Discussion group on push hands took place at Tai Chi Caledonia
The following discussion group on push hands took place in Scotland at Tai Chi Caledonia in June 2007 and was chaired by the organiser of the event, Ronnie Robinson.
Ronnie Robinson (RR): Welcome to this push hands discussion group. I have spent the last few years traveling to various events, where I have played push hands with many people. One of these events which I particularly enjoy is the International Push Hands Congress hosted by Nils Klug in Hannover over the past five years. One of the things I became aware of as a teacher was that many people were doing pushing hands often had different education systems so sometimes problems arose because one person thinks they are doing something and the other person has a completely different mind-set. They are often doing something different and there is little common understanding between them. I thought it might be interesting to explore these, and other difficulties. I’m also aware that many people distance themselves from pushing hands because they have certain conceptions of what they think it is, and feel that it’s not something they want to do.
I also feel that tui shou is an integral part of this work we are doing and it’s a great shame that people have this difficulty. I’d like to look for a way to encourage people to really think about what they get from it. For the purpose of this discussion group, no matter what you have, or what you think, it’s fine if you express that, we really want you to express that, and then we can look at ways of perhaps creating a platform for you to get involved, or not, if you feel that you don’t want to do so. To this end we’ve brought a panel of people who are involved in the work of push hands on a day to day basis, and also somebody who is not, to try and create a balance.
The Panel included: Dan Docherty (UK) who includes tui shou as part of his syllabus, Mario Napoli (Italy) who considers tui shou as the prime motive in his approach to taijiquan, Nils Klug (Germany), who organises the Push Hands Meeting, Marianne Plouvier (France), Wang Haijun (China), Luigi Zanini (Italy) and Elaine Gibbs (UK) has kindly agreed to represent the view point of someone with little experience of the art.
RR: The title of this discussion is “Why Push Hands?” and what I’d like to do to begin with going round each panel member asking them to tell us what they were told push hands was. You may now have different ideas now from what your teacher said you were doing but I’d like to know what your initial exposure to push hands was.
Dan Docherty (DD): – Well, it’s not one thing. If you look at taiji classics they do not talk about pushing hands, they don’t mention the term pushing hands at all. However, they do mention various concepts which we train in pushing hands, various concepts we train to develop skills which we can apply in a real situation, in self-defense. Then we have drills to train these concepts. We then have, to a greater or lesser degree, free pushing. The free pushing we did was fixed step, we did do moving step but that was with sweeps and throws, but we didn’t refer to that as pushing hands, we referred to it as taiji wrestling.
Mario Napoli (MN): – I wasn’t told what it was or what it wasn’t, I didn’t know anything. My teacher just threw me on the wall and said we’re going to do a lot of this. So I didn’t know that it wasn’t something that you weren’t supposed to do, or if there was something to sort of debate between doing it or not. During my first lesson, if that’s what you call it, I got slammed into the wall. Five years later I was still being slammed into the wall, thrown down, sweeps, blocks, I just thought I was doing tai chi. I didn’t know I was doing maybe a just a part of tai chi.
But then of course I was also shown other stuff. I think if taijiquan is the whole of the art, I think of it like a painter, or an artist who does this kind of paint – he just doesn’t do one kind of painting, one kind of way, they tend to do oil, water, they do it on canvas, on silk, many of them go to sculpture, they do things on brass, so that to me maybe considered a whole artist. So I think in taijiquan push hands, or this part of what I call a two-man work-out, is part of a whole. To take it away, it may not damage the thing but it diminishes what it can give you. I also thought this push hands, or not push hands, it’s almost like what came first – the chicken or the egg. I don’t know, but in the old days when this fighting thing was real, (since we’re in Scotland we’ll use the word Clans), I think they fought first, and then when they realised there’d be a lot of fighting they started to practice more because they realised that people would always come to attack, so they increased their practice in order to be prepared.
So perhaps the question could be changed to, “Why do form?” Form can take a second-hand place because two-man, two-people is two minds, there’s learning, there’s exchanging and of course there are many different levels like Dan just said: He also does sweeps and throws which I did not know was not part of push hands because we did sweeps and throws. Maybe I was taught a little differently from the average player. So form is something I always assumed you did when you were alone.
