Push-Hands and Arguing

Taijiquan is the art of not being defensive.

I grew up in a home where arguing was as important as food.  On a recent trip to Turkey I discovered that even in academic and journalistic circles, skill at arguing was very low.  People would argue but if, for instance, I said something like, “I think there are three distinct issues here,� they would get upset become defensive and the argument would lose it’s basis in rationality and civility.  Lack of free speech, years of propaganda, and a difference in culture all contributed to their assessment of me as too confrontational.

On the other hand, on the same trip I went to Israel where several people confided to me, in admiration, that I don’t argue; instead I discuss things clearly and articulately.   I thought the contrast and the comments were quite funny.  Israel is one the few places in the world where a person can get into an argument at a bus stop with a complete stranger and feel like you are making new friends.

Arguing probably releases dopamine into my system, it is my element.  There is no greater complement you can pay me than to convince me I am wrong.

Push hands is similar.  Like arguing, it often reveals more about an individual’s nature and skill, than it proves right or wrong.  Just because you win, doesn’t mean your idea or skill will work in the real world.  When I argue with someone of lesser skill I don’t attack the weak parts of their argument.  Instead I go1915 debate council after the parts I think are the strongest, the points that are most central,  and are the most likely to change one of our opinions.

Push hands is the same.  If I’m pushing with someone better than myself, I’m keenly aware of the smallest possible error they may make.  Even if I find an error I may not be able to use it against them, my purpose is to learn what they are doing so that I can replicate it myself.  Only by deeply understanding the core of their idea can I have any hope of winning.

On the other hand, like arguing with someone who has less skill than I do, if I’m pushing-hands with someone of lesser skill, I don’t try to win by attacking them where they are weak, I try to beat them at their strongest point.  I handicap myself so that we can both learn and improve.

Push hands is not fundamentally about winning.  It is a kind of intimacy.  Too many people push-hands defensively.  Push-hands and arguing are the same, when someone becomes defensive we both stop learning.