There are thousands of people teaching tai chi and tai chi push hands around the world. Personally, I have trained with many teachers here in the states as well as teachers in China. I have found that even with the “Masters” there are few who really have a good understanding of how to apply the tai chi pushing hands concepts. One of my teachers, the most skilled that I have found in the tai chi push hands, Sifu Sam Tam, told me that “One in a thousand know how to yield, one in a thousand of those are good at tai chi push hands, and one in a thousand of those are at an expert level.” This is hard to imagine, but the more people I meet and train with the more I am seeing the truth in his words. This gives you some idea of the effort that is needed to really become efficient in the tai chi push hands.
A deep knowledge of push hands starts with understanding how to be rooted and to have a strong base. One of the best ways I have seen to accomplish this is through the practice of Yichuan (standing meditation). The Yichuan is a difficult discipline and will help you with all of your goals in the internal arts; health, focus, strength, endurance, breath, ability to be rooted, martial power and response time. Usually, when someone tries Yichuan they find it very challenging and start to question if it is worth their effort. This is a common and easy trap to fall into. When something is hard we instinctively look for ways to avoid the difficulty. With the Yichuan you cannot find an easy way. You have to put in the work and be consistent to find the new levels of understanding the practice offers. When you put in the time, especially if you are doing other arts, you will see changes and have the euphoric experience of first-time energy starting to appear in many of your practices.
The second concept that we need to understand is the ability to yield. I’m sure if you have been around tai chi for a while you have heard the saying,“use four ounces to move a thousand pounds.” This ability comes from yielding. When practicing the tai chi push hands yielding is crucial. When you meet force with force you will lose if the opponent is stronger than you are. This is why with the tai chi push hands you have to learn this principle of softness. Yielding is difficult and most people playing push hands never truly learn to use yielding in tai chi push hands or in combative situations. To become soft and win against a stronger opponent there are many things that have to be understood and cultivated to come out successfully under pressure. Some of the things we do to become better at yielding are standing, form work with (Tai Chi, Qigong, Bagua and H-sing-i), breathing, and water training.
The next area needed to develop when practicing the tai chi push hands is fajing (release of power). Fajing is what is used when striking an opponent or pushing an opponent if one is playing more for practice. What is important when using the fajing is having a clear understanding of the four ways to release power. All types have different martial applications, or ways into the martial application. To master tai chi push hands it is crucial to see these four clearly. Many average tai chi push hands players will understand the basic concept of the fajing. Few in the world will master the art and know how to deliver the fajing in the six directions using power and being able to yield all at the same time.
This practice of tai chi push hands is very deep and takes years to develop. I have heard many say it takes ten years of a dedicated, daily practice to become efficient in the martial applications of tai chi push hands. I have seen a few do it in less, but these people usually are very naturally gifted and train more like a professional athlete would train. As a martial artist these distant, difficult goals are attractive and give us something to strive for. It keeps it fun. On the other side, don’t let this idea of how hard it is to master scare you away. The casual tai chi push hands player will benefit by being stronger, having more energy, better balance, more focus and becoming more flexible. I have practiced tai chi push hands with people of all ages kids through adults (I think the oldest was 98) and all can benefit from the exercise. It is a great way to interact with someone you care about, or to have fun and increase your health.