Nils Klug (NK): – I learned it more traditionally – first the hand form, then pushing hands, and on occasions free-fighting. Before finishing the form I wasn’t allowed to go to the pushing hands class. For me push hands was taught as the best training to get some kind of flexibility and rooting, that’s what it’s for. There is no hitting any more in our push hands, no sweeps, no punching no nothing like that – we just try to have flexibility, be rooted and also to get an idea of issuing energy. So it’s more or less a game so you can’t really get injured in this game like we play it in our school.
Luigi Zanini (LZ): – Three points: In all the systems that I’ve been taught to, or have come into contact with, I have been taught that when you want to know someone, you just put the hands on them – without doing anything, you already know them. In martial arts, in my experience it is very important that you pay attention to partnerwork – it is fundamental. Partnerwork means tuishou, applications and sanshou. Basically the skills you acquire are connected to your senses – sight and touch.
The first way when I went to different places was – oh you are coming, come, come – just feeling the hands, the way you move, the way you are, then you know, and people immediately understand the level – that’s what I think is still fundamental today. Second point, from encyclopedias, according to your experience, your techniques, to your teaching, you can get out what you need and work on it. It is like to have a big encyclopedia – wonderful. Wonderful, but if you don’t pull it out and read it then it will make no sense. The third point is what is tui shou to me today?
RR: – Can we come back to that later?
Marianne Plouvier (MP): – My teacher didn’t say this is an exercise, my teacher said now we do tui shou – he didn’t say what it was, just that we would do it.
Wang Haijun (WH): – (translated by DD) – You train the taijiquan, relaxation and so on first of all. After training in the solo form you then look at training with other people like in pushing hands. Everyone’s got their own different situation, their own methods of training. The first step to train the body to be soft and relaxed, you get the qi going to the Dantian and circulation working properly and so on. To do tui shou effectively you need to be relaxed so the second thing is listening, this is called, ‘ting jing’, listening for the jin of the other person, listening for their force, the taiji force of the other person. It’s a sensitivity of the contact between yourself and the other person, the feeling, to follow. After being able to listen effectively then you have to be able to discharge strength.
Elaine Gibbs (EG): – Before this week, I thought it was just a quiet gentle waving your arms about in contact with someone else, just feeling where they are going and that seems very different to what people are doing here, so now I don’t know what it is.
RR:– (General question to floor) – So where to do you fit in to this? How many people like Mario were slammed against a wall and just told to get on with it, and then we have somebody who is told that it is being sensitive and being in touch with other people. So where are you in this? How many people here now are in this end, and how many are closer to this end?
Belinda: – The reason I started tai chi was I heard that if you are doing this push hands it enables you to use very little energy and you can move a taller person. Then I was told before you could learn pushing hands, (which I wanted to) first you had to learn the form, like Nils, so I had to learn the form of tai chi even though I wanted to learn the push hands.
RR: – How long have you been doing tai chi now?
Belinda: – About 20 years since I started.
RR: And are you able to move the big force with very little energy?
Belinda: – I understand, yes but I don’t know if I am able to do it. I am able to sometimes move it, yes. I am closer to what I wanted.
RR: – It’s interesting because already here we have a whole range of differences. We seem to have distanced ourselves somewhat from what it is, so may be there’s a western interpretation of it or something, so we are doing something else entirely now and I think this is where a lot of the difficulties come from. Ken (Van Sickle), you worked with Cheng man Ching, what was your remit when you started?
Ken: – Well I got basically translations from two or three different people, but what I was told was that you do the tai chi form, which is the repository or encyclopedia of martial art movements and health exercises, and to do that you need to be able to relax and align and root and find your centre and maybe manage energy levels. But then that’s subjective; you’re not sure you’re really doing that so push hands is a test and a task to see if you can do that – to stay aligned and rooted and relaxed when someone is trying to push you. That was the case at first. And then there was an interim between doing the form and free-fighting.
