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Common Errors in Push-hands Practice

By Tu-Ky Lam Push-hands originates from the Taijiquan training system, and is now used by such other Chinese martial arts systems as Yiquan, Xing-Yi Quan and Bagua Zhang (with some modification) as a training drill to improve their skill. How can we improve our push-hands skill? There are different ways of doing it. One is to get rid of the silly errors that we often make during push-hands practice. This is our main focus in this article. TURNING CIRCLES AIMLESSLY This is the most common error in push-hands practice. Students often forget that they have to always aim at the opponents center line and also protect their own center line. This error turns the push-hands practice into an aimless drill, participants just turn circles aimlessly. How can they improve their skill, not knowing what they need to do? To correct this mistake, we must always make our arms protect both sides of our torso (left arm protects the left and right arm, the right) and more importantly our center line, which runs from our nose to our navel and down. Our center line is the target of our opponent where they always aim at in order to attack us. If we do not protect our center line, we will be vulnerable. The other thing we have to do is to always aim at the center line of our opponent. This will give us a sense of purpose as we know where our target is, and it also gives us a sense of urgency for us to mobilize all our energy toward our target, and help us produce a strong force that of the whole body. (This is a good way of using mind to generate force.) How to aim at the center line of our opponent? Whether we are in an offensive or defensive position, we should always make at least one of our hands aim at our opponents center line with the idea of attacking it. If our hands cannot do so because they have been deflected or forced to change to another direction, then we will use our elbow to do the job. Failing this, we use our shoulder, our head, etc. If both push-hands participants protect their center line and aim at the opponents center line, they will be very alert, energetic, and know what they are doing. They will no longer turn circles aimlessly during push-hands. SOFT ARMS

Most Taijiquan students or practitioners have arms soft as cotton, instead of strong arms like steel wrapped in cotton (Yang Cheng-fus words). During push-hands, when my arms touch theirs, their arms collapse and they get thrown off immediately. They are frustrated and blame that I use too much force which is against the rule of use mind, not force of the internal schools. But they do not understand that the rule means we should use our mind to generate strong force, and not use brute force which can only make our body stiff. What I normally do is for my mind to aim at their center line, which mobilizes all my energy towards there. And they can feel my strength immediately. Another thing I do is to put my body weight on their arm(s), which I cannot achieve if I use brute force and tense up. As for how to put our body weight on our opponent, see my article entitled Mo-jing: In Search of Internal Strength. The soft arms syndrome is not the fault of Taijiquan students. It is the legacy of many instructors who misinterpret relaxation, and Use mind, not force. So their students have not been taught properly. Relaxation (including the rule of use mind and not force) does not mean we should not use force. It means we have to relax our body, especially our shoulders, when we use force so that we can generate the force of our whole body and apply it to our opponent. We do not relax for the purpose of relaxation alone. How do we overcome this soft arms syndrome? The quickest and probably the only way is to do zhan-zhuang (standing practice) at least forty minutes every day. After two or three years your arms will be strong like steel wrapped in cotton. In fact, your torso and legs will be the same too. You are strong without having to use a lot of force, and the cotton arms syndrome is gone. Zhan-zhuang has built up your gong li (internal strength), and made you a much stronger person. COLLAPSED FORM Many people have heard that we should maintain a correct posture during push-hands or sparring, but do not embrace it because they have no idea what the correct posture is. The correct posture is the posture we all use at the start of a push-hands practice. It is similar to the Embrace-a-tree standing posture. It requires that our head be lifted up and our feet stay down while we place our torso properly on top of our legs. Our arms must be kept round in the shape of embracing a tree. If our body is not propped up properly like just described or our arms are bent to smaller than ninety degrees, our posture is deemed to be collapsed and we will be in trouble. Our opponent can take advantage of our collapsed form, unbalance us and thrown us off balance. During push-hands, whenever you see your opponents arm(s) bends to a ninety (or less) degree angle, apply pressure on his arm, and it will be bent and trapped to his chest. Now he is at your mercy as you already have control of him.

How can we maintain a correct posture which does not collapse under pressure? The answer is the same as in the previous section: stand, stand, and stand. After you have done zhanzhuang for a long time (two or three years), you will find that your posture will not change shape easily. The correct posture will help you protect yourself and attack your opponent more efficiently. STIFF ARMS This error is the opposite of the soft arms syndrome. Many people want to win and do not want to lose so much that they use a lot of brute force which makes their whole body stiff. This is usually the case with beginners who have little internal strength and lack skill. They do not know how to relax to produce a lot of force so they use brute force by tensing up their arms to stop their opponent from pushing forwards, which sometimes works. But if you change directions by pushing backwards, they will tumble forwards. You can also spin them by pushing sideways (left or right). To fix this problem, they will need to get rid of the strong desire to win and not be afraid of losing or getting pushed. They should not care too much about winning or losing because the strong desire to win can be a burden to them and make them tense and unable to use their skill. When they win, that is great. If they lose, they will have to try to find out why and improve from there. Doing zhan-zhuang is also very useful. If they have built up a lot of internal strength from doing zhan-zhuang, there is no need for them to tense up their arms and use brute force. USE HANDS, NOT FOREARMS We use our forearms a lot both in the Taiji form, push-hands and sparring. Needless to say we all know that we use our forearms (of course together with our hands) to block a punch or intercept a kick, etc. The use of our forearms is so important that it can determine the outcome of a push-hands competition. There are four main parts in Taijii push-hands: wardoff, roll-back, press, and push. The first three parts involve the use of our forearms, which is quite obvious, but many people use their hands, instead of their forearms to push their opponents forearm(s), which is totally inefficient and ineffective. They should use their forearms to push as well. Our forearms are much bigger than our hands, and so are much stronger than our hands. The other reason why our forearms can produce more force than our hands is that our forearms are closer to our body and the force from our feet through our torso can reach our forearms more quickly and easily. Using our hands to push our opponents forearm is an uphill battle as it is like a young child trying to push an adult.

When you push your opponents forearm, do not use your hands, but use your forearms instead. Imagine when you place two of your forearms on your opponents forearm plus your body weight, can you opponent cope with this force? Your force will lock their energy right down to the ground and they cannot escape. Can you use your hands to do this? The answer is no. (Your two hands are not as strong as one forearm. Your skill needs to be many times better than your opponents to be able to do this.) So use your forearms, not your hands, to unbalance or control your opponents forearm before pushing them out. You will be surprised how strong you are when you know how to do this. ONE DIMENSIONAL PUSH Many students do not know how to push. They usually push straight forwards with their hands, which is never threatening because their push can easily be deflected or neutralize (when they can reach the opponents chest). A good push should be three dimensional: from the top down, from the back to the front and from the sides towards the center aiming at the opponents center line. (Practice repeatedly the form Protect the Head and Push the Mountain or Push with Both hands in this manner until it becomes a habit. Then your push will be three dimensional.) A three dimensional push like this makes our opponent very difficult to neutralize because very often his energy has been locked right down to the ground. CONCLUSION In short, a good way to improve our push-hands skill is to eradicate the most common push-hands errors by protecting our own center line and aiming at our opponents centerline. We will need to spend a lot of time doing zhan-zhuang to maintain a good posture and build up strong internal strength. When we push our opponents forearm, remember to use our forearms, instead of our hands, to do the job, and push from three directions.