Stop fighting in push hands


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I don’t really enjoy push hands.  I used to, I used to enjoy it much more when I saw it as a medium for exploring arm locks, takedowns, wrist locks, throws. In short, when I saw it as a way to practice techniques. I used to love it.

In more recent years I’ve reframed my view of what push hands is. Partly this is because I took up BJJ, and found I got more than enough scrapping in my diet to satisfy my craving to try out locks, throws and sweeps. That’s essentially what we do in BJJ, we practice locks, throws and sweeps over and over until we get very good at them and can do them under full resistance.

Inevitably the BJJ player ends up going one of two ways over the years. Either he (or she) gets softer and more flowing. So, when the other person is pushing you should be pulling, and when they’re pulling you should be pushing. By learning to flow with the dynamic movement between two people you learn to blend, yield and overcome. Or they end up getting very good at smashing people. Whatever is in front of them they can just smash through it using precise, accurate bursts of speed and power.

Inevitably all BJJ players tend towards the first approach as they age, if they want to keep training, that is. Or they give up either through injury or changing life circumstances.

But back to push hands. Once I had found a way to get my regular fix of fighty, I found I could step back and view push hands as something else. Perhaps what it was originally intended for.

Now when somebody pushes on my arm I don’t immediately think “how can I lock this arm?”, I am thinking, “where is his force going?”. Is it going to my feet? If not, I try and send it there, turn and yield. When it’s my turn to push back I ask myself where I’m pushing from. Is it the ground? If not, why not? What am I doing that’s stopping that? Where am I tense?

Pushing hands like this might not be as much fun, but I think overall, it’s more satisfying.

Proper push hands lacks the thrills of the fighty approach, but it instils qualities in you that make your fighty better.

That’s a difficult concept to really understand, and even harder to do when the other person just wants to fight. If the other person wants to fight then I sometimes just fight back. Inevitably I slip into BJJ mode and we end up in some armlock on the ground, and it’s fun…

…but it’s probably not what we should be doing.


5 thoughts on “Stop fighting in push hands

  1. I like how you tied in push hands with BJJ and grappling. I have used it to teach my students how to control a person’s movement when they are in clinch or takedown range. I also use it to segue to sticky hands/push hands with the feet to learn spider guard.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi
    Thanks for the advice on this; it’s a thorny issue as you don’t want to head into a class and criticize what they’re doing, but if they’re practising below-par methods then you don’t want to lose your own abilities.
    I am grateful for my prior martial background before trying Tai Chi, and I do think it’s a natural progression as martial artists as they get older, but there’s definitely a discrepancy between focusing on the art as opposed to the martial, and being too soft to do anything if needed.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Hi Robargent,

    Good question. I think this is a problem in any martial art that lacks sparring with resistance, not just Tai Chi. I’m biased towards the grappling styles, and tend to think that a good grounding in Judo, BJJ or wrestling should be required before studying Tai Chi Chuan, but any striking art with sparring, like Muay Thai, boxing or karate (if it includs sparring) would also provide the required amount of realism.

    As to being tempted to show people a better way… I tend to doubt the usefulness of trying to convince people of these things by saying things like “that wouldn’t work”. They’re better off discovering why that wouldn’t work themselves through direct experience.


  4. Really good points made in your post; as someone who’s done Karate for years there are times when push hands tempts you to slip into a more “external” approach when we should be relaxing and working with our partner’s momentum.
    At other times though, especially in practical applications of Tai Chi movements, I’ve noticed that students and instructors without prior martial arts experience can sometimes recommend moves that don’t always seem the best option. Have you ever come across anything similar, and been tempted to get a little fighty to show them a better option?


  5. Pingback: Stop fighting in push hands — The Tai Chi Notebook – SMA bloggers

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