This was my first tui shou (pushing hands) match (more like a test) in over 15 years. It was an non-compliant, yet friendly, freestyle match. Striking was not allowed. The gentleman in the video with me is Matt Stampe from Virginia. I met him for the first time just 2 days prior. This match took place on June 1, 2014. I have included video at the end of the article.
I practiced and competed in taiji and pushing hands in the 1990s when I was also an external stylist, but there was nothing internal about what I was doing then. It has only been the past 4 years that I have revisited a previous teacher of mine and started focusing on internal skills.
So, I took a much different approach with this match than I had done in the past. I had no idea what to expect because I know Matt has a lot of experience, both in taiji and in other arts. My main goal going in was not to try to beat Matt, but rather to see if I could adhere to the principles that I teach.
I wanted to remain upright and relaxed, avoid bracing the ground, and keep resistant tension out of my arms. I know I made some errors in those goals, but overall, I felt pretty good considering the circumstances.
Basically, I took almost no initiative with offense. I decided to just see what Matt was going to do and continue to try to neutralize and follow him. Overall, I was happy with how I managed. There were 3 good times when he took me by complete surprise and I could not neutralize. There were other times when I had him neutralized, and it seemed like he was giving up the attack, so I let up, and he would immediately take advantage with a fast push that would semi-get me, as seen with the occasional “heavy” back steps I had to take rather than me just stepping due to following. Lastly, at times I underestimated what Matt was doing, thinking that I could completely neutralize without turning or stepping and I held my ground a little too long at times, again making me take a heavy step back.
From this I learned several things:
- I should not let up. I should always stay “on” the opponent, even in a friendly match.
- I should pay attention to match the speed of the opponent even when the rest of the match seems to be kind of a steady speed. I was stuck in that slower mode and foolishly did not adjust when he did those faster attacks.
- I need to relax even more so that I can operate even more from awareness. Had I been more aware, I would not have overestimated my neutralizing abilities at times. That shows me that I was a little too much in my own head.
- I should definitely take initiative with offense at times.
Though the match was over 11 minutes long, my breathing felt good. I was not tired even though I had just previously finished attending a very physical 6 hour workshop. This is quite a contrast to my experiences from the 1990s when my tui shou was still externally based.
I thought that Matt did an excellent job in this match. He kept it friendly, but he was able to maintain an almost continuous offense, making me work at my skills the entire match. He was able to exploit my gaps and weaknesses fairly regularly throughout the match which shows both his experience and how much he was paying attention. Additionally, even though he tried to “get” me almost continuously, he did well at not exposing himself, giving me little to work with in that regard.
I have been avoiding tui shou in general because I am still working on my basic skills and getting my body proper for the internal work that I do. I did not want all of my “bad” external habits creeping in because of a competitive engagement.
However, I felt comfortable with my level of error in this match, and I want to work more on tui shou given what I have learned from my mistakes in strategy.
It is official. I have caught the tui shou bug.
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