Archive for Push Hands

This is Push Hands

Posted in Internal Arts, Taijiquan, Training with tags , , , , , on December 28, 2014 by Combative Corner

For the first time, there is a complete video on YouTube regarding a martial, practical form of Push Hands (they way it was meant to be*).  Of course the late, great Erle Montaigue has dvds, and video clips on this extraordinary method, however now, his son Eli has put the movements together in one video whereby we can observe the progression and gain insight on how and why certain things are done.

Obviously many taijiquan practitioners are going to differ on this, but this important video is for those students and instructors who wish to impart an approach that more closely resembles the realities of combat, while at the same time testing your balance, posture, technique, etc.

For Eli’s in-depth article on Push Hands, click: Push Hands: Learn to Fight, not Push

* This summary was written by and reflects the opinion of taijiquan instructor Michael Joyce.

Push Hands: Learn to Fight, Not Push

Posted in Internal Arts, Martial Arts, Self-Defense, Teaching Topic, Techniques, Training with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on December 11, 2014 by Combative Corner

Eli Montaigue Mountains Push Hands

By Eli Montaigue of WTBA ©2014

Push Hands, is probably one of the most misunderstood training methods in Taiji.  Most schools of taiji teach push hands for the sake of doing push hands, to beat other people at push hands.
Taiji is about learning how to defend yourself in a fight. Pushing is not fighting.  No one is going to come up to you in the street and try to push you over. They are going to punch your face in, then kick you while you’re down.

I know people who have been training in push hands for many many years, and they are very good at “push hands”. If I play push hands with them, we are of equal skill etc.
However, I have been taught to hit from push hands. With these same people, when I start to put in any kind of strikes, they have no idea what to do. Because they have only trained in how to push. They might for example push me a little off balance, which makes me react with a strike. Followed by “you can’t do that, we’re doing push hands!” This only applies to a beginner doing push hands. Of course they must do it in a certain way, to learn certain principles. But if two advanced Taiji practitioners are doing push hands? You can do what you want. You can stand there and kick me in the groin, or head but me in the face. If I cannot stop you? My push hands is not good.

Eli Push Hands 1

picture 1

Ok, so how and why do we train push hands?

First up, stance!
Most schools of Taiji teach Push Hands from the same stance as they would use in the Taiji form. See picture #1.
This is a big mistake! The large stances in the form, are there for 3 main reasons. 1, to build heat in the legs to help the flow of Qi. 2, to strengthen the legs. 3, to stretch the legs. It is for health and exercise, and is in no way meant to be used for fighting.

The big stance in push hands teaches us many bad habits.  My father Erle Montaigue, use to teach big the stance to beginners, then he would advance them onto the small stance later on.
This is how he was taught.
However, after years of teaching, he found that the big stance, although easier to learn, was teaching the student nothing but bad habits. The big stance gives you a false sense of balance. What use is it to be able to hold your balance in a big stance, when you can’t fight from a big stance. In a small stance, you are more
mobile, you can protect your groin and knees, and you are
training yourself to be able to fight from the stance you’re already in when walking down the street.
The only way to deliver force from a small stance, without losing balance, is to use the same muscles as you would to strike. Via twisting of the waist, compression and release of the spine.
Thus training your body how to strike with power.

Eli Push Hands 2

picture 2

In a big low stance, you will be more likely to be training your body in the best way to push.

There are no pushes or pulls in Taiji, as they do not have a place in self defence. Unless your opponent is standing on a cliff edge!
{See picture #2}
It’s like if you were doing 500 squats every day and
hoping it would make you a faster runner.
You have to train the muscles for the work you want them to do. When we hold a big stance, this causes us to get into a forward backward weight change.
The pusher comes forward, the receiver evades by sitting back. See picture #1 again.
What’s the first thing you learn in self defence?
When someone attacks you, don’t sit back! You are
putting yourself in a vulnerable position. See picture #2.
In a small stance, when we shift the weight, this causes us to evade to the side, maintaining our forward intent. This now changes the intent of the pushing, from you attack and I defend, to you attack and I defend by attacking! In every attack there is defence, and in every defence there is attack. Basic Yin and Yang. See picture #3 and #4. Notice the closer proximity of the players, and that in Lu #4, it is applied with an intention of sitting to the side, rather then sitting back as in Pic #1.
This means you can maintain forward intent, and truly evade the attack. Sitting back does not get you out of the way of an attack. The closer lateral evasion also puts you in a
position to re attack.
The mind set is most important in Push Hands. Even if you are doing a pushing movement, you should have the body structure and intent of striking.

