Building Confidence with Push Hands

By Rob Wulforst

During the last Push Hands seminar I presented, I spoke about how stances are important to all aspects of martial arts.  The way you punch, kick, grapple, and throw an opponent all depend greatly on your stance and root.  If you can “up root” or unbalance your opponent, they’ll be much easier to throw than just muscling them to the ground.  The opposite is also true.  If you try to throw someone without a good stance and root, the opponent can easily counter you.  My good friend Shifu Lee Yokota demonstrated this by just repelling my throw by just moving his arm off to the side.

Shifu Lee Yokota ( and myself demonstrating a throw counter.

Shifu Lee Yokota ( and myself demonstrating a throw counter.

The form of Tai Chi (TàiJí Quán - 太極拳) teaches you the basics of the movements and grants you a good starting foundation in the martial art, but it’s untested.  You can never know how strong your stance is by yourself.  Therefore, you need a partner to help you can make adjustments.  This is where Push Hands comes into play.  The stronger pushes you can repel in testing, the stronger your stances become.

In the old Tai Chi manuals, it states you should practice push hands relaxed and without the need for competition.  It is a learning experience for both people and should not be used to show superiority.  Everyone’s root is naturally different.  Practice with as many people as you can to gain the experience in strengthening your root, even if they don’t know push hands.  There is no right or wrong way of doing it.

However, when practicing with others in martial arts, we are afraid we might hurt someone.  I see this a lot when practicing with someone new to push hands.  They are generally too relaxed and cautious, which causes them to be overwhelmed by a strong push.  There’s no force in their attempts to push their opponent either.  This, unfortunately, does not benefit either person.

Push Hands was developed to help people understand that there are better ways of dealing with an opponent that strictly uses force.  However, as mentioned before, if don’t practice with someone that uses that type of force, you’ll never gain the experience of knowing how to deal with it.  Therefore, you need to slowly build the confidence in both using and identifying force.

Without force, there’s no way to test what we’ve been learning and outside a school, you should always expect someone to use full force against you.  It’s okay to give your partner a good shove now and again when testing a stance.  It keeps them on their toes and helps them to learn how to readjust quicker.  Start with a little force in the beginning and keep building upon it as you learn more about push hands.  Try pushing different areas on the body to see how your partner’s body reacts and moves.  Have them do the same to you as well.  This is what helps you build confidence in your abilities.

Shifu Lee Yokota ( testing his bow stance.

Shifu Lee Yokota ( testing his bow stance.

Once you feel you have a good handle on the stance, start the two man Push Hands exercises with a partner.  Again, start with a little force and move into something stronger.  Take your ability to the edge and then build up on it again to push it further. This is how the masters of Tai Chi were able to do the things we’ve read about.  They did the same exact thing.

Practice, when done right, will build confidence in your abilities.  Building confidence in your abilities will then help build confidence in yourself.  The more you practice with others, the less you’ll have to worry about practicing with someone new.  We all have competition ingrained into our mind when we first square off against someone, but that feeling goes away when you don’t think about it during practice.  Besides, there are more important things to be thinking about.