The Five Principles of Competition Push Hands

By Stephen J. Goodson
October 16, 2013

This paper presents attitudes and mechanics that will allow you to quickly gain skill in the game of Competition Push Hands. I use the term "Competition Push Hands" to mean not only participating in tournaments, but any Push Hands practice that aligns with the mechanics outlined below. Competition Push Hands can be defined as an off-balancing game of feigned relaxation while using speed and strength to overpower your opponent. In other words, the bulk of what passes for Push Hands today. By creating a vocabulary for this game and explaining it in mechanical terms, I hope that students can see the game of Competition Push Hands as a diversion; and, hopefully to recognize real Push Hands (from its polar opposite) if they encounter it.

The Principles

The following are not like 'rules' of a game, but rather principles for you to follow while playing any game of Competition Push Hands. If you follow these principles you will easily handle most Competition Push Hand players — keeping in mind that theirs is a game where speed and strength wins the day. But always remember, it is not real Push Hands.

1) It's not Tai Chi, so don't try to apply Tai Chi principles.

This perspective is almost the whole secret. In short, do not think of Competition Push Hands as real Push Hands, or even as Tai Chi. This perspective allows you to avoid any conceptual conflicts that will arise when you and your opponent use force. With this attitude you will not be surprised when your opponent recites Tai Chi's "Song of Push Hands" while holding on to you using all his might! It's OK, it's not Tai Chi!

2) To "relax more" is almost never the answer.

This perspective is important because, as a beginner, you will be told over and over again that you were thrown out because you were not 'relaxed enough'. Disregard that advice. It is given by those who either do not know the mechanics of their tricks, or do not want you to know the mechanics of their tricks. Instead, look to the following three mechanical principles to find the answer.

3) Like Cancels Like.

This is a simple trick of bio-mechanics. In Competition Push Hands, if you are being pushed on the right shoulder, push your opponent on the right shoulder in the exact same manner, and his push will be canceled. If your opponent pushes your belly, push his belly in the same fashion, and now you have canceled his push. That cancellation will result in a stalemate. This is not a soft neutralization technique; rather, it is a technique of equally challenging the other's balance by covertly matching his force.

Using this principle you can easily handle any unfamiliar technique from your opponent. You just need to use a like move to cancel his move.

4) Bottom Line.

A good example of Bottom Line can be seen with the Aikido demonstration of Immovable Person. In Unmovable Person you and your partner face each other, he will place both his palms on your shoulders pushing you backwards with a steady push. If you gently place your open palms under his elbows and push slightly upward and toward him, matching his push, you will cancel his effort.

You must covertly and dynamically match your partner's force as he applies it, always matching it exactly. Your hands, pushing upward on his elbows, offer equal resistance to his forward force. He reflexively, and unconsciously, changes his forward push to a downward push, with his elbows against your palms. He, in essence, has been tricked into pushing into your rooted leg!

The principal application of Bottom Line in Competition Push Hands is to seek one more bottom lines than he has. For example: he has both his hands on your chest pushing you away and you respond by sliding your arms under his arms and lift up, matching his strength, this will result in a stalemate. But, if you can find one more Bottom-Line to push on then you will win. To do this try maintaining the upward lifting of your arms while placing one of your hands on his body. Then lift upwards with your arms and hand. Since you are lifting on three points, and he is lifting only on two points you will win (it's a vector thing!). Always seek the bottom line by casually keeping your hands under his arms most of the time, just don't be overt about it.

5) The Hook Reigns Supreme.

The Hook is a technique in which you grab your opponent's wrist with one hand while hooking your other arm under his arm and pulling him off balance. It is the supreme technique in all of Competition Push Hands. Any time you start to feel that your position is threatened, and the two techniques above are unavailable to you, just slough off the attack and use the Hook. It can be done with your left or right hand, using either of his arms. It is a cheap trick that is without equal in Competition Push Hands. Use it sparingly or others might catch on to it.


If both players are resisting then Push Hands becomes a game of forceful shoving and escalating techniques. Like-Cancels-Like takes advantage of strength. Bottom-Line is taking advantage of leverage, and The-Hook takes advantage of speed. Used together in Competition Push Hands the game becomes one of, "how fast can I match your resistance and then throw you out?"

These mechanical tricks are ever present in Competition Push Hands. They are being employed against you—even if you didn't recognize it. Now that you know of them, look for them when you play the game. See how subtly they are employed (usually by someone lauding the virtues of 'softness'). If you pay attention you will come to realize that Competition Push Hands is neither soft, nor Tai Chi.

Using the techniques of Like-Cancels-Like, Bottom-Line, and The-Hook you will be better than the average Competition Push Hands player. If you are also fast and strong, you can become a champion!