Oh, Push Hands: the part of Taijiquan that I struggle the most with!

I started practicing Taijiquan more than a decade ago. And back then, I knew that Taijqiuan is a martial art, but I wasn’t aware that there are actually fighting exercises. I was lucky to have teacher who would do a lot of tests on us and show applications of all the different Taijiquan poses. But we weren’t doing a lot of Push Hands.

(If you don’t know what Push Hands is, see here for my post on what is Pushing Hands or Tui Shou).

When I was introduced to Push Hands some time later, it felt very intimidating. I was fascinated, but also intimidated. Everyone in that group was way ahead of me skillwise and I felt really stupid. Like I really didn’t know what to do. And it was quite clear that I really did not know what to do!

And even now, after all these years, I still feel stupid whenever I do Push Hands. It is really the part of Taijiquan I struggle most with.

I mean, I love Qi Gong. I find it easy to memorize a form. Or being tested on my structure. Or testing someone else. Or learning an application and then showing it to someone else.

But Push Hands? It’s still a big mystery to me. Somehow, I am supposed to feel something I don’t feel, like Qi. Or the other person.

And it’s not only that, it’s also the psychological aspect. We usually don’t talk much about psychology in Taijiquan. But I think that is the difference between martial sports and martial arts: it’s not only about the body. It’s also about the mind.

Let me tell you about what happens in my head when I start pushing hands with someone, let’s say a woman. This is a little part of my little internal monologue as we stand opposite in bow stance:

“Ok, I can do this, just relax. I don’t need to win, just relax and learn.” – we touch – “uh, yeah, I can relax, it’s fine. I can feel her, but, hm, I don’t really feel much. Am I supposed to feel more? What am I am supposed to feel? This maybe? Oh, she is getting faster with the moves. Oh, wow that is too fast for me! I think she wants to win. But I want to win. Ok, I will become faster too. Oh no, this is really too fast. I don’t feel anything when it’s this fast. And I am supposed to relax. Ok, let’s try to relax. Maybe I can slow this down. Ok, slower, but what am I doing here? Am I doing it right? Am I making a fool out of myself? Somehow she seems to know what to do. I don’t know what to do. Well, I’ll just try to relax and keep on going as long as possible…”.

Whenever I do push hands, my mind is instantly on alert. I want to learn it and I know how important it is. But it is also so completely mysterious to me. What is actually going on? How can I figure this out?

Actually, sometimes I think that a lot of people cannot explain what is going on during push hands. How can one explain how to FEEL another person?

I just know that I always feel like an absolute beginner when I do push hands. And maybe that is even a good thing, to remember that even after all these years practicing Taijiquan, I am still a beginner. Thus I continue going to push hands classes and workshops, but it is hard.

And I read books. Because they help me to understand things. I read this interesting section in the book “Steal My Art” about Taiijiquan Master T.T. Liang:

“A large part of Pushing-Hands practice involves trying to find the opponent’s center of gravity. As soon as his center is found, a push will be successful because he will not be able to neutralize it. If on the other hands, his body is found to be soft and empty, he will be able to neutralize your attack. Knowing his substantial and insubstantial, that is, where he is solid and where he is empty, is necessary for an effective attack.”
Source: “Steal My Art”, p. 101

Ok, so next time I practice Push Hands, I will stop my internal monologue and try to find my opponent’s center.

Uh, I am not so sure if I will succeed. But I’ll try anyway.

What is your experience with Push Hands? Tell me in the comments below!


3 thoughts on “Oh, Push Hands: the part of Taijiquan that I struggle the most with!

  1. Malcol.

    Hi Angelika, you have a wonderful site!Your description of of your “monkey mind” while practicing push hands struck a chord for me. I’ve studied for over 20 years and i still have this experience at times.

    I live in British Columbia but my sifu is Sam Masich who currently resides in Berlin. Sam is one of the true masters of the modern Taijiquan world.
    I cant recommend him highly enough if you want to dig in to tuishou deeper and find answers to some of your questions. His focus is Yang style and covers the whole curriculum. From the articles you’ve posted i believe you would have a great experience at a workshop.
    Heres his website.
    Thanks so much for your insights.
    Its the journey not the destination

  2. Torsten Pahl

    Hello Angelika,
    I am Torsten from Hannover, Germany. I am playing Tai Chi about 10 years.
    I well remember my first impressions concerning push hands. I was scared and could not understand the difference to Yudo or wrestling. But the more I learnt the form, the more I understood the Idea to connect to a partner. By luck I had good tachers who did lots of partner work in the form figures as well. Thus I got an Idea about the form as a play with an imagined partner. Of course my focus is mostly on relaxation and health but I understand Tai Chi as martial arts and try to do the form as if a partner could push or pull me at any moment. This leads to mor focus on grounding and rooting. Furthermore the partnerwork has prepared me well to feel my own balance as well as those of my partner. Today this is really helpful to correct students mistakes in postures or Qi Gong excercises.
    Nowadays my focus during push hands is mostlly to feel the partner’s center or rooting than to struggle about the push. The push eventually appears if both partners are really connected.

    Of course I know the struggles and thougts that appear when doing push hands. Thousands of thoughts and impressions are buzzing and your ego always wants to win the battle.
    If it is overwhelming I let it win and have a nice time rumbling with my partner – just to have fun 🙂

    But from my experience there is really less rumble if you are really interested to connect with your partner. He feels it immediately and stops fighting. We mostly enjoy it both.

    I think the most important point is to be interested in the partner and to have fun.
    But I agree that it may be a lot of work and needs a good teacher to find Tai Chi principles in push hands.
    For me Push hands is the most important excercise to improve my Tai Chi form. And most postures and principles are only understandable when practicing it with a partner. Thet’s teh great benefit in Push hands.

    Just do it and have fun

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