RR: – Just a curiosity – those that were more to this end (Working on relaxation, sensing etc.- (Approach A) ) – how do you feel when you are standing opposite somebody that’s more to this end. (Working to over-power the opponent (Approach B)). “Frightened” “Intimidated”.
Stuart: “ I often feel a little resigned when I do that”.
RR: So back to this end (Approach B) and do you guys have an awareness of this, and if so how do you deal with it?
DD: – I’ve seen Wang Lao Shi in action for example and it’s very evident that he’s got a lot of power okay, though I’ve also seen some other people in action (I’m talking about teachers now) and what they are working on is two different things. I think a number of the people at the so-called “this-end” as you put it, are interested in martial efficacy, but I think a lot of other people that are going into taijiquan at a certain age, and I think age and fitness is a factor in this – so you go into taijiquan at the age of 40 plus, and you haven’t done martial arts before. All the teachers at this table have a lot of knowledge, a lot of years of experience but they are not necessarily the most appropriate teachers for every individual in this room. It depends what you are want to get out of tai chi chuan, and all of us, I don’t know what everyone’s specialty is exactly, but all of us have different specialties, different things that we can work on more than other things. Equally there are many other teachers, and you know a lot of them, you’ve had them at Tai Chi Caledonia, you’ve met them in other places, who are more concerned with softness, with feeling, instead of trying to do something, they are trying to feel something. So I think one of the things is to choose a teacher who is appropriate for you. Now, it’s something that at Tai Chi Caledonia, you can meet other teachers who have got other things and it can broaden your experience but you might not necessarily want to work with that teacher on a regular basis as your main teacher.
RR: – So would you, adapt your teaching when working with a mixed group in this kind of environment?
DD: – You have to look at what you can do – you can’t teach people who are 50, 60+ and beginners the same way as you can teach young fit strong people.
RR: – So you are tailoring what you are doing in this?
DD: – You have to. If you look at Chen style for example, it’s the most demanding style of tai chi chuan in terms of athleticism and it’s not necessarily appropriate for everyone in this room, particularly the way Master Wang demonstrated – which was very nice for a demonstration.
MP: – I think Dan said it clearly, eloquently, correctly from my point of view. He said that this taiji thing seems to let a lot of people in, where unlike boxing, judo, or muay-thai; mixed martial arts only lets a certain select group of young, strong, tall, etc, people in. So I concur with what he said. As far as what I did, I didn’t know that this world existed, because for about 10 years I was with my teacher, Stan Israel and I didn’t see anybody else.
During this time I vomited, I injured myself and I thought that was it. Even the so-called neutralization that seems to be a Cheng Man Ching thing that we did, I did it until I cried, he left you on a leg and he wouldn’t let you go, you can’t move unless he moves, so even that was to excess. When I came out and I saw all of this I was in shock – I’d go wow what are they doing? And then I started talking because I was a greenhorn, I didn’t know. I was mixed with people who said you’re not doing taijiquan, so wow I was in another world; then again I started to understand the approaches that Dan just referred to.
Obviously I was younger in those days and you can’t work with older people without giving some ideas, they want to feel, they want to be calm. I came up with the idea that they do as much taijiquan as they can; they can do a little bit, or they can go deep, but the deeper they go the more the pressure’s going to be on them and the longer. Not every body becomes a deep sea diver, it’s difficult, it’s hard, so do what you can, and like you said – “What is it that you want?” I was young, I enjoyed the idea of being slammed, I don’t know why, I thought it was fun!
NK: –I know for sure that a lot of people and a lot of ways to do push hands. I call it push hands, but to me it’s not really pushing hands, it’s what some people do. I respect all these things but it’s not push hands. When I was taught, my idea was similar to Belinda’s – I wanted to move someone with effortless power and so on.
I want to ask a little question to the group, “Who of you practices push hands? Who is practicing once a week? Who’s practicing more than once a week? So it’s like three people doing it more than once a week, and I think if you really want to learn push hands you have to put a couple of years with daily training to get something like effortless power. So that’s my experience. People talk about push hands and they want to do this and that, but you really have to do it, that’s the deal. I can do these things, and I like these things too sometimes, but I prefer the real game.
