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Lesson 7: Peng 掤 – part 2

There is no mechanical advantage when you raise your arm. The process of raising the arm involves class three levers where the force is in between the fulcrum and the load. This is not what we aim for.

Whenever we engage the opponent, we want to do so with a mechanical advantage, whether that’s using class 1 or class 2 levers or using any of the other simple machines that are available to us with the human body.

So, when you raise your arm, don’t think about blocking or doing something to the opponent. Instead, think of simply raising your arm to get it into position where it can function as part of a class 1 or a class 2 lever. You’re putting the fulcrum on one side, where you raise the hand.

So, the fulcrum in this case is… I think of a vertical line from my shoulder through my hip, and I pivot a little bit around that. So, I move my left hip back a little as the right arm goes forward. But I’m not pivoting around my center line. I’m pivoting around this side. So my center and my left hip drop backward a little as I raise the arm.

Now I’m in a position where I have the fulcrum here, and the hand is a position to engage the opponent’s force, or gravity, or even the weight of my own fingers, in a very special, very precise way that preserves what I call this “centripetal geodesic.” Now, “centripetal” means “toward the center.” In this case it is toward the centre of the earth. It can also mean toward your center. But, specifically, we almost always refer to it as toward the centre of the earth, except when you’re flying through the air, in which case it gets complicated. But when the hand rises, what it is doing is not blocking or doing something to the opponent. It is simply engaging gravity and any external forces in a way that redirects their force through this geodesic that spirals around the arm and follows the “myo-fascial lines” or the the “muscle trains” and the skeleton, and the shape of the body.

So, this force goes around the arm around the body and spirals down into the feet and makes use of these fulcrums and class 1 or class 2 levers. Simply put, I bring my hand up in order to connect the opponent to the ground. So, when they push, they are pushing the earth, and they’re pushing through the mass of my body.

If my arm is like this when they push, the power goes that way, so that geodesic doesn’t go into the ground. It winds around comes and comes right back out again, so that all I’m fighting with is my arm… my forearm. I’m not connecting to the earth, which is what we want in tai chi.

This is the essence of what the word “peng” means. Peng, we say, is like water supporting a boat. Water does not do anything to support the boat. It is just being water. So, that is what we do here. We raise the hand up so that it is in a position to receive the weight of the opponent’s push, and direct it through the body into the ground. To do this, we want to relax as much as possible.

So, we use as few muscles as possible to get the hand there, so that we’re not fighting with these class 3 levers again. We’re just keeping the shoulder down, the elbow down, and that brings the fingers here. When the finger gets here, you can imagine the weight of your fingertip being directed through your hand, up the arm, through the shoulder, around the body, down into the ground, and into the centre of the earth.

At no point do you want that geodesic to leave the surface. You don’t want it to leave your body. You don’t want the this thing to spiral in and then go that way. If it goes this way, then your back gets pushed backwards. So, if I’m holding my arm like this and someone pushes me, then if I have that centripetal geodesic perfectly aligned, then they will bounce off of me as if they were pushing the earth itself. I’m redirecting the force and using levers and arches, and so on, to give myself the mechanical advantage.

As soon as I tense up, then I start interfering with that. This class 3 lever interferes with that centripetal geodesic and then, if I tense up my shoulder, then when the person pushes, my shoulder gets pushed back and it takes me with it. If my chest is tense, then when I get pushed, then the power goes into my chest and I get pushed back with it. If my waist is tense, then I get pushed back over my waist. If my hips are tense, then my hips get pushed. If my knees are tense, then my knees get pushed, and so on. If my feet are tense then I may have a chance… No, I won’t. I’ll get pushed.

So, to have everything tense, well, then you just get pushed over like a board. But if you are relaxed and feeling that connection redirecting the force of gravity and of the opponent’s push through that centripetal geodesic into the ground… That way we don’t have to do anything. And not having to do anything saves a lot of time. There’s really nothing faster than peng. It’s instantaneous… as instantaneous as the speed of light. (Faster than the speed of heavy, anyway.)

So, connect it to the ground and then, when it’s connected properly, we make that line very very thin. So, there’s no unnecessary tension holding it up. There it’s extremely fine. It’s like pushing on the end of a of a needle.

Let’s go back to this movement and we’ll see how we can approach it, one-step-at-a-time, to be even more relaxed than you thought you were. When the hand rises, don’t think of lifting the arm. Think of sinking the shoulder. So, the shoulder sinks. That way, when the hand floats up, it creates that good connection to the ground.

So, try that on both sides. First on the right arm. The shoulder sinks and the hand floats. So it’s like a hydraulic pump. You push down on this and this hand rises. You push the shoulder down and it causes the hand to float. This will happen a lot in the tai chi form, where once you get used to the movements and you learn how to relax, then the hands will really not feel as though they are being lifted up by any effort at all. Instead, you’ll feel as though you are just sinking your energy down and the hand floats up by itself.

So, your body relaxes and the hand rises like flotsam being lifted off the beach by a wave, or the by tide that comes in. So, the tide comes in and your hand floats. It’s the same with the other hand. When you extend the hand palm down, the shoulder sinks and the hand extends. The shoulder goes down and this hand goes out. So, the sinking of the shoulders raises the hands. Also, the sinking of the elbows… the elbows sink as the hands rise. So, you don’t want to raise your elbows up like this. This tenses the shoulder. So, you keep the shoulder down and the elbow will drop a little. You don’t want the elbow in. You want it to be in a comfortable position, and the arm should feel round when you raise it. But there should not be any effort lifting the elbow. So, the hand comes up. But the shoulder and elbow are in a very relaxed position. So think of the elbow dropping in order to raise the wrist.

The shoulder sinks to raise the elbow. The elbow sinks to raise the wrist. The wrist sinks to raise the fingers. Sink the shoulder. Drop the elbow. Sink the wrist. Do the same with the other hand. The shoulder sinks. The elbow drops. The wrist sits. The fingers are extended by the sinking of the shoulder and the elbow and the wrist.

Practice that for five or ten minutes, and practice with both sides. Do that for five or ten minutes and then when you’re ready go on to the next video.