The quantity of martial solo form demonstrations and instruction available online in recent years has been a boon for those who want to see how whatever style they may be interested in is interpreted by other teachers. Sadly, it is hard for those who are beginners to tell the difference between mediocre and good examples of solo form work. However, learning to know the difference between, for example, "Wow, that sure looks good" and "Hmm, that kind of movement is really efficient compared to what I do" is part of the process of becoming educated to what is really important in learning and practising a solo form, especially in the Chinese internal martial arts.
Whether you learn from a person in a group class or on your own from a video on the internet or a dvd; part of becoming skilful is being able to see and copy what is being shown on first a gross and then an increasingly subtle level. This is far from easy and is made even harder for those going the self-instruction route as they won't get much or any feedback on their efforts to copy what they see. [Should I really say "What they think they see!"].
Like any other aspect of taijiquan, skill in push-hands comes, if it comes at all, from practising regularly with a variety of partners under the supervision of someone who has such skill and is willing and able to share it. The main approaches that one commonly finds today are structured and free-style or a mixture of the two with the structured exercises usually being learned first.
If you can find a teacher who still teaches the interactive side of taijiquan, structured practices are the most commonly used. For example in the Yang style; the main techniques or martial keys are Single and Double Push-hands, both fixed step and moving which are used to teach the four main energies of Ward-off, Roll-back, Press [also known in English as “Squeeze”] and Push; followed by “Four Corners” [also known in English as “Big Pull-down”]. This last method is usually only taught as a moving exercise to cover the other set of four key energies of Pull-down [also known as “Pluck”], Elbow, Shoulder and Split.
Taijiquan can't turn us into supermen though I have met one or two experts over the decades who certainly seemed "extraordinary" in their body mechanics and martial abilities even though they were no longer young or even middle-aged. While having good genes, on-going hard work and plain good luck in terms of avoiding injuries are sometimes deciding factors as well, on-going hard work is probably the most important factor after competent instruction!
This attitude is still surprisingly absent in those who think they want to learn Yang-style taiji. For example, I was eating lunch with one of my senior students in a restaurant and the man at the table next to ours had obviously been eavesdropping on our conversation about taiji training. As we got up to leave, he blurted out "You guys do taiji? I just started taking lessons with so-and-so and love it but it's hard to remember the postures. Do you think I should practise on my own between classes?"
My first article on the martial arts was published in a Canadian periodical [RCMP Gazette] in 1979 and a year later my first article on taijiquan was published in an American martial arts magazine [see above]. About 160 published articles, five books and more than a hundred blog posts later, I had made a little money in the early years as a writer and the work of writing has also helped me sort out how I felt on a variety of martial and taiji topics over the years.
More importantly, I was sometimes told by readers that my articles had been helpful to them and that was more satisfying than the cheques that I received. We won't talk about the occasional comment that I was clueless about the topic that had offended that particular reader!
After all those years of writing on taijiquan and the martial arts the impulse to do so seemed gone in the late Spring of 2017 when I closed the blog that had run for almost a decade on my old website. But it's hard to silence an aging writer and so... to quote that famous line by Jack Nicholson in the cinematic version of The Shining "I'm Back!"
All text and photos on this website is copyright protected by Michael A. Babin ©2018 [with the exception of the photo at the top of this page which was taken by Helen Kriemadis ©2010]