7 Minutes

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.





That’s how I imagined it must have sounded when my student said there was a noise in his head right after I flicked the back of my palm against the side of his head. The weird part was I had tapped the right side of his head but the noise was heard in his left ear!

I didn’t know what to make of it except to assume in hindsight that the tap must have rung his head like a bell and projected the sound to the other side. To me the more interesting reaction was how the tap caused him to stop immediately. Though, I did not intend to actually made contact, that it did inadvertently yielded this observation.

So if you ever wonder if a flick of the wrist is effective this anecdote suggests that it is. Of course, the other question would be how would it be if the target struck had been the face head-on. Silly question. A tap to the face can stun and with a bit more force can break the nose.

Fun fact to know. Just be careful when practicing this way.



Fifth Lesson – Games of Strategies

In the book on the 22-form there is a chapter entitled 拆架拆手 (Dismantle Frame, Dismantle Hand). This chapter offers examples on how to apply the strokes (招中术) and force methods of the 22-form.

The 21 examples can be considered as step-by-step studies on the use of intention force against an opponent who provides resisting pressure but not necessarily actively resisting.

The 21 studies of the strokes of the techniques are useful to spark off your journey to learn the use of intent in your push hands. As you make progress you will need to practice against opponents who resist more actively, who will vary the amount of resisting pressure and who will try to counter your fajing attempts with their techniques.

In other words, not a dummy partner who will allow you to get away with anything. You certainly do not need to have a compliant training partner who at your slightest touch (or perhaps a non-contact dismissive wave of your hand) jump like a grasshopper.

Your progress is only as good as the way you train. When you have more realistic resistance from your training partner you will understand why the use of techniques and power go hand-in-hand. This information is captured in the way a good form is organized.

Sometimes the information is obvious but many times it is not. We can only speculate why this should be so. If you ask me it is to prevent someone, perhaps an interloper who is peeking through a hole in the wall, who managed to see the form being played from figuring out how to use the techniques easily. In other words, you can steal the movements but you cannot steal the applications.

The movements of the form are not cast in stone. They have obvious, hidden, derived and situational applications. Many times a demonstration of fajing can be good but totally suck at being a proper combat application. When you play push hands against a less cooperative training partner, someone who will push you back or strike you, then you will understand this point better.

Though the form does not always tell you the strategy being employed explicitly it does not mean it is not present. As long as your opponent is not a dummy he will not allow your attacks to go through so easily. You will have to intelligently use your wits, techniques and power to make your technique work.

In the beginning you will find that even though you can visualize the workings of the force models in the various strokes, however, you are unable to use them freely. In fact, most of the time during push hands the timing to apply a technique is very short making it next to impossible to get your strokes together.

Until and unless you can do the various requirements in a split second you will never be able to use the force models. This is why you need to internalize the requirements by constantly working on your 22-form. There is no shortcut to mastery here.

Keep to your daily practice. The goal of using the force models within the strokes of the form is not impossible. It just takes persistence and intelligence to master them.

So what are the games of strategies you can learn from the 22-form? Let us take a brief look at one example. You might have seen this drawing at the beginning of this site :-


This fajing model is the last model presented in the chapter 内功勁法 (Internal Power Strength Method). The full name of this model is 大氣球澎脹法 (Big Chi Sphere Inflated Method). I like the use of this model because it is simple yet comprehensive. Since the topic here is about strategy rather than force models I won’t discuss how it works in the context of power. Instead, I will just write about its use as a strategy in a broad context.

I have heard Tai Chi practitioners describe how their body needs to be rounded so that they can be like a fully inflated ball that can rebound an opponent. This is a nice analogy though it is rare to see a practitioner or master actually use it. Master Cheng Man Ching’s Cheng Tzu’s Thirteen Treatises on Tai Chi Chuan has a chapter entitled Strength and Physics that discusses how a sphere can be used for attack and defense.

I have read it a long time ago and always wondered how to actually apply the information. I tried out ways to make the sphere work for me but I could never truly make it work in a manner that is consistent to what is written in the Tai Chi Classics, at least not until I have learned and practiced the method of 大氣球澎脹法 (Big Chi Sphere Inflated Method) for some years.

