The Paradox of Wardoff

Through experience of the touch one can gradually comprehend and understand jin.

Through understanding jin one can reach divine-like clarity.

Wang Zongyue, Taijiquan Lun

The “Wardoff” posture in taijiquan is an expression of peng jin, an expanding (yang) “up and out” type of internal power. Like all jins, peng is dependent on a whole-body energetic connection. Energetic coherence. Without that, your Wardoff will suck.

In Wardoff With Left Arm, the substantial arm (left) is curved in front of the chest to create space. This is a really weak muscular connection. Try it. Have someone push on your forearm, starting slow and building pressure. Notice what is happening in your body. As the pressure increases, notice that the energy gets stuck in your shoulder. The muscles there are not designed to handle much of a load.

I struggled with this for years. Why design a posture that cannot produce significant power? Was taiji just smoke and mirrors, or was I missing something? The latter seemed to be the correct choice, since taijiquan has been around a lot longer than I have and the Wardoff postures are repeated many times in any form. I tore up my shoulders many times trying to make it work as a muscular effort (the triumph of hope over experience). It wasn’t until I discovered a simple way of generating energetic coherence that I realized it wasn’t the muscles that executed the energy. It was the connective tissue.

I covered this pretty thoroughly in Taijiquan: Through the Western Gate. And I demonstrate it in the video below. Once you get that going, you can take your Wardoff to an even higher level by the way you engage your partner. Instead of trying to push your partner away with your arm, try meeting her with it. Catching her with it, like you would catch a hard line drive. Absorb some of the force without collapsing. You meet her with your arm and receive her. The energetic coherence of your body/mind will give you the support you need. If you muscle it, you won’t have the sensitivity to receive and keep your structure at the same time.

The paradox is that your are not really trying to “ward off”, push away. You are really sticking and adhering as a means of interpreting the energy that challenges you. To be successful at that requires a coherent structure that won’t collapse under the challenge. When you “meet” the challenge (not just push it away) you then have the opportunity to understand the secrets that it holds.

If you’ve never tested your Wardoff by having someone push on your forearm, you may be in for a surprise. You don’t develop true peng jin until you actually try to use it. The proof of the pudding is in the eating.