These five points on how to master tai chi free push hands is nothing I myself have seen written down in any book or in any article. The real Masters should know them very well, but sometimes it’s not something they will describe or teach. Often, you need to discover the tactics and strategy by yourself, by understanding what your teacher does when he practice with you or demonstrates his skills. Some people will get it, some people won’t. Anyway, if you understand these five points, you will have a great advantage against any opponent, and not only in push hands. Here are also valuable things to learn for sparring and combat.
But first, remember the basics and fundaments of any tai chi, what always should be remembered at all the time: Be relaxed and always relax more. Never tense your breath and focus all your strength and movements from the dantian. Rely on tingjin, let your touch decide what to do. Always keep the integrity of your tai chi shenfa: i.e. never at any cost compromise your balance and structure. All of these points here and the five important points below, are meant to be turned into practical practice. Thinking will be of no use. You need to do it practically.
1. Always do two things at the same time.
Whenever you do something in free push hands, whatever it might be, don’t think one dimensional, or that “two” comes after “one”. Instead, blend your movements together, always do two or three things at the same time. When you defend, attack at the same time. If one part of your opponent’s body moves forward, another part will go backwards. This means that at the same time you defend, as evading from an incoming push, you should follow and fill in the gaps. When you fill in the gaps, never let your opponent escape. Keep on following and fill in. In stationary push hands, if he continue to move, he will fall by himself. In moving push hands, you can add a third aspect as by slipping your foot behind his, or trap his body in a compromised structure, to make him fall.
2. Connect your center with his.
Always adjust your center to every slight movement he does. You can work from the centreline, the Dantian/belly or hips. This means controlling distance and angle. If you find a good, favourable distance, never leave it, never let him get a chance to slip away. Continue and follow. You can take charge and change the angle and distance, or move in. But then again after change, you should lock the distance again and follow his every movement while keeping it.
3. Follow the vertical movements of his body.
When you lock your target, or radar, and follow every slight move he does, be sure to follow him in every direction. Have good mobility in every direction. People tend to forget to follow the opponent’s vertical movements. If he moves downward, you follow and go low as well. When he moves downward, go slightly lower than him so he can not take advantage of your balance and center.
4. Keep below his center all of the time.
Being lower than his center all of the time doesn’t mean that your head need to be lower than his. Neither does your own center. This is hard to describe, but it’s more of a feeling (or a way to position yourself), a sort of feeling that you can always topple his balance, uproot him whenever you want. Sink the strength down to your feet and use your tingjing, your sensitivity, to feel the balance of his feet in your hands. Never lose this feeling of “staying below”. Few practitioners are good in this, so if you can keep your awareness to always be ready to catch his root and unbalance him, you will have a great advantage.
5. Dominate his space.
At every opportunity, get closer to your opponent and never go back. Even in free push hands, people tend to rock back and forth, back and forth, just like it was a drill. What happens if one person doesn’t go back, but only go forward? The other person backing will have no space left to move. So move in with your body and instead of backing, turn and twist if you need to evade. Never go back or withdraw if you have any other choice. If you need to withdraw, follow his forward movement abut don’t create more space. If you need to create space, don’t give him a chance to follow and fill in. Instead, try to move away with only your body and stay attached with your arms, or mask your movements in other ways so you make it hard for him to follow you. Always aim for either keeping the space between you and your opponent intact or move closer. If you take his space, never give him any chance to regain it and don’t let him close in on you. Remember that every time you back away, you will inevitably give him a chance to follow and fill in, or to find gaps and stick to them.