Interview with various competitiors of Taiji Tui Shou aka “Push Hands”

I asked some American push hands players some questions on push hands training, and their thoughts on the future of the sport. Most people I have met in person at one event or another, or on forums. here is some of the comments they have to say:

Last edit: 1/3/2013 interviews with Ray Abeyta, Mike Pekor, Stephen Watson, Fernando Bernall Lee Scheele, Lan Tran, David Walls-Kaufman.

Raymond Lee Abeyta: Taiji student since 1988, Yang style, Wu Style & Chen…

Awards background can be found here: Link to Awards


What kinds of preparation do you do before a big event? Strength training or supplementary training? normally for USA comps just pushed with my students, for China I used a 55 gal drum half filled with rocks & dirt, (very heavy) tilted it on it’s bottom edge & would roll it right & left to practice throwing folks, helped some…

What is the difference in your experience between training in push hands competitions in USA vs. competitions in China? US comps are very, how can I say, careful….can’t touch here, can’t throw folks down with sweeps, no open palm strikes or chin na or shoulder strikes, etc…US has PH lite, China folks were being carried off on stretchers…bleeding broken bones, etc.

Is there a difference when pushing with westerners and with Chinese? What do you notice as the fundamental difference? IN US, they make you do at least 3 circles with your hands & commence slowly, in China when the ref says go, you blast off, none of this become one with the Universe crap.

Though not everyone chooses to compete, but who do you consider some of the best people you have push hands with? The best comp PH folks here in the USA that I have touched with: Stephen Watson, Brian Moran, George Harris are some of the best I have competed against.

What do you think can be done to improve Taijiquan ‘push hands’ as a sport in the USA?
to improve our PH comps, make it more like China. I hear Nick Scrima is starting to do that, but I haven’t see n it so not sure, funny thing is that they call it “Extreme Push Hands” but in China.. they just call it Push Hands.
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Mike Pekor Www.TaiChiLI.com I began training in taiji 1992 after 10 years of Shotokan Karate under Sensei Thomas Casale http://www.jskausa.com/JSKAUSA/About_Us.html . My style is Cheng Man Ching taiji and my teachers include Sifu William C. Phillips of the Patience Tai Chi Association http://www.patiencetaichi.com/ and Sifu James Leporati http://bayacupuncture.com/index.html of the Patience Tai Chi Association. In addition to my main Sifu’s I also attribute much of my approach to practicing and teaching taiji to the late Stanley Israel and Sifu Mario Napoli http://www.tjqstudygroup.com/main/index.html. I am also a Wing Chun Kung Fu practitioner under Sifu Dr. John Crescione of Laughing Dragon Wing Chun http://laughingdragonwingchun.com/.
Mike Pekor

Name some of the Taiji push hands events you have competed in? The main competition that I have elected to compete in most frequently has been the USCKF Kuoshu tournament held in Cockeysville Maryland every summer. I have also successfully competed in many smaller, more local tournaments in the NYC area over the years. The divisions I have participated in include the Advanced Cheng Man Ching form division, restricted step and moving step push hands divisions many times. I have also competed in the Wing Chun Kung Fu “Chi Sau” division many times as well (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s8WLqmyT3UI ) . I have place first in all of these divisions many times and also placed second and third a few times along the way.

What kinds of preparation do you do before a big event? Strength training or supplementary training? Excellent question. I realize that the idea is to move 1000 pounds with 4 ounces, but unless the other guy STINKS it’s not so easy. That being said, you better get your body ready for some heavy, sustained exertion if you want to compete. In other words… you must GET IN SHAPE for your event.

