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What Is a Good Neutralization?
William C. Phillips

I am going to start the answer to this question by attempting to shed some light on something my teacher, Professor Cheng Man-Ch'ing said. He said "Invest in Loss" and he is famous for this statement.

Many people think that "invest in loss" means going exclusively where you opponent wants you to. But if you do that, you get pushed every time and you do not learn anything, except perhaps, the lesson that where your opponent wants you to go is not really where you wanted to go. How do you know this is not what "invest in loss" means? When you keep losing by going where your opponent sends you, and you have not learned how not to get pushed by going there. That should be the clue that you should not keep going there (whereever there may be). Another clue is that Professor Cheng, who said it, did not get pushed by anyone, of any skill level.

So what does "invest in loss" really mean? The answer to that is also the answer to what makes a good neutralization. Your neutralization should be one that sticks to your opponent and goes 90% of the way to where he wants to go, and then the last 10% goes where you want to go. This way your opponent barely feels you as you disappear before him. He is traveling more and more into your trap. But it is not just about giving way. At the end of your neutralization, you need to have a line to push, and the power to do so.

So do not mindlessly give way along his path. If you do you will be pushed at your opponent's pleasure. Mindfully give way along his path, or one so very close to where he wants to go, that he thinks it is where he wants to go. This will, after much practice and gaining an understanding of the paths of neutralization, leave you in a position to push when his force is spent and he is over-extended, and therefore easier to push. To do this you need to listen to yourself, your own body first, before you ever listen to your opponent. You have to know your balance and your root, so that you can relax into them when you are being pushed. This way you grow more compressed and stronger as your opponent overextends.

If you do not learn to listen to yourself and judge where you are as well as where your opponent is, you will fall into one of two errors: Going to a neutralizing position, and getting there too soon is the first problem. Going to a position and aiming to get there too late (offering too much resistance) is the other.

On getting there too soon, when you run away, you give your partner an opportunity to push you, either in the direction you were going, or in a direction of opportunity because you have vacated the space. Stick you your opponent and you will get there when you should, when your opponent is overextended, off balance and thinks he has you. It is not the position absolute, but the position relative, that makes a neutralization. When you arrive with him, you have power and you can own his balance. Arrive too soon and you will have given away your power and he will own your balance. Also, make sure you retreat to a place where you are strong, and not weak or off balance so that a good push can happen.

The other part of the problem is getting there too late, or offering too much stiffness or strength. If you are stiff or strong enough you may not get there at all, you may just find yourself pushed. You opponent may be able to push you out, right where you are, even as you begin to try to neutralize. You have to be soft enough to lead him, and offer enough resistance so that he thinks he has you. This is an interesting compromise. Not a texture absolute, but a texture relative to your partner. You need to be light enough so that he has nothing to push, but heavy enough so that he thinks he has you , and maybe, in just another fraction of an inch or two he thinks he will get you.

When you can do this with a partner, and figure out where you are strong and your partner is weak, and can bring your partner into you without sacrificing your balance and position, then you are ready to try with an opponent.

Have a question for me? Ask it at Ask Sifu.

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In T'ai Chi,

William C. Phillips began his study of the martial arts in 1965. He currently holds a 7th degree black belt in Karate, and a 5th degree black belt in Ju Jitsu. He began his studies of Tai Chi in l967, studying with Prof. Cheng Man-Ch'ing from '70-'75. He became the most junior student ever to become a teacher in Cheng Man Ch'ing's New York school, the Shr Jung. Sifu Phillips became interested in the field of holistic health in the early 1970's, when a lifelong allergy problem was alleviated with Chinese herbal medicine. Since then, he has studied widely in that field as well. Sifu Phillips is available for seminars, lectures and demonstrations. He has produced two very successful Tai Chi DVDs, and is currently working on a book on Tai Chi form and a third DVD.For more information...

·  When Should I Start Learning Push Hands?
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