Why is Push Hands so bad?

To explore this topic we’ll have to assume the basic premise that Push Hands is bad. And if we do assume it we’re going to find ourselves in rather large company. There are amazingly few people who have gone to Push Hands contests and not been horrified at what they’ve seen there. So, the question is “Why is Push Hands so bad?”

There are a couple of parts to the answer. The first part is based on the five zones of combat from the very far out to so close you are rolling around with your opponent. By far the most difficult zone is the middle zone where your limbs are in range of your opponent’s and vice versa. Everything is possible. When you enter this zone you are making first contact with the opponent, and when you’ve passed through this zone you are in tight fighting or rolling on the ground. But this is the zone where anything can happen.

Sticky Hands, Pushing Hands, Rolling Arms: all sorts of Chinese sensitivity training methods concentrate on staying in that zone past the comfort time. In the case of Tai Chi and its patterned movement, the idea of being in this zone is to be able to do ANY movement from the Tai Chi, any of the 37 or so primary movements. Each of these has dozens of variations. All of these 37 moves such as Snake Creeps Down and Repulse Monkey should be accessible from the Push Hands pattern. The actual pattern of the Push Hands itself is important because what the practitioners SHOULD be trying to do is create a movement with the hands (and feet, if that’s allowed) then take that movement and turn it into one of these 37 primary defense. .

So the first problem is that this would mean Punch Hands, Kick Hands, Pull Hands, Grapple Hands, Poke Hands, Elbow Hands and everything else is implied. But obviously you can’t do that because you would hurt people.  So what the masters figured was that they would substitute Pushing—and pulling and a few other things—for all the other basic strikes and maneuvers. The problem is that if you give up all the sensitivity and all the variability just to get a push in you are missing the point. In many cases the only reason you can push the guy is because neither of you know anything about Push Hands. You are not even aware of the other options you are not employing, the ones named above. In other words you never want to play Push Hands in such a manner that the movement you are doing is non-functional except IN the game of Push Hands.

So some people call it just a sport. But my problem is, it is a sport that is not only teaching incorrect postures but actually nullifying the movements of Tai Chi and substituting bad Tai Chi for good.

Now let’s look at the push itself for a second. The idea of the push is something like a joke we tell, “What’s the difference between a full power push and a massage?” Answer: “The time taken to deliver them.” In other words an hour massage given in one second is a full power push. The thrust and pull of massage is condensed to the impact of a Tai Chi Push when used in combat and exactly the reverse in Push Hands. Why? Because pushing someone twelve or twenty feet only has meaning if it can be condensed to a powerful issuance. But this is not the push people are doing. They are leaning into the push and using body weight. You couldn’t condense that into a Fa Jing.

Look, everyone says that it is very difficult to evade, or to reverse a pick up or a tackle. True. But at the distance of Push Hands it’s impossible. So everyone wants to win and they are all essentially driving forward with movements completely adapted to the game. It is valueless. It’s the equivalent to a boxer making a bag swing instead of jump. To the amateur it feels great. The boxing coach cringes. And that’s what’s so bad about Push Hands.