LZ: – The thing I have been taught in tui shou is basically that there is a lot of work to do. There a lot to do and a lot of things to understand, and the growth is continuous, it can never stop. What I saw is as Dan pointed out there are many different levels and many different needs today in many respects and since the times have changed also the needs changed and we have different perspectives of the same thing.
So in my opinion it is very important to know, to have a little bit of the complete picture of what is really taijiquan in many respects, not to dissipate, this devalues the work and the art which is in it. I understand it as a martial art. And then be able to get the levels of the different degrees that everybody needs. Then there is a more social component in what we do, sometimes tui shou, it is more a way to understand each other and to understand ourselves and this is far away from what has been said on this panel.
MP: – As far as I’m aware nobody is really concerned about real fighting because real fighting has no limits. If you are in a real fight it can be to the death. I don’t think here there is anyone who is interested in fighting to the death. In my experience I think that schools need a more academic approach – to train fixed step, moving steps, one hand, two hands and all techniques to improve sensitivity, ability to feel the partner, to hear the partner, and to improve looseness and work on qi.
EG: – I think that if you don’t know somebody that you can’t know where they are can you? If I wanted to explore it I’d have to get involved to get a taste of what different people mean in their approach to push hands.
RR: – Do you get what you feel you need from your teacher?
EG: – I think if you are good teacher then you know where your students are at and you can give them what they need. Some people say you must do form first, but how do you know when you are at the right level in the form to move on to pushing hands? May be you shouldn’t do it too soon.
RR: – (to the group) Do you feel that when you introduced to push hands by your teacher, you were clear in what you thought it was you had to do? Did you have clear instruction for your development? How many people feel that everything was fine and that they had a clear path and how many people didn’t? Of those that didn’t, what do you think might have helped you?
Jeanne Kellet – I think if they’d focused more on the quality of listening and sticking rather than just throwing you around and saying do something, I think if they’d introduced the concept of listening and connecting to the chi and the softness in yourself, as a development on from the form, it might have helped – taking the form and then exploring another person.
Chris Little – When I learned, I was doing tai chi for health, I was taught form and push hands and chi kung all at the same time right from the beginning and we were just told it was a form of testing and increasing the sensitivity and that’s how the class was run, but then as I became more interested and I wanted to go deeper. My first teacher in a sense opened a door to this other world that wasn’t actually there in the original classes. Once I’d started on the road I soon realized that I could go out and meet others who were also interested. There’s a lot out there and my teacher was very supportive in his encouragement, but he did in a sense, leave some doors for you to push open yourself and I found that very helpful. I think if I knew everything was there at the beginning I probably wouldn’t have done it, because I’d already rejected Kung Fu.
Joyce Hurd – The first year I came to Tai Chi Caledonia there was a pushing hands session outside by the chalets and I can remember being totally put off by people saying – oh no you don’t do this and it really made me so irritated that I never wanted anything more to do with it, and then I came back and saw Jan Silberstorff doing an advanced pushing hands class and I thought to myself when I came up here that I must try and overcome this anger I have about pushing hands. I asked him if I was suitable to join the class, and we worked on listening which was immensely helpful to me. I’ve since been to a few of his workshops and it’s that quiet listening and then going into it that really helped me.
RR: – (to Panel) This leads us to how do you actually teach pushing hands? What is your emphasis? Some people are thinking about listening and some people are thinking about pushing over, and somewhere in between there are a lot of different things going on, so just give us a sense of your emphasis and how you teach it and what you do.
DD: – It depends – I was teaching an old chap in his 70s and all I wanted him to be able to do was to react to an external stimulus and to relax and go with what was being done to him – I didn’t want to actually teach him to push anybody. Whereas I’ve got some other people that I train for competitions, and they are in the minority, most people are learning pushing hands to develop skills which are useful in self-defense.