I won’t describe in detail how to cultivate the 大氣球澎脹法 (Big Chi Sphere Inflated Method) as it is outside the scope of topic here. What I would like to say is that you need to use the fundamentals to build the necessary intent to bring forth the Big Sphere until it is for all intent and purpose, feels real to your opponent.

When you arrive at this stage your can use the Big Sphere to carry out the ways of neutralizing and attack that Cheng Man Ching describe in his book. However, this is still only the basic stage of usage. From my experience there are at least two more stages that you can go through, that can expand and refine your ability to use the Big Sphere.

To put it in a nutshell, the 大氣球澎脹法 (Big Chi Sphere Inflated Method) allows us to use the following games of strategies in a game of push hands :-

a) Go with the flow, harmony and outflank

b) Rotate and rechannel

c) Load and release like shooting an arrow


Finding Tai Chi Land

I just finished reading a book on physics, specifically gravity. In conducting research on Tai Chi an understanding of the science of gravity can be helpful.

Found a fair bit of information that changed the way I look at gravity. Some of the information is useful in helping to explain the deeper aspect of Tai Chi especially the intention model of Grandmaster Wei Shuren.

Towards the end of the last chapter there is a section entitled Finding Neverland in which the author likened the theory of physics to be like that of a Russian nesting doll. If you do not know what a Russian nesting doll is you can view the video below :-

For some reasons unknown to physicists when they thought a theory is already complete and perfect they would later discover that there is another deeper theory inside the already perfect theory.

For a long time I thought the common model of Tai Chi on how to tap ground force, doing silk reeling etc was the correct model. That is until the intention model was presented by Grandmaster Wei in his book on the 22-form and in one fell swoop overturned everything I thought I knew about Tai Chi.

The physicist Nina Arkani-Hamed is quoted as saying that “The laws of physics at one level are perfect. And, at the deeper level, they change into laws that are even more perfect.

The interesting conclusion is that you cannot gradually come up with a new law of physics. You either make the jump into the great unknown and the law is discovered or you do not.

As the author pointed out Newton said “No great discovery was ever made without a bold guess.

Or as Arkani-Hamed puts it “Physics makes progress in a very discontinuous way. It is very important to be in the vicinity of the answer and so to leap from the right spot.

The intention model is one such paradigm that can either enable you to make a huge leap in progress or leave you frustrated. Just recently I saw a video of one of my early teachers demonstrating fajing. What was interesting is that until this video his demonstrations have been the standard stuff I see other masters do.

However, this recent video was a huge leap forward. Now I see him actually using intention clearly. He would describe what he was doing, how by pointing his finger he can project the force in a particular direction even though he did not physically touch the point on the body of his student.

Truly wonderful to see a long time veteran make a big leap in progress. You can watch two demos here (reminder – use the WordPress password for your TaijiKinesis Vol 2 eBook), one from 2011 and another from 2017, to see the contrast in progress.


Shortest Distance

In Wing Chun it is said that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line.

However, in Tai Chi the shortest distance between two points is a curve.

Why do we say this?

If you regularly practice the use of strikes in push hands or sticking hands you may notice that it is difficult to strike your opponent unless you disengage your arm from his arm that is in contact with you. There are two ways to do this.

The first one is to disengage by the arm that is in contact and trying to strike over the opponent’s arm. I tend to see this a lot in Youtube videos of Wing Chun practitioners doing sticking hands. Why they do this is an interesting topic.

The second way is to use your other arm to parry or grab the opponent’s arm to momentarily detain it, freeing your arm to strike.

It does not matter if you are practicing Tai Chi, Wing Chun or some other styles. As long as you practice a contact platform these are the two common ways to do it.

The first way can work well if your opponent is slow to react. I saw this in a Facebook clip of a Yiquan master doing push hands. When he deliberately lost contact and moved in it was like watching a truck running down a person.

The only thing I would caution against doing it this way is that if your partner uses strong forward force you may find his hand suddenly shooting forward to hit you the moment you lose the contact. Of course, you can move your body out of the way just before you do it but its a calculated risk.

