Push hands is one of the most misunderstood concepts of tai chi. Some think of it as slightly controlled sparring and some think it is very dance like. For that reason, it scares off practitioners who may not see the relationship between push hands and their goals. So before tuning out, if you are not martially focused, please read on. And if you are martially focused please read on. Push hands is hugely important for the development of internal skills, e.g. health or martial application.
Why do tai chi push hands?
Let’s start with 6 huge advantages you receive basically from standing in front of someone and rocking back and forth. You gain an understanding of the body mechanics of the art.
- It explains why a posture from the form is a certain way. You may not be exactly sure where a hand goes in a posture but when you learn the application it is cemented in your brain.
- It teachers the four main energies (Please see our article on Jing for a full explanation.):
- Listening (Ting)
- Understanding (Dong)
- Neutralizing (Hua)
- Issuing (Fa)
- It teaches the four main skills in making contact:
- Connect (Lian) continually connecting physically and paying attention to intention.
- Follow (Sui) obeying your opponent’s intention by letting him think he can apply an application which leads him to use force.
- Stick (Nian) making light contact with an opponent without breaking.
- Adhere (Zhan) getting an opponent to follow you under your control.
- It teachers the four primary principles of movement:
- Ward Off (Peng)
- Roll Back (Lu)
- Press Forward (Gi)
- Press Downward (An)
- It teaches the four secondary principles in the Da Lu Push hands form:
- Pluck (Cai)
- Split (Lieh)
- Elbow (Jo)
- Shoulder (Kow)
- It teaches how to move in the five main directions:
- Central Equilibrium
So I get all of this from standing in front of someone and pushing on them? Yes, in effect. Think of the amount of academic work that it would take to understand the above concepts. You can get their much faster just by beginning push hands.
The above list may appear daunting but you can gain these skills from proper pushing hands without even knowing the concepts above exist. The martial implications are more obvious but the movements also provide the energy that fuel your health. Now, let’s dive into the variety of push hands and help you identify how to let push hands address your goals.
What does push hands look like?
Tai chi push hands is a two person activity made up of set patterns. Typically, two people face each other, connect at the forearm and move in circular patterns while transferring weight back and forth.
How is tai chi push hands practiced?
Imagine a long spectrum. On one end people are smiling and pushing hands, practically dancing and getting the benefits listed above. On the other end, a stadium in China is filled as two push hands opponents compete by issuing blows and attempting to throw each other to the ground or outside of a ring. They are reaping the benefits from having gained knowledge from the list above. How can this be the same thing?
The fundamental focus of pushing hands.
Push hands shows us how to apply intention to this invisible internal power. How you use it is up to you.
What are the common push hands drills?
Push hands starts out simple and grows more complex. This is the same process for whether your intent is martial or health or both. The difference is that the martially minded pursue sparring routines, fighting, and unrehearsed sparring routines. Martially focused please note! You have to increase your sensitivity and move without using your muscle or you will not advance. You will just be doing a muscle exercise. Take your time and you will be hugely more effective and stronger.
It’s very hand to verbally describe push hands so let’s go the easy and fun route and look at some video clips.
One Handed Push hands: YouTube 00:53
Stationary Two-handed Push hands: YouTube 01:57
Moving Pushhands Patterned: YouTube 04;00
Basic Pushhands Application Example: YouTube – visuals start around 04:20
How do I find a tai chi push hands group?
This is often harder than learning the drills. Seek a school or meet-up group that matches your martial/health goals. Practice can initially be frustrating but then push hands becomes one of the most rewarding events because of the rate at which it increases development.
Additionally, there are books and videos that can get you started. Check out these tai chi push hands resources on Amazon.