MN: – Maybe it’s the wrong question for me because I’m not really a teacher, I’ve putsed around you know in New York where I have friends, 3 or 4 us, because we can’t get people to do what we do because… . I’ve been living, for personal reasons in Italy for the last few years or so, so I found 5/6 people and now I’m down to 2, so I just have 2 friends who I practice with, so my interest is very limited. I believe Marianne was talking about fighting or killing, I don’t do any of that, if I can call what I do sports fighting, we have certain rules, try not to tear each others eyes out, don’t bite the neck, don’t hit the groin, and just slam each other and eventually we can concentrate what it means to be soft, relaxed, pliable, centered, rooted, all this stuff may actually have a meaning, but I’ve learned them not through with trying to understanding them first, thinking I know what it is or it isn’t, my body has done the learning, I’ve tried to get my mind out of the way and I’ve listened to my body – and what I’ve found out what worked, I kept; what didn’t work, I didn’t keep, and then I kept concentrating and concentrating where that I thought when I heard these words – sung, relaxed, suspended, rooting, it meant something physical to me. So I don’t teach, no-one would come to me, it doesn’t work that way. I enjoy seminars – not that I’ve done many of them – but when I’ve done them, I’ve toned down,
I enjoy what I do so much and I do want people to understand that even if I do what I call sports fighting I try to make them understand that it’s also about health. If your legs are strong, pliable, you are able to let go, your muscles will help your heart, the blood is moving – they say there is something called chi, which they say is in your blood, it circulates, it invigorates your organs, your breathing becomes longer and deeper and calmer. This thing changes you, so even if there is something that’s maybe a sport, that gives you a hobby, an enthusiasm of taijiquan that you really want. So that’s why I show a little bit so that they may appreciate that there is something there. I’m not like a Neanderthal. I do like tai chi and it does give, but you know, you get what you put in, and you want more health, more calmness, you want to feel centered you have to do a little work.
NK: – I try to first teach a little neutralizing – yielding – how to react if someone is pushing you – so if energy comes in, how to react, what to do. How not to be stiff, force against force, we want to yield it, so be flexible in the mind and in the body, to me it’s the same, and it helps me to deal with daily life. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.
The next step is to give directions, true directions in the terms of being a good partner, because I find out in these push hands meetings, and in a lot of talks with you and other people, because taijiquan is slow and most people also play at push hands slow. They do things that no one would really do in real fights and it might be good to do these things for, listening and this and that, I’m not sure, but I find out that a lot of people who have done pushing hands for years are stuck because they don’t really have true direction and they do not even know that there is room for experiments.
I see my school like a laboratory, like doing research, so you have to have a couple of rules and I call them true directions, That is what I am mainly concentrating on. It’s not like hitting each other, I do that with a couple of my students but that’s not what I really teach.
LZ:– As Nils was pointing out the sequence is neutralizing, managing, after a while being able to really find a way out, but this depends on the basic request and agreement between the people and the teacher. I’ve a few students and a few teachers, friends, in Italy – we meet together and we work, deciding where to go and what to do, and that’s the best way I think it can be done, we agree, and we go on, then it can be everything.
Fighting is at the end of the day real fighting, just find a way not to damage yourself too much but to grow up, exchange experiences, work on things, but it cannot be done always. With students it is always a question of negotiating needs, teaching what the person asks for, if more, then we go on.
MP: –I’m not teaching tui shou very much because my level is not very high at all. But I have a question to ask Wang because, lets say that you know we have academy approach, so one and two hands, fixed step, moving step, all that and we have what we call here free tui shou, but before we have da lui and san shou and then maybe free tuishou.
My question is, “When do you think students should go to free tui shou – at what moment can you tell your students – okay you can do free tui shou – when do you think it is possible to do it and how?”
Wang (translated by Faye Yip) – In Chen style, pushing hands has different stages, fixed step and moving step and they are all designed to show different parts of the skill. The first skill is called wrist power – sticking hands, and you are just trying to do circular movements and you stick to the other person’s movements. In this exercise you don’t have fa-jing, you just listen and follow and try to develop good contact.
The second stage is fixed step using peng, lui, ji and an and this trains these four techniques making sure you do them correctly, following the same directions, not doing it off-side, leaning back or forward or sidewards, but always following the guideline for the technique. The body shouldn’t lean to the side but is there is a quite precise way you should do them.
