Tai Chi Chuan Techniques of Pushing Hands

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There are three steps to learning pushing hands. The first step is referred to as the “single hand while stationary exercise.” To advance to the second step, you simply add a second hand to the drill, making it a “double hands while stationary exercise.” The third step, which involves stepping in specific patterns, is the “double hands while moving exercise.” Some tai chi instructors add their own variations to these exercises, but these three drills are the foundation of pushing hands.

Technique #1: The first two exercises teach the tai chi student about physical rather than mental sensitivity. From birth, your eyes are the primary sense you rely on. You depend on your eyes almost exclusively for all your sensory input. Because of this dependence, your other senses become secondary and lose the ability to properly correlate sensory data.

In essence, your other senses become rusty. For most people, this sensory limitation is quite normal and does not present problems in their day-to-day living. For tai chi practitioners, however, this sensory deprivation can mean the difference between fully understanding or never understanding their art. This is why the pushing hands exercise is so important. By practicing pushing hands, the entire body is trained to be ultra-sensitive and can instantly respond as a single, cohesive unit. When this level of sensitivity is achieved, it is a simple matter for the tai chi stylist to feel an opponent’s intent and redirect it accordingly.

While the first two pushing-hands exercises teach physical sensitivity, the third drill, double hands while moving, enables the student to sense what the opponent will do next. This ability to predict correctly what one’s opponent’s next move will be is a tremendous advantage, speeding up the defender’s reaction time to an attack. This is the basis for the famous tai chi adage “When my opponent moves fast, I will move faster; when my opponent moves slow, I match him.” Understanding this concept is therefore an important part of tai chi.

There are two other important benefits of pushing hands that should be stressed. First, practicing pushing hands teaches the tai chi student how to move with his chi (internal energy). The tai chi form also does this, but pushing-hands practice takes it to a much more advanced level.

The second important benefit of push-hands training is that it gives the student a better understanding, in a hands-on manner, of why and how the style’s fighting techniques work. By knowing the how and why of the techniques, you can better channel your chi at the appropriate moment in both the form and in selfdefense, making your techniques more explosive and powerful.

It should be noted that while performing any pushing-hands exercise, the force used in the pushes should be light, and the redirecting of energy should be smooth and continuous. When a practitioner becomes relatively accomplished at the pushing-hands exercises, he can begin to blend two of the drills during training. At this point, the exercise truly becomes free-flowing, allowing the students to relate the drill to the tai chi form and thus gain a deeper understanding of the application of the many movem ents.

Technique #2: Because pushing hands is so integral to mastering tai chi chaun, all tai chi systems include some form of it. Of course, there are slight differences in the way it is practiced from style to system, and even teacher to teacher. But, in general, it is the same exercise in each tai chi system. Such is the complementary nature of tai chi chuan systems.

The most important thing, however, is finding an experienced teacher. It takes time to develop pushing-hands skill, but a quality instructor can hasten the process and make it an enjoyable learning experience. With time and practice, you will reach a new and heightened level of sensitivity in your tai chi chuan training. ~ By Mark Wasson