PUSH-HANDS TRAINING (TUI-SHOU)
Excerpts from Saul Krotki's Five Basic Commitments and Agreements for T'ai Chi Push-Hands:
T'ai Chi push-hands can be a powerful, restorative, energizing exercise. However, the potent, vitalizing internal medicine and the enhanced circulation that the student learns to cultivate in the t'ai Chi solo form practice is difficult to carry into push-hands. Confrontation with an opponent always creates some apprehension, and so it is difficult to maintain the deep relaxation, calm breath and low center experienced in form practice. If practice agreements are unclear, then one partner may wish to test his power at the expense of the other. As these agreements erode, the subtle health benefits are no longer available. Building a bridge to free style martial arts skill is not the main priority of the Five Commitments, though an insightful martial artist will find that these methods have free style advantages as well. There is the potential to learn specific arts skills through push-hands. However, the primary goal of pushing the other person out loses its appeal when compared to the remarkable health benefits that come with agreement practice. Beyond the subtle push-hands skills, the practice itself brings overall health as well as enhanced mobility, comfort, and agility in the hips and spine. Push-hands can lubricate, cleanse and strengthen all the joints of the body. Do not underestimate these benefits. The Five Commitments, described below in careful detail present key agreements which link development of skill in push-hands to preservation of the principles of preventive internal medicine developed in solo form practice.
When participating in push-hands wortkshops or visiting push-hands classes, I have encountered many different kinds of energies and personalities. In some classes tha are not adequately supervised, agreements are often unclear or in dispute. Then participants may try too hard to make a demonstration of their martial arts prowess. As they crudely shove and grasp at each other, their postural integrity is compromised and consequently they suffer exasperation and strain. particpants frequently lose their breath and lose touch with the effortless calm and economy of motion that marks the refinement of an accomplished T'ai Chi practitioner. Some participants only loosely adhere to the fixed step agreements. Because they do not carefully preserve the fixed step, the opportunity study the subtleties of neutralization is lost.
Safe, gentle agreement practice assures everyone that they do not have to endure injury or suffer humiliation in order to participate. This is very different from the usual abrupt and antagonistic martial arts setting where you are taught to armor yourself through harsh training rigors that toughen the body or ask you to develop snappy kicks and punches. The punishing ordeals and training methods you encounter in kick-boxing classes are not necessarily beneficial to your health. The incentive commonly encouraged in karate and various kick-boxing styles to employ aggressive surpise tactics, to overpower your opponent, to always try to win, is inappropriate to push-hands training. All students must instead curtail grasps, kicks and punches and abandon the need to win at all costs. In push-hands, we do not want to play a game where one emerges as a hero. There should also be no element of fantasy such that you believe you have become a skilled free style martial artist as a result of push-hands achievement. Instead, invest in loss and take a profound interest in achieving and sustaining defensive methods through the art of neutralization. The sensitive evasiveness of neutralization is the characterisc application unique to T'ai Chi ch'uan as a martial art. The push-hands practice, however, is fundamentally for health and therefore it can be enjoyed without apprehension.
Rather than strain against dull force, you need to be given an opportunity to practice softly and invest in loss. You can further your ability to avoid dull force by correctly repeating new soft pathways over and over again. After a period of years, you will find you can refine your ability to relax and thus contribute to a productive, nurturing, low-stress learning atmostphere.
T'ai Chi Push-hands has the potential to teach a smaller or lighter practitioner how to neutralize the force of a more powerful opponent. Accomplishing this requires great economy of action and reliance on the precise engineering principles of centering, relaxation and rooting that are studied in the basic T'ai Chi form.
These engineering secrets are hidden and subtle. It is important to search for them. The feeling for the refined balance is not apparent at first. Basic form correction, taken to heart, leads to profound skill in push-hands. Before the student has really found central equilibrium, he or she might experiement and overextend, stretching and bending without realizing it. The result is unnecessary strain and spinal discomfort. The student may not yet have the hours of experience to properly put to use the study and the feeling of exact form correction. This extraneous, unbalanced movement further obscures and inhibits access to the hidden principles of the form. Professor Cheng Man Ch'ing said, "I trust the ancients and their belief in the intrinsic indivisibility of form and function." T'ai Chi applications are preserved in our form. Respect for the engineering secrets begins with recognizing that bone-line balance is the core that the structure of the form is built on. This is essential to see and feel.
*Saul Krotki's excellent training manual can be purchased by sending $20.00 plus $4.00 shipping to: Bear Palm T'ai Chi Association, P.O.Box31133 , Seattle, WA 98103-1133