“Engagement” VS “Softness”

Discussion in 'Internal Martial Arts' started by inthespirit, Dec 10, 2010.

  1. inthespirit

    inthespirit ignant

    Well, well... seeing as this forum is somewhat dead at the moment, I thought I would start a new thread.

    Let’s talk about strategies for contact with the opponent “engagement” VS “softness”.

    Engagement – meaning that upon contact, you produce a force which keeps you connected to your opponent not only because they are pushing/pulling/etc on you, but because you are giving off a force to keep yourself connected to them.

    Softness – just pure yielding, always trying to minimise resistance, let the opponent fall in to emptiness.

    What do you train (can train both btw)? Why do you train it? What do you see as advantageous or detrimental with either or both approaches?
  2. The Wiseman

    The Wiseman Valued Member

    I have never been in a situation which called for either of these but my philosophy at the moment is

    when I am attacked by one, I will avoid, attach, and direct his force into something that will subdue him other than my fist.

    When attacked by several unarmed I will do the same and I will direct them into eachother.

    When attacked by several armed with non-projectile weapons, I avoid, attach, disarm, and send them into eachother.

    When attacked by one with any projectile weapon at long range, I will bob and weave as I hopelessly run for my life.

    When attacked by several with projectile weapons I will die.

    When one attacks another, I will generate as much force as possible and strike the attacker.

    When several attack another, I will generate as much speed as possible and rapidly dispatch them one by one with strikes of utmost rapidity. And redundance.

    When several attack one with any weapon, the victim will die. And so may I as I hopelessly give my all to save them.

    This is all perfect case scenario, but it's a forum not a novel.:hat:
  3. inthespirit

    inthespirit ignant

    Thanks Wiseman, Wise words indeed! :) I particularly like this approach, its honest, effective and quite literally down to earth:


    Though, what I am referring to is a bit different, I think. Basically, talking about the quality of one’s touch upon the first point of contact with an opponent i.e. do you resist, do you not resist, do you resist in a specific manner and so on. As far as I am aware the general strategies in IMA are softness, engagement, evasion or overwhelming, though I think the latter two are more offshoots of the first two.

    Anyhow, not sure if this thread actually makes sense to anyone other than myself, but hey… this forum was dead, so its better than nothing.. maybe :)
  4. zhastyle

    zhastyle Valued Member

    i think the best way you want to sum it up is you need to lead, follow, execute at the right time.
  5. Rebel Wado

    Rebel Wado Valued Member

    Good question. I'm far from working this out for myself. We use something like the rule of elbows (I actually don't know the name for it, but this is how I refer to it):

    1. On contact, apply force to attack like a spring action. What I mean is that if your training partner does not redirect or stop this force, they will be hit by you.

    2. Your partner can then either redirect the force (a) or over power the force (b).
    a. Redirect the force is like emptiness
    b. Over power is they apply force to hit you that overpowers your force to hit them

    3. Method of engaging with the elbows. You either engage your opponent's elbows to control them or if you engage (make contact) with your own elbows to protect yourself or counter.

    That's sort of how I work through it. One example, since I primarily come for hard style martial arts, is I was taught a guard break where with one hand I strike down the opponent's arm and with the other hand I jab to the face. I used to use this successfully a lot in the late 1990s until I was sparring with an older black belt. I used the technique and I was met with emptiness, and with the same arm I was striking down, she did a small circle, checking my jab and striking me in the side of the head all in one movement.

    Of course this got my attention! Years later I was teaching the technique to a teenager in a class and I said "this is how I was taught it and this is why I don't use it this way anymore"... and I told them what to do to counter it. I then attacked them and I got nailed with a hook punch to the side of my head. :eek:

    So meet force with emptiness (to redirect), meet emptiness with force (directly through to take away the target's center -- so as to hit them if they do not redirect or evade). Engage to control the elbows or engage with the elbows to protect yourself.

