Push Hands

June 6, 2007

Mastery of the art of Tai Chi Chuan is difficult. One of the functions of push hands is to remind us how far we have to go. There are aspects of Tai Chi in which it is easy to deceive oneself in regard to attainment – not push hands.

A common misunderstanding is that push hands is the martial part of our gung fu, something like Tai Chi sparring. The three basic components of Professor’s Tai Chi are the form, push hands and the sword. Each in it’s own way is about health and martial ability.
The growing number of push hands tournaments, and the attitude behind them, is a dreadful development. Push hands is not the strong dominating the weak, the fast gaining victory over the slow. It is the subduing of the will to achieve understanding of softness, so that a slight, 75 year old man, completely relaxed, can with a touch send a 250lb Judo champion flying. Doing push hands competitively incariably debases the art. Tournaments engender bullish individuals straining and sweating as they try to shove each other out of the circle. Not only are the Tai Chi principles absent, but what is left is absurd. As Bob Smith said, a good Sumo player could go through one of these Tai Chi tournaments like wind through wheat.

Tai Chi done well is the best of the martial arts, and done badly it is the worst. Under the growing influence of the competitive attitude, the scale of Tai Chi is tipping in the wrong direction.
Another price a student pays for doing bad push hands is the lessening of martial ability. “Function” in Tai Chi comes via osmosis, from diligent practice of the principles. It is not so much the acquiring of techniques as it is the restructuring of body and psyche, “the very atoms of the body,: in order to be “resilient as an infant.” Doing push hands as a blocking and shoving match accomplishes none of the internal changes necessary.

Text was taken from the book There are no secrets by Wolfe Lowenthal