easier to make, that your reactions become quicker, that you will become more peaceful and relaxed within yourself, and that you gain a much greater control over your emotions. In addition, you will gain complete mastery of your own body and mind, and also develop a superb balance.

To make yourself fully receptive to the tiny muscular changes that take place within the body of your partner, you must first endeavour to relax completely, so that your faculties are at their sharpest. You must also give way to any pressure or force that your opponent may exert against you, no matter how slight or gentle it may be. Your sensitivity must be of such fineness that if a feather were placed on your arm, that arm would slowly sink down because of the weight of it. This is one of the golden rules of I Fu Shou — the power of being tenderly gentle, as delicate as a morning breeze but with the dynamism of a tornado and the force of a hurricane.

The path towards complete mastery

It now remains to describe some of the simple basic movements, and to outline the various stages so that you can find the path to the complete mastery of I Fu Shou. To begin with you will need a partner to train with, and to share the delicate situations that will arise when you start learning to feel and interpret the changes in touch. The two of you should stand facing one another, each with your right foot placed forward of your left foot and your body weight evenly distributed on both legs. This is the Snake Stance (She Shih), which is a completely neutral stance. Your right foot should be placed alongside your partner's right foot but not touching it; both of you should have your knees slightly bent and the body upright but without stiffness. Having adopted this posture, raise your right arm (your partner does the same) and hold it against your partner's, with the wrists lightly touching. This is the type of contact that must be maintained throughout your training session, although the actual point of contact will vary as you commence your movements.

Six points of weakness

As we have mentioned before, there are six points of weakness in every stance. These weaknesses can be very noticeable irrespective of the stance or posture that your partner may adopt during your progression in the arts. These weaknesses are (1) to the right, (2) to the left, (3) directly forward, (4) directly backward, (5) downwards, and (6) upwards. Both of you should endeavour to find these weaknesses, and having found them through touch, try to take advantage of them to upset each other's balance. In time, with more experience and advanced techniques, you will be able to uproot each other completely in all six directions.

Now let us assume that your opponent gently pushes forward towards your chest. Directly you feel the pressure, give way by slowly transferring your body weight on to your left leg, thereby moving your body weight backwards; as you do so turn your shoulders to your right. You will immediately notice that your partner is now pushing nothing, just the air, and in so doing is becoming more unstable in their balance. If you now gently extend your arm, you will find that you can topple them to their left.

Again let your partner push directly towards your chest, and now give way by transferring your weight on to your rear leg and turning to the right, but this time make a big circle with your right hand, first out to your right then inwards towards your partner so that their arm touches their chest or shoulders. You will find that you can now gently topple them to their right (your left).

You must keep your feet firmly planted on the floor at all times, so that you maintain a good balance and stability at all times. If you move one of your feet even the slightest to retain your balance, then you have been uprooted and your partner has won.

Points of contact

While you must keep in contact with your partner at all times, you can shift the point of contact to your hand or to a different part of your arm for instance by rotating your arm or hand around your opponent's. Provided that you do not lose touch, you can move your arm and hand in any direction — forward, backward, upward, downward, to the side — always with a view to exploiting your partner's weaknesses and uprooting them. Experiment a little and try every conceivable angle of contact, and when you have done this using your right arm, practise the same techniques using your left arm and hand and with your left foot forward (your partner doing the same).

Double weighting

Once you have fully mastered the techniques of using one arm and hand, the next stage is to bring both arms and hands into play. You will find that there are now enormous possibilities opening up for you, but there are also a number of golden rules which have to be adhered to and borne in mind. If you want to change hands at any time, make sure that one hand is always in contact with your partner. If you have both hands touching them at the same time, be sure not to let your energy flow out of them at the same time; this is called 'double weighting' (Shuang Chung), and it restricts the amount of energy that can be concentrated on any one object. It is better to let your vitality flow out of one hand or arm, while resting the other lightly on your partner. Similarly, you can shift your weight from one leg to the other, but do not allow your weight to rest on both legs at the same time. This is also double weighting; it could leave you exposed, and therefore much easier to uproot.

Stances and stepping

The next stage is to practise the same techniques from different stances. This is a difficult stage to master because you have to think simultaneously of your arm and hand movements, the advancement or retirement of your legs, the angles of your body, and the constant change of your weight distribution. To start with it is best to change the basic stance only by moving one of your feet forward or back a pace. Gradually you will find that you can incorporate more and more difficult stances and still achieve the same mastery.

The final stage, which can only be mastered with the help of expert tuition, is to learn how to uproot your partner completely by affecting their state of balance in such a way that you can lift them completely off the floor with your arm and hand techniques. To achieve this very advanced form of uprooting requires complete dedication over many years of practise, but it is within the realms of possibility for everyone. Anyone can throw a stone into a pool of water and cause a splash and many ripples, but your ultimate aim should be to throw your pebble into the same pool without causing even the slightest splash, even a single ripple. You can succeed given time, practise, dedication and strong mental control, so set your mind on the ultimate goal.

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The Chinese Art of T'ai Chi Ch'uan

by Chee Soo

Copyright ©Seahorse Books 2003 reproduced with permission