Pulling instead of pushing … The first time I heard that statement, it made absolutely no sense at all to me. The tenth time I heard that statement, it still made no sense. I remember doing two person floor drills at Master Chen’s workshops where we were supposed to move the drill partner backwards by ‘pulling’, rather than ‘pushing’ them backwards. The only way that I could move them backwards was to push from my back foot.
Master Chen had also shown us one-person exercises to practice pulling ourselves forward by using our front foot. Even though it seemed like these exercises were fairly easy to practice in solo, whenever I tried to apply this in a two-person situation, it would feel incredibly awkward and I would just bounce myself out, instead of moving the person backwards.
After practicing this for a long time, I finally realized that the setup for the pull is very important. For example, while deflecting a punch by establishing wrist and elbow contact on an opponent and taking a measured step forward with the front foot, and then turning my waist and settling, I am able to create a setup that creates an upward line into the opponent. At that point, I felt balanced enough to pull myself forward and ‘pop’ the opponent up off the floor and move them backwards.
As I explored pulling for a while, I decided to compare doing it the ‘old’ (wrong) way of pushing and the new way of pulling, to see how it felt for me. I also asked a training partner how differently it felt being ‘pulled’ backwards, rather than being ‘pushed’ backwards. For me, when I pulled myself forward toward the other person, I did not feel the other person’s back foot and it was easy to pop them backwards. In contrast, when I pushed, it was difficult to move them backwards and I could definitely feel their back foot rooted into the floor. For the other person, they reported that their back foot (and their front foot) were not able to stay contacted with the floor when they were ‘pulled’ backwards. When I tried to ‘push’ them backwards, they were able to send my push down into their rear foot by redirecting the line I was pushing on, which ran through their arm and into their shoulder and upper torso.
My goal going forward is to continue to explore different moves in the form and see where I can apply the pulling and what I need to do to have to correct setup for the different moves.