After learning Cheng Man-ching's short Yang form and getting the idea of push-hands, after nine years of study, I thought I knew something, and went off to Ben Lo's summer camp in the Catskills.
My first big lesson from Ben was that I didn't know anything but a bunch of empty movements and some ideas of being soft and yielding that I had no idea how to realize.
So I started over. Ben Lo's camp every summer for ten years. I developed a root, some integrity in my body. Now I was more difficult to push. I was still clinging to the notion of being soft and yielding.
Those same years I commuted to New York to study tai chi free-fighting with Ben's classmate William Chen. I had a chance to relax into my fear of fighting, and to connect to my legs.
Then I went to a tournament in Winchester. I was determined not to care how I did, but I was totally discouraged when I got pushed out in the first round.
When I saw William, his advice was to stay in the front foot (use more root). When I told him I wanted to try that soft and yielding thing, he said I had to come to New York and meet his friend and classmate, Tao Ping-siang, who was, he said, "the softest of all of us".
I did come to Manhattan and met this old guy who weighed less than a hundred pounds and was unpushable. I studied with Dr. Tao until his death in 2006, and I have continued studying what he taught me in the years since then.