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I can tell you in 2 minutes what you need to do in order to cultivate the amazing benefits of tai chi practice. In those two minutes, I can give you all the tools necessary, all the movement and explanation for you, yourself, to go off and become a bad-ass tai chi master.

Here is the problem with doing that. I can tell you and I can show you and you will take what I say and attach it to what you know. Like: “In Cobra Kai Karate we do it this way!” Or: “So when you say “relax” what you really mean is…”
I am re-reading Scott Meredith’s translations of Li Yaxuan’s guide to push-hands. Here is a beautiful bit from the very beginning of the text:

{trans by Scott Meredith}
Push hands and issuing energy
“Before you actually make physical contact, assume an attitude of emptiness. With that established you can very lightly touch your partner’s hand. Once you have touched him, you must not move of your own volition. Think of this phase strictly as a means of training your sensitivity and awareness. Then you use your superior emptiness, awareness, perception, and sensitivity to engage your spirit in order to neutralize even his slightest intent towards movement against you, following and adhering without gaps or resistance. Under these conditions, his faults will unfailingly be immediately apparent to you and the opportunity to deal with his movement will spring naturally to your hands. At your merest whim, you will have him trying to seize the wind and grasping at shadows. You’ll have him toppling and swaying right and left, and he’ll have no chance to try anything against you at all. You body is completely soft and pliable, appearing to be boneless. No matter how your partner comes at you, you seem to be able to absorb or redirect everything, extending and retracting at will, using invisible changes to neutralize him. And when you counter, he will feel that your entire body has hands, all coming over him, leaving him unable to escape you. But the level of attainment I’ve described is strictly dependent on correct and diligent daily training, as well as meticulous development of the Tai Chi basic skills.”

Once you’ve read that – it sounds like it makes perfect sense! You can grasp the ideas. But how do you achieve that suppleness and presence? It’s easy to attach something to LI Yaxuan’s words – it means this, it means that, it won’t work in the Octogon, it will work if I do x-y-z. It’s slight of hand, its UNattaching!

Here – I will give you the secret to Li Yaxuan’s words. Practice. Practice with integrity and intent. When you practice your form, focus on the 5 principles – body upright, hips forward, relaxed, weight shift 100/0 and beautiful ladies hand. When you do standing practice. Practice each stance as low as you can while maintaining your physical integrity. When you practice push-hands: Invest in loss – push with people stronger and more relaxed than you. Get pushed around like a rag doll. Just do that. In other words – when you practice: Practice. And be honest. No one is an adept out of the gate. Cheng Man Ching would not teach Ben Lo more than the first 4 postures of his form for the first several months Ben trained with him – because he thought Ben had no talent!

But: It’s tremendously easy to cheat. To turn from your spine instead of moving the whole body as an integrated unit. To not sit as deep as you can in your legs and hips because it gets uncomfortable so quickly. To not check your weight to see that you are either 100/0 (no weight in one leg) or 80/20 (all weight in one leg, the other leg simply resting on the ground. To push with people smaller or weaker and to use strength. So – be honest – and remove each untruth as you train.

Here is the secret to Li Yaxuan’s words: Don’t attach to this outcome. Don’t read these words and think you have or can achieve this. Don’t achieve it. Just practice. When you practice your form – practice your form. Do not Unattach either. Do not look the other way and try and sneak up on achievement. It did not work in Bugs Bunny cartoons, and it will not work here.

Gradually, with daily practice (as little as 5 minutes a day!) you will make it your form. Your body will express it in its true state for you. You have to chip away at the rock. Take off large chunks of your personal cruft; your beliefs and attachments and HAVE TO’s. Take away what you believe you know and take away your ignorance until you are simply left with faith. When you are left with faith – the simple desire to match your mind’s eye to what is inside the stone – then you can start to shape your tai chi.

Then it’s just practice.

At first, you will feel: The exertion of power. Muscle building and discipline shaping your body. As you work through exhaustion and some frustration, you will find that the form starts to move with economy. That your arms are the way they are because that’s how the movement is expressed. You will start taking the external – knee over toes, waist forward, back upright, left hand extended forward and in front of heart, right hand low. Weight split 80 percent in the front leg, 20 percent in the rear…You will take the external and make it internal. Those things – those components are as they are because that is the shape of the energy you are expressing.

When the form becomes internal, then you can notice the paradox – the schizophrenic nature of tai chi: Putting your mind into your hand and foot, but nowhere else? MOVING your attention and intention from dan tien into arms and vice versa. How can I do push hands if I am not invested in winning? HOW?

Just practice.

When we all begin tai chi practice, our teachers give us huge corrections for the tiniest things – Stand up straight. Bend in your hips more. RELAX. We struggle to hold the form and to take the correction. Sinking an inch feels like sinking a foot. We invest tension into the correction. We exert ourselves to be right. Then, if we are lucky, the teacher throws us around a bit. Bounces us off a few walls, shakes our hand and says “good job.” We race to “get it” – to understand. And we come in to the next class and the teacher says “stand up straight. Bend in your hips more. Sit lower. RELAX”….

It’s not a race. Just practice.

Over time, our teachers give us the tiniest corrections for the hugest things: Think about your feet instead of your hands. After years, your teacher can touch your spine or your hand in such a way that a whole new vista appears – what you thought was the horizon is only a plateau. You will feel massive benefit from just the simplest expression.

But you have to practice.

When I started Sidgl, it was simply a dream to make something functional and beautiful. To somehow combine my painterly and printerly disciplines into something new. I did not know how to sew. I didn’t know how to thread a zipper. I knew nothing about sewing machines or thread or needles. I had two benefits when I started: I knew what it took to make something at a very high level of craftsmanship and I had faith.

The rest is just practice.

–Ben Trissel

About Ben Trissel

Ben is the Founder of Sidgl, 4th generation craftsman and designer that believes in thoughtful design, sustainable manufacturing and functional beauty. Sidgl makes handcrafted bags that are designed to look good, feel good and above all function well.

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Our Designs combine function and durability into a timeless style. Sidgl uses old world craftsmanship as a model for sustainable manufacturing. –Ben Trissel

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