The third stage is moving step. This stage you both do the same posture and try to make sure that no force is used against each other, just going through the routines and going through the postures. You are trying to find out whether your partner is doing the right technique at the right time. If the technique of your partner is out of line, poor body alignment or whatever, then you can use that force of your opponent to move him.
At this stage you are trying to find the other person’s faults and mistakes; you don’t create confrontational strength against each other but through the following, listening and moving steps you are trying to identify opportunities. To avoid any confrontation against each other in force you learn to neutralize if there is any potential or intention of incoming force. The next stage is called da lui – a very long stance, training for your roots and stamina and co-ordination between the roots and waist so you can go up and down also practice the exertion of power from the hip and waist.
The next stage – trains you to a place where you can use any steps you want to co-ordinate your moves – it is not pre-arranged or choreographed, just moving freely using the techniques and practicing with random steps. These are the different ways of training.
RR: – This idea of coming back to where you were Joyce, of meeting someone who is doing something that is contrary to what you want to do. You said the first time you came here you wanted to try some pushing hands and you felt something was a bit hard or irritating. How do we overcome this, what would you say to people who are in a free arena, who want to try something, but they come up against something that they find irritating?
DD: – As I said earlier, not every teacher is going to please every student because their approach is going to be different. Different students want different approaches so you have to find someone who has an approach that suits you and if somebody doesn’t have that approach then you are not going to have much fun training with them, it’s as simple as that.
MN: – I guess maybe I agree with everything he’s saying. Obviously when I work out with my friends we do something completely different, but when I come here I try to stick to the basics, or what I call the foundation, and see if I can make them work, or let the body work a little harder so they can feel parts of their bodies they never felt before.
I just do the basics and try and make them go a little lower, or a little longer, or let go in such a way that they are not used to, just using the upper parts of their body. They get to use every part of the body so I’m finding that they are finding that it’s difficult and tiring, so their legs shake a little bit, so I’m hoping that all of this will make them think about it a little harder. They’ll get the results, and obviously since taijiquan is for health for most people, they’ll also get the health benefits as well, just that with the moves, it’s a lot.
NK: – With my students I have lessons for form and hours for pushing hands, so if someone is interested in push hands they can do it. But I don’t teach just that but try to give a different point of view. If they really want it then I will do it in my private time. You have to talk before you start the game. It’s what usually doesn’t happen!
Once I had a big guy and he looked straight at me to push. He was a total beginner though I thought he was stronger. He didn’t tell me that he hadn’t done any push hands before. So the first thing is talk, then tell your partner if you want to play soft, I don’t want to do this or that, if you want you can teach me, but don’t talk all the time, I just want to have a little experience. That’s what it is. So in these meetings this is what it is all about.
LZ: – The experience in Recontres Jasnieres was quite enlightening to me. I think that negotiating is the right word in many respects. We should talk about what we want to do, and understand really what the meaning is and adjust during the work because sometimes things change. What I really do with my students is to create the good premise – to let them be hungry – to want more, to keep them not frustrated with a good approach, but stimulate them into wanting more.
MP: – I share Dan’s opening, – not everyone can be taught the same way – age, motivation etc of the teacher, of the school, all is different.
Elaine – I didn’t know what to expect. I’ve seen people being thrown around and know that I don’t want to do that. I would have liked someone to ask if I’ve ever done this before, do you know what you are doing, and to start really slowly.
RR: – And does that not always happen?
Elaine – No.
Bill Webster – Why should any of the teachers compromise in order to make push hands into something that it’s not?
RR: I’m not suggesting any one compromises and I don’t think anyone does that. I’m trying to find out what they do.
Fiona – It’s an opposite experience for me. As a relative beginner for pushing hands the first time with some people with a lot more, 10 years or more, –experience than me and I came to a point where one person in particular realized that I was a complete beginner so he just got bored, put no effort in, lost the connection, looking around. It happened a few times. He was being soft, giving me a chance, but he was giving me no connection, no challenge. The same day I pushed with some one a lot more experienced than me, but they pushed, and that gave me permission to push back and I made mistakes, but it gave me permission. Whereas with the other person felt I couldn’t do anything, I didn’t have the confidence.
