Honestly, Push Hands is a big mystery to me. I cannot put my finger on it, but I know I am still not sure what is Pushing Hands (or 推手 Tui Shou, the Chinese name).
Even though I continuously visit Tai Chi Push Hand workshops and classes and try to figure out, what is Pushing Hands. But there are still missing pieces. Thus I wanted to dig deeper and find out, what is said about Push Hands in different books.
Let’s start with my very own definition of what is pushing hands or Tui Shou, which I published in my Taijiquan & Qi Gong Dictionary*:
“Tui Shou push hands, also called listening hands or sensing hands. A two-person training routine in Taijiquan. It shows the connection between the Taijiquan form movements and the self-defense techniques. Different methods of Tui Shou are Dingbu, Shunbu, Hebu, and Houbu.”Source: Taijiquan & Qi Gong Dictionary*
“The name is quite unsuitable as these drills contain a great deal more than pushing and involve more than simply the use of hands. All styles of Tai Chi Chuan have their own versions of push hands suited to the particular style but all train timing, distance, angle, balance, footwork and co-ordination. Some other drills train a certain concept. The exercises we have come to term as push hands were obviously developed at a later stage than the self defence applications of the art and were developed to enhance fighting ability. This would involve controlling an opponent at a close quarters level and revealing vital points to attack.The drills develop listening ability where we can feel the opponents force and what he is doing or about to do. They teach you how to then divert or neutralise the opponents attempts and thirdly how to discharge or more importantly when to discharge. Pushing hands drills are a way of practising the eight forces and five steps which are connected to the thirteen tactics associated with Tai Chi Chuan.”Source: InterMartialArts
“Many people approach Chen Taijiquan’s “push hands” without really appreciating its subtleties and its place within the training curriculum. Interestingly even the term “tuishou” or “push hands” is a relatively recent term. Go back through the literature left by earlier generations and the term more commonly used was “geshou”. The literal translation of this is “putting hands”, but for readability in English we can say “placing hands”. Think of the action of putting a glass of water onto a table. Without paying attention and putting it down carefully we’ll either spill the water on the way to reaching the table. Or, worse we’ll drop the glass onto the floor if we release it too early. From this simple example we can see that the distance, angle etc must be exact.”Source: Chen Taijiquan World
I wonder, why was the name Tui Shou or Push Hands created? Because I think Ge Shou or Placing Hands are actually easier to understand. Because that is what happens during a Pushing Hand session: you place the hands on each other and then listen with your hands.
And I have to admit, as I said before, that Push Hands are still a mystery to me. How it works and how I can be good at it. But Josh Waitzkin (the Chess Champion and Push Hands Champion), gives a very good description of how he felt during his first Push Hands sessions with William C.C. Chen, his teacher:
“On a basic level, the idea of Push Hands is to unbalance your opponent, and I tried to apply my old basketball instincts to do so. This guy [William C.C. Chen] was sixty-four years old and I was an athlete – shouldn’t be a problem. But Chen controlled me without any effort at all. He was inside my skin and I felt like I was doing a moon dance, floating around at his will, without any connection to the ground. At times he felt immovable, like a brick wall, and then suddenly his body would dissolve into cloudlike emptiness. It was astonishing”.Source: The Art of Learning p. 104*
That is a really good description how I feel, when practicing Push Hands with a more advanced student than me. It is truly astonishing and I always get into this feeling of “I want to be able to do this, too!”. And I know I just need to continue practicing. Somehow I am patient with my Taijiquan practice, but not with my Push Hands. But that is another story.
I would like to add one more quote about the importance of Push Hands within Taiji training. Because maybe you are wondering if you should engage in Push Hands. Or just enjoy your Tai Chi exercises and the solo form. This is from one of my favorite Tai Chi books:
“In Pushing-Hands practice you will learn how to find a person’s yin and yang aspects and locate his center of gravity. Every person is different. You will learn not to be double-weigthed when you confront an opponent. Also, you will learn to find the opponent’s line of attack so you can push him over easily. If you do not practice Pushing-Hands, you will not learn these things. It is necessary to use your hand to interpret, and solo drills will not teach you this. I believe that a person cannot acquire a high level of skill if they do not practice Pushing-Hands.”Source: Steal My Art, p. 101
As he says, one can learn the solo form and become really good at it. But that is just one aspect of how to learn Tai Chi. Practicing Pushing Hands is vital to get deeper into the art and to gain insights in myself as a practitioner. It should be a part of all Tai Chi classes.
Now I would like to know from you: do you have a better understanding of what is push hands now? Obviously it is most important to just go and try it. But I would also like to hear your thoughts on Push Hands and which aspects are most important to you. Feel free to leave a comment what is Pushing Hands to YOU?
P.S.: In addition to this article about what is Pushing Hands, I want to write another article about the different kinds of Pushing Hands. Until then, have a look at this article for more information.
Or have a look at my Pinterest board dedicated to Push Hands and Tai Chi applications.
If you are interested in more definitions, have a look at The Taijiquan & Qi Gong Dictionary*!