Holding and Molding

As a beginner Tai Chi player taking classes with Mr. Robert W. Smith in Bethesda, Maryland, I was introduced to some of Tai Chi’s traditional teaching methods. One of them was what he called “Holding and Molding.” This is simply when the class is asked to hold a particular posture and the teacher goes to each student and molds them into the correct shape.

As students we simply tried to hold the shape that we were molded into for as long as we could. Muscle failure always won in the end! But the idea was to gain some ‘muscle memory’ with the correct shape so that later, as we moved through the postures, our bodies would gently move into and then out of that correct shape.

Thirty-five years later as I work with folks in my open-to-all-styles Push Hands class, I find that some of them are very good about letting me adjust their Push Hands ‘form,’ and others are not as good—either resisting the adjustment or collapsing into an uncorrectable mass. I find myself telling them, “Let me mold you like your teacher did while teaching the form.” It dawned on me that some of these folks did not spend a great deal of time with Holding and Molding.

Thinking about this, I realized that the Molding in Mr. Smith’s classes was done at that very light four-ounce touch. He never said this, but I think that working on “familiarity with correct touch” started on the first day! With this in mind I jotted down some notes that might be helpful.

Molders: To ease into the personal-space activity of adjusting a beginner’s posture, you should ask permission. At first your adjustment should be done with only one hand. Let them get used to this method of hands-on teaching—some take to it quicker than others. Later, you can use both your hands in your adjustments. Each time you Mold them your touch should be like it is in Push Hands. Connect with four ounces with no intention, just for a moment, then move the other into the correct posture. Without saying it, work on correct touch with them, quietly guiding them on how to take the correction.

Holders: As you are being molded, let them move you; do not resist their movement, but also as important, do not pull away from or collapse under their touch. As you are about to be Molded, remain in your posture and let them move you into the new position. This way YOU are also practicing correct touch.

In doing Holding and Molding in this way the student is getting the correction of the postures as intended while covertly becoming familiar with how the correct touch feels. When it comes time for learning Push Hands they will already have some familiarity.