Towards Safer and Fairer Push Hands Competition Rules

The Push Hands in the 2000 Peaceful Challenge was an enjoyable and fruitful learning experience, and I am sure many will take part in it again come September 2001.

I feel however that there is room for review of the rules and conduct to address some problems observed. As one of the judges, I noted these occurrences:

  1. Some players complained (after the event) of heavy grabbing of their upper arm by the opposite party. One lady player described the after-effect on her upper arm as "like a war-zone". Even the prize winners commented on the red and blue bruises on their arms.
  2. One player fell heavily to the floor (with the pushing party on top) and hurt his forehead.
  3. Players who registered for all the 3 categories of push hands found they were meeting the same opponents 3 times with the same results. The players, judges and the audience were all, I believe, a little confused.
  4. In some bouts, where one player was clearly superior to the other, the losing party was subjected to a continuous sequence of losses that repeatedly and unnecessarily demonstrated his/her weaker position.
  5. There was much tendency to "lock horns", grip/grab, drag, and other inelegant exigencies. Understandably, this is how it would turn out where the opponents were of almost equal attainment. Can the rules of competition be tweaked to discourage such inelegance?
  6. It was an "information overload" for me as a judge to judge the bouts as well as to detect illegal techniques and deciding the effect the illegal technique should have on the "who wins" decision.
  7. In the "Restricted Step" and "Moving Step" push hands, it was difficult for a player who was only slightly superior to get the opponent out of the large ring. In desperation, players tended to resort to rushing type moves and follow-throughs to develop sufficient momentum to throw the opponent out. This resulted in the problems observed at a. and b. above.
  8. There was some disagreement as to how a bout should be started, ie between the sudden "go" start from a stationary ready position, as opposed to "circulate 3 times" and start.

How may we address these problems without turning the Push Hands competition into a mere dance? I propose for discussion the following:

  1. Reduce the size of the ring to permit a retreat of only 1 step.
  2. This should reduce the Occurences b. & g. If a player cannot counter an attack, nor perform a successful attack within a space that permit one step of retreat, I think it reasonable to accept that that player is subordinate in skill. A smaller ring also encourages players to develop techniques that are effective right at the start of an opponent’s attack before the opponent realises that an effective counter has been prepared. The "Restricted Step" and "Moving Step" bouts will have clear winners in a less protracted and agonising manner. There is also not the space nor the need to develop momentum to a dangerous level.

  3. Clearly separate the duties of the referee and judges.
  4. The referee should be the only one to flag any illegal techniques; the referee should not be concerned with who would win. The two judges should be the ones to say who won; they should not be concerned with watching out for illegal techniques. For example in a bout, if the referee did not register any illegal technique and the 2 judges indicate unanimously a winner, the win is confirmed. If the referee registers an illegal technique, the player at fault automatically loses a point. This method authorises as well as requires referee to act decisively to discourage illegal techniques.

    Why 2 judges instead of 3 judges? I believe that "2 against 0" is a more positive statement than "2 against 1", leaving no room to doubt the unanimous 2-0 decision. Furthermore, since it is difficult to identify a clear winner in many of bouts, the "1 against 1" decision should be available to reflect the reality. The referee should have no say in identification of winner; his or her role is only to penalise illegal practices.

    This method should reduce Occurences a. & f.

  5. The "Restrict Step" category should be eliminated.
  6. This should cut down Occurrence c. After all, with a reduced size ring, "restrictedness" has been introduced into "Moving Step" and need not be tested again. I also remember that Occurrence a. happened mostly in the "Restricted Step" category.

  7. Each player may register for only one category
  8. This should reduce Occurrence c.

    Perhaps it will be recognised that the "Restricted Step" is for beginners, and the "Moving Step" is the "open" category.

  9. Points ahead by 3 should terminate a contest
  10. This addresses Occurrence d. It prevents a display of being "beaten to a pulp" for the full length of the 90-second round.

    As before, a draw at the end of round means the lighter player wins.

  11. Contesting with right foot then left foot forward restricted to players with opposite dexterity.
  12. If both players agree on preference for the same foot forward, it should be unnecessary to contest on the other foot forward. This should reduce unnecessary proof of superiority or weakness by way of Occurrence d.

    Of course, when players have opposite dexterity, it is fair and necessary to contest in both configurations.

  13. The "Moving Step" bout should start with players at 2 arm-lengths apart.
  14. I accept that the sudden "go" start from a close stationary position (that I favoured) can result in a scrambling for position that appears violent. But I also feel that the "circulate 3 times" before starting seems a little artificial to expect that nothing is to be happening until after 3.

    I propose that "Moving Step" players should start standing apart with their forward arm fully extended and back of wrists in contact. They should then close in slowly (without stamping, in the interest of safety) and execute their techniques in attack or counter. This I believe more closely reflect the requirement to successfully "close-the-gap" required in combat.

  15. Discouraging inelegant techniques

I believe a smaller ring and the separation of referee/judges duties would automatically result in bouts that will demonstrate less of the inelegant moves, and more of the "effortless power" that we all aim to attain.


One might want to feel that the Chinese Rules are the only truly international rules. However I feel we in Australia should formulate some modifications to suit our own preferences to improve the Art.

This article represents my personal view, and is intended to initiate further discussion on this matter, especially from past push hands competitors. I am sure Sifu Joan and Henry Murray will be pleased to see lively and safe J discussion.

Ken Goh.


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