Thursday, June 11, 2009

The Bad

Patrick Swayze being Tai Chi bouncer in Roadhouse

Today I would like to look at what I see as some bad habits in the practice and methodologies in push hands practice. Again, I respect the art and artists. In today's blog there are actually some good practice going on, but I feel there are bad habits that could easily be corrected to make a more thoughtful and successful practice.

So that is what i would like to illustrate BAD habits as I see them.

In the first film we see what looks like a very advanced teacher of Tai Chi. He establishes a pace, speed and flow. All very nice. Suddenly without warning he accelerates, breaking rhythm, increasing speed and intensity. Frank he turns a soft art practice into an external force generation art, rather than a sensitivity art. "Bursting" or sudden timing changes can for sure be an effective combat strategy, but honestly I feel it is very elementary strategy for push hands practice.

Often we feel this in our randori in the Tomiki system, someones desire to win overtakes the intent of the game. Speed replaces sensitivity, strength replaces skill. In my humble opinion it is a bad habit that we all do in all kinds of martial practice, and one I would guard against.

Here is another classic bad habit we also see in Tomiki Aikido randori. Playing beyond skill level - fear of loss, over desire to win and control. Suddenly when it becomes time to win, we throw out everything we have studied years to gain, and simply start wrestling.

I have found intention is helpful here. Is your intention to simply win, or is it to train in your art form ?

When I find these games arising - a good player can say "Hey we are playing above our skill level. We are no longer hitting technique and we are violating the principles of our art form. While this may be fun, once we tire out we need to slow down and soften up and really examine our form here".

In this next film we see some very good players. They are moving around scoring great and interesting techniques...etc. The bad habit I wanted to address is not their application, they are great!! - it is the rules of their exercise. Fixed step push hands is a bad idea. Ok, it has it narrow place, but overall (from my ignorant outside perspective) tai chi students have an overall over attachment to "rooting" and this method of push hands training.

Guess what guys? It is ok to move your feet. It sure as hell is more important to move you feet than get in the habit of letting your structure and posture buckle as you struggle to keep footing.

I have have been working with Tai Chi training methods in the aikido and judo dojo for a while now. Without giving my guys too many instructions I found it impossible to get some sticky hands and push hands techniques on them, because they simply moved. Interesting and enlightening it was. It is not some great victory to make someone take a step - it is just the beginning of the chain of events that makes technique happen. It is not technique itself! The very reason these fixed steps techniques get so dynamic is because of the body struggling to correct the structure, but it is robbed of the most basic tool to do so; stepping. If you can't tell I am a big fanning of movement in the martial arts and I personally never stop moving my feet once the game begins.

Fixed step should be seen as a simple game. It could be quick warm up maybe. I would be highly suspicious of my practice if this was the highest level of push hands I studied.

Tommorow I will have an example of some very good fixed step pratice and some moving step practice as well. I would like to thank the artists in the videos for sticking out their necks and letting us all learn from their study of the way!

1 comment:

  1. Yes, fixed step is definately the beginning level of push hands. It is also the safest for new students, because moving step employs sweeps and throws. At our Dojo we do not have mats so we have to be a little careful on the wood floor. The best examples of push hands are found in the Chinese videos, like from the Chen village where they are in full-out competition. Those guys do body slams, sweeps and throws to the point where it looks like Greco-Roman wrestling, but with a Tai Chi flare. Combat effective, in my opinion.
    As your 200-lb American competition shows, US rules suck and degrade the quality.
    We like to use non-competitive push-flow-patterns to set up locking techniques, which is our current level of training. Fun Stuff!