Student Notes – Learning to Master Tai Chi 3

Click to read Part 1 and Part 2.

In our approach to Tai Chi the learning of forms is linked to the practice of push hands. One important thing that we observe in push hands is never to push (i.e. attack) blindly, at least not without a game plan in mind.

Every attack, every defense, every counterattack must relate to the form and its associate strategy and change. Without a game plan we will end up doing push hands using too much strength and relying on the opponent to make a mistake to give us a win. If the opponent is playing an aggressive game then he will give you a lot to work off. However, if the opponent plays defensively most of the time or attacks conservatively then you may have little to capitalize on. What will you do then?

So this is why we learn the form, because the form offers us a mental chessboard and a number of pre-configured games to study. If you study a Tai Chi form blindly then you end up with a lot of moves that cannot be applied easily in push hands except by luck. If so, then it is a waste of time to study a form.

The study of the form begins in one way but can end up in different ways. It is like studying music, perhaps you begin with playing a piece in C-major with 4/4 timing. But as you go on you can play the piece in different keys, different timing and so on. Most practitioners tend to study Tai Chi in C-major, 4/4 timing and never move beyond it so its not surprising that the form is not useful to them.

Students who have learned the Tai Chi form for years would learn how to express it differently, perhaps even a few ways within the same practice session. Short of making a video I don’t know how to explain this to you but if this were music then it would be like this piece The Dark Eternal Night from Dream Theater. Just observe how the timing and key changes quickly and fluidly from one to another.

Different practitioners approach push hands differently. One example can be seen in the video right at the beginning of this forum thread here. Playing the devil’s advocate if my student were to ask whether this method of connecting with an opponent is something he should do based on playing push hands with friends I would ask him to examine the pros and cons.

One question that comes to mind is whether we should even allow the opponent to come so far into our space to the point whereby he can place one hand on our body. What’s the advantage of allowing him to do so? What’s the disadvantage of allowing him to touch us so easily? What’s our objective here? What’s the game plan? Would we do the same if there are more than one attacker? How does learning the Tai Chi form figure into this scenario?

There are quite a few things we can investigate as part of our learning curve. One thing that is constant is that every opponent is different. What works against one opponent may fail against another. Even the same technique against different opponents will turn out slightly differently. At times the span of our knowledge can influence our choice of responses.

For example, I have a favorite attack that works against virtually all of my students. But that wasn’t enough for me. I wanted them to be able to use it against me too. When finally one student managed to do it reasonably well I then trotted out my responses to this technique which can vary from a lighting, blinding palm strike to a low strike depending on how they respond. So the Tai Chi Push Hands Game can work in the manner of paper, rock, scissors changing from one response to the next until one of us fails to have an answer. In this way we learn the strengths and weaknesses of our techniques as we work on developing and refining our game.

How to Master Tai Chi Today? Know your own responses and changes a hundred times better than your opponent and you will always be a step ahead of him.


Want to learn Tai Chi in Singapore? At Singapore Yang Style Combat Tai Chi lessons covering forms, weaponry, push hands, fajing and applications are offered. Lessons are conducted in English. Send enquiry today at the link here.

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