Push Hands Series I: Standing Meditation, Your Taichi Form and Push Hands

Develop Root, Structure, Line & Energy

The key and cornerstone of Tai Chi or any internal Martial Art is the daily practice of Standing or “Standing Meditation”. It develops one’s root, structure, internal energy, and contributes to overall good health.

At the beginning of learning Push Hands we will focus on the mechanics, imagery, and sensations of standing and explore how they relate to push hands practice. Secondarily, we will link this focus to the concepts of getting into the proper contact with one’s partner, expanding and contracting one’s energy, aiming, neutralizing and working with the “The Point” of contact.


Most people have no patience with the practice called standing meditation. This is mostly a problem of motivation, which in turn springs from a lack of understanding of its meaning, purpose and the beneficial results from this important practice.

Essentially, learning the depth and profundity of tai chi requires that we break it down to smaller and simpler components in order to bring its complex subtlety into an understandable and practicable bits. Thus, learning of “deflecting a force of a thousand pounds with a mere four ounces of strength”, had to be painstaking slowed down to the tai chi pace and further “frozen” into a standstill to put into microscopic feel the fine and subtle details of energy work.

In this beginning stage, the essential forms and practice of standing shall be explored along with goals of using them as a means to understand and develop the “internal power” of Tai Chi. With this one can also get to bring this understanding into the practice of one’s moving Tai Chi form.


The development of the quality of “rooted ness” is the special stability to withstand being easily pulled and pushed. This is an essential aspect of push hands and like most other body and mind tai chi qualities, having root involves a combination of factors. Rooting involves a high level of relaxing and the sinking one’s energy that allows one to use the force of gravity and the stability of the ground and the lower members of our body as a constant ally in the balancing game of Push Hands. Through a system of practice of Standing one can understand how one’s practice can lead to this quality.

Structure & Line:

This refers to both the architectural integrity of one’s skeletal and muscular frame, and its interplay with the dynamics and qualities of rooted ness and balance that is based on a flexible, movable, central line of axis.


With a physical structure that is stable, balanced and relax, one can then input the energy as a palpable sense awareness and a focused feeling intention through the whole body. This would provide an intensified sense of developing one’s roots, structure and line. A basic sense of the “heaven and earth” energies is developed through the intension of the “suspension of the head from an imaginary string above” and a “pull on the tailbone from an imaginary string with a weight underneath.”.

Standing and Push Hands:

The “rightness” of the qualities of Standing should be checked with push hands realities which is, if these are correct from a martial and energetic viewpoint. One’s Standing qualities will be “tested” with the required qualities to do push hands.

Thus, we develop qualities in standing to put to use and test in push hands. In push hands, we will discover the extent of our understanding of a particular concept and the level of our ability to put it into practice. While push hands itself is also the occasion to deepen and increase our understanding and ability, it would be necessary to personally isolate particular realizations and perform more focused practice by bringing these into contemplation in our daily standing practice.

There are many realizations that can come only through doing push hands with a competent instructor. These concepts are good to explore at this stage of one's learning:

1. Contact Intention on One’s Partner – Simply stay neutral to listen to one’s own and the other’s energy. To distinguish the quality of our own and the other’s structure.

2. Covering Lanes of Attack on You – Avoid being double weighted and ensure "exits"so that one is not jammed into a “corner”.

3. Aim: Without "aiming", you cannot affect a person with your contact. Unless you affect them, they will continue to affect you, thus pushing you around.

4. Neutralizing: Probably the hardest to do without pushing back and not press on the point of contact.

These are a few of the understandings we discover from pushing hands with the teacher, that we can bring into all our practices - our standing, our form and our own push hands with others.

TCUP: An Association ahead of its time?

Despite the multitude of benefits and advantages to having one, there are many misgivings about forming a unified organization of tai chi and internal arts practitioners. All relate to what people refer to as a negative Filipino trait – "the crab mentality".

Without intentionally offending the crab as a specie, this mentality refers to what is perceived in the crab's behavior when they pulls down a fellow crab that is trying to escape by climbing out of their cage in captivity. Some people argue that the crab actually does this because he is concerned about the group as a whole and is discouraging individual selfish motives. Or that, the top crab is just trying to pull the other crabs up . . only a crab can really tell.

Whatever, the usual common phenomenon in case is the copious proliferation of Filipino associations in the America – regionalistic, clannish and personalistic. Characterized by constant bickering directed at personalities rather than issues – a national preoccupation that is probably an extension of our homegrown politics.

It would seem that this is an inherent trait of the particular stage of the development of the Filipinos as a people – still lacking a sense of nationhood. Would the Tai Chi Union of the Philippines (TCUP) then be anachronistic and fall into this pattern?

But, another point of view is to see Tai Chi and the formation of the TCUP as a transformative effort and proactive solution to a national problem. Imperative even, since the country and its people are ill prepared and disunited to face the impending problems that the “Global Warming” trend will spawn in a not too distant future. This approach can be seen as one of many approaches our people can take to be able to ward off this "ten thousand pounds" threat with our puny "four ounces" of national strength”.

So, how can tai chi do that? Actually, real tai chi has the potential of changing the practitioners internally – to gain the universal principles of balance, unity, coordination, sensitivity and connectedness; not to push but to flow and to harmonize. If so, it would then be the practitioners that would transform the Filipino thinking (as in the 100th monkey/critical mass principle).

So TCUP can be looked as the practitioners learning practice set. To paraphrase Confucius, “If we want to change the world, we can . . . but we need to start with our country, but before that we start with our community, but before we work even closer to that of our family, but even before that, our self, and before that, our vert inner thoughts by asking if they are sincere”. So, that’s it, do we have sincere heart on this – “cheng shin”.

