Cheng Man Ching's
by Adam Mizner
Many of us have heard time and time again the famous saying of the late Prof. Cheng Man Ching to “invest in loss”. What does this mean? What did the professor mean when he said it? It is not easy to know another's intentions, none the less I can share my personal take on this principle and the way I have used it as a guiding light through the years to keep my training progressing smoothly and consistently.
First of all lets look at what in my view is not the correct way to invest in loss, these common errors in understanding block the students progress in developing real Taijiquan skills.
- Not trying to to win when pushing hands, giving up your root or center to the opponent or training partner. Doing this over and over conditions the mind and body to allow oneself to lose easily, one becomes a push over. This is clearly not a good approach to martial arts training, over time one becomes highly skilled at losing!
- Giving up your structure and space too easily, developing a style of pushing hands that is only based on what I would consider incorrect yielding. We often see this kind of “wiggly worm” response to pressure, one wiggles out and runs away from any force at all. Training pushing hands in this way there is no opportunity to develop correct Peng Jin. This method of yielding is completely divorced from martial arts training and creates the bad habit of giving the opponent precious space and openings to attack vulnerable areas. There is nowhere in the Taiji forms where one makes such shapes, nevertheless this is so common in the west within push hands circles, where the possibility of the opponent striking vulnerable areas is completely disregarded.
In my experience these are the two most common misunderstanding of the principle to “invest in loss”. Now that we know what it is not lets look at the skillful way to apply this principle in our training.
Once again this is just my take on the principle, none of us can truly know what the Professor meant when he said to invest in loss. I like to say that the true meaning of “invest in loss” is to “invest in doing it correctly” even at the price of losing. This means that when we are training pushing hands or any partner exercise we focus exclusively on the causes of the skill rather than on the result. For example when practicing Lu (roll back) there is a correct skeletal alignment to be maintained, if we collapse that alignment in order not to be pushed over we have “won” that encounter but have done so at the cost of doing the exercise correctly.
Every time we reinforce this habit to win at the cost of the integrity of the art, abandoning the principles and methods of the art just to win a little game or exercise we reinforce these bad habits. Our training takes us further away from Taijiquan day by day and we end up not achieving our training goals. On the other hand, every time we hold steadfast to the principle and methods, even if we get pushed out we are building into our body and neurology the correct response, getting closer day by day to the true essence Taijiquan. The eventual result is that we no longer get pushed out, but rather we win using Taijiquan all as a result of “investing in loss”.