Advanced Pushing Hands
By Erle Montaigue
February 23, 1990
NB: Photos still being prepared for inclusion on this page
Push Hands is probably one of the most important areas of one's Taiji training. Here, we use this useful tool to show us timing, balance and coordination. But normal push hands, i.e.; the 'peng' 'lu' 'chee' and 'arn' version and even the da-lu version does not actually show us how to use t'ai chi for self defence or as a martial art. Da-lu with it's diverse stepping methods teaches us about evasive footwork combined with hand techniques. But still, even this technique would never be used as it is in a realistic fighting situation. Both of the above push hands methods are useful tools to teach us about body awareness and movement.
As an oncoming force is detected we step slightly to the side and backwards, blocking upward using our most potent p'eng blocking method as shown in Photo No.1. We then take a further step with our other foot diagonally and use pull back as our opponent takes a further step to counter this directive pull. Photo NO.2. Our opponent then takes another side step to in between our two legs and barges in with shoulder to counter the pull and in keeping with the Taiji principle of going with the force and not against it. Photo NO.3.
This exercise continues with both parties stepping in turn into each corner of an imaginary square.
Da-Lu can become quite energetic with both partners actually lifting off the ground with the centrifugal force generated by this pushing hands method. Da-Lu should only be used however when there is something wrong with our foundation postures. It is a way of getting out of trouble when we are attacked at a weak point. For instance, if I have not developed a good enough grounding/centre, then my partner will be able to grab my arm and pull me to the side and forward. I use da-lu to counter this. However, if my grounding was good enough then my partner should not have been able to pull me forward in the first place. So da-lu is a technique we use when our basic techniques are not up to scratch. It still doesn't teach us how to defend ourselves.
In order to learn about t'ai chi's self defence methods, things like; "If he hits you, hit him first", or "never step backwards" etc, we go on to a more advanced pushing hands method which in itself has a gradual progression finally ending up at the most advanced toi-sau called small circle Ch'i-na pushing hands.
Hinge pushing hands is the first area of building up to the advanced method. Now, instead of taking for instance our left palm over the top of our partner's attacking (pushing) arms as we peng with our right arm, ready for the pull down etc. We now very simply after being pulled backward and he is about to push us, drop our other palm downward as our other palm defends using peng as in Photo NO.4. This is much faster than the old Roll Backward method and great against really strong pushes. We now are able to still end up with the roll back posture by rotating our left forearm upward so that the palm is now upward as in photo NO.5. Once you have learnt this way called Hinge pushing hands you will never be able to go back to the normal method.
SQUARE PUSHING HANDS OR PENG/HINGE PUSHING:
Square because both partners now use peng and hinge in both pushing and defence. So now the person pushing is using hinge with his right forearm to push as well as peng with his left forearm. At the same time the defender uses peng with his left forearm and hinge with his right forearm, this tends to make a square in the middle of the four arms as in Photo No.6.
SMALL CIRCLE PUSH HANDS:
Exactly the same as the square push hands but now there is no square. Your wrists will now stay together all of the time while still performing all of the postures and the pushing hands now becomes very fast and furious. Photo NO.7.
At this stage we are able to incorporate all of the fighting techniques from t'ai chi at a very close range. The use of the elbows is of utmost importance at this stage so too are the fingers which are used for jabbing at acupuncture points.
During normal pushing hands we learnt to avoid a strong push by shifting the body slightly to cause the force to be diverted to either side. But this movement is fairly large and not too useful in a realistic fighting situation. We need to be able to move quickly and economically literally throwing the on-coming force away with great power. Using small circle pushing hands we use very small bodily movement combined with a hand technique to achieve the greatest effect of turning an attacker's force back onto him.
We learn that no matter where and when an attack comes from we are able to defend against it because the movements are so small and effective.
Now, using advanced pushing hands it is even more important to not use these methods in a tournament competition situation as the techniques used are very dangerous and should only be practised with great control with a partner. In a competition situation too much damage would occur using these methods. These techniques were invented so that people could defend themselves against all odds and so the most deadly techniques were worked upon and placed into a form which eventually became known as t'ai chi ch'uan. So it seems to me to be a futile exercise to put this great art into a tournament situation to see who has the greatest ego.