The second way does not always work because not everyone that play hands using a contact platform will keep their arms close enough for you to use the other hand to parry or grab. I found this out when I played hands with Tai Chi people when I was learning Wing Chun.

So what do you do then if you want to do a strike and both ways are not workable?

This is when understanding that a curve is the shortest distance between two points when arms are in contact is useful. What does this mean exactly?

LogoClick here to learn how to use a curve to move quickly between two points when playing push hands.


From Form to Push Hands

You don’t really know how to play your form properly until you know how to apply the techniques in push hands.

Likewise, you won’t go beyond shoving and wrestling until you understand your form.

The learning of form and push hands complement each other. The form is a reference textbook containing techniques with various obvious usage. Go deeper and you will discover hidden and derived applications.

Learning how to play push hands begins by taking the technique from the form and understanding why it is performed the way it is, how it fits into the game of physical chess of conquering position and seizing space. We also examine the thinking of the opponent, how to make him give you what you want.

After you have learned about the technique then you can try to use it when playing push hands freely. This means your training partner will act in a compliant manner. He may tone down his resistance to give you a fighting chance but he will not give in easily. In this way you can simulate what works and what does not within a controlled learning environment rather than resist for the sake of it.

What you see in the video above is a reader of TaijiKinesis Vol 2 learning push hands after learning form. He has known Tai Chi for two decades. You can see the good foundation in the way he moved. What is not obvious is his softness and power.

In the last part of the video we just played a bit; I did not say he cannot resist or use strength. I just let him react how he liked to and we just let the play take its course so that we can get a better feedback on how the techniques worked out given different levels of resistance; all part of the learning journey.

Sometimes with regular students we do play fast, hard and rougher. It depends on what we are working on. Better train to be prepared particularly with the unexpected than to get a rude shock. By pushing and expanding the scope we get to understand better the techniques in our form, whether we are doing them properly or need to be changed, always keeping in mind the principles.

LogoDo you use what you learned in your form in push hands? If no, why not? If you want to learn how to do so click here.

A Plan to Win

I hate repeating myself. But its a necessary evil if I am to drum what I want to teach into my student’s head.

I learned that he is going to meet his buddy again for push hands. He is not optimistic that he will be able to do well since his bud has learned longer, taller, bigger and more skilful. He expects to be able to perform better than previously that is before learning from me. But not expecting earth shattering results.

Its my opinion that if you do not believe that you can do something you will never be able to do it. A first step to being able to do something better is to know what you are doing.

Once I had brought this question up – how to be better and start winning at push hands. I think my student has forgotten what I said. At that point in time previously and this time again I asked him the same question “so what’s the plan to win?” and he still cannot answer.

Note – we use push hands as a training tool so mostly the winning is not the most important thing. Actually, you can learn more by losing. However, at a certain time you must learn how to win too. This is because if you ever have to use it for real your push hands training can be an asset but only if you train it properly in the first place. Of course, it goes without saying that in a real situation you don’t want to be on the losing side.

Coming back to the topic on another occasion I had explained to my student a plan to win at push hands. That he still cannot answer means that my explanation had gone in one ear and out the next. Which was good because now I can have some fun showing him what I meant, all over again.

So yeah, Game 1. Then Game 2. And he resisted and tried to push back. But his less than stellar grasp of the basics and absence of a game plan meant that he could not control his position and he ended up like a boat rocked by a wave. Like I told him a game is needed if you want to come out tops.

He tried to fight against my Game 1 and ended up in a place where I could use Game 2. Like a ping pong game I moved between Game 1 and Game 2 until in trying to defend against them he created the opportunity for me to use Game 3. This is what I meant by having a game plan.

You cannot win if you cannot think and move at least 3 steps ahead. And you can’t do this if you don’t know your own movements well enough. Knowing them well means you must know what to do even before you can think about what to do. You need to train to the point where true intention manifests in the form of no intention. Its like a computer program that can predict what you want to do next before you even thought of what you want to do.

The inability to move when playing hands is what some of my teachers referred to as a stunted hand. This is why in the days of yore a lot of our training was on doing the form again and again, so that we understand the nature of change and in time change becomes us. Then we can start learning how to win.


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