The most important part of my preparation has always been the activity itself. In other words, if I was getting ready for a moving push hands competition (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ardLHzFqtRA ) with a particular rule set (no grabbing, no sweeps, whatever…) I would make sure to do a tremendous amount of training under those exact restrictions. If the rules allowed sweeps and grabbing, I would make sure to play lots of push hands with sweeps and grabbing. The basic idea is called “specificity of training”. That is, train in a way that is as close to what you will be doing on the day you compete. To be clear, the type of work shown here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ITpimPmbvYY&list=UU3TbcASou3qCqfPW9bwuMOw and here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G-FwErFy6so would NOT be useful in terms of preparing for a moving step push hands competition because points are awarded for pushing your opponent out of the designated area or throwing your opponent down to the ground. The practices shown above are more useful as a transitional exercise between push hands and striking/sparring. Here is another video showing some restricted step push hands with various levels of pressure: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W4u8XRMDKJI . While all of these variations have their place in training, when preparing for a competition you want to maximize your ability to handle sustained, heavy pressure.
In addition to lots of push hands, I always made sure to do lots and lots of strength and conditioning specific to my event. As a guy who always came in on the lighter side of the heaviest division (I usually weighed in at a bit over 200 pounds… most of my competition weighed in 50-100 pounds heavier), I made sure to do things that helped my body be able to sustain tremendous amounts of pressure. Dead lifts, squats, bench press, shoulder press, shiko (sumo exercise http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nCBSC0pwBdc&feature=player_embedded), kettlebells ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=06XTbEUDECk ), and Bulgarian Bag training (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dN1KQ4fqFss&feature=c4-overview&list=UU3TbcASou3qCqfPW9bwuMOw ).

What is the difference in your experience between training in push hands competitions in USA vs. competitions in China? I have no experience outside of the USA.

Is there a difference when pushing with westerners and with Chinese? What do you notice as the fundamental difference? Again, I have no experience outside of the USA. Watching videos over many years I can say that I see one major difference in the style of push hands play between the USA and China. Chinese players like to grab and twist to throw, while in the USA players tend to push and drive forward more than grab and twist to throw.

Though not everyone chooses to compete, but who do you consider some of the best people you have push hands with?
While I have learned from every person I’ve ever played with, I would say if I had to choose one or two people as the best at the game of push hands, its Sifu William C. Phillips for his softness and Sifu Mario Napoli for his root. Other excellent players include Sifu James Leporati and Sifu Avi Schneier.

What do you think can be done to improve Taijiquan ‘push hands’ as a sport in the USA? Sure… Here are a few suggestions:
Do away with fixed and restricted step matches. As a form of competition they are silly and useless. They are an excellent practice method to make sure a person can function if caught with one foot out in front, but that’s it. We don’t see many “left jab” competitions, do we?

In order to survive as a sport, push hands has to be interesting to watch and fun to do. In order to maximize dynamic action and minimize interference and stoppages from the judges, Use these clear, simple rules:
Matches should be decided by the first player to win two rounds (best of 3). Each round should be 3 minutes long with a minute rest in between. The action should only be stopped to prevent injury, award points, or issue warnings. Keep it simple.
a. Points are awarded for throwing or pushing the opponent down or out of the ring
b. You may not bite, pinch, strike, kick, grab clothing or joint lock.
c. You may not contact the neck, head, face, or groin.
d. You must obey the referee at all times.
e. After five second in the clinch, the referee may call break to resume the action
Deduct points only for obvious intentional fouls or repeating the same foul twice.

I have always been and still remain a strong advocate of T’ai chi push hands tournament competition. I have made great friends, honed my T’ai Chi skills and had lots of fun at T’ai Chi tournaments over the last 15 years. While only a PART of Taiji training…. Push Hands tournaments motivate us to train hard and always leave us with lots of great lessons, stories and memories.
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Stephen Watson
I’ve been training for about 30 years. My teacher is Bruce Walker, though he’s semi-retired) primarily though I always list Robert Mann, Don Miller, Rick Barrett and teaching Chen among my teachers.

Name some of the Taiji push hands events you have competed in? The Chung Hwa Cup in Taipei comes to mind. Another World Championship in São Paulo too. ICMAC has a series (http://www.kungfuchampionship.com/) where I’ve competed and judged-it’s Nick Scrima’s circuit/event. The AAU nationals as well as USAWKF’s (http://www.usawkf.com/) nationals a few times. In general, I’ve tried to make myself available to every association hosting a National Championship a few times each. This was my attempt to insure that anyone wishing to find m e in competition could do so, despite perhaps their being stuck politically in one association or another. Not perfect, no but my intention nevertheless was to be available.