Eli Push Hands 3

picture 3

Eli Push Hands 4

picture 4

Hard or soft?
Ok here is where a lot of people get things wrong. Ever heard the quote “Steel wrapped in cotton?”.
This means we should seem soft on the outside. It does not mean we do things in a soft manor.
Anyone who tells you that you can defend yourself without using any substantial force, has clearly never been put under pressure.
What we do however is to structure the body so, that we have to use very little strength to get great effect. This is what P’eng training is all about. We learn this first in single Push Hands.

For example, when I do Push Hands with a beginner, but someone with much bigger muscles than me, their arms will get sore before mine. To them it seems like I have really strong arms, not that I am all soft and jelly like. But in fact my muscles are not stronger, it’s just that I am structuring my body so that I only have to deal with half the pressure.

The pressure of the incoming push, should start soft for the student to learn. Too much pressure in the
beginning can cause the student to use bad technique. But be sure to increase this to as much pressure as you can develop, as someone attacking you is not going to do so lightly!
From the receiving part, well you should use as much pressure as you need to. As you get more advanced, this amount will get less, as you will learn to move your centre around the force coming in.
Very soft training has it’s place, this teaches us to “listen” with our hand.
But to have this as your only practice? Well that would be like learning to kick without being able stand on one leg.

When I was learning push hands, if I did something wrong, lost my balance, or opened my guard etc,
I did not get pushed over. I got punched in the side of the head! Or kicked in the groin!
Two advanced Push Hands players should look like they are having a fight, not like they are dancing.

Eli Push Hands 5

picture 5

Ok now onto attacks.
In the beginning, for students learning the ground work for Push Hands, we do some “pushing” attacks. This teaches the beginner how the hold up a strong guard, stay grounded and move their centre out of the way of the
incoming force.
Then the power speed and aggression of the attacks are increased gradually, till they are full real attacks. Any type of attack can be put into push hands, from a practical cross punch, (see picture #5) to a silly back spinning kick to the head. It is most important not to see Push Hands as a competition!
It is a training method. Yes you try your best to hit the other guy, so you could say that you are trying to beat him. However, what you have to do in your push hands, is to use all types of attacks, not just the ones you’re best at. For example, if I was competing, I would only use the techniques that I knew were best for me. But this would not give my partner a very rounded training.

I would never throw a back spinning kick in a competition, because I know it is not my forte.
Same with grappling, I would not use this if I wanted to beat the other guy.
But I will use them in training, so that my partner gets to train against them. I still throw the attack as best I can, trying to catch my partner out. But knowing that due to the fact that I am throwing an easily defeated attack, I will most likely be the one to get hit. I have tested this one many people. They only train practical attacks, then they get hit by the silly attacks, because they are not use to them.

Eli Push Hands 6

picture 6

In defence though it is different. You see if you attack, you are not reacting, you have made a conscious choice to attack. But if you are defending, you are reacting to
something your partner is doing. And when you are training your subconscious to react, you want to train it in the most practical way that will be best for protecting yourself in the street.

Your first reaction in a situation should be to strike.

It is the quickest and most likely way to protect yourself. See picture #6. In my opinion, other methods such as arm/wrist locks, sleeper holds etc, should only be used when you know you have control of the situation. Perhaps there is a drunk guy in the pub, you have some mates there, you know there’s no real danger. So you would try to take care of the guy without doing too much damage.
But someone breaks into your home and catches you off guard, you have to protect your family. So your first reaction should be to strike. This is why we practice our locks and holds from the attacking part of push hands.

So to consolidate, if you have been training in push hands for anymore than a year, but don’t feel comfortable when someone is throwing punches at you, then your push hands has not done its job.
As I said at the top, what use is a training method that only makes you good at doing the training method.

