Tai Chi push hands or sticking hands are taught primarily as a partner drill to develop sensitivity with your partner. The movements are taught in a very gentle coordinated, relaxed way; where winning and losing is an irrelevance. Traditionally single push hands are taught at first, when the fundamentals of this have been trained, double push hands are then studied.
The idea is to diffuse your opponents’ onward force with a minimum of effort; Tai Chi push hands effectively does this. The forces of Yin and Yang opposing energies, yet harmonious qualities are acutely reflected in this partner drill. This is keenly felt by any new student, more so than in the form. If a student over emphasises force it can be easily exploited by a skilful opponent, and turned back onto them.
In all push hands circular motions are used to deflect the oncoming force away from the centre of the body, out of harm’s way. The force will then be dissipated so that it is of no martial use. The body and waist must be very relaxed, as any inbuilt tension will be easily exploited by an opponent. It is very important to remain alert yet focused without holding tension anywhere in the body; this will keep your movements alive, vital for martial purposes. Ward off in the arms is a must, as collapsing the arms limply, will be useless for this partner exercise.
It is a natural human instinct to resist force or meet it with opposing force, but in push hands this urge must be resisted at all times. The body must be trained to yield with the oncoming force to resist it, thus investing in loss becomes appropriate.
An important aspect of this work is to develop listening skills to let us know what our opponent is doing. We must learn to feel the opponents’ force, deflect it or neutralise it, so that it is no longer a threat to us.
In Tai Chi push hands we can effectively learn to deliver force and receive it in a very safe, friendly way. The more relaxed, whilst observing all the Tai Chi basics the more effective your push hands will become. This can seem a contradiction at first, but as time moves on with patient practice, push hands can become better understood.