This year we started offering the Tai Chi Sabre. We were all excited at this new opportunity to carry on further into our Tai Chi training. Both learning and teaching were a welcome challenge. In every class we practiced a selection of basic blocks and cuts before moving on to the Form. The third session of the Tai Chi Sabre is already scheduled for this Fall.
Push Hands at Louise McKinney Park
Park life in China is often filled with children doing laps on roller-blades as part of their sports training, cha-cha dancers, chess players, karaoke singers, massage sessions, flute players, saxophonists, and people just sitting on benches. Local artist Amy Shostak who went on a trip to China and was inspired by the active park life set out to create a similar opportunity for Edmontonians. We certainly have the park space, but not the culture for using them save for a few exceptions like Hawrelak Park and Ezio Faraone Park, and so she arranged to have chess, zumba dancing, story telling, and Tai Chi at Louise Mckinney Park downtown.
We had two Tai Chi sessions and they were well attended. I would start by performing some of the slow form and slowly one or two more people would come in and join until we had up to ten people. We did the first part of the form, and true to the fuller curriculum of Tai Chi, two push hands sets per session.
Carrie and Richard practicing single-hand push hands at the Edmonton Public Library
For the month of November 2012 the Alberta Sport and Recreation Association for the Blind held its first Tai Chi Chuan course. We held the course at a quintessentially Edmonton location, The Edmonton Public Library Downtown Branch, a very dynamic and diverse institution. This course made use of an innovative approach where we integrated the practice of both the form and push-hands into every class. Typically, push-hands training does not begin until one has finished the first stage of learning the form, and often push-hands is neglected entirely. This course however, sought to re-establish the connection between these two components of Tai Chi, thus enabling the participants to train the fuller breadth of Tai Chi benefits.
Push-hands develops “adherence” skills, a solid balance, responsiveness, waist rotation, as well as a better intellectual understanding of Tai Chi. Taking a look at just one of these, adherence, the ability to stick to another person’s movement with agility and awareness, is exclusive to push-hands. No aspect of form training contains this idea due to the fact that one requires a partner to train this skill. ASRAB will be continuing to promote this integrated approach to Tai Chi with further classes and promotions to be held in January.
P1110550 from Tai Chi Edmonton on Vimeo.
I had the privilege to give a Tai Chi demo at the Alberta Teachers’ Association. I demonstrated the Fast Form, Sabre, Slow Form and push-hands with my assistant Jennifer. It was great to demonstrate in front of such a good audience. I felt that everyone was appreciative.
Teaching is a very stressful job which Tai Chi can address. It is a multifaceted art improving balance, alertness, precision of movement, calmness, and endurance. All qualities which teachers use every day, as teaching is a very physical job. Several teachers mentioned how interesting it was to see that Tai Chi has much more to offer than the slow form. In particular the value of push-hands holds much promise to give everyone an enjoyable exercise, a good workout, but very graceful.
Although I have many ideas about how Tai Chi can benefit teachers; I prefer to wait to see what teachers themselves have to say, and hear their ideas on how to bring this art to their circle.
Placing your self at an angle to an opponent is considered a strategic position to take. The technique demonstrated here lets you practice taking an angled position as well as using the half step on the front foot. This is a good opportunity for practicing techniques without the overt push-hands element being present. One of the faults of training is the over-training of connected push-hands. We should also be practicing techniques which are initiated in other ways.
Begin with the basic push hands stance
Come under the incoming strike with your fist facing more or less downwards
Step the left foot to the side while cutting under the incoming strike
Finish by pulling the right foot in front of you a half step on the ball of the foot, and use the left hand to control just behind the elbow.
partner strikes with their left arm, use your left fist to come under their strike.
While blocking with the left arm step the right foot back.
To finish bring the left foot into a half step position on the ball of the foot, and control the elbow with the right hand
These photos were taken while doing the entire technique in normal timing and so the positioning is more natural.
Post script: I think that the blocking arm can also be given some ward-off energy especially if the incoming strike is heavy. Also the turning of your blocking arm to the side can come from the waist. This could be done during the single hand to double hand change as different way of opening into this technique.–
Push hands has become the forgotten side of tai chi. Push hands is not only great as an independent activity for anyone, but it has generally been assumed to be strictly an adult activity. The idea of promoting it to children has not been adequately explored.
The benefits of push hands for children’s health and development is worth looking into. One of the less considered benefits is the social aspect of push hands. Not in the sense of chatting about nonsense while practicing, but in the sense that you work with another person on new movements. You can investigate how a technique works and how to do them well.
Adding push hands to schools’ physical education programs would be both very easy, very innovative, very beneficial to the students and cost effective. It is easy because all a school would need to do is hire an outside expert to come in and teach. It’s innovative because it opens children up to very new ideas regarding physical movement and art forms. It is cost effective because it does not require any equipment.
Push hands for children gives children many unique developmental opportunities. The foundation of push hands is maintaining continuous contact with a partner. I do not know of many exercises where children learn such “sticking” skills, as it is called in tai chi. Rooting is another foundational tai chi skill which does not seem to come about in many other physical activities. In push hands one learns how to keep their balance in a fixed stance while shifting weight and moving the upper body in various ways. This is actually a difficult first step in push hands, and many students will find that they can easily lose their balance.
Tai Chi places considerable emphasis on the use of vision while practicing. In the form, nearly each movement has a lead arm, and the lead arm is the one to watch. Because many of the movements of the form make use of the turning of the waist, this means that when we watch the lead hand, our head will also be turning in order to follow the moving of the hand. Watching the lead hand in this way also helps with the waist turning in itself.
Watching the lead hand however is only half of the story, there is also the other hand. As Master Wong would often specify, keep the other hand in the peripheral vision. In other words, by watching the lead hand, it does not mean we can loose track of the other hand. This is an easy fault to make simply because of the use of the language itself, if we ask our students, or our selves, to watch the lead hand, the statement itself will incline us to pay no attention to the other hand. I think that probably arises in particular from the word “watch.” The concept of watching does not include any idea of the peripheral vision.
In tai chi, then, we can not say, strictly speaking, that we are “watching” the lead hand because we are still also watching the peripheral vision. This is one of the subtle and interesting points of tai chi practice: tai chi is designed to train awareness of the peripheral vision: we are to learn the boundary of our peripheral vision, and be able to follow the movement happening in that sphere of vision. I do not know many arts or exercises that make use of peripheral vision.