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Last week I was doing “tuishou” (“pushing hands”) practice, which is a common form of practice in Yi Quan and other inner martial arts. It is a practice where you develop your sensitivity towards the subtle movements of yourself and your opponent. Instead of trying to win your opponent with force or speed, you adjust your strength and speed with that of the other’s. Neither one of the practitioners dominate or define the speed and strenght of the practice session, but both try to adjust to the skills of the other. In this way it is possible to do tuishou even between two people with very different levels of strenght, speed and skills.

Tuishou reminds me of the current paradox I have been facing in my work as a Wu Wei Coach: “How to create structure and boundaries without forcing anything?”

Tuishou reminds me of the current paradox I have been facing in my work as a Wu Wei Coach: “How to create structure and boundaries without forcing anything?”. I have mixed feelings about letting people to define their own working practices especially if there are lots of people involved. I have seen how easy it is to kill inspiration and motivation if people are forced to use certain practices (such as scrum), especially if the environment doesn’t really support it. It can easily become a burden that doesn’t really help anybody but instead becomes a form of bureaucracy. On the other hand I have also seen how teams degenerate to the usage of “ad hoc waterfall” if no frameworks are given. (I have tried to create some kind of explanations for why this happens in my SCARP model.) The third aspect of all this is that even though I would have clear opinions of my own, as a coach I might not have a mandate to force anything.

Tuishou Coaching

The only thing I really can do in this situation is the tuishou practice – I can become very sensitive of what is happening and adjust the strength and speed of my own thinking/acting to that of the others’. If I am sensitive enough, I can perceive the emerging patterns of movement even before they escalate to large and powerful patterns that are really hard to resist or affect. And even if I fail to affect them in the beginning, I can always move with the larger patterns and seek for new opportunities to affect them. I can e.g. try to show the weak spots of a given approach by showing where it “leaks”. This gives the people opportunities to reflect upon how to try to change their movements in order to fix those leaks.

Tuishou is really about tuning your body and mind to the flow of movement. You can’t first think and plan and then act, you can only think by acting in the situation. When you push, you can feel resistance (or lack of resistance) and respond to it by pushing more, or you can feel the other person pushing and respond to it by pulling or steering the movement to different directions. Your movements are at the same time probes and suggestions. You are getting and giving feedback at the same time.

Eleanor Gibson created an “ecological theory of perceptual development“, where she saw that it is possible to obtain more and more possibilities for action (“affordances”) from a given object or situation. I think it describes quite well the essence of tuishou. You can always become more and more sensitive towards the subtle movements of body and mind in the social act. Your very mind is actually constructed in that social act, as your mind is really nothing but the social process.

The same way it is possible for a Wu Wei Coach to develop his perception and become more sensitive towards the patterns emerging in the processes of organizational life. Even a very brief conversation or meeting can reveal more and more possibilities for action. And those actions are at the same time probes and responds where the perception develops further.