In Tai Chi, what are Push Hands?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Kristen Osborne
  • Last Modified Date: 28 October 2018
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Push hands, or pushing hands, is a two-person tai chi exercise that encourages the participants to improve the quality of their movement. People who have successfully completed solo exercises can use push hands to develop their skills so they can transition into more advanced sparring with tai chi partners. Several martial arts forms integrate some version of push hands into their training and, like other practices in martial arts, push hands develops the mind as well as the body.

In push hands, the sparring partners remain in physical contact with each other throughout the exercise. Their goal is to unbalance each other without unbalancing themselves in the process. Partners can move through a series of movements dictated by an instructor, or they can practice a more free form style, depending on the goal of the exercise and their level of skill.

During this exercise, people push against each other, but they avoid the use of excessive force. The pressure is light and the person on the receiving end moves softly with the movement to redirect it. The goal is to move the flow of energy, rather than pushing back against it. This helps the practitioner stay balanced and also improves the strength and fluidity of movement. A skilled practitioner can unbalance someone else with very light pressure, and people can counter attempts at unbalancing with a variety of smooth movements that turn the force of the opponent into a weapon against the opponent.


Starting poses for push hands are usually equal, ensuring that no side has an advantage. There are a number of moves that people are allowed to use in this type of sparring, with many having circular, flowing elements. Part of the challenge of push hands involves remaining focused and nonreactive throughout the exercise to stay in mental and physical balance. Mental balance is important for martial arts practitioners, as it allows them to use strategy in their bouts, rather than relying on brute force.

People who want to learn tai chi can often find classes in their area, as this martial art is very popular. Students will start out with solo exercises to develop their bodies and learn about the practice. Over time, they can graduate to more complex activities that include push hands and other types of sparring. Since different tai chi classes may be run with different goals in mind, it can be helpful to ask the instructor about the purpose the class and the type of skills students can expect to develop.



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