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

No comments: