Chuang Tzu (369-286 BC) taught in parables. These are a few that seem to have direct bearing on T'ai Chi fencing, the part of the T'ai Chi Jian practice that corresponds to Pushing Hands in T'ai Chi Chuan. Almost everything one can glean from these stories also has bearing on Pushing Hands, especially the first.
The Need To Win
When an archer is shooting for fun
He has all his skill.
If he shoots for a brass buckle-
He is already nervous.
If he shoots for a prize of gold-
He goes blind
Or sees two targets
He is out of his mind.
His skill has not changed,
But the prize divides him.
He thinks more of winning
Than of shooting
And the need to win
Drains him of power.
Flight from the Shadow
There was a man
who was so disturbed
by the sight of his own shadow
and so displeased
with his own footsteps,
that he determined to get rid of both.
The method he hit upon was
to run away from them.
So he got up and ran.
But everytime he poot his foot down
there was another step,
while his shadow kept up with him
without the slightest difficulty.
He attributed his failure
to the fact
that he was not running fast enough.
So he ran faster and faster,
until he finally dropped dead.
He failed to realize
that if he merely stepped into the shade,
his shadow would vanish,
and if he sat down and stayed still,
there would be no more footsteps.
Chi Hsing Tzu was a trainer of
fighting cocks for King Hsuan.
He was training a fine bird.
The king kept asking
if the bird was ready for combat.
"Not yet", said the trainer.
"He is full of fire.
He is ready to pick a fight
with every other bird.
He is vain and confident
of his own strength."
After ten days he answered again,
"Not yet. He flares up
when he hears another bird crow."
After ten more days,
"Not yet. He still gets that angry look
and ruffles his feathers."
Again ten days.
The trainer said,
"Now he is nearly ready.
When another bird crows,
his eyes don't even flicker.
He stands immobile like a block of wood.
He is a mature fighter.
Other birds will take one look at him and run."
Duke Hwan and the Wheelwright
Duke Hwan of Khi, first in his dynasty,
sat under his canopy reading his philosophy.
And Phien the wheelwright was out in the yard
making a wheel.
Phien laid aside hammer and chisel,
climbed the steps
and said to duke Hwan,
"May I ask you, Lord,
what is this you are reading?"
Said the duke: "The experts, the authorities."
Phien asked: "Alive or dead?"
The duke said: "Dead, a long time."
"Then," said the wheelwright,
"you are only reading the dirt they left behind."
The duke replied, "What do you know about it?
You are only a wheelwright.
You had better give me a good explanation
or else you must die."
The wheelwright said,
"Let us look at the affair from my point of view.
When I make wheels, if i go easy they fall apart,
and if I am too rough they don't fit.
But if I am neither too easy nor too violent
they come out right,
and the work is what I want it to be."
A Cook Initiates a Prince on the Way of Life
Prince Hui's cook was cutting up an oxen. Every blow of his hand, every heave of his shoulders, every step of his foot, every thrust of his knee, every whshh of the oxen's torn flesh, every chhk of the chopper, was in perfect harmony- in rhythm like the dance of the Mulberry Grove, simultaneous like the chords of the Ching Shou.
"Well done!" cried the Prince. "How did you ever achieve such skill?"
"Sire," replied the cook, "I have always devoted myself to the Tao. It is better than skill. When I first began cutting up oxens, I saw before me simply whole oxens. After three years of practice, I saw no more whole animals. And now I work with my mind and not with my eye. When my senses bid me stop, but my mind urges me on, I fall back upon eternal principles. I follow such openings or cavities as there may be, according to the animal's natural physique. I do not attempt to cut through the veins, arteries, and tendons, still less through large bones."
"A good cook changes his chopper once a year- because he cuts. An ordinary cook, once a month- because he hacks. But I have had this chopper nineteen years, and although I have cut up many thousands oxens, its edge is as if fresh from the grindstone. For at the joints there are always crevices, and the edge of a chopper being without thickness, it remains only to insert that which is without thickness into such a crevice. By these means the crevice will be enlarged, and the blade will find plenty of room. It is thus that I have kept my chopper for nineteen years as though fresh from the grindstone."
"Nevertheless, when I come upon a hard part where the blade meets with a difficult section, I proceed with caution. I fix my gaze and go slowly, gently applying my blade, until with a Hwah! the part yields like earth crumbling to the ground. Then I take out my chopper, and stand up, and look around, and pause, until with an air of triumph I wipe my chopper and put it carefully away."
"Bravo!" cried the Prince. "From the words of this cook I have learnt how to take care of my life."