I don't know if I will be able to duplicate feats like this myself one day, but I will be happy if I can obtain even a fraction of his skill.
Every time I've been fortunate enough to attend a Ben Lo workshop I've come away with many benefits. These benefits have been three fold. First are the corrections of specific postures, like how you hold your hand on "Diagonal Flying" or which way you turn your foot on "Repulse Monkey". Second are general corrections (or corrections that pertain to every posture), like "sink lower" or "bend hip joint". The third major benefit is getting to work with Mr. Lo on a personal level. To see and feel what correct practice of Tai Chi can produce in one's body over years of work. I've read about feats that high-level Tai Chi practitioners can perform but there is nothing like experiencing it first hand.
Many times after a round of holding postures Mr. Lo will allow us to rest and ask questions. During this Q&A session Mr. Lo will demonstrate how Tai Chi relaxation works to actually make you stronger. During this years workshop Mr. Lo had me attempt to bend his arm. He extended his arm with a slight bend at the elbow and instructed me to bend it. I took the inside of his elbow with one hand and his wrist with the other and proceeded to increase pressure. He resisted with force or external energy. It wasn't easy but I was able to fold his arm. This didn't surprise me because I outweigh him by fifty pounds and am more than thirty years younger. Mr. Lo then put his arm out a second time and asked that I try again. This time he relaxed his arm so I could feel the difference. At first I started with a moderate amount of force and slowly started to increase with more pressure. His arm wouldn't budge. I increased with more pressure, his arm felt even stronger. Mr. Lo said "come on, try", classmates began to chime in "try harder, try harder". I increased the pressure I was exerting to full force. I could feel my face flush and I didn't bend his arm even a little. I gave up. The more force I had used the stronger his arm felt to me, but the whole time he had kept it soft and relaxed.
I don't know if I will be able to duplicate feats like this myself one day, but I will be happy if I can obtain even a fraction of his skill. It gives me something to shoot for and shows it can be done with proper practice.
A lesson in holding postures…
Saturday morning of the workshop, we went through the first few postures. Ben recited his timeless message, relax. We start the form again. We're only at ward off left. Ben walks up behind me. I'm down as far as I can go. My legs are no longer warm. They're toasting. I'm holding what I believe to be the best ward off left to my capability. I feel two fingertips pushing straight against my middle back. I stumble three steps forward. My upper body snapping like a castanet, eyes bugging out and jaw dropping. What happen?
"That wasn't good posture," Ben gently scolded, "You weren't relaxed. Too hard."
He puts me back into the ward off. Sculpting my lower back to round out, bending my stomach, ever so slightly forward as he presses on my hip joints. My mind races to catch up with my body so I can comprehend and internalize the correction just made.
How is this different? I asked my self as I retrace these subtle changes to my framework.
Ben is now pushing against my back with his fist. "See, now you take the energy down through your left leg into the floor."
This was definitely a vast improvement. Yet, I wasn't quite sure what these changes were.
After the second round of holding postures. Ben lectured on the finer points of the five principles. "I tell you the five principles. You tell me you know them. I correct you. You know what you did wrong but you go back to doing the same thing. I cannot understand this." Laughed Ben. "Let me show you." he said as he pointed at me to come forward.
"Get down into bow & arrow stance." He instructed.
I settled into my stance trying to remember the basics, let alone the fine tuning Ben had done earlier. "Knees over toes, bend the hip joints, relax the tailbone," I went over in my mind. "tuck the chin, raise the occipital lobes, root thru the front foot, root thru the back foot, relax." Completing my check list, I once again felt sure I settled into a solid posture. Ben gently pushed on my back and as before, I flew forward.
Ben chided, "your not relaxed." He again positioned my hip joints and lower back. Then used his whole fist to push against my back. Now, my posture was able to channel his energy into the root of my front leg.
"Now get back up" commanded Ben. "I showed you proper stance. You know how to do the stance, so get back into the stance."
Following his order, I dropped back into the posture I thought he positioned me. Ben then used one finger to push against my back and got the same result: me, stumbling forward trying to regain my balance.
"I tell you; I show you; but you don't remember. Why is this?" Ben put me through the same exercise two more times with the same results. I my stance could be adjusted into a capable position. Yet, I couldn't duplicate the corrections to save my life.
NEXT…The Proper Stance