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Tai Chi Styles
introductions to other styles and aspects beyond the Yang From

Pushing Hands


pushing handsPushing Hands may also be known as Adhering Hands, Binding Hands, Joining Hands or Whirling Hands. There is a system in the Wing Chun styles of Kung Fu that is very similar, this is known as Sticking Hands.

What is Pushing Hands?

It is a rhythmical, non-competitive exercise between two people, keeping constant contact with your partner. It is therefore non-physical with no power-to-power techniques being used. The chance is given for each partner to utilise techniques from the Tai Chi Chuan Form. The exercise teaches a student to be submissive (invest in loss) and is a passive form of combat, teaching the subtle and more sensitive areas of the Martial Arts. To "invest in loss" means to be willing to lose balance, in order to acquire it. To be prepared to yield.

Philosophy of Pushing Hands

The aim is to feel the sensitivity of your partner's energy, intention and movements. You then redirect and borrow their strength to your advantage. To do this you must harmonise with them until both of you fuse into one. You must give to every ounce of pressure exerted toward you and offer no resistance. Thought has no part in the action of Pushing Hands, the action only comes from feeling. The movements should relate to a figure eight -being continuous and flowing in action. There should be no jagged motion, no starting and stopping - like the figure four.

A person's skin, muscles, bones, joints and spine all relay information to you. Listen to your partner's body movement - teach yourself to read subtle body signs and sensations. Your partner's eyes may deceive you but their feelings cannot. Pushing Hands becomes an exchange of energy between two people. Try to anticipate by feeling the movements before they happen. Do not interfere with the other person's will. The force is channelled through the body and then neutralized or returned to your partner. Do not concentrate solely on technique, i.e. moving the other persons arm out of the way, but focus attention on the empty space (yin) made by the incoming attack (punch, kick, etc.) . These are the unprotected areas.

The skill of paying attention and adapting is taught in Pushing Hands, it blends the attentions of two people together until individual boundaries are meaningless. A simple imagery is to image any yang aspect of Pushing Hands (pressure, force coming up from the ground, moving forward - black) , and any yin aspect (lightness, force being grounded and neutralized, moving backward - white). Pushing Hands should be played by concentrating on this moving pattern of black and white. The criteria of imagery must be understood in pictorial terms of black and white. Power comes from the relationship of the balance between yin and yang - this is internal power. External power is yang as opposed to yin. There is a limit to the amount of yang power you may have, but there is no limit to the perfection of the balance between yin and yang.

Pushing Hands - Double Handed

After some experience of working single handed Pushing Hands, students then progress onto double handed contact. The starting position is identical to the single handed stance but both hands will now be used. Moving and stepping is also introduced at this stage. Both hands may touch simultaneously. When changing over from one hand to the other it is important that two-hand contact is made before the changeover takes place. Contact with your partner must always be maintained with at least one hand.

Pushing Hands - Blindfolded

Pushing Hands may be performed at any stage with the eyes closed or both partners blindfolded. This achieves a better alertness and a greater demand in having to "feel" the movements, and intentions, of your partner.

Sticking Hands - Wing Chun Kung Fu

1. Partners face square onto each other.

2. The elbows are kept close to the centreline of the body.

3. Interlock wrists to your partner (right to left, left to right).

4. Block and counter the opponent's punches - stick and redirect until an opening appears, then attack and strike the person's centreline.

How to perform Pushing Hands

Assume a starting position as for single handed Pushing Hands, i.e. right foot to right foot, right wrist to right wrist. As a beginner it is best to practice with a partner of your own body weight and height.

Start a series of rocking motions circling back and forth, each person remaining outside the other. Attempt to break each others balance by pushing and yielding. Fend off an attack by yielding and redirect the force pass your body. This is achieved by turning the waist and hips (thus turning the upper body) and by shifting your body weight forward and backward. At your partner's slightest pressure yield to them, at their slightest retreat stick to them. Each in turn tries to unbalance the other while yielding and offering no resistance to their partner's push. Yielding to every muscular force creates a sixth sense that helps to counter your partner's move before they make it. By constantly attacking and defending you become fine tuned to feel the timing and the state of balance of your partner.

