Push Hands, Learn to fight, not to push
By Eli Montaigue of the WTBA ©2014
Push Hands, is
probably one of the most misunderstood training methods in Taiji.
Most schools of taiji teach push hands for the sake of doing push hands, to beat other people at push hands.
Taiji is about learning how to defend yourself in a fight. Pushing is not fighting.
No one is going to come up to you in the street and try to push you over. They are going to punch your face in, then kick you while you’re down.
I know people who have been training in push hands for many many years, and they are very good at “push hands”. If I play push hands with them, we are of equal skill etc.
However, I have been taught to hit from push hands. With these same people, when I start to put in any kind of strikes, they have no idea what to do. Because they have only trained in how to push. They might for example push me a little off balance, which makes me react with a strike. Followed by “you can’t do that, we’re doing push hands!” This only applies to a beginner doing push hands. Of course they must do it in a certain way, to learn certain principles. But if two advanced Taiji practitioners are doing push hands? You can do what you want. You can stand there and kick me in the groin, or head but me in the face. If I cannot stop you? My push hands is not good.
Ok, so how and why do we train push hands?
Most schools of Taiji teach Push Hands from the same stance as they would use in the Taiji form. See picture #1.
This is a big mistake! The large stances in the form, are there for 3 main
reasons. 1, to build heat in the legs to help the flow of Qi. 2, to strengthen
the legs. 3, to stretch the legs. It is for health and exercise, and is in no
way meant to be used for fighting.
The big stance in push hands teaches us many bad habits. My father Erle Montaigue, use to teach big the stance to beginners, then he would advance them onto the small stance later on.
This is how he was taught.
However, after years of teaching, he found that the big stance, although easier to learn, was teaching the student nothing but bad habits. The big stance gives you a false sense of balance. What use is it to be able to hold your balance in a big stance, when you can’t fight from a big stance. In a small stance, you are more
mobile, you can protect your groin and knees, and you are
training yourself to be able to fight from the stance you’re already in when walking down the street.
The only way to deliver force from a small stance, without losing balance, is to use the same muscles as you would to strike. Via twisting of the waist, compression and release of the spine.
Thus training your body how to strike with power.
In a big low stance, you will be more likely to be training your body in the best way to push. There are no pushes or pulls in Taiji, as they do not have a place in self defence. Unless your opponent is standing on a cliff edge! See picture #2.
hoping it would make you a faster runner.
You have to train the muscles for the work you want them to do. When we hold a big stance, this causes us to get into a forward backward weight change.
The pusher comes forward, the receiver evades by sitting back. See picture #1 again.
What’s the first thing you learn in self defence?
When someone attacks you, don’t sit back! You are
putting yourself in a vulnerable position. See picture #2.
In a small stance, when we shift the weight, this causes us to evade to the side, maintaining our forward intent. This now changes the intent of the pushing, from you attack and I defend, to you attack and I defend by attacking! In every attack there is defence, and in every defence there is attack. Basic Yin and Yang. See picture #3 and #4.
This means you can maintain forward intent, and truly evade the attack. Sitting
back does not get you out of the way of an attack. The closer lateral evasion
also puts you in a
position to re attack.
The mind set is most important in Push Hands. Even if you are doing a pushing movement, you should have the body structure and intent of striking.
Hard or soft?
Ok here is where a lot of people get things wrong. Ever heard the quote “Steel wrapped in cotton?”.
This means we should seem soft on the outside. It does not mean
we do things in
a soft manor.
Anyone who tells you that you can defend yourself without using any substantial force, has clearly never been put under pressure.
For example, when I do Push Hands with a beginner, but someone with much bigger muscles than me, their arms will get sore before mine. To them it seems like I have really strong arms, not that I am all soft and jelly like. But in fact my muscles are not stronger, it’s just that I am structuring my body so that I only have to deal with half the pressure.
of the incoming push, should start soft for the student to learn. Too much
pressure in the
beginning can cause the student to use bad technique. But be sure to increase this to as much pressure as you can develop, as someone attacking you is not going to do so lightly!
From the receiving part, well you should use as much pressure as you need to. As you get more advanced, this amount will get less, as you will learn to move your centre around the force coming in.
Very soft training has it’s place, this teaches us to “listen” with our hand.
But to have this as your only practice? Well that would be like learning to kick without being able stand on one leg.
When I was learning push hands, if I did something wrong, lost my balance, or opened my guard etc,
I did not get pushed over. I got punched in the side of the head! Or kicked in the groin!
Two advanced Push Hands players should look like they are having a fight, not like they are dancing.
Ok now onto
In the beginning, for students learning the ground work for Push Hands, we do some “pushing” attacks. This teaches the beginner how the hold up a strong guard, stay grounded and move their centre out of the way of the
Then the power speed and aggression of the
attacks are increased gradually, till they are full real attacks. Any type of attack can be put into push hands, from a practical cross punch, (see picture #5)
It is a training method. Yes you try your best to hit the other guy, so you could say that you are trying to beat him. However, what you have to do in your push hands, is to use all types of
attacks, not just the ones you’re best at. For
example, if I was competing, I would only use the techniques that I knew were best for me. But this would not give my partner a very rounded training.
I would never throw a back
spinning kick in a competition, because I know it is not my forte.
Same with grappling, I would not use this if I wanted to beat the other guy.
But I will use them in training, so that my partner gets to train against them. I still throw the attack as best I can, trying to catch my partner out. But knowing that due to the fact that I am throwing an easily defeated attack, I will most likely be the one to get hit. I have tested this one many people. They only train
practical attacks, then they get hit by the silly attacks, because they are not use to them.
In defence though it is different. You see if you attack,
you are not reacting, you have made a conscious choice to
attack. But if you are
defending, you are reacting to
something your partner is doing. And when you are
training your subconscious to react, you want to train it in the most practical way that will be best for protecting yourself in the street.
Your first reaction in a situation should be to strike. It is the quickest and most likely way to protect yourself. See picture #6.
But someone breaks into your home and catches you off guard, you have to protect your family. So your first
reaction should be to strike. This is why we practice our locks and holds from the attacking part of push hands.
So to consolidate, if you have
been training in push hands for anymore than a year, but don’t feel comfortable
when someone is throwing punches at you, then your push hands has not done its
As I said at the top, what use is a training method that only makes you good at doing the training method.
Special thanks to Francesca Galea, Leigh Evans, and Lars-Erik Olsen, for appearing in the pictures
Proof read by Francesca Galea
Written by Eli Montaigue 04/12/2014
© Eli Montaigue 2014