By Martin Boedicker
Whoever has witnessed a pushhands-demonstration by one of the masters of Tai Chi Chuan will never forget what he saw. A student attacks the master with full force. Instead of a spectacular defense, the master is just sinking a bit and suddenly the student flies away, as if jumping on a trampoline. The surprised audience is told, this is the techniques peng. Many spectators ask themselves, if this is this not just a trick. The suprising great effectiveness of the technique coupled with a lack of understanding of peng makes it hard to believe. But in the end it is not that difficult to understand peng. Peng, it is just difficult to do it.
Ma Yueliang comments:
"Peng is a hidden jin-power. It comes first within the thirteen basic movements and has an important position. It is relatively difficult to learn and when one begins to learn pushhands, it takes a long time to master it."
(Ma, Xu, p. 9)
But why it is so difficult to use peng? To understand this, one must divide the use of peng into two phases.
The first phase of peng
In the first phase one leads the force of the opponent into one owns center and one collects it like in a spring. Through this, one is also able to feel the direction and the amount of the attacking force.
"Peng is a reaction to the amount of the force of the opponent. In Pushhands one finds peng not only in the hands and arms, but all parts of the body have peng-power, which touch the opponent. If one has peng-power, one reached: 'If a movement is fast, one answers fast. If a movement is slow, one answers slow.' If one masters this, the feeling-power (tingjin) is just peng."
The elastic quality of peng is also described in the Tai Chi-Classic The Song of the Eight Methods (Bafa miyue):
"How to explain peng?
Like water carries a boat.
First fill the dantian with qi.
Then hold the head if suspended from above.
The whole body has the power of a spring.
Opening and closing should be clearly distinguished.
Even if the opponent uses a thousand pounds,
floating is without difficulty."
Thus, here peng is explained by the power of a spring. A similar picture was probably used, when the Tai Chi-masters changed the old Chinese character bing into the Tai Chi technical term peng. Originally bing stands for a quiver cover under pressure. The character of bing has the radical of hand (left) and the character with the pronunciation bing or peng (right):
This character is connected to:
The left character peng with the radical wood denotes an old war bow. The right character with the radical silk and the pronunciation bing denotes the pulling of a bow.
In the first phase of peng the incoming force is stored in one owns body like in a spring or in a drawn bow. The great difficulty in this phase of peng is, that the your body has to take the force of the opponent in an optimal way. Just the smallest mistake in timing or structure of the body will result in the technique collapsing.
The second phase of peng
In the second phase of peng one can release the stored power in different ways. If the power is send back into the opponent, one still calls this peng.
"If one was able to control the force of the opponent, one can use this opportunity against him and thus defeat him."
(Ma, Xu, p.9)
On the other hand one can also lead the stored energy with lü into the emptiness and thus destroy the center of the opponent. Ma Jiangbao explains it in this way:
"First I uses a small peng to feel the force of the opponent and then I lead him into the emptiness with a lü."
Ma Yueliang comments:
"Peng-jin is full, but not full. It is empty, but not empty. Once full - once empty. The other does not know me, but I alone know the other. This explains, why peng is a hidden jin-power. Peng is also explained as the jin-power in the background. It is repeatedly said, that peng is like water. Water can carry a fallen leave as well as a big ship. In pushhands it doesn't matter if the attacking force is small or big. With peng you can master it. But peng is not only the carrying relationship that a boat has with water, but it is also a fine and subtle movement. When I receive the force of the other, I use my central equilibrium (zhongding) as a pivot, to change the direction of the incoming force upwards. In this way I let the other hang in the air and I can use a smaller force than the opponent: Even if he uses a thousand pounds, it is easy to let him float."
(Ma, Xu, p. 9)
The difficulty of peng in the second phase is to decide, what one wants to do with the force of the opponent. In the end one is dealing with a large force and even the smallest mistake allows the the full force to impact into your own body. Thus one should train the full peng only, when one has reached the level to deal with great force without using too much force oneself.
Ma Yueliang, Xu Wen, Wushi Taijiquan Tuishou, Xianggang Shanghai Shuju Chuban, Hongkong 1986