Tai Chi Push Hands without a Partner
Tai Chi Four Directions Drill
Grasping Sparrow’s Tail (Gently)
The primary energies of tai chi (taiji), Peng Lu, Ji, An, are executed to the four cardinal directions. Repeated practice of the four energies into the four directions as a “drill”, “exercise”, or “meditation”, will yield tremendously informative transformations in the meaning and execution of the tai chi movements in the solo form. Tai Chi should flow from one posture to another without a break in root. Learn the four directions solo drill, regardless of style.
The tai chi four directions drill, executed with the “cooperation” of partner/opponent will train centered movement with unfailing certainty, and a practical understanding/feeling of “listen”, “stick”, “adhere”, “follow”.
The solo drill is used by the Dong family tradition as a transition from solo practice to Push Hands with great success, according to one student of Alex Dong. The drill was described by Rachel Porter in a “Tai Chi Magazine” article run in 1994. Porter was reporting on the tai chi practices of Dong Zeng Chen, this exercise Dong called “push Hands Without a Partner”. I’ve modified the drill to conform to the principles of tai chi search center.
Start by marking out a workspace. Layout a marker for N, then take two steps back from it, place a marker for S at your heels. Take one step forward, then one step to the right, place a marker for E. Now take two steps directly backward from E, and place a marker for W at your heels.
Step into the center facing N, and starting with either hand, step to the N to Ward-Off, Roll back, Press and Push. Turn 180 degrees to the direction of your back foot, and with the opposite hand, Ward-Off, Roll back, Press and Push. Turn to the direction of your back foot 90 degrees, and with the original hand, Ward Off, Roll back, Press and Push. Now turn 180 degrees to your back foot, and with the opposite hand, Ward Off, Roll back, Press, and Push. Use the direction markers to keep the drill “square”. Continue, turning always to the back foot, in increments of 180 and 90 degrees alternately, executing “grasp sparrow’s tail” with the hand that leads into the turn. If you start facing N and begin with the right hand, continue until you return to the N with the right hand. You should also consider executing the drill beginning with the opposite hand for balanced training.
The tai chi four directions partner drill will result in a much higher degree of sensitivity than is achievable in Push Hands. You will have to work harder to relax in the face of opposition, and the opposition comes from more than just the one direction. You will get a sense of timing in the execution of the movements, and you will develop a sense of “opponent” to bring back into your solo form. Almost immediately you will be able to “hear” your partner’s advance long before it is seen. You can learn to connect to your partner accurately, lead your partner irresistably, and move your partner effortlessly.
The drill is laid out the same as the solo drill, only this time the four direction are occupied with partner/opponents. These partners initiate a “hostile” movement as the partner in the center turns to their respective directions. The “hostile” partner provides just enough resistance to cause the partner to become unbalanced should “technique” be faulty, whether the fault is loss of root, too much physical tension, and lack of centeredness in execution of the forms. An instructor can provide feedback and corrective action from the side, or, the “hostile partners”, can provide the feedback.
Both the solo tai chi four directions drill, and the partner assisted practice will add a positive and powerful dimension to your tai chi solo form practice.