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.
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.