Engaging the opponent

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Aug 04, 2009 Engaging the opponent

At this past Sunday morning t’ai chi practice, one of my push hands partners talked of the need for a push hands player to engage the opponent and to connect with the opponent’s tan t’ien, which generally is the point near the navel where t’ai ch practitioners are taught to sink their ch’i, their minds, and their very centers, with one of the many benefits being that an opponent has more trouble finding any center against which to push.

The more I practice t’ai chi  open hand and push hands/sensing hands, the more I fully accept t’ai chi’s teachings to be simultaneously alert, calm, relaxed, soft and substantial at all times; and to quiet the mind of unnecessary noise. In t’ai chi and all other physical fighting situations, in court, and in the world in general, we do not always know where, how, and from whom the next attack on us will come, whether it be a vicious attack — or even ambush — from an opposing lawyer or opposing witnesses; a seeming attack from a judge who might instead be getting cranky, impatient, or incredulous; or an attack from a non-human source that therefore has no ill will, including disease, hurricanes and other natural disasters, and attacks from non-human animals. Only by my being alert, calm, relaxed, soft and substantial at all times can I best neutralize any such attack. It is one thing to deflect or neutralize a fist coming at one’s nose, but quite another thing to do the same with a rock being thrown to the back of one’s head. It appears to be beyond lore that many of the most advanced t’ai chi practitioners have repeatedly neutralized attacks from behind and even while sleeping, through exercising such a high state of alertness, calmness, relaxation, softness, and substantiality.

Additional lessons I learned in this past Sunday’s t’ai chi practice include:

– Because attacks from opponents should be neutralized, do not withdraw too quickly nor too slowly from an attack. Too withdraw too quickly opens a new avenue for strong attack from the opponent. The hands and arms can best be used to neutralize an attack by not moving them separately from the rest of the body.

– Follow through when pushing or pressing an opponent. One does not need to move quickly in pushing or neutralizing, although one needs to be quick enough not to miss an opportunity to neutralize or to effectively attack.

– Some t’ai chi push hands moves create particularly high risks of severe physical injury. The roll back can be used to break an opponent’s arm, for instance, with little force by the aggressor. The attackee can neutralize this by relaxing and, sometimes, attacking with the attackee’s shoulder, which apparently can cause substantial damage to the attacker’s chest.

– As I proceed deeper and deeper into t’ai chi practice and leading a t’ai chi lifestyle twenty-four hours daily, I get more skeptical about the way that soldiers and police are trained to use force in the United States. From what I can tell, soldiers and police for the most part are trained to apply brute force when force is to be used, and not enough about reserving higher levels of force for later. This is a reflection on American society in general, from where soldiers and police come. The brute force approach leads to excessive violence, excessive military atrocities and police abuse, and lack of enough efficient effectiveness by soldiers and police, and this spreads to the rest of society, with civilian assaults, child abuse, and spousal/significant other abuse. Beyond that, our society exposes people to severely emotionally traumatic experiences — including my own emotional turmoil, for instance, at seeing the now-famous photograph of an injured naked girl, Kim Phuc running away from a napalm attack in Vietnam — with too many people not getting sufficient, if any, emotional, psychological, and educational support to get back towards harmony. These same people are being armed as police and soldiers; the whole situation is extremely disharmonious and dangerous.

All of the above t’ai chi considerations apply to the practice of trial law, particularly about engaging not just the opponent, but the jury, the judge, one’s clients and witnesses, and opposing witnesses and opposing lawyers . The concepts of being substantially soft, relaxed and calm at all times might seem counterintuitive to society’s many lessons about shooting first and asking questions later, finding strength through adrenaline, and seeming outwardly strong at the expense of being in touch with one’s emotions. For me, applying the lessons of t’ai chi yields more personal and professional strength and other benefits than I have ever known. Jon Katz.

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