    I'm in no way an expert on this, just trying to learn it.
    Last edited: Dec 11, 2010
  6. El Medico

    El Medico Valued Member

    I guess under these definitions since p'eng must be present at all times everything would be engagement- without p'eng that softness will not be softness in the manner utilized by CMAs.So when you train some type of pure yielding method/exercise,say some practice involving lu you'll still have to...kinda...sorta...be expanding outward at the same time due to p'eng.Among other thing this aids/enables/whatever in adhering and not becoming disconnected. Basically,even when drawing inwards you're always "giving off a force".(Just don't let him feel it!)

    The structural integrity is dependent upon the state of constant expansion of p'eng even in total following or yielding.Without it,yielding often becomes collapsing which even if it works on someone is still an error in the technical sense of systems reliant on p'eng.And even without collapsing- "Wow! He totally yielded and out of that threw the guy down. No p'eng,tho'.Not really good Pa Kua."

    Rebel-nice post.Elbow engagement-is that in push hands or something similar,or are you talking freespar/applications?

    And ain't that hittin' yourself w/someone else's limb a drag?Don't feel bad.At least you got it from someone w/more experience.We used to do that to the Karate & TKD guys with a lot more experience than us.Drove 'em nuts!

    (forgive me mine indulgence)
  7. Rebel Wado

    Rebel Wado Valued Member

    Since I don't practice push hands enough, I will say more free spar application I work to engage the elbows or with the elbows. But the same approach I believe I use in push hands. That is, if there is a path to directly attack and take the center from my partner I will strike them along that path. If my partner has their arm in the way, then I try to cut down and into them or horizontally (to the side) engaging their elbows. I do not strike directly down because that is when they counter me.

    The part I seem to be more focused on learning at this point is the idea of expanding and collapsing. It seems that structurally I do not want to over expand or collapse but at all times stay within those two conditions. So if I'm pushing into my partner with my hand, I can only go so far until I must yield to allow my body to enter the empty space I've created. If I'm pulling my partner by the arm, I can only pull so far until I must allow that pull to push me.

    At the same time, I am working to cause my partner to be in a state where they are both over-extended AND collapsed by never giving them a "flat surface" to strike or grab or push or pull. Still working on this aspect of yin and yang.

    Yes, drives me nuts being on the receiving end...lol

    I found worse... that is breaking my own joints with my own attack.
  8. inthespirit

    inthespirit ignant

    Thanks for that Zhastyle. I think that does sum it up quite nicely. It certainly is the right principle from what I understand, but I think it is difficult to optimally put it in to practice. In any case, I think discussing the mechanics of such action could be useful, I know my understanding of this has changed quite a bit in the past few years.

    Rebel and Medico, thanks for your replies, nice to have some idea of what details other people find important for such action/result.

    I find that constantly manifesting engagement/peng without compromising structure in continuously changing positions is quite difficult. I think the key is to have enough engagement/peng, but in such a way so as your engagement is always optimal for you to direct force to the opponents centre, all the while maintaining balance and not leaving gaps or unbalanced surfaces through which your centre can be affected. I think one of the more important issues for this is to be able to keep stability within your movements. From my experience this depends on having the ability to produce a counter force within your body, in other words any forward/backward, etc, force should be counterbalanced by another movement in the body which stabilizes the structure. The sort of methodology I use now in simplistic terms is if the arms are going out and up, the spine is going back and down and vice versa. I guess this ties in with the classical explanation of peng as roundness and expanding in all directions, however I seem to only be able to do one set of opposite forces, or one line of expansion, at any one time. Due to this I also need to consciously adjust as soon as the relative force/position changes. In relation to this, I often find that I am not quick enough to transition to a more advantageous position and get stuck in the gaps trying to muscle my way in or out. I think this is mostly due to thinking about how to move as opposed to feeling when and where the right time to move is i.e. gaps in their structure and engagement.

    I found this article relating to peng from an I Liq Chuan perspective quite interesting, though due to my lack of knowledge/experience in some areas, parts of it go right over my head. Interesting read nonetheless:


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