Lu jing (Lǚ) is a method used in tai chi push hands and self defence for redirecting an opponents force. It does so without losing connection with the opponent’s centre, however. One does not simply deflect or block the force. One allows the attack to roll off like water off a duck’s back. Lu is often translated as “Roll Back”.
In tai chi, the term “standing up in a canoe” may actually help ease the difficulty that student have understanding “Lu Jing” the second essential principle in tuishou (pushing hands). “Standing in a canoe” can also give an idea of the difficulty involved in mastering this method.
If you try to look up Lǚ in a Chinese dictionary, the closest character you will find is the character for “shoes” or “treading”. But this “Lǚ” is lacking the radical for “hand” seen in the Lǚ of tai chi theory. The tai chi “lu” is such a rare word that modern writers often have to use two characters, since the original is not in their computer’s databases. That is why you may see the Chinese text written as “shou lu” (“hand lu”).
Other writers use 捋, which means “to stroke with the fingers. I find this may describe the movement of the solo form. But it does not express the meaning the application.
At first glance you might think that our Lǚ refers to walking with your hands. This may have some validity. In one respect, Lǚ works like feet treading on the earth. As you walk, you use very little force. You have a structure which keeps you vertical and aligned with the force of gravity. Likewise, when you apply Lǚ you use no force, but you maintain inherent Peng Jing (see the earlier post about “Boing power“). You also maintain a connection to the opponent’s centre by not resisting or forcing the opponents attack to one side.
There is another element to the character for lu. That is “fu” (fù 复). Fu can mean to “recover”, “turn around”, or to “answer”. (Fu is also the 24th hexagram in the Yijing (book of changes), which speaks of peace achieved through sacrifice, and returning home after a short journey. This is relevant since lu can be seen as the energy used continuously come back to balance when the opponent attempts to move your centre away from your base of support. Fu also teaches that returning after being lost is not as good as not going far. This is a reminder to use lu as a way of constantly seeking balance, not as an attempt to regain what has already been lost.
Back to that canoe
In the book “How to Grasp the Bird’s Tail if You Don’t Speak Chinese”, Jan Schorre points out that an older version of the Lu character contains the characters for “boat”, “foot”, and “person.” This is what brings me to “Standing up in a canoe.”
If you are fit and serious about your tai chi practice, I suggest (but I don’t advise) that you get a canoe, a lifejacket, and a helmet and paddle yourself into a windy lake to practice standing on the gunnels while the wave rock your boat. You will find that you cannot control the waves, or your canoe. Both will go where they wish. But you can still, with practice, learn to maintain your own balance by keeping yourself aligned with the centre of the earth and allowing the waves and canoe to move. If you try to control them, you will get wet. Likewise, if the canoe tilts to far, or is carried away from your own centre, their is not much you can do to get it back.
Now replace the lake with an opponent’s peng jing (remember that peng is like water supporting a boat), and use your hands instead of your feet. As your opponent tries to bump you away with a resounding “boing” you can simply allow them to miss and tread towards their centre.
You must still have peng jing inherent in your lu, however. Otherwise you will collapse and risk “getting wet” or “colliding with your own canoe.”
There is a story about a farmer who was explaining to a real estate agent how everything on his property was built to exacting standards by hand. He would point out a feature and explain that it was as good as it was because, as he said, he “did it the hard way.”
“We raised that barn by hand. Did it he hard way.”
“I dovetailed those joints, didn’t use any nails or screws. Did it the hard way.”
“I cleared that brush and those rocks by hand. Did it the hard way.”
“Those stone fences, yep, did it the hard way.”
When the farmer’s extremely beautiful daughter passed by, the agent was thoroughly distracted from what the man was saying.
Noticing the agent’s focus on his daughter the farmer said, “Yep. Did it standing up in a canoe.”