I learned to skateboard on steep hills in San Francisco. They are steep enough that one hardly ever needs to push off with the foot, it’s just jump on and go. Skateboards do not have speed controls. No accelerator, no brakes. How fast you are going is determined entirely by the steepness of the hill and how often one turns or slides. Of course, this being the Era of The Wimp, now’a’days some skateboards have itty-bitty wheels that keep them moving at snail like speeds. But in my day 35 miles an hour was about what one would expect to achieve if you went straight down the hill. If you were going too fast to make a turn, you just died.
That seems like a pretty good introduction to a mostly unrelated subject I want to talk about. There is a common and legitimate compliant about people who practice push-hands as training for fighting. The complaint is that some techniques only seem to work when they are done slowly. Or stated another way, push-hands techniques tend to fail at higher speeds.
There is a way to inoculate oneself against this problem. It is quite simple and easy to condition. Of course it has to be conditioned to function at high speeds. Normal learning and practicing won’t work unless they are put inside of a spontaneity inducing game.
Here are the instructions. Begin touching forearms. Stick to your partner. If you become unstuck, just start over. Use the entire surface of your arms, you can use other body parts too as long as you stick. There are three levels of sticking and they must be practiced distinctly and exclusively. The order in which you condition them does not matter. 1) Bone- structure against structure, if you lose contact with your partner’s entire structure, even for a split second, you are not doing it. 2) Skin- the contact must become so light that it is continuously sliding, skin passing by skin. If you roll along the surface or press into the muscle or bone, or lose contact, you are not doing it. 3) Muscle- flesh touching flesh continuous rolling, no sliding what-so-ever, no pressing structure against structure, no bone contact, no losing contact. (note: 1 and 2 are the extremes, 3 is in the middle)
The three levels must be distinct because they become guides for spontaneous action. This is really part of the soft-hand (roushou) game more than it is part of push-hands. To practice this you must develop a level of emotional safety with your partner that allows you to slap each other anywhere. You should at least be at the level of comfort in which slapping and being slapped makes you happy. (Generally speaking, if you and your partner are comfortable doing this while crying, you have reached an even higher level of trust.)
I’m not particularly confident that this type of kinesthetic knowledge can be communicated through a paragraph of writing, but if you already have an serious push-hands, roushou or sticky-hands practice, hopefully you can figure it out. Keep in mind this key idea: You are developing a game that conditions spontaneity such that the need to control speed is no longer a consideration. Like skateboarding, there is no accelerator and there are no brakes. Speed is determined by the depth of contact.