Eli Push Hands 001

Eli is a guest writer for the CombativeCorner.  If you enjoyed this article, please check out the others that he’s done for us.

10 Questions with Eli Montaique

Standing Three Circle Qigong

Special thanks to Francesca Galea, Leigh Evans, and Lars-Erik Olsen, for appearing in the pictures

Proof read by Francesca Galea
Written by Eli Montaigue 04/12/2014

© Eli Montaigue 2014


eli montaigue profileEli Montaigue is a man of many talents.  He’s the chief instructor of the World Taiji Boxing Association, inherited from his late, legendary father-teacher Erle Montaigue and also the lead singer of the band Powder Monkeys.  Originally from NSW, Australia he currently resides in London, England.  Intent on spreading quality martial art teaching, he conducts many workshops throughout the year, locally and internationally.  For more information, visit the WTBA website at

An Introduction to the Art of Offsetting

Posted in Internal Arts, Martial Arts, Teaching Topic, Training with tags , , , , , , on November 18, 2012 by Combative Corner

This is not an article about particular techniques, but an introduction to what I feel are some of the inner mechanisms that make our use of technique, expressible according to a certain standard.

To me, the personal mastery of the manipulation of force demands refinement of certain fundamentals, alongside of, and to be expressed within, ones physical training.


  1. Avoiding triggers of impulse and escalation in self and the recipient
  2. A developed inner condition of Calm, Composure and Proper Perception
  3. A receptive spirit and awareness of one’s constancy or slipping from the ideals of justice, mercy and nobility.
  4. A direction towards functionality, achieved through the minimum amount of effort.

With these principles at heart, I offer a basic breakdown, though not comprehensive, as it is beyond the scope of this article, of some physical components regarding personal manipulation of force, within close quarters.

Pressure, Energy and Intention Reading

The reading of pressure (while in cohesion/contact with another person’s limbs/body) is indeed of vital importance.

To ‘read’ is the ability (while in physical contact) to properly interpret and monitor the pressure, energy, lines and intention of the one whom you are in close contact with, as well to be able to feed, utilize and dissolve this pressure and energy.

It is the foremost key to being able to connect with the recipient’s centre of gravity. Through training to develop the ability to read pressure, one acquires an internally felt and externally sensed force intuition, therefore being able to govern the appropriateness and adequacy of one’s use and manipulation of force.

Controlling Centre/Centre Line

The reason we learn to read pressure and energy is essentially so that we can connect to a person’s centre of gravity. Once we have connected to a person’s centre of gravity, we in turn have the elements required to ‘offset’, to take there balance. To ‘offset’ means to disrupt, upset and control a person’s centre of gravity. In addition, this has a marriage of sorts to occupying the persons centre line.

Centre line is the line of gravity that exists from the top of the body to the ground and it is what is maintained in order for a person to stay up on there feet. If a person is most concerned with there own footing, they will be less able to properly and effectively express there own intentions, such as to strike or physically lash out.

Why Offset?

Again, the essence of ‘Offsetting’ is to take control of a persons centre of gravity, therefore disrupting there sense of balance. When we have disrupted a persons sense of balance, the success of their own intentions becoming physically expressed is greatly reduced.

Certain forms of offsetting can also be done in a manner that creates a sort of ‘state of bewilderment’ or temporary confusion in the recipient. This induced state is more conducive to potential de-escalation, as it moves the recipient from a common reactive, impulsive mode or behavior, to a confused, yet none the less ‘thinking mode’, which by its nature and reality is less impulsive.


The term offsetting means for our purposes, to disrupt the recipient’s center of gravity, to take their balance. Offsetting can be employed in a manner that results in both physical and mental disruption.

We have broken the essence of offsetting into 3 types or characteristics. It should be mentioned at this point, that the manner in which we are offsetting, is not based in throws, hip tosses, sweeps or the like. What we will be describing, at this point, (the reader can imagine) involves the recipient still being in an up-right position.

This does not mean we are for or against downing a person in some fashion, but merely to help the reader realize that most of what is occurring to the recipient is happening while they are remaining standing up. The take downs per say, are a choice, a follow up, based in a case by case situation.

