Comparison of Push Hands in China and America

What is good taiji and how do we test this? Is good taiji merely the aesthetically pleasing execution of form?  A common way to test a person’s taiji skill is via Push Hands. Consider the quote:

Competitors wish to test ideals and actions analogous to fighting, such as rooting, footwork, sticking and throwing in the best way possible.

I’ve often commented and felt that push hands is not really fighting or applications, however I must agree with the above quote. Push hands training IS a good medium to test techniques used and applied in fighting situations.  Can we get the same kind of feedback in just forms training?

But what about the common argument that Push Hands is not taiji, it’s just glorified judo with slightly different rules?  I must admit, the first time I saw a Chinese Push Hands competition, I was a bit thrown off b/c it went against my preconceptions of taiji and what it means to do taiji. 

To me, it appeared like a common playground shoving match in which the bigger person would always win, however after closer inspection and a bit of experience in the rough, I feel that taiji principles and techniques can be found within the training medium of Push Hands. This reminds me of a quote I ran across that basically went,

If you cannot handle my push, then there is something wrong with your taiji, not mine.

What is the state of Push Hands in the US? I’ve never been to a national Push Hands competition, so I can’t really say with any experience, however after watching Push Hands Competition in America: A Critical Examination I question not only what taiji means in the minds of westerners, but whether or not we understand what it means to do taiji.

For me, taiji is about remaining calm in the face of adversary. It’s about being rooted and being able to stick and adapt to any situation, whether it be physical or psychological. It’s about deflecting the negative so we can proceed with the positive.

[tags]taiji, pushhands, competition, training, testing, application, meaning[/tags]


About wujimon

taiji, meditation and health
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7 Responses to Comparison of Push Hands in China and America

  1. zenmindsword says:

    don’t be surprised that as push hands competition is promoted more and more, it becomes a glorified shoving match. saw a video on yiquan conference in beijing to commemorate the founder. lots of famous yiquan masters were present. but the standard of students push hands were just as bad – most of the participants were basically leaning their body weight to try to muscle their partner out. you can see that most of them were standing in an unbalanced manner and it was no surprise that those who knew how to do pulling or use some footwork came out tops. in general the bigger persons tend to win. but i agree that if one’s skill is good it should not matter what the other person does or what background he is from. some of the people over here don’t like to push hands with shaolin people because they say shaolin people may use striking in addition to pushing. i normally go into push hands with the assumption that the other person will strike and use all kinds of stuff including grappling. since one cannot choose the opponent its best to be prepared for any surprises 😉

  2. wujimon says:

    Hi ZMS.

    I agree, the quality of push hands competitions can be quite low, just due to the pure nature of competition and what people will do to win. Given that, if in the right environment, I think Push Hands can be a valuable tool to assist in learning, but this environment is far and few between.

    I think your assumption is good. We must really be prepared for anything. Great comment!

  3. zenmindsword says:

    not to forget that push hands was originally called “da shou” – hitting hands!

  4. wujimon says:

    That’s interesting. I’ve been told that Fong Ha prefers to call it “Sensing Hands” 🙂

  5. zenmindsword says:

    and i prefer to call it circling hands cause the hands are like vultures circling and waiting for the kill 😉 and also because the hands are basically drawing all types of circles

  6. Hi Wujimon,

    Very thoughtful post. I think you (and Patience Tai Chi) are making the call which we should all answer here in the US. Time for the “next generation” to be more mature and learn more from those from China who have refined the art in the first place.

    It is hard to argue with the video—-let’s get a little more up to date. Certainly your point “I feel that taiji principles and techniques can be found within the training medium of Push Hands”, is a core principle of the art. We develop some level skill, then it is time to test it and refine it in application. The better the challenge from our opponenet or practice partner, the more we have an opportunity to learn. This common sense approach has been going on for a long time in China, with good results. As the video illustrates it is most counterproductive to dillute the process by arbitrarily “redefining” all the parameters of how to do the pushing, as if the intellectual evaluation and defining of “correct” Tai Chi is the goal. Classic example of cart before horse, and western analytical approach losing the essence and value of an experiential process.

  7. wujimon says:

    Hi IA.
    Great point on the analytical approach vs that of the experiential. I admit, I often fall victim to the analytical… 🙂

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