Monday Morning Tai Chi Training Tip # 265
Unique Hands Of Tai Chi Chuan
Last week I talked a bit about some of the ways we change feet. Today I want to talk about the hands, and specifically about the difference between the Striking Hand, and the Pushing Hand. Some years ago I wrote an extensive article about the Tai Chi hands which is posted at my web site: www.gilmanstudio.com. Then click on Articles, then click on Unique Hands of Tai Chi Chuan. If you haven’t read this article or haven’t read it in a while, I recommend it.
Most Tai Chi players don’t use different applications for the repeated moves. I find it informative and energetic. Knowing applications, and pantomiming them, requires using different hand and feet positions for the repeated movements throughout the form. If you look at the Hands article I suggested above, this will be clear. One of the most common hand posture mistakes is between the “Striking Hand” and the “Pushing Hand”. Let’s look at these.
Note: In Yang 108 Form, “Grasp the Bird’s Tail” is broken into three moves – Roll Back, Press Forward and Push. It is repeated 8 times in the Yang Long Form. In actuality, about half of the “Push” are really “Strike”. Study the applications for the form and be sure to differentiate between the two. I have quite a few videos on YouTube that demonstrate the differences, especially the Short and Long Master Courses, The 108 Applications series, and the Grasp the Bird’s Tail series: (https://youtu.be/Sg5MQYXhRqU)
Striking generally requires the hand to release the energy in a downward direction into the partner’s body. As the strike happens, because it is directed downward, it forces the partner’s body to become more rooted, causing the striking energy to bounce around inside the partner’s body. If you strike upward, it tends to lighten the root and the energy will not to absorbed as well.
The Pushing hand directs the energy in an upward direction in order to break the root of the partner, throwing him away. If you push downward, it only makes the partner’s root stronger and he can borrow your pushing energy, combine it with his own energy, and release it back into you.
When pushing, the hand is held softly with the fingers upward in order to mold to the object being pushed. Most players incorrectly use the relaxed hand for the Push in the form. In the relaxed hand, the fingers are almost horizontal instead of vertical. You could not really push something like that. Try to push something heavy with your finger tips. You use the palm mostly for pushing.
We generally strike using the heel of the hand, not the fingers. Of course there are techniques that use fingers for poking or the edge for chopping, but the greatest release of energy happens when you “Set the Wrist”. This exposes the heel of the hand which is really the lower end of the forearm, which is much more solid than the palm.
In order to learn how to set the wrist, try this. Stand in front of something solid, like a door, a wall, or ideally, a punching bag. You are about a foot or so away from the object. Reach out, about chest level, with one hand until the finger tips just touch the object. With out moving the fingers, hit the object (lightly) with the heel of the hand. Notice how the wrist sets (or sits), the fingers expand upward, exposing the firm heel of the hand. One can deliver a lot of energy, even when the fingers are in contact. The whole body releases energy in a slightly downward direction. Don’t forget to use the torso and waist to send the energy to the shoulder, down the arm to the wrist, and out the heel of the hand.
The bottom line when doing the form: 1) When pushing, the fingers tips are pointing upward from the start to the end of the forward movement. 2) When striking, the fingers tips mostly face forward and only at the last moment do you set the wrist which results in the finger tips ending up facing upward. 3) The end result is the same in both cases. How that is achieved is different.
I find the Tai Chi form so filled with energetic possibilities that expand the body/mind connection. Don’t just mimic your instructor. Of course, he or she should get you going on the right path, but then – study, learn, and create.