Straw Man

I’ve been watching videos of people teaching push hands. So many interesting methods and approaches.

The only thing that seems to be missing is treating the opponent as an intelligent person instead of like a straw man. What do I mean?

Just today I saw a video of a workshop. The master asked the student playing the opponent to put his hands on his chest and apply pressure. The master then placed his leading hand under the opponent’s leading arm’s armpit.

When the student applied more pressure the master let him push his body back a bit before using his other free hand to push the opponent’s elbow, augmenting his hooking hand’s motion to cause the opponent to go off balance.

It is a nice, impressive neutralizing technique to basically a static attack, meaning the opponent is pushing in a dead manner. But is that how a real opponent would attack?

This is the problem of push hands teaching in that they are taught techniques that work as long as the opponent is a straw man providing one dimensional responses. However, to elevate our own progress I would think it makes more sense to treat the opponent as an intelligent, learning person, one who will do his best to oppose you every which way.

Using the same example this means if you put your hand under his armpit to hook his arm you stand the risk of him clamping your hand, sinking down and levering your elbow up, causing you to go off balance instead.

Of course, you can ask why can’t you attack quickly and apply your technique first. The reason is because once his hand is on your chest he is already in a better position. That you have to reach under his armpit means you are venturing into his territory and if he knows his stuff then the moment you put your hand in is when he will spring the trap.

If I were to back track a bit I would say that if I were the opponent I would not just push with both hands blindly. In fact, the moment the master drops his leading arm to move to your armpit you can easily use your rear hand to follow and pin his leading arm instead so that he will not be able to use his hook.

Of course, how you respond is how he responds and so on. But at least the response is on an intelligent level and not give away your positions freely.

If you are learning push hands for combat you should think about this. In fact, right at the beginning of the clip you can see the student’s arm posed right in front of the master’s face, unhindered.

This is something we try to avoid, giving the opponent a free pass to strike our face, because if you do it too many times you risk cultivating a bad habit. For the use of push hands to learn self-defense we always stress cover yourself up. If you must leave something open, know what it is and use it to your advantage.

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