Slow Flash Mob Downtown with Tai Chi

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.

Alberta Teachers’ Association Health and Wellness Fair

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.

Taking Steps to the Angle

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 in Schools – Why Not?

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 and Peripheral Vision

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.