On the 28th July, we held an all-day workshop focussing on Jiulong Baguazhang two-partner work. The day was split into two sessions: in the morning we played Willow Bends and in the afternoon Two Dragons at Play”. Willow Bends, is our version of Rolling Hands, which is similar to Tai Chi’s Push-Hands. Why practise Willow Bends? On one level, Willow Bends enables players to blend with the incoming force, and to neutralise rather than to fight it. Yet, there are many other levels to this game. Willow Bends is not a competition where you a win or loose. It is a game used as a learning aid, where you learn to develop sensitivity to incoming force.
We began the session with the basic mechanics of the willow bends movement, standing in a horse stance and using our shifting movement to enable the body to work as one unit. Here we help our partner to feel in which direction the force is coming from and how our own body reacts to it. Moving slowly we can focus on becoming more sensitive to the oncoming force without panicking, becoming tense and forceful. As the morning moved on and the players became more familiar with the movements, the pace began to speed up and the quiet meditative atmosphere became more electrifying. Here is where mistakes are made; because too much emphasis is put into winning. Players do not stop to take stock of what is happening:
Why am I losing my balance?
Am I learning forward too much?
What about my ridgepole?
Shifu Painter’s view would be: “To see if you can feel exactly when you lose your balance”. And that: “If you get pushed, stop right away and recreate the push so you can figure out how to deal with it”.
Shizi Reynolds take on learning of Willow Bends is that: “When one is playing Willow Bends, the idea is to become sensitive to the most subtle changes in the direction of force coming towards one in the form of a push. Can the exact direction of the push be felt; can the exact moment it is being initiated be felt; can one feel the way one’s body is reacting at the exact moment the force enters and then alter the reaction? All these things must be felt without panic, without anticipation, without overreaction. This takes…..you guessed it, sensitivity. We worked on rotating the body rather than leaning; dissipating the incoming force rather than fighting it; and most importantly, we worked on staying relaxed in both body and mind (sung) in order to better sense what was happening”.
So, during the remainder of the morning, players were instructed to become more mindful and reflective during this exercise, and that by doing so more benefits would be gained. At the end of the session, everyone went onto lunch with a smiling face.