As I mentioned in a previous blog, Tai Chi is a crucial element in my movement and personal philosophy. Often in the US, Tai Chi is thought of as a slow exercise done by “old” people. While it is definitely beneficial for older people seeking to enhance their endurance, mobility and coordination, Tai Chi is so much more.
One element of Tai Chi practice is Push Hands. Simply put, Tai Chi Push Hands is a partner exercise where you attempt to disrupt your partner’s center of balance while simultaneously neutralizing or evading their attempt to disrupt yours. From an outsider’s perspective Push Hands can look like a fluid dance on the lighter end of the spectrum and a sumo meets judo match on the more aggressive end.
Tui Shou is the Chinese name for push hands, which often is translated to “sticking” or “sensing” hands. As the name suggests, the objective is to sense or stick to your opponent in order to feel the direction they are pushing. Done well, this allows you to give way to their force or move in the direction they are pushing without losing your center or balance. The intention is not to kowtow to your partner’s push but to remove yourself from the direction of force.
A good visual is a saloon door. The door pivots on a double hinge, giving way and moving with the initial push that causes the door to open and then snapping back into place once the pressure is released. It never loses its shape or disconnects from the hinge--it just gets out of the way.
Our bodies can do the same thing. Our hips, shoulder joints and spine are designed to move in multiple planes of motion, bending and twisting. We can use this ability to “give way” or evade a push just like that saloon door. We just have to cultivate the sensitivity to feel our opponent’ push so that we can move without resistance in that direction while maintaining balance, our base of support or connection with the floor.
We tend to resist what we don’t like or what makes us uncomfortable. We push it away or resist it. In push hands the practice is to sense it, acknowledge it, and accept it without letting it disrupt our center or push us off balance. The practice is to sense it so you can flow with it and ultimately redirect it.
Physically this has helped me find more ease and grace in my movement and cultivate more presence and flow in sports, recreation and life.
This has been a helpful tool in my life, cultivating another possibility or way of handling conflict with myself and others. It has allowed me to experience the possibility of giving way to force while still maintaining my position or, put another way, allowing someone to have their intention without losing my integrity.
As does the body so does the mind. In my experience, as you adopt this practice physically your mind adopts it too. You begin to handle resistance in your life and relationships in the same way.
There is something powerful in the experience of maintaining your integrity and your intention while simultaneously allowing someone else to also maintain theirs (in a potentially conflicting situation). For most of us, most of the time, when we’re pushed (physically or emotionally) we either dig in and push back and it becomes a battle of will and strength or we kowtow to the aggressor. When force meets force there is always collateral damage regardless of who wins.
Either way we’re not really cultivating a relationship of mutual trust, respect and acknowledgement. And in a world of 7.5 billion and a nation of over 320 million, if we as a species plan to occupy this planet in the future I think it's about time this became our focus.
I don’t know about you but a relationship built on mutual love, trust and respect is what I wish and strive for with myself, my wife, my family, friends and really all the close relationships in my life. It’s also what I think the majority of us desire in our interactions and dealings with others. This will never be accomplished if we just push others around or kowtow to others’ demands.
Tai Chi Push Hands as a practice and a philosophy can provide us another way of handle resistance and conflict with a little more ease, flow and presence, positively impacting our relationships with ourselves, loved ones, neighbors and even strangers.
If this is something you’re interested in experiencing and possibly learning please let me know or find somewhere to begin this practice.