That’s the question posed to us this week by Michael in Wisconsin. Michael explains that he has just begun studying Tai Chi form, but he has an opportunity to learn some Push Hands, and was wondering if he should do so.
Michael, I suggest that you learn the form before you start Push Hands, and take correction first, too. I always thought it was a promotion to get to Push Hands. But really it is not. It is an opportunity to get lost in competition and tension. While you are learning the form, you are giving your legs a chance to get stronger, and almost everyone you play will have undergone the process and have stronger legs. You are also learning to relax as you learn the form. Relaxation will change your idea of how to overcome someone, in counter-intuitive ways. Relaxation is not as easy as its name implies. You need to remain relaxed in the face of a threat and in the face of losing.
However, when you do have the form well enough so that you can do it and stick to the relaxation that comes from it, in the face of a threat, then you may be ready to go on to Push Hands. But there is something else you need to have developed: You have to listen to yourself on many levels as you do the form. Listen to your hands as they move though the air. Listen to your feet and feel the weight distribution, as well as the straightness of your spine, and your breath, your knee and elbow coordination etc.. When you can monitor them all at once, then you are ready to play Push Hands, and your first job in play will be to listen the same way to your opponent.
However, when you start you should not have an opponent, but a partner and you should do two-person exercises for stretch or flexibility and sensitivity, such as the exercises I teach on my Push Hands DVD. Then you will graduate to neutralization exercises so that you can learn the common pathways of a neutralization.
At this point, you will become ready for competitive play. And that is still just the beginning. As you find yourself pushed, come back and ask you teacher what do to about it. This way you will continue learning for at least a couple of years, if not many more. When you can figure this out, by yourself, you will see what kind of a player you have become.
In T’ai Chi,