Many people do not realise that as well as solo practise in Tai Chi we also have various levels of partner work known as Tui-Shou or pushing-hands. Pushing-hands is the first basic step in appreciating Tai Chi as a martial art.
While being able to use Tai Chi effectively for self-defence takes some time (I usually recommend Boxing as an excellent system for those who want a swifter route to physical literacy) the regular practise required to do so develops fantastic physical and mental health/fitness along the way.
To begin with all pushing-hands practise is carried out safely and cooperatively. It is a very enjoyable and satisfying discipline providing essential feedback into how we actually use our bodies and minds rather than how we assume we use them, which are often two very different things. Principles central to Tai Chi such as being relaxed, aware, centred, balanced, integrated movement etc are of course very nice in theory but just having an intellectual understanding of these attributes isn’t very useful in itself. It’s easy to kid yourself that you exhibit any or all of these qualities if you have no way of testing them out. So this is what makes the practise of pushing–hands so great and distinguishes Tai Chi, a martial art at heart, from other health systems such as Yoga or Pilates.
Training with a partner who tests your balance allows you to develop a visceral sense of how one’s body and mind are structured, connected and operate as a whole unit both independently through solo practise and in relation to forces applied to it from a partner (or opponent). It is a fascinating practise which highlights and promotes the inextricable relationship between mind and body. For if you are not focused, present and relaxed it is very difficult to stay balanced at all. All of this is very insightful and useful for anyone interested in mind/body-work, sports and martial arts in general.
One of the key ideas is that by developing and maintaining central equilibrium or as Master Chen Xiao Wang says, the ability to be balanced in all directions, you can learn how to effortlessly use your partners force against them. Similarly, the Tai Chi classics urge us to learn how to ‘use 4 ounces to deflect 1000 pounds’. It is interesting to observe that people who look very strong from the outside are often easy to unbalance because their body structure is rigid and top heavy. This offers an interesting juxtaposition to our traditonal concepts of strength and fitness. Similarly, the ability to be aware and stay present is essential in pushing-hands and thus trains physical and mental attributes in equal measure.
So that said, you will be pleased to know that I am running a weekend workshop in pushing-hands for all abilities, including beginners, in Chichester on the 8/9th June. The workshop will run 10:30-16:30 each day at the Bassil Shippam Centre on Tozer Way. The fee is £80 for both days. Everyone is welcome and all the details can be found on the website.
Sam Moor runs Sussex Tai Chi and provides weekly classes, workshops, 1:1 tuition and instructor training across Sussex.