Repulse Monkey (that Funky Monkey)

One of the most difficult tai chi forms for me is Repulse Monkey (sometimes called Step Back to Repulse Monkey):


I hate this form. When I am challenged, I don't want to move backwards and withdraw--I WANT TO STAND FIRM AND RESIST! Whenever I do Repulse Monkey, I fall over. Likewise, when I try to fight back when someone challenges me, I lose my balance by getting angry and frustrated.

My spiritual director suggested that nonresistance will help me find balance in both life and tai chi. Here's how Repulse Monkey can help me practice nonresistance when I feel challenged by other people:


Step 1: Extend courtesy. At the beginning Repulse Monkey (as shown in the illustration to the right), my left arm is extended. Likewise, I must extend courtesy. I need to begin by treating others with respect and civility. I must be polite. I must remember that this person is my brother and sister. Despite all of our apparent differences, we are the same. It's simply an application of the Golden Rule: "Do to others whatever you would have them do to you." (Matthew 7:12)

Step 2: Draw the other in to you. From the beginning position of Repulse Monkey, I open up my arms into a position that almost looks like an embrace (in the illustration, the figure is moving backwards, that is, from right to left). This means that I must try to understand where the other person is coming from: What are their concerns, values, and ethics? What vocabulary do they use to understand the world? This is the hardest part of nonresistance because it requires respectful dialogue.

Step 3: Withdraw and balance. The form is completed as I withdraw my leg, pivot, and position my center of gravity over the back leg while the arms push and pull. After developing an understanding of the other through dialogue, I return to my concerns, values, and ethics and try to understand them using the new vocabulary that I learned in Step 2. This move sets me on common ground with the other, which is a very stable, just like the end position of Repulse Monkey.

The goal of practicing nonresistance is not to win; rather, the goal of nonresistance is to build relationships based on courtesy and charity. When practiced correctly, nonresistance will help me deal skillfully with the emotions that result in most of my suffering: fear, anger, envy, and bitterness.

And those emotions are definitely a monkey I'd like to get off my back and repulse.