Contact Training

The fun about push hands training is that there are so many ways to work it.

One aspect that we work on is how to keep flowing amidst pressure. However, we don’t just flow for the sake of it. We flow like water seeking an opening.

When we find the opening we then go through it. But not before ensuring that there is healthy compliance to the principles like don’t let the elbows fly in the air, don’t use excessive strength, don’t expose yourself to strikes and so on.

An example is working on keeping the centre, and not just the centreline. This aspect of training calls for us to protect an imaginary sphere in front of our body, making the opponent run around it.

Another aspect is how to recover the centre the moment the opponent’s hand comes through. The solution is easy enough, let it come, harmonize and guide it back out.

And if the opponent’s arms were to crumble, quickly change to push and pull to uproot and send off.

Push Hands Roadmap

If we say that playing push hands is like playing chess what do we mean exactly?

How does pushing round and round like playing chess?

A lot of times doing push hands is not like playing chess. Instead, it is like reacting. You push, I react. Then you react to my reaction. And so on, but its all reacting without a plan except I need to push you off-balance.

If you want to play push hands in a more chess-like then why not play it more like chess with a chessboard and pieces with defined movements?

I guess at this point many readers would scratch their head and go Huh!

I like to think that playing push hands is like playing chess with a dose of game theory, you know the famous prisoner’s dilemma thing? Yeah, that one. This is how we approach playing push hands, by presenting a prisoner’s dilemma scenario cause you see, this simplifies decision making, presenting a more logical take on what-if scenarios.

I know, I know, being an internal arts practitioner means we must look down on such what-if scenarios learning. But truth be told, if you know the whote Chi thing but cannot use it in push hands then as far as being practical is concerned you’ve just lost the plot.

Working with engineers taught me a more sensible way of looking at push hands :-

a) It is not just push here and push there. It is why, why, why push like this and not like that, what’s the objective, what’s the point?

b) It is defined; thus pushing round and round may be fun and serves some purpose but after that if you still push round and round without an aim then you are not really playing chess

c) There are laid down requirements and objectives to fulfill otherwise how do you know if you have made progress?

So when we play push hands we have to address the questions of :-

a) What is the chessboard? Why is it important?

b) How does the chess pieces (our techniques) move, strengths and limitations?

c) What are the markers of success in implementation of technique and strategy; example check-mate the opponent by pushing him off balance or by ability to implement techniques of strike, lock or throw

With the above, we can then proceed to define what constitutes a chessboard and how the pieces’ movements should be like as well as associated strategies :-

a) What is the mental chessboard? How it is defined and mapped by intent

b) Key strategies and positions

c) Major techniques and associated changes

d) Process of implementation and execution

e) Application of power

If the above doesn’t make much sense don’t worry about it because the target audience is my students who are learning push hands. This is an overview of our approach to help them remember what the outline of the story is about. The rest of the details they can fill in when they are learning it.

Flow & Change

Work sucks because it takes away my fun time. While I have a short break from work now let’s have some fun.

Unless you are doing a cooperative drill your partner / opponent will never give you a free pass. You want to apply a technique on him you gotta make him give it to you or force it on him.

When we apply Play Pipa while standing in the center of our opponent’s gate we have to capture his arm before we can apply the lock. The first thing to do is to capture his extended arm’s wrist rather than elbow so that your right arm can still do its job to protect you from his left fist.

As you flow into the position to catch his right wrist you need to carefully control the position and capturing motion. If your position is off he can run away and hit you. This is when your position must allow you to recover if you make a mistake. If you encounter resistance that stops you from capturing his wrist then you would go on to Plan B, perhaps a change of position and technique.

But if you die, die must play the pipa then you can change and flow until you get back to the position where you can grasp the pipa (opponent’s arm).

However, there are times you just cannot get back into the position you want because the opponent has put up a strong guard. In these type of instances you should just go with the flow, take what is given and just use it. An example of this is shown below :-

Sometimes when we train we will use a bit more resistance than normal just to see where it takes us.