Each push comes in at a different angle, direction and force. If you have to move (step) because your own balance is wrong then it is an advantage to your partner. Avoid being "Double Weighted" - weight on both feet at the same time. Any resistance to your partner results in you being pushed. The actions are circular, moving arms vertically and horizontally. Body weight shifting from the front to the rear. Use your upper waist and upper torso in the action. Feet remain fixed and do not move. Palms should be glued to your partner like a shadow to its object or as an echo to its sound.

The four basic movements

The four basic movements are from the posture Grasp the Sparrows Tail. 1. 2. 3. 4.

Ward off - detect opponents moves. Press - uproot and opponent. Rollback - neutralise the attack. Push - uproot an attacking opponent.

The three main focal points are

1. own centre of balance.

2. Partner's centre of balance.

3. Relationship between the two.

An expert offers no firm surface to be pushed.

To be off balance means that your centre of gravity is outside the base made by your feet. The maximum point of your partner's reach usually means that they are almost completely off balance. Balance ultimately rests on your feet. If you are pushed from the rear you are usually able to grip the surface with the toes; if you are pushed from the front this is not possible.

Circle Drill

This is an intermediate stage from moving Pushing Hands to Full Free Sparring. Students move within a six metre diameter circle marked on the floor with the intention of pushing / pulling / sweeping / throwing your partner out of the ring. A scoring system can then be introduced.

Free Sparring Pushing Hands Contest

Techniques consist of pushing, pulling, grappling, throwing and sweeping in order to destroy your partner's balance. Knees, hips, elbows, etc. can also be used. This sport is becoming popular and has resulted in Open Style National Championships being organised. It is important to make sure that the finesse and martial skills of Tai Chi Chuan do not change to that of just wrestling and strong-force techniques. The philosophy of Pushing Hands must remain. Competition Push Hands do not use techniques that neutralize, follow or listen; but try to become as solid as possible and resist the other person. Contest rules and scoring systems have been established, but of course may vary from one association to another.

The following list may be considered as a general guidance to Pushing Hands contest:

1 . The confined area is usually a six metre diameter circle marked out on the floor.

2. Contestants are grouped into weight categories.

3. The number of Rounds is normally three, each being of a two minute duration.

4. Two referees control the contest.

Points are scored if:-

1 . When pushed the contestant takes two or more steps backward.

2. Both feet of a contestant leave the floor.

3. A contestant is thrown to the floor.

4. A contestant steps outside the circle, or pushed out of the circle.

5. A contestant is put into a lock or hold.

Penalty Points are accumulated if:-

1. Excessive strong force is used to push / pull the opponents hands, arms, legs, clothes.

2. Excessive embracing of opponent's leg or foot.

3. Insist on resisting when being pushed, pulled, thrown etc.

Close Quarter Fighting

Pushing Hands originally developed from freefighting and is the nearest thing to true close-quarter fighting that you will ever see. It is the mid point between Tai Chi Chuan Form and Free-Fighting. It can be considered to be the first learning stage to real fighting. Reactions are speeded up and the senses sharpened. This permits you to be able to fight close to a partner.

General Comments

A student will not advance in Tai Chi Chuan without Pushing Hands discipline. It is better to push hands with a child than with a technically skilled adult who uses strength - this causes you to use strength. If pushing with a child, regard them as an adult. If pushing with an adult, regard them as a child. The force of a push mushrooms out; the force seems to continue even after both partners are no longer in contact - because of the expansion of internal energy. The push itself is just the seed (a small packet of potential energy) that grows. Anyone who thinks Pushing Hands is just a question of pushing techniques will therefore be very frustrated until they look inward. A student must always approach their subject with the idea of "what can I learn" rather than 'my style is best, therefore I do not need to even look at other styles". It is wise to remember that Masters put a great deal of study into their respective arts, and do so because they find immense value in it. Why not try and find out what that value is?


The aim is to feel the sensitivity of your partner's energy, intention and movements. You then redirect and borrow their strength to your advantage. To do this you must harmonise with them until both of you fuse into one. You must give to every ounce of pressure exerted toward you and offer no resistance.
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