We can, can’t we? In the formation of TCUP, as in our practice of tai chi, we can let our egos rule, we can have selfish motive, or we can be sincere to learn and do. Many believe some of us can do it. Just like in tai chi, we may be far off from our goal, but if our heart is in the right place, the right direction will be evident, and it would just be a matter of time. . . Patience too.

For inquiries and comments email me: ed.stillmountain@gmail.com

Learning tai chi push hands: 4 Helpful Rules

Here in the Philippines we recently upgraded our skills from the sharing of Chris Vogel who is currently conducting a workshop program in auspices of the Dasmarinas Village Association and Still Mountain Tai Chi Kung Institute.

Learning the art of tai chi push hands is probably one of the most difficult endeavors for most of us, and certainly for me. That is probably one of the reasons why very few people teach, learn and consequently practice this aspect of tai chi.

From beginning to learn this exquisitely subtle art, one can truly begin to appreciate why the name tai chi chuan literally means the great ultimate martial art – it leads to the highest level. This is hard to justify for the obvious reason that we cannot personally prove it, which in turn, is simply because we do not get to learn and practice tai chi pushing hands.

Rules here do not mean laws; rather they are like rail guides to keep us from veering away from the wrong direction. They are being suggested by those who walk this path ahead for those who would like to tread this very subtle and tricky path to the pinnacle of tai chi. It is difficult enough with a guide, discarding the guide is almost a certain path away from the goal.

Here they are:

1. Grateful and appreciating attitude to your partner.

>Yes, one needs a partner; different partners show us different aspects for us to learn.
> So, it is really pointless, if not downright low mindedness to
injure or dishonor your partner – our very source of learning.

2. Patient, relaxed and playful spirit of learning:

> Too much seriousness comes from excessive willing and expecting; this causes tension, just reinforcing the very manner we hold our mind and body that we would want to change.
> Learning comes from mistakes. As the late master Cheng Man Ching said, “Invest in loss. After continually learning from committing the same mistakes a hundred times, we would eventual gain real and substantial learning” – from our mistakes comes our invincible strength, the real "jing" (internal strength). > Hurrying to “get it” will actually take us longer. A very
appropriate paradox because as Classics master Wang Tsung-yueh said, "Missing it by a little will lead many miles astray."
> “From familiarity with the correct touch, one gradually comprehends jing; from the comprehension of jing one can reach wisdom. Without long practice one cannot suddenly
understand tai chi.” - Master Wang Tsung-yueh

3. Essentially, push hands is a great teacher for learning about self and others.

> It is a great learning practice to know our weaknesses and strength as well as those of our partners.
> As Master Wang Tsung-yueh said, “To become a peerless fighter only comes from being able to say – The opponent does not know me, I alone know him.” And, “Fundamentally, it is giving yourself up to follow the opponent.”
> Be rewarded and allow rewarding with a friendly soft pat
to show that “attack lanes towards us are not adequately covered”, they would have been open and unrecognized. Strive to be always aware to adapt or evade in time. Done playfully and without malice, this helps both players adapt to changing situations.
>So, self-reflect often, deep and wide. Take note of your partner's strengths and weaknesses and correct them first in yourself and then offer suggestion to your partner only if it can be accommodated coming from you, otherwise, let it be.
>Remember that there will always be someone with greater skill. It is not about wining and losing. Win and lose correctly for the learning and mastery that will come with time.

4. Check if you are contemplating and beginning to get the principles:

  • Centering: Stay on the center (body) and find the off-balancing point.
  • Staying within the “four ounces” principle: Focus equally on neutralizing the incoming force and on attacking with the four-ounce principle (never allow more than four ounces of pressure on your body and on your attack). Avoid tensing beyond “four ounces”: Use tense arms of opponent, and don’t give tension that can be used by the opponent. Pushing on the point of contact leads to tensing.
  • Keeping a firmly expanded and balanced structure: Keep a circle of space between your body and your arms/hands by turning, folding, using up and down and side-to-side appropriately. Inflexibility and having no firm expanded structure leads to collapsing and being cornered.
  • The Neutralizing and Aiming Game:

To neutralize is to render the opponent’s aim ineffective as in deflecting the direction of his “gun” away from you as a target.

To aim is to have your “gun” aiming at you’re your opponent such that he would be “uprooted” if he does not neutralize your aim.

Deflect the opponent’s aim while reestablishing your aim. This should be done with as little physical movement as possible. This means we try adjusting our internal energy and feeling primarily.

Tensing up is considered a move and that can be taken advantaged of. An attack/aim that is tense, telegraphed or holds more than four-ounces from the onset is an opportunity to take advantage of. Avoid in yourself and seek in your opponent.

It is important to not miss and use as little effort when you aim while causing your partner to miss his aim.

Stay light with the four-ounce principle. It affords sensitivity and timely changes.

Stick/adhere and follow to control your opponent without giving up your structure.

Getting this right is rewarded with being able to give a friendly soft pat indicating that one has not missed both a neutralization and aim . Done playfully and with intent to learn together, this helps both players to advance in realization-after-realization.

  • Internalize these principles in daily standing meditation:

bring standing awareness into the practices of form and push hands.
This promotes flexibility in mind and body and leads to finding the strongest and safest position, timely neutralization and constant aiming back.

This is just a quick and short summarization of what I’ve learned so far. Indeed, far from being comprehensive but, helpful nonetheless.

For sure, push hands training is metaphorically applicable in daily life. Don’t you think so?

Let us know what you think. Email me: ed.stillmountain@gmail.com