Dynamic Push Hands

Push hands is a method employed by two people to work on various concepts and principles from martial arts to better oneself and develop skill for combat. Therefore, it is a training method to bridge the gap between bare hands form and free sparring. In Tai Chi Chuan, traditionally, there are several push hands exercises for practitioners to work on to improve the coordination, mobilization, understanding and application of the 13 principles or techniques (ward off, roll back, press, push, split, pull down, elbow strike, shoulder strike, look to the left, look to the right, advance step, retreat step and center equilibrium) in confrontation situations.

In any martial arts strike, the most important element is the power of the strike. In Yang Style Tai Chi Chuan, there are several training methods to develop internal power or 'neijing'. Dynamic Push Hands is one training method involving a partner to develop neijing based on the principle of confrontation. It recognize that people generally perform better under pressure, which is the very nature of martial arts combat. It is a different from methods in which the practitioner practices alone. After one has gone through the solo and partner methods of training in Yang Style Tai Chi Chuan system, the practitioner has enormous, incredible power and achieves a high skill level. He or she is able to incorporate the newly developed neijing into individual techniques and each strike is composed of intent, qi and power, the essential ingredients for a powerful strike.

a. Skill incorporating power
All Chinese martial arts, regardless of style or system, highly emphasize incorporating power into each individual technique. Without power, one's skill level is not considered very high. As Tai Chi Chuan is one system of Chinese martial arts, it is no exception. One often hears about the concept of "applying the soft to overcome the hard". This is one method to neutralize the opponent's strike. However, if one has extreme hardness, it is difficult to use soft to defend and neutralize. When there is a big gap in skill between parties, softness cannot overcome hardness. Therefore, it is necessary to develop power.

b. Oral transmission
Heavy and solid are the obvious characteristics of Tai Chi Chuan's neijing. Yang Cheng Fu described it as "an iron bar wrapped inside cotton". Although it is heavy and solid, this form of power can travel very quickly, lightly and is quite accurate. It can change directions and change focus very quickly. This depends on the practitioner's intent and the opponent's reaction. The speed of change happens so quickly that spectators and sometime the opponent do not have a chance to see or feel any contact yet and the victory has already been decided. Skillful practitioners can easily change position according to the opponent's movement as a result of their sensitivity. When this neijing is focused on the arms, it can be light as cotton and heavy as steel. It is not all soft, neither is it all hard. The power described as soft has hardness and hardness has softness. It poses a huge threat to the opponent.

After one understands the characteristics of Tai Chi Chuan's neijing, the next step is to develop this incredible power. In Yang Style Tai Chi Chuan, this tangible training involves the method of Dynamic Push Hands. It is also known as fitting the power to the students. The method involves the teacher applying just enough power against the student each time so the student utilizes all resources and possibilities while working under pressure. Although this appears to be simple, a skillful instructor is always able to apply just the right amount of power for the student to work with at level of difficulty that encourages maximum growth. Although the process is slow and time consuming, the method is much better than working with free weights because it is a complete training that involves the whole body. It develops a live power known as 'jing', not the physical power known as 'li'. The neijing one develops has strength and flexibility, which are other important elements in martial confrontations. At the same time, this method is a form of mental training which toughens one's will and truly prepares the practitioner for the martial art's vigorous physical activity.

In the exercise, the teacher patiently and persistently applies a set amount of pressure on the student. The student feels the pressure and mobilizes the whole body and all resources to work against this pressure. This type of practice will increase the student's neijing, the strength of the ligaments, tendons, bones and muscle groups, and also ones confidence (gained from the confrontation experiences). After one has mastered the basics, an experienced practitioner moves to the next step, improving the student's practical experience, and developing offensive and defensive maneuvers in each movement. The student gains experience in how to react and neutralize under different situations and conditions. The exercise is conducted in a controlled environment so it is safe and injury free. With more practice, the push hands exercise will correctly guide and direct the student to San Sau or Free Sparring training. It is a true method of bridging the Solo Form and Free Sparring. This is why a true transmission always involves oral instruction to point out the mistakes immediately. As a student, when one works with the teacher, one must expend all of one's options, so the intent, power and technique will be incorporated together to create a powerful push.

c. Push
The Dynamic Push Hands exercise, commonly involves the techniques of press vs press; press vs ward off; and press vs shoulder strike to developed the student's naijing. At the beginning, the student should not be nervous. He or she should try to relax, and pay attention to all the concepts. Next, when one feels the pressure from the teacher, one should not be afraid, but rather, should apply the technique of warding off to work against the pressure as best one can. Throughout the exercise, one should keep the body relaxed and have a firm posture, mobilize all the neijing to maintain balance, prevent the teacher from getting too close, and try to maintain this position and condition as long as possible. In this way, the student will develop neijing.

The most common technique is to push the teacher's shoulders. This is the most common and difficult training method used to mobilize the power into the fists. If a student practices this exercise long enough, and focuses on the arm, the opponent will feel the sinking, heavy, elastic and powerful neijing. This exercise appears to involve the physical power, but it is very effective and practical training method which develops neijing-- which has components from physical power as well as qi power.

Dynamic Push Hands is a very physical and difficult exercise. It demands maximum effort from the student in each push. In each push, the student has to correctly align the body to maintain balance and push forward so the upper and lower body coordinate in unison and the power is focused forward. At the same time, he or she must pay attention to the breathing so the physiologic organs take proper rest. It is not correct to have tension all the time. The power developed from this exercise called neijing.

The neijing developed from this Dynamic Push Hands exercise is equivalent to one possessing a lethal weapon. In joint hands condition, if the opponent retreats, one follows with a strike, or discharges power to send the opponent flying away. If the opponent maintains balance, one should initiate contact to make the opponent lose balance. If one is able to correctly apply these two methods in opponent martial confrontation, one truly has a profound skill.

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