Learning a Musical Instrument, Not

Play Pipa is a technique that appears twice in the Yang style 108 form. Below is an extract from a longer video of Grandmaster Dong Huling showing its application in push hands.

The pipa is a Chinese musical instrument, somewhat like a guitar, but with 4 strings and a pear shaped body. Below is a picture showing how the pipa is typically held when played. Does it not resemble the way GM Dong applied the technique?

GM Dong’s video shows the way the Play Pipa technique is normally executed on the opponent’s outside position. For beginners this is a safer position to apply the technique without having to worry about the possibility of the opponent trying to punch you with the other hand.

However, our point is that a technique should as far as possible be able to be applied even when we are standing in the front gate of the opponent’s position. To safely use Play Pipa and not be punched we need to address the elephant in the room by examining the use of strategy. In this case the strategy is to distract the opponent before we apply Play Pipa and for this purpose we are borrowing a move from the Fast Form as shown below :-

The video below gives a more detailed explanation of how the use of a strike to distract can also help you to land the position :-

And it goes without saying that once you get the arm locked you should use proper leverage to jack the opponent up and away.

For the purpose of learning we did not include those parts of Play Pipa that can cause injury.

Reference – The leverage principle is explained on page 68 of TaijiKinesis Vol 2 : Learning the Taijiquan Form. The part of the application that can cause injury can be seen on page 336.

Work That Kao!

It was an afternoon of rain, thunder and lighting. A change of weather from hot in the morning to cooling in the afternoon.

And a change in emphasis from using the hands to the body in push hands. This allows for a different insight to be generated. Kao is a powerful technique and working it can teach us how to use it.

In case you are wondering Kao can inflict pain. Just take a look at 0:48 in the video below :-

The Kao above is not as painful because the force is not focused to minimize the pain. To have stopping force the Kao should be used as shown in the video below.

The use of Kao can give rise to different training ideas such as how to use Kao to give a workout to our close range techniques as shown below :-

To test our Kao we pile on a bit of pressure by seeing if we can hold our position while the other person tried to do what he can to move us off.

Too many Kao can be boring so we end the training by working on strikes. The video below is continued in Video 12 of 12.


Altered Traits

I’ve learned a new term “altered traits” from reading a book on meditation. In Chinese martial arts we simply use the word “characteristics” to refer to altered traits when we ask if a practitioner is able to embody the characteristics of their chosen style.

I was teaching push hands to my student. I emphasized to him three general things he must have when doing push hands. Halfway through he wanted to ask a question. He showed the position his hands were in relative to the person he was doing it with. 

His question was how to avoid the other person applying a certain technique on him. I recognized the technique he described as a Wing Chun Lan Sau application. The first point I made was why did he stopped in that position thereby giving his partner a chance to apply Lan Sau.

OK, maybe he couldn’t help but stop there. Not a problem. The next obvious thing he should have done is simple. Actually, its ironic since its something I have mentioned many times and its one of the three things I brought up earlier in the lesson.

But then this is a common problem when students don’t pay attention and observe due diligence of key basics. It does not matter how many times I say it – if you do not ensure that you practice essential basics then you will never, ever get them. The root cause of many problems that arise in push hands and even application of techniques can be traced back to the absence or lack of key basics. Period.

Back to the second point. One of the three essential general things that we must observe is position, more particularly a way to have a good position, which I won’t mention specifically what it is but all of my students learn this in their form and push hands. Whether they can actually do it is another question but its one of those things I keep harping on.

A good position in this case makes it difficult for the other person to apply Lan Sau. Should the other person try to do so he will walk right into a trap. I showed my student the counter to Lan Sau, a counter that is difficult to run away from or block because of the way its applied. 

On the other side of the fence I showed him how a lapse in not keeping this one thing made it easy for me to apply a Lan Sau on him, followed up by a free knuckle sandwich.