What kinds of preparation do you do before a big event? Strength training or supplementary training? As far as preparations go for an event, zero. I’d prefer to see no difference in trainings for different goals. Training to teach, training to defend, and/or training to compete describes, in my mind the same training. I call it goal-less training. I train for training. This moment, in this training, I train for it. Every day.
>> The only exception was when traveling with William C. C. Chen (www.WilliamCCChen.com), to compete on his team he did ask me to train for it. I said yes instinctively; he’s the grandmaster. And I kept my word. I only had a month or so of training from the time of invitation to the time of travel and so I trained specifically for the rules I was able to suppose/infer/research that would be employed once in Taiwan. So it was coaching, not teaching, and tactics related to the rules. As well, as the normal training.

watson

On Rick Barrett’s advice one year I took upon a type of training for push hands which, though I employed wasn’t necessary to the competitions on my horizon. So I don’t think of it so much as a competition-specific training regimen but rather a new twist to regular training which had as its end-point a competition. In other words, I didn’t adopt the advice to vary my training so that it would influence the competition’s outcome in any way. Specifically, speaking, this was to train only on the weak side (i.e. left leg lead only) until I next competed. This meant that I’d train for 2-3 hours a day, only left lead for nigh on a year. The training suggestion from Rick was to, once in competition again allow myself to return to a dominant (right side) lead. When the judge eventually told the two of us to change leads/sides in the second half of the event, I was mind-bent at the prospect for a long-seeming moment but then slipped into it like old shoes but with new soles/souls. My right lead stance felt like coming home, a joy to see a child return to the mother-fold, as it were. What a delight! I’d forgotten that I’d forgotten the right side leads. And it was revelatory!

What is the difference in your experience between training in push hands competitions in USA vs. competitions in China? As far as differences between different people (Westerners & Chinese e.g.) I’d say that I haven’t noticed any. Everyone, in many ways is unique. A unique puzzle to unravel, to torment., to befriend, to fold and unfold. Also, everyone is exactly the same. Its a paradox which I delight in. When competing, I am generally the only competitor signed up who is not seeking a win, but only friendly interconnections, insight-giving tests of skill, joyful moments, distinct and delightful human connections and new friends and students and, with luck long-term teachers. Everyone I teach with, becomes a friend, a teacher, and perhaps a student. It matters not where they are from, or how they play, if I give over any focus to those suppositions or prejudices or projections then I would lose sight of my reasons for ‘competing’.

Though not everyone chooses to compete, but who do you consider some of the best people you have push hands with? The best I’ve pushed with? In competition? Jeffrey Pratt and Avi Schneier. Bar none. Another great and enjoyable test was Tiffany Chen, though that was an exhibition match at some Nationals or other. The most fun pushing in competition overall award would have to be with Josh Waitzkin. As an aside, he’s the most highly recommended person to suggest you include in your interviews. Outside competition it would have to be, for most sacredly shamantastic and poetic presence – Don Miller, for joynado of rapturous virtuosity – Rick Barrett, for old-soul, tree-root, Earth and Heaven divining I-just-touched-Source resplendence – Pompey Macy, and the late, though still teaching – Teaching Chen. Mario Napoli is exquisite, precise and focused in moving step pushing hands. Of course, there are many thousands of others (many of whom have never physically pushed hands with me, but have nevertheless left an indelible pushing hands mark on my life) but these four come springing easily to both mind and heart.

What do you think can be done to improve Taijiquan ‘push hands’ as a sport in the USA? To improve it as a sport we’d perhaps have to divide it among those who believe in qi/mysticism and those who believe in bodily dynamics and science and rule out qi and such non-stuff. The division between folks seems to be there, and when and where there is conflict and confusion it seems always to be born at this fracture. Once you have the two camps sorted you can design different rule-sets for both. Also, no gender/weight distinctions. If it’s taijiquan, let it be thus. Of course, there is plenty, plenty more. Lots and lots.
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Fernando Bernall

Your Name, how long trained in Taijiquan, Taiji style, and teacher?

Fernando Bernall. Been training in Taijiquan for around 25+ years.. Several teachers. Dr. Wu, Shi Cun was my first Taiji teacher in Chicago. I briefly studied under Grandmaster Wai Lun Choi in Chicago. Kevin Sun in Delaware also gave me private instruction while I lived there. I studied with Grandmaster Kao San-Lun in Tampa who taught me Xisuigong

I’ve have also studied hapkido for around 18 years. I boxed as a kid in Colombia.

