Pushing the Issue

I just came across a great new website, Pushing the Issue. I found out about it from someone who forwarded these two videos to me:

This gives a voice to something I’ve felt for a long time, especially as a former Tai Chi Judge at at national martial arts competition. Mike Pekor hit the nail on the head – although we may wildly disagree on specifics and other issues (his website is interestingly outspoken) – it is true that push hands is a necessary requirement for the quan of taijiquan.

So, what’s the “Issue”?

Over the years, Push Hands play, especially tournament play, in the United States has transformed into an entity quite different from its original form.

Mmm. Well, I would like to agree by offering some constructive criticism 🙂

While the video above does in fact illustrate many of the “problems” in American push hands, I believe it fails to recognize a similar but different problem with Chinese push hands. While the American camp is too much like a soggy noodle, the Chinese camp is too “shuai jiao”*. This isn’t my lone opinion, this is what the old-timers in Chen village think of their own village’s push hands competitions. But to be fair, not everyone in these competitions is master level. We are all here to learn, right?

So in the spirit of learning, the video above (part 2) is correct when saying that American Push Hands Competitions should allow more “force”. But I also believe that the so-called original form of push hands, i.e. “cooperative” push hands, has been overlooked by an equal number of Chinese players. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not THAT cooperative. But there is a certain level of cooperation compared to what we see today in China, given the above videos. To lay it on the line, there is as much difference between the clips of Cheng and the American competition as there is between Cheng and the Chinese competition. So no, I don’t think it is entirely fair to compare the American and Chinese push hands camps and say one is better. I think that misses the point of what we should really be looking at.

If I had to say one way or the other I’d agree with Pushing the Issue. I think the American camp is slightly confused. Push hands for learning is not push hands for competition. Why then are we competing in this way? There is the famous story of a Judo guy (Mario Napoli) winning a push hands competition in China. And everyone knows about the Shuai Jiao guys winning push hands competitions in Taiwan. Everything is so confused nowadays. As Martial Development says in Push Hands and Competition, “Most of the 36 tui shou “sicknesses” noted by master Chen Xin are grounded in confusion about the difference between push hands and sparring.” Hmm, maybe we should stop and take a look at what we’re trying to accomplish with push hands competitions in the first place? Maybe it would be better to do away with it and just have san shou, and leave pushing hands alone as a training exercise?

After all, the “original form” alluded to by the quote at the beginning of this article was “cooperative” push hands for learning purposes. That’s right, originally competition was not present in push hands as it is today, in America or China. There were no formal rules, and the only informal rule is that you approach the activity with the correct attitude. What is the correct attitude? Consider again Chen Xin’s 36 Push Hands Sicknesses (also discussed in Tai Chi Magazine). This is not a set of rules per se, but rather something you would need to apply by yourself to your own push hands. So we see, when tai chi is used in competition without the proper foundation it is neither push hands nor san shou. I believe that’s the real issue on both sides of the sea, and it’s pretty easy to fix in our own practice.

I think in the end there is only one thing I truly disagree with in the video. It says that the most serious practitioners are likely to compete. I feel that there is in fact another camp of equally serious practitioners who don’t compete in these sorts of competitions; who use push hands only to learn taijiquan. Don’t get me wrong, I love push hands competitions and tai chi competitions in general. I think it’s healthy for the art. But one can hardly accuse the very skilled old-timers of Chen Village as not being serious practitioners because they don’t compete in “shuai jiao competitions”*. *Yes that’s a quote, but I can’t find the link right now. I’ll update it later.

Anyways, the purpose of this video is to start a discussion on the future of American push hands. I think that is a very valuable thing to do. I’m going to go check out that website, Pushing the Issue, and see how I can help 🙂

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2 Responses

  1. I liked the video, and agree with your opinions, including that bit about serious practitioners. In fact, I made this exact point to them a few months ago. They declined to add me to their list of supporters.

  2. Hey, interesting video. I had a question about some of the motions in the video and I posted them at my blog. Please check them out – I’d like to hear your thoughts on this.

    http://mokurendojo.blogspot.com/2007/08/tai-chi-question.html

    Thanks
    Pat

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