What is Push Hands?
Push Hands (or Pushing Hands) is a grappling-style, two-person exercise practiced in the internal Chinese martial arts such as Bagua, Xing-I and Tai Chi. It is said to be the gateway for students to understand the martial aspects of the Internal arts (Nei Chia), specifically: leverage, reflexes, sensitivity, timing, coordination and positioning. Push hands guides us to undo our natural tendency to immediately resist force with opposing force (as is the focus of external martial arts), teaching the body to yield to incoming force, bait it, cultivate it, and ultimately neutralize or redirect it.

Push hands allows students to learn how to respond to external stimuli using the natural motions and postures committed to motor-memory from the empty-hand form. Among other things, training with a partner allows a student to develop "ting jing" (the listening power), the sensitivity to feel the direction and strength of a partner's intention. Some schools or classes that are only interested in the health aspects of Tai Chi (non-martial arts classes) may also teach push hands to complement the physical fitness that is developed over time from performing the empty-hand form. Wherever it is taught, and for whatever reason, push hands is an agreement between students to train in the defensive and offensive movement principles; learning to generate, coordinate and deliver power, and learning to effectively neutralize incoming forces in a safe environment.

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The Octagon
Push Hands Training

Throw your
down or out
Bend Bow, Shoot Tiger   Wave Hands Like Clouds

Push hands has a very wide scope of execution. Push hands in class may be as light as two participants practicing rollback and press techniques, fixed step, with no excessive force. It can also be as heavy as full-blown tournament push hands where opponents square-off and grapple to the extent of their strength and endurance to throw their opponent to the ground or out of a ring. Some people practice push hands simply for the exercise. They strive to work the body, raise core temperature, and feel good about confronting opponents. Martially, push hands is considered an invaluable bridge between form movements and fighting or sparring preparation.

Push hands matches have become common at Kung Fu tournaments and typically stipulate rules:
  • No deliberate unruly, undignified, or inappropriate contact
  • No strikes/punches with the hands, elbows, feet, knees, or legs
  • No careless or intentional strikes to the face, neck or groin
  • No excessive body slams or throws
  • No kicks or sweeps
  • No grabbing of clothing
  • No grabbing or pulling with both hands (one hand grab is allowed)
  • No joint-locks or twisting grabs (Chin Na)

  • In Tai Chi, push hands allows students to experience the founding principles known as the "Eight Gates" and the "Five Steps". These are eight different applications of leverage with the arms accompanied by five concepts of footwork that eventually allow students to defend themselves calmly and competently. A form posture expressing each one of these aspects is found in ALL styles of Tai Chi Chuan.

    The Eight Gates:
    Peng: An upward circular movement, forward or backward, with the arms to disrupt the opponent's center of gravity. Most often translated as "Ward Off", Peng is also described as an energetic quality that should be present in every taiji movement as a part of the concept of "sung" - the natural heaviness - providing alertness, the strength to maintain structure when pushed, and the absence of muscular tension in the body.
    Lu: A sideways, circular yielding movement, often translated as "Roll Back."
    Chi: A pushing action in a direction away from the body, usually done with the back of the hand or outside edge of the forearm. Chi is often translated as "Press."
    An: To offset with the hand, usually a slight lift up with the fingers then a push down with the palm, which can appear as a strike if done quickly. Often translated as "Push."
    Tsai: To pick downwards with the hand, especially with the fingertips. The word tsai partly means to gather or pluck. Often translated as "Grasp."
    Lieh: Lieh means to separate, to twist or to offset with a spiral motion, often while making immobile another part of the body (such as a hand or leg) to split an opponent's body thereby destroying posture and balance. Lieh is often translated as "Split."
    Chou: To strike or push with the elbow. Usually translated as "Elbow Strike."
    Kao: To strike or push with the shoulder or upper back. Implies leaning or inclining. Usually translated as "Shoulder Stroke."
    The Five Steps:
    Chin Pu: Forward step.
    T'ui Pu: Backward step.
    Tsuo Ku: Left step.
    You Pan: Right step.
    Chung Ting: The ready position, balance, equilibrium. Not just the physical center, but a condition which is expected to be present at all times in the first four steps as well, associated with the concept of rooting (the stability said to be achieved by a correctly aligned, thoroughly relaxed body as a result of correct Tai Chi training). Chung ting can also be thought of as discouraging extremes in movement. An extreme of movement, usually characterized as leaning to one side or the other, destroys a practitioner's balance and enables defeat.
    The Eight Gates are said to be associated with the eight trigrams of the I Ching. The Five Steps are said to represent the five elements of the Taoist Wu Hsing; metal, water, wood, fire, and earth. Collectively they are all referred to as the "Thirteen Postures of Tai Chi Chuan" and their various combinations are always present in the different styles of Tai Chi form known today by the general public. Push hands is practiced so that students have an opportunity for "hands-on" experience of the theoretical implications of the empty-hand form. Each component is seen as equally necessary, yin and yang, for realizing the health, meditative, and self-defense applications.

    Other concepts to consider:
    Sticking: it is important to know where your opponent is at all times – even if you can’t see him or her. Sticking exercises strive to train light contact with the opponent. If he or she advances, you are prepared to move with the person. If they pull away, you are prepared to take up the “real estate” in-between. Always, one arm is “connected” by light contact with the other person. Once the contact is lost, one has to rely on sight to re-engage.
    Listening: not in the sense of hearing, but rather in the sensitivity of touch – to listen with the arms and hands – sensing and feeling the power and direction of an opponent's force and be able to react in a quick and efficient way to that movement. It is scientifically known that reaction from reflex (touch) is much faster than reaction from sight which must first be processed by the brain.
    Yielding: the goal of push hands is NOT to destroy your opponent (though there’s always one in the group LOL). This is a learning environment; a scenario to hone your skills, maintain and build flexibility, sharpen your timing and footwork, refine your movements, breathe correctly, and learn to ration strength. It is an opportunity – in the midst of confrontation – to relax and put real applicable reasons behind Form movements. When playing with opponents superior to you (in skill or strength), don’t be the victim of your own ego. Instead, take note of what happened. Why were you bested? How can you correct your actions? What needs to be practiced and refined? Conversely, when you play opponents not at your level, this is your opportunity to teach your kung fu brothers and sisters something. Let him or her try techniques out on you. Give them the appropriate level of resistance to work out a technique. We call this "Investment in Loss". The only path to skill and refinement in pushing, is to have been pushed yourself many, many times.

    Although pictures and video on this page show some level of skill on my part, I am not embarrassed to say that I have been dished more whup-ass from my Kung Fu brothers than I care to remember hehehe.

    In a fostering environment, push hands can be extremely rewarding physically and mentally – with no injuries.


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