Sticky Telepathy

The Problem

This is one of those things that veteran martial artists know; once in a while we mention it but we don’t talk about it. You are sparring, fighting, playing Sticky Hands or Push Hands, and in the mêlée you notice that your partner has left open a gate, a door, something you can capitalize to your advantage. You plan: the next time he moves that hand I’m going to smother it and… The moment you begin this process not only does he hit you, but with the same technique you were constructing to use against him.

Kung Fu Telepathy Training

This common occurrence is an acknowledged form of telepathy between two fighters made worse when, up to that point in the match, it is a move neither has done. It is a one-of-a-kind thing that just pops into existence and then pops out again like a laughing goblin.

This fascinated me for years. I could have taken the easy explanation and just called it telepathy; but that did not satisfy.

I’m talking about seeing a clue, a tell, then strategizing how to capitalize on it; a little checking here, a drop punch there. He seems ready to fall for it, then BLAM he hits you with exactly the same sequence. That hurts in more ways than one. The telepathy may be the wording of the message but the punch that leaves you gasping for breath is the punctuation.

Kung Fu telepathy @plumpub.comWhy does this occur so often? A skeptic might say the statistical spread was so large the odds favored such occurrences. But my experience is that such unpredictable symmetries do not occur so frequently and forcibly. Someone less critical might take the opposite position, chalking it up to the mixing of our auras or something.

The Zone
I finally figured out the following. You spar in certain ways because you want to sustain a specific quality of engagement. For instance in Sticky Hands, if you are using it for what it has to offer—as opposed to surrogate fighting—you soon realize that one aspect of its genius is that it keeps the two of you at a specific distance and in a continual flux. It is something like entering to take someone down then having to stand toe-to-toe with an opponent and never taking him down while practicing all the ways you COULD dump him. Standing in this No-Man’s Land requires immediate adaptation to the fight’s changes. Sticky Hands or Push Hands are both really good at maintaining a prolonged experience. They become much less convincing when they degenerate into contests about how to push a guy out of the ring. But in their original intention, they are brilliant.

Kung Fu telepathy @plumpub.comThese methods are constructed to keep combatants in absolutely the worst relationship that two opponents can have. The distance is neither long nor short. It is the placement where all the limbs can function, where grappling is an instant away, where the speed of the hands is almost beyond perception and where everyone is just naturally uncomfortable.

At this point the answer not only becomes obvious but explains why this telepathy happens more between advanced players than beginners. The seasoned martial artist tends to use his or her entire body at all times to perform movements and to generate power. Poised in the middle of this network of contention you must make your whole body create the effect you want or it just won’t work. If you want to strike your partner’s chest you need to engage your own chest muscles to adjust for the proximity. In this highly receptive environment your opponent picks up even the subtlest telegraph from your body and reacts unconsciously, immediately and often more authoritatively than you.

These radar reactions are only possible if both you and your partner are in an advanced “zone” of awareness. It’s like this. If you want to pile drive a friendly punch into a partner’s chest and you are sticky-close then you have to generate the power from the movement of chest and shoulder blade, the punch itself acting more as a power delivery system than a generator. Though considerably less visible than big Kung Fu telepathy @plumpub.combeginner’s arm motions, such movements are definitive and perceivable when you are attuned to whole body movement. A trained body instantly completes the movement. A beginner’s random hand motions won’t elicit this kind of response because they are uncommitted, and therefore less threatening.

Mind Like Nothing

After years of practice I realized that the most important thing you can do is simply to stay in there participating as long as possible; the best training simply lets you stand there and keep training. All other things, such as perfecting a certain technique, only works until your partner adapts. Eventually both of you are adapting so rapidly that calculation is impossible. The more experience you have of this zone the less your trust anything preconditioned, any plan, any speculation on what might work which—almost before you can imagine it—HAS worked…on you.

The basketball player charging the court has a similar experience. The intricate combination of Kung Fu telepathy @plumpub.commonitoring, adjusting, reacting, misleading, evading and aiming all brings the player closer and closer to an agreed-upon goal: making the basket. I am suggesting that this is only similar to the martial feeling. The difference is that this type of training never just shoots for the hoop. Its goal is to pressure cook both players by keeping them in the stew. It makes them go back and start over and over until there is no starting and no ending just an open road that ribbons into the next scene and the next.

It’s no wonder that telepathy develops on this journey. There are, after all, no maps.


2 Responses to “Sticky Telepathy”

  1. Jeff says:

    One of the instructors and I often do this. We are of similar height, (advanced) age, and lack of flexibility, which leads us to depend more on hands than kicks and thus closer combat. More often than not, we clash when sparring as we attempt to do the exact same thing at the exact same time.

  2. Peter says:

    In regards to telepathy, I would prefer to think of the missed opportunity or error as being recognized and taken advantage of by one’s opponent before “you” can do so. In Yang Style Tai Chi, peng seems to press one into the space of that opportunity so that it is not lost, hence the question of telepathy doesn’t arise because the situation is not lost in the first place. Another aspect, of listening to or reading your opponent in the process is different than awaiting an opening or error by the opponent to manifest itself.

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