Tai Chi Push Hands
The popularity of Tai Chi in the US has been increasing dramatically in the past few years. Many people are easily able to recognize the soft, slow moving martial art form. However, there exists an equally important part of Tai Chi practice known as Tai Chi Push Hands. Push Hands is a cooperative form of Tai Chi combat between two partners used to further develop Tai Chi skills; it is the hidden Yang of Tai Chi. As we progress in Push Hands, our progress in form and meditation will follow.
Yin and Yang
Tai Chi theory is deeply rooted in the principles of Yin and Yang. We are all familiar with the Yin Yang symbol, but how does it relate to Tai Chi? The Yin Yang symbol is composed of two equal parts in a dynamic symmetry; one part representing Yang in white, and the other part representing Yin in black. There is a circular movement suggested by the opposing head and tail of each part. The absolute center of each head contains a dot of its opposite color, signifying that at the root of Yang there is Yin and at the root of Yin there is Yang.
The philosophy of Yin and Yang in dynamic balance is practiced through the push hands exercise. Two partners stand opposite each other and make gentle contact with their arms. As one partner moves their arms forward becoming Yang, the other maintains the balance by absorbing the force as Yin. When the two forces are in balance, harmony is maintained. If one of the partners does not contain the proper amount of Yang or Yin energy, they will lose control of their center of balance and be uprooted.
Principles of Push Hands
In order to advance your Tai Chi practice, a student must learn and practice Push Hands. The exercise is designed to teach the student about their own mind and body. When you can master yourself, you can master your opponent.
When practicing our Tai Chi form, we generally feel we are following the major principles of Tai Chi: we are relaxed, centered, rooted to the ground, and in a state of mental calm. We now advance and test these beliefs by incorporating an opponent to see our true selves. When an opponent pushes on our body, are we still relaxed or do we tense up in a fight or flight response? Do we maintain our balance and yield regardless of the amount of force used against us? Can we keep our root, or are we uprooted and pushed out? Does aggressive force or the feeling of losing disrupt our calm mind? Each of these elements needs to be addressed to further our Tai Chi practice.
The principles of Push Hands include the following:
- Relax: allow your weight to drop lower in your body increasing your root.
- Listen: feel the pressure and force of your opponent’s energy.
- Yield: allow their force to move through you without disrupting your balance.
- Follow: maintain contact with your opponent to counter their attack.
- Separate Yin and Yang clearly: you must be completely Yin to yield an attack.
The uprooting of your opponent is one of the main objectives of Push Hands practice. As your opponent pushes, you must yield completely allowing their force to move through you, never finding the true center of your balance. As their Yang attack is absorbed by your Yin yielding, Yin and Yang transpose and you become Yang. The opponent must then react correctly and become Yin; otherwise your Yang attack will uproot them.
Helpful Points of Practice
It is important in Push Hands to move as one, especially when pushing your opponent. A push does not come from the arms, as these are weak in comparison to the mass of your body. Rooted in the feet and generated by the legs, a strong push can be delivered through soft hands. Remember, relax and do not use force as this will alert your opponent to your attack and provide an opportunity for you to be neutralized.
When yielding, divert attacks in a circular motion. The objective of yielding is to sense your partner’s intention and neutralize their energy. As they over extend their attack, you can allow their energy to pass by you. Relax and do not resist their attack, or your will become stiff and expose your center of balance. A harmonious response will provide the proper reaction. We must “invest in loss” to advance ourselves, meaning that we must accept losing as part of learning.
A Way of Self Mastery
Remember, the art of Tai Chi includes health, meditation, and martial arts. All three must coexist to guide your development. Both the Yin (form) and Yang (push hands) aspects of the Tai Chi should be trained concurrently. The form trains the movements of combat, and push hands tests the relaxed nature of our mind. Combined with our meditation practice, we can advance ourselves through self mastery.
To further our training requires the guidance of a skilled teacher. Seek a teacher with a soft, sensitive touch that can penetrate deep into the body. This is the mastery of Tai Chi Push Hands.