This is my doctrine for life: DeanJ

“Therefore, let me say that to study T’ai-chi ch’üan, one must begin by investing in loss. When one has learned to invest in loss, then one is blessed with just the opposite. This is the ultimate in gaining the upper hand.”

“Therefore I say, “To learn T’ai Chi Ch’uan, it is first necessary to learn to invest in loss.” When one learns to invest in loss, [the loss] will polarize into its opposite and be transformed into the greatest profit.”
… a tiny investment in loss brings minor benefits while a large investment in loss brings you great long-term benefits.”
“Concentrating your ch’i to become soft is the only proper method to invest in loss – then you will not fear losing.”
As I mentioned above, these passages are embedded in a discussion about Tai-chi Chuan push-hands which could lead one to believe these passages are talking about the mechanics of push-hands. I too believed this for the past thirty-five years! However, it is now my opinion that these passages were grossly misunderstood due to the context in which they were interpreted! Consider this, if you had never before seen a diamond and a “purveyor of diamonds” showed you a handful of sparkly glass baubles (only a few of which are real diamonds), how would you distinguish the diamonds from the baubles? Would they not all look like diamonds to you? And all the while, the real diamonds remain hidden in plain sight. This is essentially what has happened with our western understanding of chī kuī (吃亏). We interpreted the value of chī kuī (the diamond) based on our experience with glass baubles.

So let’s ignore the glass baubles and get right to the diamonds! Let’s explore the internal gongfu meaning of each passage.
If you want to study, begin by investing in loss.
Most people who come to a loss-based, internal gongfu practice are quickly confused about the nature of the practice despite their confidence in their own preconceptions; “I know what ‘investing in loss’ means. Just show me what to do.” With a life-long indoctrination in the invest-gain pattern, the presumption is that the same invest-gain mindset can be applied to an internal gongfu practice. Although the principles and methods may be quickly absorbed at the intellectual level (though inaccurately understood), it can take a long time to structurally comprehend what the practice actually entails. If you want to engage an internal gongfu practice, the place to start is by doing the “not” of whatever it is you think you should be doing to “get” internal gongfu. What does this mean?
Concentrating your ch’i to become soft is the only proper method to invest in loss.
As we know, the term ch’i (qi) has no equivalent in a western cultural context. It has been horribly misused since its introduction to the west and from my experience it serves no useful purpose in the internal gongfu arena. Instead, I propose thinking of this sentence in these terms: Focusing your intention on making your muscles supple is the only proper method to invest in loss.
What does it mean to make your muscles supple? Relax! Let go of emotional-muscular rigidity that is bound up in your body. From an internal gongfu perspective, loss refers to letting go of or “losing” chronic emotional-muscular tension and habituated ways of moving and being. When relax is done properly, this is loss. When on the verge of letting go of long-held muscular rigidity, fear asserts itself. Bearing fear, loss occurs. “Investing in loss” is a far more profound practice than superficially learning (adding on) a new skill; how to mechanically “yield” and redirect all the while maintaining your emotional-muscular rigidity! “Investing in loss” is not a practice about adding and refining a new muscle memory. “Investing in loss” is a practice about releasing (or losing) old muscle memories! Practice chī kuī not to get something but to lose something.
Additionally, becoming “soft” does not mean becoming “limp”. Releasing/losing emotional-muscular rigidity to develop muscular suppleness occurs in the context of maintaining structure and balance.
Then you will not fear losing.
Coincident with the invest-gain pattern is the fear-of-losing pattern. Together these are a formidable barrier to allowing loss to occur. For decades I practiced Wujifa zhan zhuang both with the aspiration of gaining something and with the fear of losing something. I don’t recommend this path. However, throughout my years of practice, I’ve also experienced countless mini-losses (let go a little here, a little there) which in hindsight represents a significant accumulation of loss! It’s like the old joke: How do you eat a whole cow? One bite at a time. Letting go in a big way will get you there faster. Letting go in a small way may get you there eventually.
Once the first loss has passed, then other losses may come more easily. Repeated letting go and relaxing results in a diminishing if not an outright loss of the fear of letting go and relaxing. (This of course depends on the person and their attachment to the particular rigidity encountered.) That said, as I continue to lose, I may encounter more deep-seated fears. Being reminded of previous losses, the fear of losing may be diminished (and again, maybe not). Losing the fear of losing may require years, decades, or a lifetime of practicing loss. At some point, we are reminded, you will no longer fear relaxing and letting go. You will no longer fear losing.
A tiny investment in loss brings minor benefits while a large investment in loss brings you great long-term benefits
This passage simply refers to your practicing loss. How much do you practice each day? How many years have you been practicing? What is the quality of your practice? If you practice relaxing, letting go, losing a little bit, then you get a little benefit. If you practice relaxing, letting go, losing a lot over a long period of time, then you get great long-term benefits. What are these benefits?
When one learns to invest in loss, [the loss] will polarize into its opposite and be transformed into the greatest profit.
The key term here is “polarize”. This was the great discovery of the Chinese of yore who practiced qigong (soft round) imbued with martial intent. This is where the magic happens. However, it would be more accurate to say, “After one has lost a particular amount of emotional-muscular rigidity, then within the suppleness there may be discovered an entirely different feeling of bodily movement.” Developing this feeling, which may be thought of as the “polar opposite” of normal, everyday mode of moving, yields the greatest “profit” for health and martial arts. It is only after the body has attained a degree of this transformation that the diamonds and glass baubles begin to show their true value. As Douglas Wile translated, “When one has learned to invest in loss, then one is blessed with just the opposite. This is the ultimate in gaining the upper hand.” When you have lost more muscular rigidity than your opponent, then you can see where your opponent is “holding”, where there is a “break” in your opponent’s connectedness. This holding or break is a “weakness”  that can be exploited to your advantage.
At the beginning of this article I said these selected passages were embedded out of context. This is not entirely true. Now that we have a clearer understanding of the meaning of these passages, we can now go back to the entire passage and draw the relation between these phrases and the surrounding context.

The extent to which you can sense-feel within yourself is the extent to which you can sense-feel into your opponent-partner. If you don’t practice losing (letting go, relaxing) or you only practice very little, then you probably will not be able to sense-feel deeply into your own body and the level of your push-hands skill will be superficial. Alternatively, if you lose a lot of emotional-muscular rigidity and in the process of losing you develop the ability to sense-feel very deeply into your own body, then the level of your push-hand skill will be profound. And so the place to begin the partner practice of push-hands is in the individual practice of losing emotional-muscular rigidity.
Finally, let’s wrap up with looking at the translation of chī (吃) as “invest”. A great amount of time, effort and more often than not, money, is needed to lose emotional-muscular rigidity. The backwardness of practicing loss is that you cannot practice to achieve that which you think you are practicing to achieve. You don’t know what you will lose. You don’t know where the loss will occur. You don’t know how you will feel after the loss. You don’t know what losing will lead you to discover. Rather, you dedicate time to allow ever deeper tensions to fall away and somewhere in this process of losing, the body naturally transforms to something else. That which was not previously available becomes available. Invest time with trust in the process without knowing what needs to be lost. Only after you have endured a particular amount of loss will you know the loss that was required for the transformation to occur (for you). Then you realize the benefit of time and effort invested in this pursuit. The term “invest” is one we readily understand. It is the process in which we invest for an unknown outcome, that is not readily understandable.
In Wujifa, there is a saying, “You don’t know until you can demonstrate it.” In this article I’ve provided a conceptual framework for these passages based on my experience and current understanding of my experience. I hope you find these insights applicable to help guide you from “knowing” to demonstrating.
___ DeanJ

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