WH: – When you do partnerwork, usually things happen because one party is too strong and wants to dominate. You must do a role, separate with one lead, one follow, one listen, one move. You must co-ordinate and be considerate of your partner and to avoid any strength against strength – you must agree between partners the role definition.
NK: – I forgot – usually it’s communication, non-verbal, but it’s the most important thing to talk before. In taijiquan I didn’t really see any one get hurt. It looks from the outside that there is more force going on than is really the case.
LZ: – I saw a lot more bad injuries in football then in gongfu when we started in Shaolin!
RR – I don’t know if it is possible to put in a few words, but as teachers, do you have a sense of common problems that need to be overcome. There are a lot of different things in push hands, but I’m trying to establish if there is something general that sticks people that can perhaps be helped.
DD – No.
Mario – When I do these seminars, I just stick to the basic, the foundation and try to give them a little more pressure, not mental but physical pressure, so that they get a little excited about doing more. I don’t know how to teach different types of people without a foundation. I see people who may not be ready to wrestle, but who want to because they’ve seen it, now maybe it’s in style – but they have no body to do it.
Contrary to what Luigi said, I’ve never seen so many injuries than in taijiquan – very few injuries in Judo but in taijiquan everyone gets injured and they do light work! They don’t have the body, they get excited, their knees go all over the place, the tension goes up here, they’re lopsided, and they fall without knowing how to fall, the bodies don’t know how to take it and they get hurt.
I’ve seen so many injuries in tai chi it was shocking. Women injure their knees unbelievably. I’ve seen so many tournaments and such I was shocked. In Judo people knock themselves and nothing happens, I mean there is an occasional accident – that’s normal but I’ve seen 10:1 in taijiquan. So that is why I don’t talk about push hands I just get their bodies strong!
NK: – For me the truth is that if you really want to learn push hands, you have to do it 3 or 4 times a week for an hour each minimum. This is a common problem – they don’t really train, they say I do push hands but who is really doing it. 3 do it more than once a week. If you don’t have a partner, you do the form. The other thing is as I said before – to be a good partner you give directions and you do it slow motions and you can do different things to play like it is real.
LZ: – I think that one main problem is the main tension about people working together is when intention is applied in the wrong way. It is very important to understand clearly what is the goal of working together. To enhance skills, or maybe not, but always to check what is the intention. I agree with Mario – intention is important – to grow up, stimulate, dominate, to work – but just establish it, then you can work.
MP: – there is no special problem, everyone is free to work or not, to practice or not. This is maybe why we do not learn tuishou at the beginning, but after the form. They have to work enough to enter it.
WH: – the biggest problem is that people come to tui shou for health purposes so they come once a week. They get stronger 1 day out of 7 and they go back after 7 days and they’ve lost the work out and have to start again. This is the main problem. If you want to do tui shou to increase the strength in your limbs etc you need to do 2-3 times at least.
RR – It looks like the work of push hands has in some ways ended up in two different camps with a bit of merging in between – people that are doing it for health and people that are doing it for martial. I’m not saying that either is exclusive or devisive, there is a cross over in between. Do the panel feel that there is anything beyond the physical in pushing hands?
DD – Spontaneity, which is a zen thing. If you don’t practice something that has a degree of unpredictability about it then you can’t be zen as the French say. The French used to say that the thing to be was cool, now they say it is to be zen. To be zen you have to have the unpredictability element and so pushing hands to be effective as a training method should have that unpredictability element in it.
If you practice something that has an unpredictable element to it you are training all the senses. If you listen for the opponents force and you analyze the Chinese character for listening it has the following components – it has a disciple, and we are all disciples in different ways, the figure 10, eyes, ears and mind. So it’s a disciple 10 times using the eyes, the ears and the heart mind. Listening and hearing are not the same, just like you can look at someone and not see them or eat something and not taste it. So pushing hands needs to have an unpredictability element and the top skill in it is this listening.
