Train with Partners (Yu Ban Tong Lian)

Practice with a partner. This will allow you to focus on your sense of distancing as well as enhancing your connecting, adhering, and sticking jin skills. Whether you are practicing pushing hands or engaged with your enemy, these skills are necessary for positioning an opponent into a disadvantage and defeating them. In the following exercises, when it is recommended that one person at a time initiate a movement, the training for the passive partner is to stick to the ball and yield to the direction of the initiating partner. This is also an important element in training.

Straight Line Listening and Following (Zhi Xian Ting Sui)

The first set of exercises focuses on maintaining an equal distance between you and your partner while moving on a linear path. The whole concept of this training is to be able to read your opponent's body language by sensing or feeling his energy through the taiji ball. For this training, three separate stages have been established.

The first stage is to move linearly in one direction at a time with your partner while holding the ball in a fixed position between you. Stand in si liu bu, right leg forward. Your partner will also stand in si liu bu, right leg forward, facing you. The taiji ball will be held by you and your partner with both sets of hands on the ball level to the lower dan tian area.

Start to rock back and forth. Both the ball and your partner should remain equally apart from you throughout the rocking movement.

Next, step forward slowly and attempt to close the distance between you and your partner. This is also known as attempting to occupy the central door (zhong men). (If you wish to explore more information on this subject, you will find this subject further described in Taijiquan Theory of Dr. Yang, Jwing-Ming: The Root of Taijiquan by Dr. Yang, Jwing-Ming, available at YMAA Publication Center.)

As you step forward, your opponent should step back and maintain the same distance between you, the ball, and himself. In addition to maintaining this distance, your opponent should also be focusing on maintaining an equal amount of tension, or pressure, on the taiji ball. Allowing an increase of pressure is known as being double weighted. The increase of pressure will lead to tension in the muscles and disrupt the continuous flow of movement as well as disrupt the flow of qi.

The overall object is to be able to sense the incoming force, yield to it and lead it away from you, or neutralize the force. This is commonly known as using four ounces to deflect one thousand pounds. Continue to step forward until you have reached the end of your practicing area. Once you have reached the end of the practice area, switch roles with your partner.

Keep the eyes focused at approximately the heart level on your opponent. Your partner should do the same. Focusing the eyes on this area gives you an acceptable peripheral view of your opponent and surrounding area. It is a tool that will prove to be beneficial when engaging an opponent for self-defense.

Continue back and forth throughout the practice area until you and your partner, taking turns leading, are able to maintain equal distancing throughout the exercise. In addition, you both should break up the pattern by varying the number of successive steps or pausing between steps to simply rock back and forth.

The next stage of this exercise is similar to the last. The main difference is the person controlling the stepping is also allowed to step backward. The opponent will be responsible to sense the forward movement of attack as well as the retreating movement. Once they reach the end of the training area, the individuals will switch roles. The ball will remain in a fixed position between you and your partner throughout the stepping exercise.

When you both are comfortable with this exercise, mix the patterns using a free-style method. Start from the center of your practicing area. Either partner may take the lead. This exercise is more difficult and allows each of you to enhance your listening skills. Both you and your partner should continue to practice these exercises until each person can maintain an equal distance between each other while advancing and retreating.

The final stage of this exercise is to practice with your eyes closed. Closing off the visual will allow you to focus more on the tension between you and your partner and the taiji ball. As mentioned before, you want to avoid a double-weighted feeling. Practice each stage of this exercise until you and your partner are able to move back and forth smoothly.

Circling (Rao Quan)

This exercise involves circling the ball with a partner. It is performed the same as the previous listening and following exercises; however, you will now add the element of circling the ball. In addition, you and your partner will practice the yin-yang circling exchange both vertically and horizontally. This will assist you in recognizing how to yield to an inbound force and redirect/neutralize the force. Ultimately, either person in this exercise may control this yin-yang exchange.

As you continue to practice this, you will realize that there are infinite numbers and sizes of circles that can be made. To simplify your understanding of this exercise, practice the circling patterns vertically and then horizontally, using both hands, and then single hands. Practice these exercises while stationary, rocking, and stepping.

The above is an excerpt from Tai Chi Ball Qigong For Health and Martial Arts by Dr. Yang, Jwing-Ming and David Grantham