The first level of practice is called "Icy Woman." At this level we develop a root so that when pushed the opponent's force is directed through our body down to the ground. As the Icy Woman's structure improves she is able to keep this rooted quality continuously during dynamic movement. If played as a game, both people will try to keep even pressure on their opponent's root. The moment the pressure is broken either partner can move to sever their opponent's root. The game can also be won root-to-root. In this case each person uses a blend of twisting, wrapping, expanding and condensing to improve the integration of their root. Root against root, the better root will win.
There are two side tracks many teachers take with the Icy Woman. The first side track is technique. 90% of the push-hands on youtube is a demonstration of this. Techniques include tricks, grappling, striking, pushing, plucking martial applications and so on. The other side track is trying to develop sensitivity. This confusion arises when an Icy Woman has a broken or ineffective structure or an inferior root, and yet still wants desperately to win. Sensitivity does not need to be developed. Sensitivity is innate, we are born with it, no assembly required. The only way to reduce sensitivity is with aggression. The Daodejing makes this point on the first page, (the concept is called wuwei).
In innocence we can feel the subtle essences.
When possessed of desire we can feel only the yearned-for manifest.
The second level of practice is called "Watery Woman." At this level it is necessary to become weak. If played as a game, the goal is to try and find some ice in your opponent. Ice is either structure or rootedness. The Watery Woman does not attempt to compete structure-against-structure nor does she try to uproot her opponent. She gives up rootedness and structure for fluid movement and weight. The Watery Woman sloshes her weight in and around her opponent, she only wins when her opponent makes a mistake--the mistake of becoming icy.
The Watery Woman is not hard to achieve, because it is also an innate human quality. Many people get stuck with the Watery Woman because they try to fall back on Icy Woman skills and techniques when they are losing. A heavier Water Woman has a huge advantage over a waifish one. A half-frozen Icy Woman can beat a half-dried Watery Woman. Being an Watery Woman is not an advantage in and of itself. One can get stuck at this level by developing very effective mixed ice and water techniques, including vibrating, bouncing, or shaking oneself. If it only moves fast, it isn't water.
When the Watery Woman becomes comfortable, lively and uninhibited-- the pleasure of the experience becomes steamy.
The third level of practice is called "Steamy Woman." At this level her body becomes cloud-like. Empty and full at the same time. When the Steamy Woman meets ice or water in her opponents she simply floats them out of the way. Her mind is not on her body at all, but all around it at play with the elements of volume, momentum, and density. Inside a steam-like feeling moves around freely without regard to purpose or concept. Like a cloud, it has no agenda. Outside the game is played by the shifts and swirls of presence.
For those of you who have been following my discussions for sometime, you will probably see the three Daoist "views" permeating the practice of push-hands: Wuwei (effortless, natural, return), Transcendence (perfection, enlightenment), and Shamanism (contracts with, or sacrifices to, powerful allies,--in this case female super hero allies.) Push-hands is a method which can be practiced using any of these views, but each view will produce a unique type fruition.
No doubt, some of my readers are thinking, "Where did you get this Woman thing from." Here, I must admit that the Chinese term I'm referring to is ren, or "human," and it has no gender. However, when George Xu, for instance, explains these three types of people, he makes the opposite mistake and calls them Ice Men, Water Men, and Steam Men. I chose to use the female pronoun because it's consistent with Daoist thinking and practice. Another key idea of the Daodejing is the centrality of our feminine nature. (Chapter 6)
The Valley Spirit is Deathless it is called the Dark Feminine.
The door of the Dark Feminine, is called the root of Heaven and Earth.
Subtle, it seems only tenuously to exist, and yet drawn upon it is inexhaustible.
I have been told there is a Fourth level, the "Void-like Woman." It is effortless, and innate, it happens automatically with a completely resolved death. Perhaps it is possible to reach this level while one is still breathing?