This of course begs the question – how to learn key basics. The answer is easy – practice form over and over again, each time ensuring that you work to remember the essential requirements until one day they become a permanent part of you. Or to borrow the phrase your movements change permanently to altered traits.

My Watermelon or Your Watermelon

We use push hands as a platform for training control. For this purpose we learn how to flow and use it to control our position.

In this respect, we can think of it as a game of your watermelon or mine where your opponent tries to take away your watermelon but you do not allow him to do so. You accomplish this by learning how to prevent your opponent from controlling your front gate by circling and flowing as per example shown below :-

Once you have the basic hang of it you can try implementing a principle made famous in Judo namely pull when pushed, push when pulled. Below is an example of how you can do it :-

Further along you can also test your ability to fajing quickly without going through elaborate set up and breathing patterns typically exemplified in fajing demos.

Our logic is simple – your opponent will not stand there and accept being fajing. He will fight back, he will turn, shift, resist and you have but a split second to fajing. Thus, you have to learn to do it on the fly or your fajing is not practical.

You should also test your defences by not fighting back but just holding your control. In the example below I allowed my student to see if he can get through. He tried to do so by moving faster but I adhered and rode along with his movement and was able to stop him from breaking through to grab my watermelon.

Another test we can do is to check the resiliency of our body structure. In the video below my student tried to move forward but was repelled.

There are a few reasons why this happened :-

a) His moving mass was not properly integrated

b) I have a structure that is resilient enough to absorb and bounce him without having to do anything other than to let him apply power and push himself off

c) He did not apply the principles of entering hence he ran into my defence

Finally, we should always keep in mind that how we move, where we put our limbs can be exploited by an astute opponent.

In the example above my student tried to enter but did not pay careful attention to where he placed his hand.

As a result, he got his hand caught in my arm and ended up locking himself. This is why keeping vigilance and awareness is important when doing push hands.


Locks Training

When we do push hands training we do not just shove each other around. Instead, we strive for a semblance of techniques which can range from strikes to locks.

Below is an example of how we can apply a lock in push hands :-

We try not to learn too many locks at the same time. The preference is on working with one lock and examining its various facets. For example, in the clip below we flow into the lock under study after failing to apply an elbow lock :-

Another part involves studying how to overcome the opponent’s resistance through the use of breathing method. I normally do not have to use breathing method but it can be useful under some circumstances so why not?

The study of locks can help you to understand how to ramp up your power by relaxing. Sometimes you find that you are unable to exert power and you try to move more to get power, except you can’t move much without losing control of your opponent. So what do you do?

The video below shows you how you can increase power by letting go of your own muscular resistance :-

Other ways of getting power includes using a rotary motion similar to turning a wheel as shown below :-

It goes without saying that this rotary motion will only work if you apply the principles of leverage properly. This means you have to fix the fulcrum which in this case if your left hand and use the right arm to apply the lever.

Finally, an essential key to being able to apply a lock is familiarity with grabbing as shown below :-

How to grab can be a study by itself. You can focus on the following areas :-

a) How to place your hand in the position to get a firm grip

b) Where to position the fingers

c) How to bend and twist the hand into a locked position

d) Where to position the captured hand

e) How to apply pain and amplify it

There are a few other things you can focus on but the above are the areas we normally examine.


Begin to Learn Push Hands 4

This is the final video :-

Going a bit deeper into the nature of change depending on what the opponent gives you.

Below is a video I took years ago. This gives a demonstration of the various changes from the use of a basic push hands position.

This was taken on the fly in that we didn’t do any rehearsal or agreed on a fixed response. I just went with what was given to me by my student and thanks to him this came off well for a demo clip.


Begin to Learn Push Hands 3

This is the third video :-

Some explanation on how to use the horizontal circle for application of techniques using Grasp Sparrow’s Tail as example.

In our push hands the understanding of change is important because we never know how the opponent will react. So it is important to us to really understand the various positions we find ourselves in when playing push hands.