We come across this all the time - Taiji students who only practice the solo form and have zero interest in touching another person.
We understand. Many folks step into a Taiji class with the goal of improving their health. Others simply don’t want to make contact with another person and we respect that.
“Pushing Hands” may conjure the visual of two large guys trying to push each other out of a circle. If you’ve never heard of the term let alone seen a competition, the very words “Pushing Hands” might sound a bit violent and labor intensive. The term is misleading and excludes the mental and emotional aspects of the practice.
What is “Pushing Hands”?
Pushing Hands (Tui Shou, 推手) is hand-matching training that develops sensitivity, skills, and techniques specific to the essence of a particular Taiji style. The umbrella term encompasses several patterned and freestyle exercises.
The YMAA curriculum includes Single and Double Pushing Hands, Peng Lu Ji An, Taiji Symbol (AKA Silk Reeling, Yin-Yang Sticking Hands), Small Rollback, Large Rollback, and Cai Lie Zhou Kao. Each of those patterns are scaled back at the beginning stages. Intermediate level training combines the patterns, applications, and freestyle drills such as Centering, Coiling & Na, and Intercepting. The Taiji Fighting Set, a two-person choreographed sequence, blends most of the elements and can further enhance one’s training. Eventual training goals can be self-improvement, Taiji sparring, or something in between.
Different Taiji styles may emphasize softer or harder jing (martial power), higher or lower stances, smaller or larger circles, more defensive or offensive strategies. Variations often develop within the same style or within the same school. Each practitioner has distinct strengths and shortcomings so ultimately, it’s up to the individual to train what works for her/him. This comes after the student has developed an understanding of the fundamentals.
The majority of us may never use Pushing Hands in the physical sense in a real life situation. However, training even at a rudimentary level can seriously deepen a student’s understanding of Taijiquan compared with solo practice alone. This is why we encourage most students to try basic Pushing Hands exercises.
We start them on a few pre-Pushing Hands drills.
1) Basic Body Mechanics
Before beginning the solo form or Pushing Hands practice, we introduce our students to body mechanics and drills in our Taijiquan Basics Course.
Hip Twists [VIDEO] - Standing in high Mabu (horse stance), keep your weight distributed evenly between your feet. Twist your hips and waist from one side to the other without shifting your weight. Keep your torso upright.
Chest Movement [VIDEO] - The chest opens and closes on a horizontal plane while the spine opens and closes on a vertical plane. In Taijiquan, they are sometimes considered a single bow. In our style of White Crane, they are considered two different bows.
Upper Body Connection - Your intention to move should begin at the Dantian, connect to the spine and chest, and connect out the arms. To move a section of your arm, you must move the joint before it. Rotate (but don’t lift) the shoulder to move the elbow. Bend and straighten the elbow to move the wrist. Move the wrist to direct your fingertips. There are numerous exercises and Qigong patterns which help to train connection and softness. Here are two drills:
Lower Body Connection - Again, your intention begins at the Dantian. While shifting stances, push off the ground and find the connection between the ground to your foot, leg, and center (Dantian). Si Liu Bu (four-six stance) and Deng Shan Bu (mountain climbing stance) are commonly used together in what we call, "Rocking."
2) Sticky Wrists
“Sticky Wrists” is our unofficial name for this sensitivity drill. With the backs of the wrists connected, Peng structure, and eyes closed, one partner initiates a forward or backward motion while the other partner listens, follows, and sticks (or stays connected).
Rocking (Si Liu Bu to Deng Shan Bu)
The partner initiating the movements should vary the timing and distance of the forward and backward motions. In other words, avoid patterns.
Maintain proper distance and avoid collapsing the arm (too close) or separating wrists (too far)
To coil is to circle around a point or area using a spiraling motion. Within coiling, most of the basic body mechanics mentioned above are in motion. To start, coiling can be done in Mabu to focus on upper body movements. Although your feet are stationary, your knees and ankles will twist slightly to allow the hips to move and increase joint flexibility in your lower thirds (hips, knees, ankles).
Hold one forearm in front of you horizontally. This arm remains stationary while the other hand begins underneath the stationary hand and coils around the wrist. Turn the hips towards the stationary arm, close the chest and spine, drop the elbow, and lead the coiling hand on the inside (closer to your body) for a Yang direction coil. The coiling hand ends up at the top and you repeat the drill with the other hand. The goals are to lead with the fingertips and smoothly coil around the wrist while moving the entire upper body.
To coil in a Yin direction, drop the elbow and lead the coiling hand on the outside of the stationary hand (away from your body).
Other coiling drills:
Coiling - Single Hand Side Angle
One arm remains stationary, the other hand coils around it.
Coiling - Single Hand Forward Angle
While your partner holds out a fist, you face the fist and coil around it. The goal is to utilize the entire body to snake around the wrist without moving your partner’s arm. This can be practiced at home with a staff in a fixed position.
“Sticky Wrists” and coiling drills are gentle and conservative partner exercises to introduce students to Pushing Hands. The exercises provide feedback on students’ forms with minimized physical contact and intensity.
Question: Where does coiling appear in the form?
Many students begin their Taiji practice on the solo form before being introduced to coiling drills. The concept of coiling can be explained to them verbally, but once they train the drills and go back to the form, the answer is apparent.
Coiling is everywhere in our style of practice.
(Other practitioners might not emphasize or include coiling in their practice.)