Name some of the Taiji push hands events you have competed in?

I’ve competed in Taste of China, Baltimore, and Nick Scrima’s tournament in Orlando.

What kinds of preparation do you do before a big event? Strength training or supplementary training?
I prepare by improving my stamina. Since I can push most of my students with ease, I play at neutralizing whatever they may dish out. I place no boundaries on them other than kicking and punching.. The more aggressive, the better for me.. If I can neutralize, then I can push..

What is the difference in your experience between training in push hands competitions in USA vs. competitions in China?
I have not competed in China yet.

Is there a difference when pushing with westerners and with Chinese? What do you notice as the fundamental difference?

Most Chinese players I’ve competed against were weak.. I’m sure there are plenty of exceptions as we’ve witnessed in some of the youtube videos of Chinese tournaments. I just have not come across them yet..


Though not everyone chooses to compete, but who do you consider some of the best people you have push hands with?

I’ve played, not necessarily competed with, Don Miller, Rick Barret, Edward Coughlin, Stephen Watson, Brian Moran, Mario Napoli, Josh Waitzkin, Sergio Arione, Robert Hangplayer, Misha, Dale Heller, Jeffrey Pentz and others whose names scape me at this moment. Don Miller and Jeffrey A Pentz have had the most influence in my game to date.

What do you think can be done to improve Taijiquan ‘push hands’ as a sport in the USA?

While I love to compete, it is my opinion that there’s nothing that can be done to improve push hands in the USA or anywhere else, as long as the word “sport” is appended to it.. Imagine a snipers’ tournament without live targets and fake bullets?

What is the objective of push hands? Is it really to push someone off balance? Or keep from being pushed?

If there’s anything that can improve PH is a change of mentality. The idea that we must cross train in BJJ, Shuai Jiao, and similar arts in order to compete or fight against such players, is absurd. How much does a Mongoose train like a cobra to defeat the deadly reptile? None at all. It just does what a mongoose does. We must have faith in taijiquan as a stand alone method of engagement..

I recently learned that most of the tournament participants at the DaQingShan 2015 tournament, hardly practiced taijiquan at all. Most were members of wrestling schools. Is there push hands without taijiquan? Or taijiquan without push hands? Evidently, the Chinese think there is.. Anyway, I could go on.. But I won’t

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Lee Scheele
Your Name, how long trained in Taijiquan, Taiji style, and teacher?

Lee Scheele, 35 years, CMC Style w/Ben Lo & Wu Style w/Tony Ho

Name some of the Taiji push hands events you have competed in?
Taste of China, Taiji Legacy, ICMAC & some others


What kinds of preparation do you do before a big event? Strength training or supplementary training?

None

What is the difference in your experience between training in push hands competitions in USA vs. competitions in China?

Haven’t competed in China


Is there a difference when pushing with westerners and with Chinese? What do you notice as the fundamental difference?

Taiwanese are more aggressive and play rougher

Though not everyone chooses to compete, but who do you consider some of the best people you have push hands with?
My teachers, Uncle Bill, Wm. C.C. Chen, Mario Napoli, Don Miller, Stephen Watson, & Lenzie Williams.


What do you think can be done to improve Taijiquan ‘push hands’ as a sport in the USA?

Wouldn’t want to. Fun to do, but competitions do little to improve t’ai chi. The more emphasis on competition, the worse it gets.
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Lan Tran
Your Name, how long trained in Taijiquan, Taiji style, and teacher?
Lan Tran
Trained in Taijiquan since 1986. Yang Style Taiji and currently a synthesis of Taiji, HsingI and Baji dubbed as Internal Fusion.

Name some of the Taiji push hands events you have competed in?
Retired from competition in 2004, but have competed in most major Eastern Regional Mid Atlantic states tournaments including, NACMAF, KUOSHU Hunt Valley, Anthony Goh, Raymond Wong’s, Tony Yang WUTAN Ohio, etc…

What kinds of preparation do you do before a big event? Strength training or supplementary training?
What I did in those days was to have a more aggressive Push Hands practice sessions prior to tournaments. I was against supplemental strength training and believed it took away from precious push hands time which would give you all the strength training needed on the aggressive level. Looking back it was so basic but this is how we all learn and the stages we al go thru.

