Roll With It: Ward-Off and Roll-Back

Posted July 14, 2014

by John Morton


All creatures in the universe return to the point where they began. Returning to the source is tranquility meaning submitting to what is and what is to be.

Don’t you love completely unexpected events that change your plans? I know I do: traffic, hurricanes, flight delays; they present so many exciting opportunities! I don’t at all seize up and start panicking when all of my well-thought-out plans collapse because of something completely outside of my control. Perish the thought! Sorry, I’m always uncertain how much of my sarcasm can be picked up in written form.

OK, so things happen. The world is full of highly unpredictable circumstances, but we often feel entitled to have all of our plans go off exactly how we envision them. And when things happen (or don’t), our first impulse is to push back or, even if we don’t push back, to allow those things to connect to us, to affect our emotional state, even so far as causing strain in our relationships with loved ones.

The principal structure and most important of the 8 “gates” or movements of Taijiquan is peng or “ward-off”. Essentially, peng acts like a wheel connected to the earth; as an external force is applied, the buoyant structure of peng allows your body to rotate around it’s central axis without allowing that force to connect with your center. Its counterpart is luo or “roll-back”. While peng is the structure, luo is the rotation itself. It is yielding to that incoming force completely and allowing it to move past you. By balancing these two energies, the Yang structure of peng and the Yin emptiness of luo, you are able to yield to force while retaining your center.

However, peng and luo aren’t just some esoteric martial concepts; these concepts, along with everything else in Taijiquan, are rooted in the philosophy of Taoism. The Tao Te Ching has a lot to say about these ideas:

“We put thirty spokes together and call it a wheel, but it is on the space where there is nothing that the usefulness of the wheel depends. We turn clay to make a vessel, but it is on the space where there is nothing that the usefulness of the vessel depends.”

“Yield and remain whole. Bend and remain straight.”

“The gentle and soft overcomes the hard and aggressive.”

It’s when yin and yang are out of balance that we lash out or shut down completely. If we meet force with force in our day-to-day lives, we end up lashing out wherever it’s convenient. We see the world around us as a constant battle. Conversely, if we allow those forces to connect to our center, we shut down completely. We become depressed and hopeless about ourselves and our place in the world. By balancing Yang and Yin, peng and luo, we can maintain our composure while the world is finding all kinds of new ways to surprise us. We can let the unexpected roll past us and come back to our center without allowing these things to affect our emotional state and our relationships. If, say, a huge storm passes through Cape Cod on your July 4th camping trip (totally theoretical here), don’t start getting upset because you aren’t going to be roasting marshmallows and watching fireworks. Enjoy the experience of letting your plans evolve as it happens. If you’re stuck at O’Hare because of flight delays (again, completely theoretical), find something good to eat (well, decent; it is O’Hare after all) and start the book you’ve been meaning to read. Let your focus be directed on maintaining your internal tranquility, your emptiness, and roll with it.


Bread and Yoga Weekly Blog Series

Each month we feature one of our amazing Bread and Yoga teachers sharing their thoughts or teachings from their class with you and our community. This is the first post from Tai Chi teacher John Morton. John will be blogging with us for the month of July!

Join John every Monday at 8am in Inwood Hill Park for FREE Tai Chi! Or come by the studio on July 19th for a special Tai Chi Workshop.


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