It took a 7 minutes and few seconds video to bring together most of what I had said before in learning push hands.
Backtrack – at various times when teaching push hands I would bring up different points, basically stuff to understand how to use push hands as a training platform for understanding how to use the emptyhand form, essentially a means to test your knowledge and skill in using the techniques in the form freely.
One day my student said he would be meeting his senior from another style, someone bigger and taller. It was an excellent chance to check his progress. I suggested things he could try on top of those he had learned before, not to mention taping it for his own analysis of his performance.
So I saw the video and yup, basically he didn’t use the stuff I had taught; not even remotely tried. It was as if he had not learned anything. To me it looked like giving the game away too easily.
The video I saw may be a short 7 minutes plus but I pointed out the many things I had taught before that was useful in his encounter. That he didn’t use any of them was like a baby offering candy to an adult. Yeah, it was worse than an adult trying to take candy from a baby.
This was a good learning moment, for me to say again the importance of knowing how to play push hands like a game, how what I taught him fitted in.
For example, when we play push hands the way we configure our posture dictates our strengths and weaknesses, informing ourselves and perhaps the opponent what could be exploited and used against us. When beginning push hands all students have this habit of inadvertently giving a free pass for a knowing opponent to open the door and come right in.
I would think having done this many times keeping the door closed would have become second nature. But no, I saw it, once, twice and each time his senior moved forward to enter. I didn’t say this in hindsight but in foresight having brought it up ages ago. Like I said the first step to master Tai Chi is know yourself.
I also pointed how that he did not follow our method of engaging. What he did was basically giving up candy without a fight. The way we play push hands follows a certain approach, the first amongst many is to carefully and knowingly guard our space. If you do not do so then your opponent can just enter easily without you being able to offer much resistance even if you wanted to.
I saw his senior used a Biu Jee escape technique. To me this was a bad technique, easily exploited but if one failed to pay heed to the details then this was another giveaway technique.
When we practice push hands we are very careful how we position ourselves, how we yield, how we set up a response, and so on. This would enable us to play different games of strategy to capitalize on what our opponent is giving us. A strong person is formidable but amidst the strength there are weak spots. What are they? Learning push hands is a way of understanding our own strengths and how to use it against the opponent’s weaknesses.
Lastly, we always remember that the opponent is not stupid. What you can think of he can too and then some. You want to beat him you have to use a different set of tools. If you use the same tools then apply with a new twist so that your opponent cannot anticipate it. Remember combat is a game of wits too, not just strength. Otherwise, we might as well pack it in and call it a day.