Saturday, January 10, 2009

Push Hands in Peace Park - Ben's Experience

Peace Park: A Great Place to Study Push Hands and Taichi Fundamentals in Taipei, Taiwan

I was introduced to the push hand group at Peace Park in Taipei, Taiwan today. I had heard about it through Precious James who runs this blog. I got into contact with him recently about places that I might study and practice Taichi in the Taipei area. He recommended Peace Park as a great place to study push-hands, put me in contact with someone he knows who studies there and away I went.

A little about me: I’m a 25-year-old recent college graduate from Philadelphia. I studied non-Chinese martial arts in the States for a number of years while I was in college but never really felt like I was getting what I wanted out of it. After finally breaking free of my old school and some negative patterns that I’d built up over the years, I decided that I wanted to move to the Far East and try again. I eventually settled on Taiwan for a number of reasons, and now I’ve been here a month and just had my first foray into the local martial arts world. Thanks James!

So I had arranged to meet James’s friend at the Peace Park subway station at 9am on a Sunday, and the first thing I noticed when I got there was all the people practicing martial arts. There were people doing hand and weapon forms everywhere I looked. I saw a Westerner with one of them and almost approached him, thinking this might be James’s friend. I didn’t, and it wasn’t, and James’s friend found me a few minutes later and took me to a quiet little corner of the park where the Peace Park Push hands group meets every morning.

They were very unassuming. I wasn’t even sure I was in the presents of ‘real’ martial artists at first. It seemed like just a group of regular people exercising in the park, and in a sense that was what they were. They were regular people exercising in the park, some of whom just happen to have a phenomenal grasp of push hands and the Taichi principles that go with it.

I had never done push hands before with someone who really knew how to do it, and I wasn’t sure what to expect. I figured they’d be tossing me around without much difficulty (I was right), but I didn’t realize how much I would learn from just one morning studying with them.

They started me with some deceptively simple warm-up exercises. They seemed easy until James’s friend explained what was really supposed to be going on. Then I realized that not only wasn’t I doing them properly but that I wasn’t going to be able to do them properly that day and probably not for awhile. There were layers to these exercises: the external movements (which were difficult by themselves) and then levels of internal movement designed to transfer force through the body. These “simple exercises” were almost completely beyond me, and I’ve been studying martial arts for six years. I’m told that this is a common experience when those of us who have studied elsewhere come and meet people who really understand rooting and structure.

After the warm-up exercises the master, a soft-spoken 80+ year-old-man, came over. I told him I’d never done push hands before in my halting Chinese and he said it was okay, said some more that I didn’t understand and started pushing me, explaining basic movements with a few words and a lot of pantomime and gesture. After a few minutes, I felt like I was moving pretty well and even started to feel a little full of myself. Oops. The master set me up with my first push-hands partner and my ego was quickly deflated.

These guys could push me around almost effortlessly. Even on the few occasions that I scored a ‘point,’ and caused someone to take a step, it was only because they had been going easy on me because I was new. There wasn’t anyone there who didn’t have something that they could teach me, and almost everyone there was only to happy to help me improve, even when my ego and competitiveness came out to play. They would just push me off balance, tell me to relax, and we’d start again.

Everyone at the Peace park group has a different ‘feel’, a different style in their push hands. Some like to line up with you and see you can push the hardest. Some like to use the least possible amount of force or lead you into traps. They all have different approaches and different things that they can teach you, and many of them are really really good. That’s the beauty of Peace Park. It’s not just teachings from one teacher. It’s a variety of teachings from a variety of teachers, all under the guidance of the master.

The Peace Park group is primarily a push hands group, though they do teach a little bit of form. People who go there regularly can learn the Chen Man Qing Yang style 37 form and the White Crane forms which I’m told are related to Taichi but are really a separate art with similar principles (White Crane uses a lot of fajing- explosive movements). There are probably better places around to learn form, but I’ve been told that the Peace Park group is one of the best places in Taipei and perhaps Taiwan to learn the fundamentals of rooting and structure which is so important in Taichi.

That was my first impression of the place. If I decide to study there regularly (and I’m certainly leaning in that direction), I’ll post a follow up in a couple of months to let anyone who’s interested know how my opinion of them has grown and changed.

The Peace Park Group:

Styles: Chen Man Qing Yang Style Taichi and White Crane

Focus: push hands

Master: Jeng Shean Chih (Zheng Xian Qi) student of Huang Sheng Shyan (Considered greatest yang stylist after Cheng Man-Ching and some say better) Huang mastered White Crane student of Cheng Man-Ching. (here's a good link for Huang: )

Cost: 3000NT per month (about $90 US)

Time: 7AM(begin qi gong) to 11Am(or later)

Friday, January 02, 2009

Taichung, Taiwan: Open Tai Chi(QI) Push Hands Sunday Class

Every Sunday Morning (excluding rainy days) from 6:00 to 9:30 AM at or near Jung1(Zhong1) Shan1 Park (Gong1 Yuan2) there is an excellent push hands class. All styles are welcome! The folks here are very kind and good sports. I felt the principles of Tai Chi exuding from their spirits and their hands.

Some highly skilled players lead by Master Lai3 Tien1 Zao4 constantly change partners for good natured pushing. Lai3 Tien1 Zao4 over 70 years old is still a top player of the group and certainly amazes with his continued ability to throw the largest of the bunch! Tai Chi is demystified here with hours of pushing practice. Some students stay past 9:30 AM and continue to practice. Last time I attended, I pushed until noon.

Truly open to all styles, I met many Teachers who themselves teach tai chi classes weekdays at other parks around Taichung, but all come to meet for this weekly Sunday push hands meet.

P.S. Last heard, this group has changed locations and is meeting at Master Lai's Center. I'm traveling right now and don't have Master Lai's card. Will post number and address later, or call David.

Contact David Chen (886) 919-442-436 or Precious Powell (taiprecious at yahoo dot com) for more information.

(David and Precious in Taidong)