Classic Ideas in Modern Formats
Dale Napier, Writer
Taiji in Your Life #2
Get in Touch: Making a Connection
(C) 2004 Dale Napier
This time I want to discuss making a connection. From there the next installments will discuss sticking/persistence and continuous movement. All are closely enough related that it is difficult to discuss one without the others.
Making a connection is one of the more subtle requirements of taijiquan. You cannot see it happen. You can only experience it by feeling it. Only when sensing your opponent's center can you make a move against the opponent. Ironically, once the connection is truly made, moving against the opponent is little different from moving with the opponent. Yin and yang, the opposing dynamics of taijiquan, thus rule passively as well as actively.
In karate one might "make a connection" by punching or kicking an opponent, but in taijiquan a connection is required before an attack can be successful, or even appropriate. Thus the karateka is making contact, but not truly connecting. To truly connect, you must be mix with and be aware of the opponent's center as much as your own; to feel it is much as your own. In this way, control can be gained over both, and the opponent moved as desired. If one moves without making the connection, it will be (literally) like running into a wall. Chances are you will bounce, hard.
Some of the most accessible examples come from the many worlds of politics. As a teenager and young man I muddled endlessly in politics, mistakenly associating politics with the arena of ideas, not realizing there is a tertiary connection at best. Time and time again, I or others would run for an office based on the "good ideas" we had to make the world a better and more just place to live, at least as we perceived it. Time and again, we lost.
Eventually I came to realize that I must either abandon such quests, or radically modify my outlook: ideas do not vote, people vote. Tip O'Neill, the late Speaker of the House of Representatives from Massachusetts, made famous the phrase that "all politics is local". He was saying that politics connects with people.
Any bookworm can connect with ideas. A successful politician connects with ideas only to the extent that they connect with people. In that respect politics is a worthy, not ignoble, activity.
Say what you will about his morality or policies, Bill Clinton is a master at connecting personally. Many attribute his electoral success to his ability, his eagerness, to connect in a way that truly made his subject feel cared about ("I feel your pain"). By the same token, the electoral failures of most recent presidential contenders-Michael Dukakis, the first President Bush, Al Gore, John Kerry-can be traced to their inability to relate to the common man. President Bush's win last year can be seen as largely due to his ability to connect.
This is true not only in electoral politics, but virtually every type of human interaction. What is "office politics", but the attempt by people to advance themselves through personal connections? Any family with large monetary stakes has internal politics as well-as does, for that matter, any family without monetary stakes. The connection to the heart is the most powerful of all.
Taiji Exercise in Making a Connection
To best experience a connection, apply a taiji movement in an exercise with a partner. There are many ways to experience a taiji connection, but in this case, have your partner stand sideways, left side facing you. You are going to work on play PiPa.
Prepare yourself by taking a right front stance in the general pose of play pipa on the right side. To get a proper connection you must observe all of the taiji essentials: crown up, chin in, relax and hollow chest, raise upper back, relax arms, loosen waist, relax tan tien, and so on.
Once prepared, lightly extend the upper leading (right) arm so that you touch your partner's upper arm, below the shoulder, to the middle of your outer forearm. You must maintain intention not only in the leading right arm, but in the lower left arm as well: extend out into infinity through the lao gong of each palm. Stand erect. Look beyond, not at, your partner as you project your qi over him/her.
As you extend through your palms, you should feel the connection take root. Describing this feeling is as difficult as feeling it for the first time, but you are striving to feel your opponent's center. Feeling the center tells you where your partner is and what his/her intentions are.
Done correctly, this is sufficient for obtaining a connection; by no means is it sufficient for controlling your partner's center. In fact, a skilled partner will make the connection first and feel your own unsuccessful attempts.
If you can connect with the center and control it, you may discharge and eject your partner by completing the shearing movements of play pipa. The pressure of the connection increases gradually, but unrelentingly, until the partner literally "pops" out of position. Done correctly, you should be able to discharge and move your partner completely across the room with minimal effort.
Life Exercise in Making a Connection
Just as in taiji, you may make a connection without dominating. Hopefully you desire a connection with a person not to dominate or injure, but to create a bond that will benefit both of you through the richness of your humanity.
This bond may be created in giant steps or baby steps, but in either case it starts by creating a connection. The strength of the connection in the future lies in your efforts to cultivate it.
This exercise requires that you mix with a group of people you do not know. This can be a party, an away-from-home business meeting, any number of events. This exercise is most challenging if you find a group of people that you do not knowingly have anything in common with-a "blind" business networking group for instance, where you are a guest.
Your goal is to find a person-preferably a lot of people, for practice-who is a total stranger, and make a connection with that stranger. Do not expect to create a close personal bond, but you should endeavor to create a connection strong enough that a move toward a closer personal bond is a reasonable possibility.
How do you talk to a stranger? This is the lesson I was taught over a period of thirteen weeks, some years ago, in a Dale Carnegie course. The elements are simple, but as with taiji, you must have the intention to make a connection before it is possible to do so. That means, do not be shy! After all, taiji may be gentle in its own way, but it is hardly shy.
Approach a stranger. Who should you approach? To make this a truly effective exercise, rule out everyone who looks physically attractive to you. Pick someone that you do not feel even a distant connection to prior to meeting. That is not a requirement, but it makes the exercise more challenging.
To make a connection, you must find something that is near and dear to your target's heart, and get him/her to talk about it. It is that simple-and if meeting strangers puts you off, it is that difficult. Push the envelope, if necessary. Create new intention for yourself through sheer willpower.
How do you find what is near and dear to that person? There is a long list of possibilities. As you ask questions, look for two things. You want to find a subject that seems to make your target simply light up with enthusiasm. Once found, pursue that line of discussion as far as possible or reasonable. You also want to find opportunities to create a connection by talking about your own activities and experiences that are similar to those being discussed by your "partner".
It can go something like this:
Introduce yourself by name, and get your soon-to-be-new-friend's name.
Ask what brought him/her to the affair. Is it a first time? If so, why is the person there and what is he/she expecting to get out of it?
If not a first time, why is your partner there? What value is there in these meetings?
From there, segue to a discussion of your partner's work. What does he/she do? How does it connect to the event, if at all?
If that topic does not resonate, move on to any of a series of topics near and dear to most people's hearts: do you have kids? do you have a pet? have you traveled lately? been on a vacation? Any of these can lead to a long and enthusiastic conversation.
Not everyone will open up readily or respond with more than monosyllabic replies, but making a connection in taiji can be pretty difficult as well. Each requires intention and persistence to make a connection.
In both taiji and throughout life, making a connection is a critical matter. In either case, making the connection is an intimate process, albeit in much different ways. You may improve the effectiveness of your taiji and your relationships with people by paying close attention to the quality of the connection.
Intention, discussed in the last article, and making a connection are closely related. It takes intention to make a connection. When you make a connection, the power of your intention is manifested. In the next article we will examine the importance of continuous movement and its analog to our lives.
This article was published in the
Journal of the American Yangjia Michuan Taijiquan Association, Winter 2004, Vol. 12, No. 2.