Pushing hands

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Partner work

Pushing hands enables a student to train a wide variety of skills without the dangers associated with actual combat.
There are many different kinds of pushing hands exercises, including:

  1. Single pushing hands

  2. Double pushing hands

  3. Da lu

  4. Monkey paws

  5. Pushing legs

All of these exercises are variations on a theme; teaching similar yet different skills.


Partner work is an excellent way to develop the awareness required to feel and understand tai chi chuan (dynamic balancing boxing).
Exercises such as pushing hands can be practiced very softly so that the subtlest pressure and tension can be felt immediately.
There is no competition involved; no rivalry or aggression.
Students are primarily concerned with cultivating internal skill and maintaining appropriate body use.

Tai chi is something like 80% wrestling and 20% striking. Does pushing hands look like boxing or wrestling? Wrestling!

The reason why the originators of the internal styles gravitated toward the grappling portions of their art is that you can practice grappling moves 99% the same as they will be used in a street fight.

(Tim Cartmell)


Pushing hands trains a variety of skills simultaneously:

Non-opposition of force
Going with the flow
Optimal framework
Manipulation of balance
Listening with your body
Practical yielding


Students feel rather than think. They re-train their nervous system to respond rather than anticipate.
Instead of psyching-up and getting-ready, the student becomes calm and patient; responding to what is happening as it is happening.


This exercise teaches the body to relax and yield when it encounters force. Instead of using brute strength, students apply pressure and yield like ice melting.
Accomplishing this skill fulfils one of the main precepts of tai chi which states that no more than 4 ounces of pressure must be applied or received at any time.

The longer I train the more I see in the web pages.
It's like peeling back the layers of an onion...although the words stay the same. It's my experience and understanding that is evolving. (And I have so much more to grow!!)

I enjoy working with people that are obviously further along the journey.

But training with Sifu Waller is monumentally humbling. You get the impression that you are only still standing because he's decided you can learn more by being upright.
Doing pushing hands with Sifu Waller teaches so much and shows how much there is to learn. It doesn't matter how much I feel I've progressed, I always feel like I've only just started! And yet Sifu Waller is able to determine your level and be just out of reach rather than dominate.
For me that just fills me with the desire to learn more and to train for longer!

I always leave a session eager for the next one.

I want to say thank you to both you and Sifu Waller for helping me on my journey and constantly challenging me.



Pushing hands and the other
sensitivity drills train the student to flow with the incoming force. This is not simply evasion or random movement.
The student must maintain contact and yield with skill and awareness. Your body acts as a feeler; sensing movement, tension... and intention.


One of the most difficult aspects of practicing tai chi is softness. On a crude level, softness refers to the muscles being relaxed rather than tense, the joints being mobile rather than held.
This is really just the beginning.


If Taoism is the art of adjusting to life, then tai chi is the art of adjusting to the opponent. This process of adjustment is what yielding is about. Balancing, sensitivity, change.
Success with yielding will enable you to take the attacker off-balance without endangering yourself. The line of incoming force is neutralised without blocking.

Bridging exercise

Exercises such as 'pushing hands' must be seen in the wider context of tai chi. They are not an end in themselves.
Many tai chi people train pushing hands at the beginners level and never move onto the more sophisticated levels. This denies the student the real benefits of the exercise.

Pushing hands development

Your pushing hands must evolve into an exercise that teaches fighting skills that can be utilised in combat. Blend, withdraw, lead into emptiness, remain sticky and take advantage of opportunities.
Expand your awareness. Pushing hands is about contact and sensitivity, feeling and stickiness, using your nervous system rather than your thoughts.

The role of pushing hands

Pushing hands can be seen as a form of grappling. Having made contact with an opponent, you are essentially pushing hands.
At this point, you can employ any of the three main areas of skill (chin na, shuai jiao or jing) in order to incapacitate the attacker.
Pushing hands fills the gap between an attack being launched and the defender finishing off the opponent.


Pushing hands teaches you to move in relationship with outward circumstance; to change and adapt, to find weakness and respond without thinking.
To gain this level of skill you will need plenty of mindful training. Encourage your partner to exploit every hole in your defences, to look for errors in timing and gaps in your awareness.
Invite them to attack you continually. The more awkward your partner can be, the more skill you will acquire.

You would like to believe you're relaxed and when someone puts their hands on you and pushes all of a sudden you realise just how indignant you are about that whole thing happening.

Some people are very stretched and they have a full split or they are very balanced on their hands and they can do a handstand but when you put your hands on them all that ability goes out the window and they resort to Cro-Magnon behaviour.

(Roberto Sharpe)

Page created 27 June 1995
Last updated 16 June 2023