The handbook for non-competitive Tai Chi
practice with a partner
The Overlook Press
Push hands is an integral part of tai chi practice, offering us the opportunity to learn about the *other*, while form practice teaches us about ourselves. Yet, we find that much of push hands is practiced in ways that are antithetical to the very foundations of tai chi chuan. Push-hands, The handbook for non competitive Tai Chi practice with a partner by long time martial artist Herman Kauz offers us a unique look at this aspect of tai chi.
Herman Kauz has been involved in the martial arts for more than 50 years, initially studying and teaching judo in the 1940, and 50's then moving to karate and Aikido. He discovered tai chi chuan in the early 1970's, becoming one of Chen Man-ching's early American students. Given all this time studying and teaching, it only seems natural that he would have spent quite a bit of effort formalizing his teaching along with exploring the relationship between the physical, the mental and the philosophical nature of the martial arts. The work is a distillation of his thinking, especially as it regards to tai chi and push hands.
Following an introduction where he describes his early trials, Mr Kauz begins an exploration of competition in western society, how it is ingrained into virtually all of our activities and its effects, both positive and negative. In general, he views competition as having an overall negative effect. He believes that this is supported by the current state of the world wide environment, as well as the constant low level warfare seen around the world. This is tempered somewhat by such achievements as the eradication of smallpox or the continual attempts to reproduce the Stradivarius violin. An interesting aside, and one I wish he had spent more time investigating is the nature of language and how it dominates how we view and interact with the world. (Readers interested in this ground breaking work should look at Language, Thought and Reality by Benjamin Whorf, MIT Press.)
Once we have established a basic understanding of competition the author passes on to the concept of altering behavior to reduce competitiveness, the difficulties of trying to effect these changes and stepping off of this well-worn path of short-term gain leading to long-tern ill. Mr. Kauz feels that the dramatic changes we seem to require as a society can and will come about through small changes leading to a ripple effect. (again, readers interested in this idea can find a clear description of this concept in The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell, Little Brown and Co.).
In Learning to See the World Differently the author examines our thinking processes and how we can alter them in order to have a clearer view of the world. He discusses methods that both teachers and students can use to direct behavior into more harmonious channels, reducing competition but enhancing our emotional and psychological development. Using the Hopi Indian as a model of a non-competitive society we can see the need for a change in our alignment with the world. The Hopi's taught their children that the entire world, both animate and inanimate, deserved respect. He then equates using push-hands as a means to achieve a similar idea. To truly be able to use push-hands we must not only respect out partner, but the very act of pushing. And this sense of respect will give us the reason to examine out actions more closely. Once we have begun to look at our actions and the material world differently we can stimulate change that will engender a new found respect and awe. Chapter VI explores just these types of changes that can occur through the practice of push-hands. Integrating the idea of nonresistance and respect can cause fundamental changes in our thinking and, hence, into how we interact with the world around us. Continuing in this vein, Mr Kauz offers insights into what both teachers and students should expect as the go through this process of new found understanding. He discusses not only the frustrations inherent in learning push-hands, but the need to stay focused on the process. As teachers we have all tried to explain this to our students but Mr Kauz does an excellent job at clearly revealing what it is we are trying to accomplish.
Following a short introduction to Taoism and tai chi chuan, the remainder of the book deals with the actual practice of push-hands. Opening with a highly detailed, if somewhat confusing description of Yang style push-hands practice, the text goes on to look at the concepts that we need to learn and understand to successfully practice push-hands. Such things as flexibility, relaxation, timing and sensing are discussed. What makes this portion of the book so valuable are the numerous photographs supporting the text.
Overall, Push-Hands, The handbook for non-competitive Tai Chi practice with a partner is an excellent book on two levels. For all of those involved with tai chi chuan the first section explores and explains some of the philosophical aspects that underlie the art. The authors clear writing style allows us to grasp what can be truly confusing material. For those who are more advanced in their understanding the second half of the book can help with some of the physical concepts needed to perform push-hands. Unfortunately, this part of the book may be a bit confusing to beginners. Mr Kauz is to be commended for putting so many difficult concepts into a written form even if it is, at times somewhat confusing.