Alongside amongst the best two modern Olympics ever held, another event quietly achieved considerable success of its own, for the third year running. I am talking about Pushing Hands UK 2012, held on the quiet and convenient campus of Worcester University.
Organised by Adrian Murray, and benefitting from the participation of three leading exponents of pushing hands, this event combines a familiar feel with leading edge teaching. It has no leaders, no edge and no ego. Instead it is a free exchange of ideas and techniques, governed by a sensible rule-set, leading to open sharing of the fruits of many years’ labours. The structure has evolved and this year, I think, achieved an optimal balance of teaching and open pushing hands. The social side is excellent with modern accommodation lending itself to after-hours amusement, consumption of tipple and (icing on the cake) an exuberant and hugely participative Ceilidh.
The three teachers this year, Andrew Heckhert, Scott Chaplowe and Serge Dreyer, freely gave of their time and massive experience. They give everyone new insights, things to work on, and a feeling of well-being that cannot easily be put in words. They deserve an infinite thank-you. They don’t get paid, they are very good at showing what they have been able to fathom (over many years) of this immense subject, and even a haphazard player like me can find that pushing hands can become fascinating rather than perplexing, opening rather than frustrating, in their capable hands.
Adrian’s organising skills and good humour give the event a stable and lovely foundation. He takes a risk on this, there is no financial payback (only risk), but this is often the stock of interesting ventures. This is reflected in the diversity of participants, many old friends to me now, others good to have met for the first time this year.
Serge gave a big thank-you at the end, in his inimitable way, commending the openness and sharing elements, saying that this is an event that would not be possible to find in other parts of the world, and something therefore to be treasured.
I can readily recommend coming to next year’s event, regardless of your ‘level’ and experience. If you think (as for many years I did) that a pushing hands event was not really for you, then all I can say is give this one a go – you could be pleasantly surprised and energised! David Craig.
The Pushing Hands UK flyer was encouraging ‘all levels’, it had said consequently I found myself on the campus at Worcester uni, feeling apprehensive and wondering whether pushing hands was a skill I wanted to develop after all. I can now unequivocally state that this weekend has been one of the most absorbing, demanding and fun wekends in my T’ai Chi experience. My ‘beginner’s mind’ as it turned out, was something to be celebrated, as we were told we needed to keep this approach to remain open and aware. Our three masters/instructors were each an inspiration to us all, and we were 60 in number….what do I retain from their instruction?
From Scott, the wonderful emptiness of the cat stance, where your partner finds your torso has disappeared but your hands are at his sides ready for the next exchange.
From Serge, the feel of sinking into a heavy relaxed state and deflecting in this state.
From Andrew, allowing a push to land, taking the partner where he wants to go, then beyond it, to his disadvantage…. there was so much to take in, the warm-ups were noteworthy, too and everyone managed to get there by 7.45 am, notwithstanding the night before…
What I had not recognised was the way that pushing hands, like T’ai Chi, has a way of insinuating itself into everyday experience. For example, just watching John give Farah a music masterclass was an exercise in leading, following and sharing of movement and ideas. Or the way that at the Ceilidh on Sunday night I could recognise my partners in the chain of dancers by sensing rather than seeing them.
Finally a thank you to those highly skilled and experienced players who had the patience and kindness to help me learn while pushing;”now you’ve almost got me. How about the shoulder? No, if you push in that direction you are pushing into my supporting leg etc etc.” Oh, the frustration of thinking I knew what I was doing but falling into the trap time after time! It seems that frustration is felt by everone at every level. Andrew told us a story of Master Tao, weeping in front of the ocean because he felt he would never succeed at pushing hands, and then he saw a log floating in the waves and the word ‘momentum’ came to his mind, to re-inspire him.
I met some old friends and made some new ones. I shall definitely be back next year. Sue Platt
I am an inexpert and rather reluctant pushing hands player. I never like the idea of attending any pushing hands events or workshops – it brings out all my insecurities. But whenever I do bring myself to just give it a go I mainly have positive and enjoyable experiences and always learn something that feeds back into my solo practise. So, having listened to a number of friends telling me how great the last two Pushing Hands UK events have been, I took several deep breaths and booked to attend this year’s event.
First the practicalities – the event was well organised and ran smoothly (many thanks to Adrian, Christina and Sam!) The venue works well. The accommodation in student residences is comfortable (things have improved considerably since my experience of University accommodation many years ago!) and it was possible to self-cater or have meals provided. The indoor work spaces were big enough to accommodate the numbers attending (around 60 in total I believe) though they did get a bit stuffy during what was a rather hot and humid weekend. There were pleasant outside spaces for cooling off, a bit of independent practise and some time out to let some of the experience settle in. I was a little disappointed that no use was made of the outside space for any of the organised sessions but there seemed to be a majority in favour of working indoors.
Now to the important bit – the pushing hands. I had not previously met or worked with any of the three teachers attending – Scott Chaplowe, Serge Dreyer and Andrew Heckert. Profiles of all three were available on the Pushing Hands UK website before the event giving an idea of their backgrounds, experience and interest in Tai Chi and a brief outline of what each intended to address in their workshops over the weekend was included in the information pack provided to attendees. On the day we all arrived each teacher spent 45 minutes introducing themselves and their proposed workshops and making a start with some simple exercises. I particularly like this idea as it helped me feel a little less nervous when attending the first full workshops. It also meant that if anyone was looking for any particular emphasis/ area to work on during the weekend they had a good idea of where each teacher was going and could plan their attendance at workshops accordingly.
The first evening included an opening meeting to ensure everyone was aware of how the weekend was organised, when and where to go, who to ask for help if needed etc. It also addressed some basic rules for the free pushing hands sessions such as no hitting, kicking or grabbing, no locks, fixed steps and emphasising an attitude or working co-operatively rather than competitively and respecting one’s partner’s level of skill, objectives and physical fitness. Whilst this may have seemed a little limiting to some of the more experienced players I found it very reassuring and certainly everyone I played with respected these rules.
The two full days were each structured around three workshops (four hours in total each day) and two sessions of free pushing hands (three and a quarter hours on Sunday and about two hours on Monday) – a fairly intense programme. The workshops ran concurrently so attendees had the opportunity to follow a particular teacher, to attend a workshop with each on each day or a mixture.
I chose to attend workshops with all three. To me they seemed to have similar ideas around how best to play pushing hands but were emphasising in these particular workshops different areas to look at in depth and different techniques so I found I could work with each without getting conflicting advice and without getting too confused. I am sure many of the finer points will have been wasted on me but I did feel that I had picked up some key basic ideas that I can think about and work on in my own practise – from Scott some ideas on structure and being clear about weight, from Serge an emphasis on the mental approach and how this can aid or hinder applying tai chi principles in pushing hands and from Andrew much about lightness and not allowing your partner anything to push on.
I found all the teachers generous with their time and expertise, not restricting themselves just to their workshops but joining in the free pushing and chatting between sessions. Also the experience of pushing with so many different people in the free sessions – friends and strangers, different levels of expertise and fitness, different body types – provided a wealth of experience to think about.
All in all I am glad I stopped making excuses, stepped out of my comfort zone and went along. It felt a safe and positive space in which to explore and learn and was also a lot of fun.
Clio Pyner Pushing Hands UK