Probably like most people interested in taiji, I am familiar with the concept of ‘sticking’ (nian) or sticking energy (‘nian jin’) in taiji. A good encapsulation of the topic was put together many moons ago by Peter Lim in his article ‘Discourse on Jing’ (http://www.itcca.it/peterlim/lunjing.htm), which I believe is translated from some of Li Yaxuan’s writings. My impression, until about a week ago, was that it was just an extension of the ‘listening’ that we are exhorted to do in taiji – don’t resist but maintain contact (bu diu bu ding), try to sense the opponent’s force, etc. However, there are several sources (e.g. Doug Wile and T.T. Liang’s books) which suggest that nian jin is more than this, that at its higher levels it is more like a magnetic force, where the opponent cannot take his hand/leg away even if he wants to.
I had always thought that these were just the typical exaggerations found in Chinese writing about martial arts. However, a recent experience has changed my mind – or at least forced me to keep an open one. Through a friend, I had been invited to an experimental practice session of a local taiji teacher. The friend, knowing that I was familiar with the style, promised that it would be worth my while. Always curious to see real taiji skills, I agreed.
What followed was 2 hours of pushing hands practice – unremarkable in its patterns, which were familiar to me from my previous experience. What was remarkable was the skills of the teacher.
One ability which he showed was to direct his power (neijin). He had such control over the direction of his fajin that he would state before starting to push where he would target, and lo and behold, off the student would go. For example, if the teacher said ‘now I will target the back of his head’, his student would fly off with the head going first; or if the teacher said ‘now I will target his hips’ , the student would collapse to the ground. The teacher allowed me to put my hands on his students’ bodies as he did this, and I am sure of what I felt – his jin was indeed striking first in the area he had targeted.
Perhaps more remarkable was his sticking energy. In pushing with his students (who were all fairly fit young guys), his ‘nian jin’ was such that his students were pulled from pillar to post (almost literally). On several occasions, he dragged them around with his hand on top of their arm! Speaking to them afterwards, they said that the sticking doesn’t work 100% of the time, but when it does work, they have no chance of escaping at all. For fairness’s sake I should point out that the teacher declined to demonstrate on me (for fear of hurting me) – so it’s an open point as to how useful this skill is in combat or whether it would work on strangers. Maybe to a lot of people these are just parlour tricks, not useful in real combat. Nevertheless, it has made me reconsider how much of the skills talked about in the old records are actually real and achievable.