Greetings. I want to share some thoughts about Push hands this week. I look forward to your feedback. Also note there is a new class starting at the Sequim Gym. Hope to see you there.
I want to discuss the art of Push Hands as it is taught in Tai Chi classes. First I want to get clear that Tai Chi and Tai Chi Chuan are not the same thing, even though others, as well as myself, usually use the names interchangeably.
Tai Chi is the name of the symbol, double fish, that stands for the interaction of yin and yang. Tai Chi Chuan is the martial art based on this philosophy. Most instructors in the U.S. teach what I would consider a watered down version, Tai Chi, leaving out the martial aspects, as most people, especially elders, aren’t interested. Let’s get back to Push Hands.
Like everything about Tai Chi Chuan, the principle of yin and yang remains paramount. When my partner is yang, I am yin. When he moves to yin, I follow with yang. It is like a balance scale. Easy to talk about, but not quite as easy when playing with someone. Push Hands practice runs the entire gambit from very soft sensitivity training to full contact competition. Again, not many are interested in competition, so Push Hands get watered down. Most instructors, including Master Choy, don’t offer partner work until the student had a solid foundation, usually meaning the student had at least completed the Long Form. In all my years with Master Choy, I had only one Push Hands class. In the beginning of my teaching career, I taught what I called Join Hands. Not nearly as threatening a name as Push Hands. Mostly sensitivity training. Very yin in nature.
As I progressed in my teaching I studied Push Hands, learned the various forms, and throughly enjoyed the playing with energy. In 1996, I entered the prestigious All Tai Chi Championships, and without doing any specific training, won the Grand Championship, never having lost a match. This proved to me that learning and practicing the form will give one all the skills necessary to master Tai Chi Chuan in all its aspects. Because I have a strong structure, it forced the opponent to use strength to try and uproot me, and I would craftily switch to yin and they would fall over. Most competitors lost the match because they over extended and lost balance, not because of a good uproot.
All bodies are different. We all have a unique set of skills. We have to be realistic about what we can do in the area of Push Hands. At a workshop, I had the good fortune to Push Hands with a very well known master of the art. He weighed about 150 pounds to my then 210. Out of respect, I let him set the pace and level of intensity. He was like smoke. Almost impossible to find his center. His technique was to let the opponent push, drawing the other person in until the pusher had gone just a bit too far. He would then add a small effort and the pusher would lose balance. He was so good at this.
I enjoyed playing with him. He couldn’t push me over, as I was just too big and strong, and I was smart enough not to fall into his trap. At one point I realized I could push him over if I wished, and chose not to, as many students were watching and I didn’t want him to lose face. Another really good push hands player is Chris Luth. He is a surfer from Southern California, and he could bend almost all the way backward until his head could just about touch the ground behind him. It was almost impossible to find his center and give a solid push.
Another of my favorite push hands artists is Sam Masich. His is strong and aggressive as well as being a terrific person. I have learned so much from pushing with him through the years. He is always in your space. One of the masters of what I would call sensitivity push hands training is Andy Dale. So soft and light, and one never wants to try to follow him in too far. He is always ready with a joint lock.
The point being, we have to be realistic about what we can do and can’t do. In the classroom, most students won’t really try to push the instructor over. Most people never really push anyway. But they should. How is the partner ever going to learn how to deal with bursts of energy if they don’t get to practice these techniques.
I am not saying we should use intrinsic energy (yang) all the time. We need to be well rounded and able to deal with all types of situations. So when playing with someone, be as soft or as hard as you can, or need, to be. Use sensitivity at all times. Don’t take it too seriously. Most true learning comes from the area of play. Think of a cat playing with her kittens. And remember, big, strong people (yang) need to develop their yin side and vice versa. Also remember, if you want to achieve greatness, develop and really concentrate on your skills. You get much more payback for the time and effort invested. Don’t try to be mediocre in everything.