Push Hands Is Not Fighting

… Push hands is not fighting. It’s a limited type of sparring in which Tai Chi practitioners can practice the skills they would use in a real fight in a relatively safer environment. Contact is already made in push hands, so there’s no opportunity to cover one of the most important things in real fighting – the ability to ‘bridge’, that is to connect with your opponent from a distance.

— Source: Push hands is not fighting | WuSource

I agree with the article above that the ability to bridge is one of the most import aspects of a real fight. For those that don’t know what this means, bridging is basically training how to connect and/or close in on an opponent. A simple bridging example would be to block a punch and then step into the opponent for another technique (throw, sweep, strike, etc).  Compare this with simply blocking an opponent with no additional follow-up or change in footwork to a more advantageous position.

Some applications are taught in the context of push hands patterns.  Imagine trying to explain to a beginner they had to learn push hands before learning how to do an application?  Is this really necessary? I don’t think so.

When I studied Tae Kwon Do back in the day, applications were taught in a “one-step sparring” scenario.  Basically, two people face off and the attacker steps in and throws a punch. The defender will then block and counter.  This type of application work is easily grasped and understood.  Also, the one step sparring scenario can teach some rudimentary bridging-the-gap techniques. In fact, this was my first exposure to martial arts applications.

In truth, I have done very little push hands training. I know some basic patterns and stepping drills, but a majority of the application work I have done has been either through one-step sparring or free sparring. When I trained in Liuhebafa and Swimming Dragon Bagua, applications were taught in the one-step sparring manner, that is, applying a technique when an attacker is coming in from a distance with either a kick or punch.  The intent of the application was to take an opponent out fast and quickly, resulting in either a qinna style bone break or an attack to an internal organ.  No push hand patterns. Once contact was made the goal was to end the encounter.

To me, push hands should really be called “Sensing Hands”. I believe push hands is more about teaching sensitivity skills.


About wujimon

taiji, meditation and health
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10 Responses to Push Hands Is Not Fighting

  1. Kevin says:

    Thinking that push-hands skill means you’re a good fighter is like thinking that grammatical ability means you’re a good writer. In both cases, it’s a tool to help you get from point A to point B.

  2. Shang Lee says:

    My teacher doesn’t normally show the “one touch to end the encounter” thing in push hands, as push hands is a practice method to learn force, its direction, and how to move it around. Today (incidentally!), he did the one touch thing on me. As soon as my hand touched his hand, he’ll push with a force that I must retreat. I think I’m suppose to learn that in push hands as well, just couldn’t sense it so fast, hence we keep pushing round in circles…

  3. Rick Matz says:

    I agree with your sentiments on push hands training.

  4. wujimon says:

    @Shang: It’s not a “death touch” type of thing, but a simple example would be how “lift hands” in Yang taiji could be used to intercept a punch and break the arm at the elbow. Nothing mystical, just practical. It’s pretty much game over at that point unless I am able to sense the qinna and bend my elbow accordingly … but that leads into another topic of learning counters 🙂 It’s cool that you get a chance to play around with some push hands concepts with your teacher.

  5. JolietJeff says:

    I agree that push hands is too learn to be sensitive to another’s force and learn to YEILD but also to help you learn how to control your balance against outside influences too. This is a logical progression from doing the form with balance to doing movements with others and keeping your balance. A good Tai chi push is not from superior power but from you keeping your balance and the other losing theirs and you leading them into emptyness and adding to their imbalance while keeping yours. EASIER SAID THAN DONE most people over extend themselves at least energetically in the push and the skilled master can even use this forward energy to unbalance you

  6. wujimon says:

    @Jeff: Great point about push hands teaching control of own balance. I believe I fall into the camp of sometimes “over extending” myself in a push as I may get excited and just “go for it”! 🙂

  7. JolietJeff says:

    I also sometimes get excited and throw a little of my weight into the push. I am now trying just to yield and then move forward slightly to a balanced position like that of the universal post position from Zhan Zhuang (also similar to Yang style double ward off) and keeping my centerline not farther than the heel of my front foot. I is hard to push just concentrating on keeping your balance and not wanting to push another for the ego trip.

  8. Teck says:

    I agree with what you said. I wrote a similar post on my blog recently when some of the new students at a pushing hands class asked me what is pushing hands about.

  9. Daniel says:

    Unfortunately, many people believe that push hands is about “teaching sensitivity skills”. Yet, the sense of touch of most taiji players is probably not that different from non-practitioners. For sensitivity to actually improve one would need to grow new nerves on the hands and arms. This seems very unlikely.

    No, what we seek to to train in push hands is correct responses to incoming force or hua jin. In the beginning the responses are very slow and ones movements are discernible and easily countered. However, with a lot of practice and conscientious training the responses will take on a much more lively quality that can more easily be applied to fighting at a distance.

    This is a much more intuitive approach to martial arts than Tae Kwon Do and even Ba Gua with their route memorizing of applications. Some applications might teach you about certain balance points of the body, but they will not teach you how to use taiji principles in a sparring situation. For that, start with push hands and gradually work your way up until you’re responses are instant and unplanned.

  10. Shang Lee says:

    Agree that sensitivity is not all that push hands train, but the correct responses still depend on sensitivty. We’ll need to listen to both the incoming force and the outgoing force so that our own force can adapt EVEN when pushing forward (not just hua jin). This is my understanding so far.

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