Sensitivity (2)

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In partner work, there is no winning or losing, no end conclusion. Partnered exercise is a process, a way of exploring your tai chi, feeling how your body responds.
The role of the other person is not to compete with you, but to assist you. They are not cooperating, or making life easy for you. They are making you work hard, and this can be very helpful indeed.


Sensitivity exercises are not the same as combat drills. Rather than simply train habit patterns, the aim is to work in response to the ongoing actions of your partner.
You must be fluid, mobile and adaptive.

Pushing hands

This exercise teaches the body to relax and yield when it encounters force. Instead of using strength, students learn to apply pressure and yield like ice melting.
Accomplishing this skill fulfils one of the main precepts of tai chi which states that no more than 4 ounces of pressure must be applied or received at any time. We offer single and double pushing hands.

Pushing legs

This is akin to pushing hands but uses the legs at close range. It offers a creative means of really feeling your own leg and how it responds to your partner.
Balance, central equilibrium and timing are practiced.

Yielding basic skills

This is the umbrella name for a series of exercises designed to encourage a more comprehensive sense of your partner and where they are positioned relative to you.
Everything from basic balance training, to escapes and chin na are explored within these exercises.

Posture testing

When the loose structure is pressure-tested, the body may tense in resistance and contract. By tensing, the body amplifies the effect of any impact upon it.
In tai chi, this is not favourable, we learn to 'roll with the punch' instead. The muscles and joints must be loose and mobile at all times.

4 ounces exercise

This simple exercise is based on the Wang Tsung-yueh premise: A feather cannot be placed, and a fly cannot alight on any part of the body.
Instead of offering resistance, the student learns just how much pressure is required, and yields accordingly.


The ultimate sensitivity drill takes away your ability to think. You are forced to rely entirely upon touch and apply the syllabus creatively against the unknown.
There are a number of different melee scenarios in our curriculum.


If two students trained the 2 person form - and at the end of the set one student claimed victory - it would be absurd. Such an attitude entirely defeats the purpose of the exercise.
Tai chi partnered exercises (such as pushing hands) were not designed as a means of  competition. They serve to improve practice by enabling both parties to work on their own skills at the same time.
This is not a competitive venture.

Know thyself

Working with someone else provides valuable feedback about your own practice. It is not about them (the other person). It is about you.
You can determine whether there are any gaps & deficiencies in your training, and improve accordingly.

Sensitive to yourself

You can also explore your attitude, emotions and ego. And this may prove to be exceptionally insightful, if you care to pay attention to what is occurring.
Are you angry? Emotional? Afraid? Do you want to one-up your partner? Are you physically tense? Are you anticipating or going with the flow? Is there something you are seeking to prove?
Can you yield? Do you have peng? Are you sticky? Are you using force or jing? Are you soft and pliable or hard and brittle?

Releasing tension

How often do you truly relax? Do you consciously, deliberately let go of held tension in the muscles and joints, in the spine?
Shoulders, hips, elbows and knees are normally very tense in most people. The habit of tension is so ingrained that you are completely unaware of it; believing yourself relaxed despite being far from it.
To be sensitive to other people, you must start by being sensitive to your own body.

Constructive rest

If you want to feel your own tension and release it, constructive rest is a good place to start.
Then, during form and qigong ask yourself how you are making the movements, and feel for extraneous tension. There will be a lot.
Your inability to feel the tension does not mean that you are free of tension. It means that you are insensitive to the tension.

The ability to sense and control the 'soft' spot is also the basis of the idea stated in The Tai Chi Classics of 'deflecting a thousand pounds with four ounces'.

(Wolfe Lowenthal)

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Page created 9 January 1996
Last updated 16 June 2023