Be neither limp nor stiff

Jul 15, 2009 Be neither limp nor stiff


Because battle in court as well as everywhere else calls for being calm and powerful in the eye of the storm, I continue practicing t’ai chi daily, and joining many highly-skilled t’ai chi practitioners each Sunday morning at Carderock Park along C&O Canal in Maryland.

For me to advance in t’ai chi open hand and push hands/sensing hands practice — and hopefully advancing to learning the practice of t’ai chi sword, saber, and spear, where the weapon becomes an extension of one’s body — I must practice relaxation, among other things, twenty-four hours a day, in part because there is no better way to sense what is happening around a person and also because nobody can push a person who is as relaxed as water while being as powerful as a tidalwave. If total relaxation is all t’ai chi teaches me, that will be great for my physical, spiritual, and mental health, and will be appreciated by those around me. T’ai chi teaches more than that, though.

Legend has it that Chang San-Feng developed t’ai chi at least seven centuries ago after seeing a bird and snake valiantly fighting each other into exhaustion. Consequently, t’ai chi is not about limpness, which is of no help. Nor is it about stiffness, because anybody can push and even break a stiff, whether the stiff is alive or dead. The key is to be actively relaxed.

Last Sunday, as usual, each of us practiced push hands with several fellow t’ai chi practitioners. At one point, I was pushing with the main teacher, and he helped me focus on doing relaxed pushing, rather than limp or stiff pushing. He demonstrated the same on me, asking if I felt threatened by any of the pushes, and I only felt threatened by the relaxed push. The limp push does nothing, and the stiff push can easily be pushed back with little force.

When practiced correctly, t’ai chi also teaches patience, deep attention to what is happening and being said and to what is not visible or audible, and acting quickly to changing circumstances, because doing otherwise can be fatal.

Another highly skilled practitioner told me that any resistance to a push is the resister’s own responsibility. By resisting less, by learning to root into the ground, by relaxing and sinking, one makes it harder to be pushed successfully.

Curiously, before I even started practicing t’ai chi nearly fifteen years ago, I considered myself a modified pacifist. I felt, and still do, that self defense can be legitimately and reasonably exercised, but believe that too many people abuse weapons, fists, armies, and police power. T’ai chi helps make a fighter calm, and, therefore, hopefully more likely to use weapons as a last resort, not to abuse them, and to stop once the weapon is no longer necessary.

In court, many times I feel that opposing prosecutors and opposing witnesses are not fighting fair — whether intentionally or not — and that the judge is deviating too much from the clear dictates of appellate courts and the Constitution. T’ai chi helps me not to get upset at the situation, but instead to focus on harmonizing any imbalanced situation, whether it be putting in storm windows to protect against storms, not carrying a raw steak by a pack of wolves, or calmly, efficiently and persuasively arguing a point of law or fact to a trial judge who might not like my point, but who is stuck with the reality of the case or the appellate case decisions that are on my side. Jon Katz.

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