Push Hands: Why?
By Erle Montaigue
Tai chi push hands used to be one of the greatest training aids ever invented. However, over the years, those who could not or did not know how to fight, decided that they would substitute actual fighting methods and real self-defence with push hands. They trained and trained until they became very good at pushing people and lowering their own centre of gravity so that others could not push them over in just the same way that a sumo wrestler does, only on a much lesser scale! In fact I could train a sumo in tai chi push hands and he would be unbeatable!
You see them everywhere nowadays, pushing their own students up against walls with a seemingly devastating effect, 'BANG' the sound of the student crashing up against the wall wows the audience and the 'Master' is once again in control of their minds causing them to think that this is real self-defence or that the master is superman!
However, all one has to do is to think with that logical brain that we have all been given to see that when the master pushes with so much force as to even lift the student off the ground so that he slams up against the wall, he is never hurt in any way! He just comes back for more. Do this is a real fight and you will be defeated! There are NO pushes in Taijiquan as this is NOT self-defence!
Many excuses are used as cop outs for why the student is not hurt, one of them being that the student has been trained to be relaxed and so is not hurt! People who are intoxicated are also relaxed so that is one group of people that you should not do this on as it would have no effect. Truth is that it dos not have any effect what so ever upon anyone. It is only used as a so-off in demonstration to show that the master is superman or has some kind of super-natural powers when all the time he has simply trained in body physics for many years. Has anyone every simply punched the 'Master' in the face as he is trying to push? Of course not, as the students never wish to make a complete idiot out of their teacher. So they play the game participating like good little students pushing themselves backwards several metres.
This kind of tai chi push hands is an insult to human intelligence and quite disrespectful to any gullible student. Students pay thousands of dollars each year to lean this kind of rubbish. They are told that if they train for 6 or 8 hours every day that they too will have the amazing power of the master in about 30 years!
To demonstrate the above I will tell true anecdote. Several years ago I was holding a workshop in the North of England and a huge South African man attended. He must have been all of 7 foot and his body was well proportioned to boot. I was doing some of my own brand of push hands, that which actually teaches something valuable like self-defence, and I was working with this chap. I noticed that even when I gave him the slightest push or even if he only thought that I pushed him, he would throw himself several feet away. This continued until I stopped and explained to him how large and strong he was and that I wanted him to simply not allow me to do this to him anymore. It took about ten times of my telling him this until he got out of the habit of participating! He had been used to doing this as his Chinese teacher had conditioned him to believe that he was weak and that the teacher had super-natural powers! When this huge chap simply did not allow me to push him by just relaxing and not becoming tense when I pushed, he was almost impossible to move any more than a few inches! The reason was that he was no longer playing the game. I told him that when he felt a push coming, even if so slight, that he should simply go limp while still standing and sink his energy and weight downward. This was enough to show him that he actually did have great physical power.
I also of course explained to him that this method was only a fraction of learning about self-defence and that he also had to actually learn how to fight in order to defend himself and that push, the real thing, was a great starting point. But only if it did not contain any pushing or pulling methods! The rule is this, if your push or pull, the attacker will just keep coming back and eventually get you. You must also learn how to fight, how to punch with great power when your hand is only a couple of inches away from the target, how to react to the attack rather than to what you have learnt, to be able to strike from any position with devastating dim-mak strikes, how to evade his attack using only a few centre metres of movement, how always to move forward and never backward, how to finish the fight in only a few methods.
This is what tai chi push hands is all about, not silly pushing people to show how good you are!
Taijiquan is super-natural enough in reality. We do not need these 'tricks of the trade' to add to the real power of Taijiquan, these only serve to even worsen the ideas that most hard stylists have about Taijiquan to the point of deriding this once great martial system.
When I first began my training in Taijiquan, I too was impressed with masters who could push people several feet away. I trained and trained until I too could do this. But my first real confrontation in the street showed me that I had been wasting my time and had to revert back to what I had previously known in order to defend myself! I then began investigating real Taijiquan rather than giving it up altogether and I am thankful that I did not give up as I met my main teacher who did not teach any pushing during tai chi push hands, he only struck!
I would ask why he struck me (rather hard) from such short distances as I would find it almost impossible to defend. His answer was that fighting happened HERE (in my face) and that if I could almost defend myself against his close attacks, then I would have no problem in the street. So he kept hitting me during tai chi push hands until often I would go home with a very red face and bleeding nose! Eventually, I began to notice that I was struck less and less if I did not even think about when he was about to strike but allowed my sub-conscious mind to cause an automatic body reaction to the strikes. And eventually this worked, I was then able to defend against almost all of his attacks. His indication always to me was, (as he could not speak English) that I was thinking! And I should not think. This is what push hands training should be all about but sadly it has come down to a very base level of the master having to have something super-natural to show the students in order to keep them interested. And in that time, the real reason for tai chi push hands has been lost!