Pushing The Issue

I was recently asked to explain the rules of pushhands(tui shou). My answer was simply that there were ‘no rules’. To me, tou shou is simply an exercise. Like sit-ups or jumping rope. Sure there are a great deal of variations to all of these, such as hands behind the head, arms out to the side, skipping, crossing the hands or what-not. But, in the end, they come down to the same thing, conditioning. It’s why I’m confused when I encounter debates about how to use tui shou in a fight. How do you use sit-ups in a fight? You don’t. Sit-ups are not a fighting technique and have no real place in a fight. Yet most fighters I meet do them. Why? Because, conditioning matters. The only real difference between tui shou and most other exercises is that rather than conditioning our muscles, the practice of tui shou seeks to condition the tendons, ligaments and most importantly, our minds. Staying calm, relaxed and engaged while under pressure is a skill that requires a great deal of practice. Tui shou is a means for us to practice this.

Apparently, I seem to be alone in this view as pushhands has come to be a competitive sport. There has, not suprisingly, come to be a debate on what the rules should be and how to go about judging said competitions. There is even a documentary on Youtube. I have a hard time offering helpful criticism because of the above view. My teacher constantly stressed to me that taiji was about ‘forgeting’, ‘letting go’ or ‘breaking the rules’. His teaching method started with a ridiculous amount of rules and restrictions which were gradually dropped until there was nothing but… hmm… not sure what to even call it. So far as pushhands goes here in the park, we strive for a balance between cooperation and competition. By pushing one another, we give each other an opportunity to develop our strengths while our opponent exposes our weaknesses. Then we can be clear about what we need to work on in the form. That said, there needs to be a certain amount of mutual consent for any real progress to be made. If you and your partner are both comfortable throwing (and receiving!) kicks, then by all means, feel free. If however, your partner insists on repeatedly poking you in the eye and you can’t defend it or just don’t like it (for whatever reason), simply ask them to stop. If they don’t, they aren’t your ‘partner’ and you probably shouldn’t push with them in the first place.


~ by aedhcarrick on August 28, 2009.

One Response to “Pushing The Issue”

  1. I can think of two rules: establish whether or not you’re practicing “fixed foot,” and try not to hurt your partner. As to “fixed foot,” however, I find that even though it may have been established, many (if not most) practioners move their feet. It’s gotten to the point where I don’t bother to ask. I try not to move my feet and assume that the person I’m practicing with will and either not know it or not care. Along those lines, I generally expect to be pushed after I’ve uprooted my partner (i.e., he/she has moved his/her feet, braced, and then tries to uproot me). I find the results of this are twofold: 1) I need to be ready to neutralize all the time — even when the “point” is over, and 2) I need to develop pushes that don’t allow my partner to brace. With the 2nd point, I have to be careful that I don’t injure my partner. For me, ultimately, it’s better to get pushed than hurt my partner (or for me to get hurt). That is, in part, what I think “investing in loss” is about. But I digress. To restate, I guess I have one rule: don’t hurt your partner. However, I don’t presume that my partner will subscribe to that rule — I’ve been poked, slapped, punched, etc. too many times. So maybe the one rule is like you say: you have the right to choose your partner. I just remembered a rule of Maggie’s which kind of speaks to all of this: “take responsibility for your actions.”

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