MN: – Where does the physical start and where does it end? I think taijiquan talks about the three stages and each stage is sub-divided three times. So the first stage talks about waking up the body, loosening up the joints – it gets very physical in the first stage with the joints of your arms, legs, spinal column. Then it talks about paying attention to the dantian and qi and breathing – I think it’s talking about the central nervous system – so if you learn to strengthen the body and the nervous system then you learn to strengthen the mind which basically means quietening down whether you are quieting the body, the central nervous system and maybe the mind, whether it’s from all these crazy thoughts and not paying attention or being scatter-brained, being confused. So where does the body start and end? I don’t think you can go – okay I’ve trained the body so now I’ll forget about the body and I’ll do something else. You can’t do it, it’s all inter-connected, you can’t leave one component behind and still be balanced and whole. You can do different things, but I think it’s difficult if the end result is to quiet the mind and achieve something then the mind is extremely difficult to quiet – we can’t even touch it, we can’t see it, we don’t know where it is – so we start off with the body which we can feel, touch, strengthen, we can quieten it, we can make it still, we can let go. From there, even the taijiquan people, or other arts, talk about quietening down the breathing. The breathing is the central nervous system, the place between the body and the mind. If we can quieten the central nervous system and regulate it then you can tackle the brain. So maybe taijiquan and other arts similar to taijiquan do it slowly, one step at a time. I’m sure there are some arts where you just meditate, and you meditate, which hard because you can’t stand still, you fall asleep. And if you have don’t have a regular, long, steady breathing, how are you going to meditate? It becomes more difficult to use different parts. So I think the question may not be valid for taijiquan – okay now we’ve done the body, the physical stuff, now when are we going to go on to the real good stuff, let’s move on and leave it behind – you can’t do that. If the body is weak, chances are your central nervous system is weak, and if your central nervous system is weak and you’re going to talk about meditation I just don’t know how you can talk about it. People talk about meditation as if you buy it in a store – oh I meditated today for 10 minutes, or half an hour, 3 hours a day – may be they do – I don’t know how they do meditation or quieting, having no thoughts, not having scattered thoughts – it is a strong human being, balanced and strong in every way. You can’t let go of the body, it goes with you. You let go of the body you are slowly stopping working out, even if you are concentrating on things. As you get older the body will slow down but you have already done the work, so you come down in a slower mode – I don’t think you can leave the body.
NK: – it helps me to deal with daily life – so if someone yells at me in the morning then this is really now what I want or like at all so taijiquan has helped me to yield from this for time to time. I try to put these things in my daily life and it helps me to deal with people.
LZ: – I have been taught that everything flows through the arms, through the connection of two persons working. The choice has to be careful for who we have to work with – physical work, mind work, emotional, special work, everything flows through – it is not one piece – it is everything through the connection, the hands, everything – the quality of the person.
RR: – Any thoughts on this more than physical
Luigi: – from a Chinese medical point of view – qi is more than physical. It is a non-physical part that moves the physical part.
Wang: (via Faye) – is there something beyond the physical? The aspect beyond the physical would be when you have completely worked well with your partner, then you have a total focus, total concentration, the body moves in a way that gives you a lot of pleasure and enjoyment – that’s is beyond physical. When you do the postures, peng lui jui an with two people doing it well together, you can read each others minds and you basically work well together and this increases the enjoyment beyond the physical.
RR: – We started from the point of why do push hands, very simple, perhaps after the discussion you now have some reasons why, we also looked at reasons perhaps why not to do push hands or perhaps why we were not getting what is possible, and we got some ideas I think as to how to get even more from of it and a look at some of the ideas that are possible.
John Turner: – Is tai chi a practical martial art without training in tui shou?
DD: – well it’s not practical without it. You have two distances, pushing hands is a short distance and is essential. So if you don’t train in pushing hands then you don’t know what to do in short distances.
NK: – push hands is real fun to play – try it.
Check out the Push Hands Tapes interviews for the personal insights of some European players.
Or visit Nick Walser’s views on moving step push hands.