One of the most enjoyable, necessary, and treasured training methods for taijiquan is push hands or tuī shǒu (推手). This two person practice is the key to developing sensitivity or listening skills (tīng jìn or 听劲), as well as a chance to practice issuing power (fā jìn or 发劲) in a relatively safe & controlled environment.
There are many of the most important skills of taijiquan, which are especially developed, honed, and accessible through the integral practice of push hands.
Except, the world over, there are people who want to play tuī shǒu but don’t have anyone to practice with! Indeed, many tai chi schools don’t even practice push hands at all (for shame!)… and many of those that do are none to welcoming to strangers who just want to barge in & potentially embarrass them in a friendly crossing of hands.
That’s why, as a response to someone’s query on Facebook, I figure I’d turn my attention to this area in which I do have a decent amount of practical experience:
Organizing Your Own Tai Chi Push Hands Practice Group
First of all, I want to assume that if your goal is to organize a push hands practice group, you have at least some push hands & tai chi experience. If you haven’t spent quite a bit of time practicing tai chi, and push hands in particular, organizing a group of this sort is not recommended.
That said, if you have the experience & hands-on know-how, but you just lack the training partners, I am writing this with you in mind.
I’ve organized push hands groups in both Los Angeles, California (via Santa Monica Tai Chi Push Hands), and Cincinnati, Ohio [Cincinnati Tai Chi Practice Group]… both of which had regular attendance of some very fine players. Today’s group in Cincinnati, Ohio continues to grow, and we have even gotten our own indoor gym at extraordinarily low rates all thanks to the steady rhythm of our consistent & ongoing push hands meetups.
Here are some of the key factors which I believe have attributed to our ability to have these regularly attended, steadily growing, and very fruitful training groups:
- Good location! On Wednesdays we meet in a *very* public park, which during summer even has a farmers market at the same time. People (of all types) have joined the group just from seeing us. On Sun, we meet in the woods, you need directions. This gets the best of both worlds. Even though the locations are outside, both do have nice covered areas in case of rain. Now, we also have an indoor gym just 1 block from the park where we’ve always met on Wednesdays (which we got access to at rock bottom rates, strictly as a result of being known for the push hands group).
- Consistent schedules… I’ve used Meetup.com and other sites for organizing, but all the regulars never RSVP, and the RSVP’s are the ones who flake out. We always meet Wednesday evening & Sunday afternoon, rain, snow, or shine (though, as mentioned, we just recently upgraded to having an indoor gym if the weather is too nasty on Wednesdays… we still meet outside even in the rain on Sundays).
- At least one or two good players… You need to be good enough to present a tough challenge to other martial artists (as these are the people who already have a habit of dedicating time to training). We’ve gotten a few regulars from informal strangers challenging us when walking by. If you aren’t good enough, you might find better players by setting up the group in the first place… plus you can invite your teacher and/or fellow senior students.
- Diverse types of training… If you always only do fixed step push hands (or moving step, or certain patterns, etc), people tend to waver in their attendance as they get bored. I’ve found that people tend to be much more consistent & committed if you diversify your types of training. At our “push hands” groups, we also spar, box, wrestle, grapple, and do drills. This lets people from other styles jump right in w/o learning any complex hand forms.
- Never ending marketing… I use Meetup.com, Craigslist ads (every week), and always ask for referrals from other martial artists. I’m sure I could do more, but this is just a hobby for me. Still, if I want to attract more attendees beyond our regulars, this process needs to continue on an ongoing basis. Continuously.
- Make it accessible… We’ve had so many beginners come to the push hands group now, that practically any of our regulars can do an intro to push hands like it was scripted. Everyone & anyone can jump right in, of any fitness level or martial arts background. We don’t force people to adhere to doing things one specific way, we start from wherever they are.
- Invite other martial artists… While not every martial arts school or gym would be happy to have you inviting their students to a tai chi push hands practice group, many of them have heard of push hands and will be curious enough to encourage their students to check it out. We’ve gotten attendees who heard of us from someone at their existing martial arts school (of totally different styles), some of whom became regulars.
I’m sure there are other important factors that have made organizing these groups possible, but these are a good start.
If you are aching for more push hands partners, and can’t figure out how to find them, I highly recommend setting up your own informal (but at least online, via Meetup.com or your own domain) tai chi push hands practice groups.
As mentioned above, it might be worth doing more than just push hands at these groups even if push hands is your primary focus & the main way you spend your time.
If you are trying to organize your own push hands practice group, and have any questions for me, feel free to write them in the comments or to email me directly.