What’s the first thing a student could do to improve their push hands?
They should understand what they are doing particularly how the chips fall into place. Its common to do push hands by well doing push hands with another student. My own learning experience is that this does not lend itself well to learning how to use Tai Chi for combat.
If you just circle the hands round and round as a formality before trying to bulldoze your way in to push your partner or to grab his arm, neck or body to do a throw then I would say that if you try to apply Tai Chi against a fast moving striking art like Wing Chun even in a game of sticking the probability of you having to eat a lot of punches when closing in is very high.
For this reason the first thing to do when we learn Tai Chi is not to do the circling part right away. Instead, take a moment to examine how to set up a proper frame using what we have learned from the long form so that we can protect ourselves when applying a pushing motion or entering the opponent’s space.
We can term this proper frame a Defending Frame or to use a more common term a Guard Posture. This requires you to line up your hands in relation to your body in accordance to the requirements of how to move safely whilst defending and delivering your attacks with a degree of power whilst retaining the ability to change.
In our Tai Chi we have a set of procedures on how to set up the Defending Frame. Combat starts not from the moment you move but from your mindset. Beginners learn a simple game plan which they can vary once they gain competence. The game plan will tell them how to move, in which particular sequence to achieve their objective.
For example, if my objective is to do a wrist lock on the opponent’s leading hand I would need a game plan to maximize my success. The game plan will lay out what I should do, how to do it such that my opponent will happily offer me his wrist to lock.
This normally does not sound realistic because no opponent would offer his wrist readily. Not unless you have to give him a reason to do so such a casting a bait. Or at the very least distract him long enough to capture his wrist.
A typical game plan for say capturing the opponent’s leading wrist would go like :-
1. Set up your Defending Posture
2. Move in and connect
3. Harmonize and control
4. Distract and capture
5. Move into strategic position
6. Implement lock
7. Capture and complete objective
Seven steps sound like a lot to do. In fact, when learning how to do this properly the steps are a lot more. However, once you get it the seven steps can be done so quickly they seem like but one swift move.
I have a student who learned how to do locks as part of his job overseeing the incarcerated. I never could quite understand why he would learn something that he cannot competently apply. I theorize that it could be because instructions were brief or that he did not have enough practice. Recently, I heard another reason – it is that when subduing a person they would normally act in threes.
Ah, so that’s it. If there are three versus one then the movements will not need to be as exact nor the standard of performance as rigorous. But in 1-to-1 combat its basically you and you alone. So if your skills are not there then expect to fail.
The way we set up the Defending Frame is to allow us the opportunity to strike, lock or throw. We should also be set up to issue power because a technique without power is basically useless. Unless you can create intense pain with your wrist lock then you might as well not use it. A correct cuffing of the opponent’s wrist should allow you to control his movement, make him go weak in the knees from the pain, allowing you to prevail.
The learning of push hands will complement your study of the long form and vice versa. Over time you will understand why the masters of old place emphasis on form learning for beginners. Its one of those things in that if you never get there you will see forms as useless. It should not be. A form should liberate you in the end and free you from having to be in a fixed form so learn the details well. This is how we can Master Tai Chi Today.
Note – the basis for this post is extracted from TaijiKinesis Vol 3 : Fundamentals of Push Hands
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.