What is the difference in your experience between training in push hands competitions in USA vs. competitions in China?
There is PH in the school, PH amongst friends, PH between schools and PH in competition. They all manifest different aspects of movement based in the setup. I don’t have enough information about PH in China to make an informed comment about that, but PH in the USA in tournaments is frankly at a very low level….most people with PH skill develop them AFTER they get away from the competition aspect of PH.

Though not everyone chooses to compete, but who do you consider some of the best people you have push hands with?
George Harris, Alexander King, Paul Ramos, Taj Johnson, Sam Masich. I haven’t push with these guys in a while. These are judgements from past experience.

What do you think can be done to improve Taijiquan ‘push hands’ as a sport in the USA?
The quality of internal basics and the teaching of it needs to be better. Push Hands really should not be set up as a sport although it is a necessary evil in some respects. Too many people who push in competition have no internal basics at all. It is brute strength masked in balance tricks.
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Your Name, how long trained in Taijiquan, Taiji style, and teacher?

Dr. David Walls-Kaufman

Since 1988, Yang style, Ben Lo

Name some of the Taiji push hands events you have competed in?

Lots. Taste of China numerous times. Hunt Valley. Europe. Taiwan. Man-ching Bei.

What kinds of preparation do you do before a big event? Strength training or supplementary training?

None. Just usual Tai Chi regimen. Sometimes I try to remember to have push hands partners go crazy with some intense shoving.

What is the difference in your experience between training in push hands competitions in USA vs. competitions in China?

China and Taiwan are MUCH more open. Virtually no rules except don’t let your feet go off the blocks for fixed step. Can be dangerous. Competitors beware.

Is there a difference when pushing with westerners and with Chinese? What do you notice as the fundamental difference?

In China, Hong Kong and Taiwan, and Japan, it can be harder to even find people to push with because of the risk of losing face. I once sat in on a class in Tokyo for three hours waiting for a chance to push with the senior students – and the honored guest at the very time of my arrival that evening was none other than a very old and dear friend of my teacher. None of that made any difference. They stayed well away from me. Tokyo Tai Chi Society, I think their name is, descended from Wang Hsu-jin, the famous Ba Gua master from Taiwan.

Though not everyone chooses to compete, but who do you consider some of the best people you have push hands with?

Not bothering to name the handful of grandmasters, and not in competition, because they were other weights than mine, or it wasn’t in competition: Mario Napoli. Lenzie Williams, Julian Chu, Ed Chan, Scott Meredith, Kim Kanzelberger, Avi Schnieir, Gianfranco Pace, Rick Barret, Russ Mason, John Crouse, David Chen, and Dr. Lo at the Washington DC David Chen Memorial Tai Chi Park.

What do you think can be done to improve Taijiquan ‘push hands’ as a sport in the USA?

Nothing. I know there is some discontent with the American rules often over-emphasizing soft play and neutralizing, but I think having that emphasis someplace, somewhere in Tai Chi competition is obligatory, considering the philosophy and emphasis of the art – even at the risk of it seeming obscure to non-Tai Chi people.

About Administrator

Coach Matt Stampe is a Database Administrator and I.T. professional. In the world of Bodywork, he has been a Massage Therapist licensed under the Virginia Board of Nursing, and is currently a student at Virginia University of Oriental Medicine (VUOM.edu). He has taught hundreds of people Authentic Yang Tai Chi Kung fu for over 25 years. He was President of the Virginia Commonwealth Universtiy (VCU) Martial arts club, Secretary and Treasurer of USA chapter of Yongnian Association under Sifu He Weiqi. Experience includes: Kung fu schools: Omei Shaolin (Sifu Lu Xiaoling) 3rd degree Black Sash, Chinese Martial Arts Institute (Sifu Clarence Burris), United States Wushu Academy (Coach Christopher Pei), and Qi Elements (Sifu Nancy Bloomfield), Former Head Coach: Virginia Beach Parks and Recreation centers(Adults Tai Chi), Hope Chinese school (kids classes), NOVA MMA gym in Arlington (kids classes), and VUOM Martial Arts Tai Chi club (Fairfax). He has positively impacted peoples lives whether for health, sport, strength, combat, and spirit. As a true combat athlete, he teaches methods so people can be confident to defend themselves.
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