Type 1 Offsetting Characteristics: On Coming Traffic

A type 1 Offset mirrors the characteristics of being struck by a car, or what we call being struck in on coming traffic. It is not a pleasant image. However it does make the point quite well, as one can imagine the force of being struck as being capable of moving the recipient in whatever direction the ‘oncoming/going force is headed. This type of offset is often abrasive, yet is not confined to being so, and is a committed, linear energy. The force of movement follows through the recipient in such a fashion, that the ‘whole ‘body moves in the direction of the force driving it.

Type 2 Offsetting Characteristics: Earth Quake

A Type 2 Offset mirrors the characteristics of being caught up in an ‘earthquake’. An earthquake sort of bumps, tips and shakes, from one direction to another in often quick, jolting manners, causing the recipient to lose there sense of balance and equilibrium.

This type of offset is often performed with a high level of explosive, percussive energy, but again is not confined as such, for at the higher levels of skill one may employ more subtle offsets by ‘complimenting’ energy, force and direction. With this level of type 2 offsetting one is able to ‘capture momentum’ and ‘compliment it’, guiding the recipient, in a non forceful manner, to ‘adjust’ according to the flow of their own energy.

These types of offsets require usually a re-wring of sorts on our part internally, as we must be able to bump and tip, without over muscling it. When we can do this, the chances of a reactive, impulsive response to what we are doing, is greatly reduced.

Type 3 Offsetting Characteristics: Missing a Step

A Type 3 Offset mirrors the characteristics of missing a step on a flight of stairs or expecting some form of resistance, only to have it completely dissolved. This is a more subtle version of unbalancing and controlling the centre of gravity then the first two types of offsetting. It is caused in absence of force, rather then by force being directly applied or through complimenting force. This type of offset is usually however, followed immediately by a Type 1 or 2 offset.

Type 1, 2, 3 Characteristics: Harmonious Interplay

Each type of Offset is meant to work in harmony and in conjunction with the other, creating a state of perpetual falling if you will. In the continuum of practice, it seems almost dance like. When training these three types of Offsets it is important to desire a level of effortlessness, by allowing for the characteristics of each to have there do course, while not focusing upon anyone of them for to long.

The full potency of all 3 types of offsets working together is that the recipient experiences a feeling of complete loss of centre, while still being controlled in a manner that is potentially trustworthy (by remaining upright). These types of offsets require a moderated use of energy, rather then a bullied, brute force expression of strength. If this is achieved, the triggering of the impulses of escalation or retaliation will be potentially reduced.

A suggestion in this regard is to learn to moderate ones energy and force, to ‘choke it off’ if you will, by allowing momentum to occur, rather than just continually exerting our own force.

Principles such as these are not easily explained without the opportunity to feel its results. This type of skill is not based in the esthetic appeal of an audience, but in hands on experience. That is where the appreciation is truly gained for its potency and potential.

Riding the Bull

A common mistake is when we feel we must be doing something all the time, which leads to muscling our way through technique and wastes of energy. I feel it is the hall mark of a mature practitioner when they are able to rest, relax and not need to do anything for a time, while riding out the energies that may be being imposed upon them.

When we are with someone that is able to control us physically, by brute force or higher skill, it is sometimes wise to know when to ‘ride the bull’ of there actions, as opposed to trying desperately to gain control by implementing our own. Attempting to implement our own force at the wrong time is a potential trigger of escalation.

We must learn to discover the appropriate time to insert our own force, or to compliment the force being imposed upon us, while guiding the exchange of energy to an appropriate end of our own design. These suggestions sound idealistic, yet it is my experience that it pays off to truly follow these ideals through, so that the appropriate skills sets begin to emerge from within us, while remaining consistent with these ideals.


The idea of doing what it takes to cultivate a true level of mastery may be getting lost in the attention span dwindling pace of today’s modern society. Though I believe we can and indeed should streamline the learning process of our crafts and sciences, the same realities for mastery are required; time and intelligent effort.

Basic Use and Manipulation of Force Distinctions:

  1. Force to Cause Movement
  2. Force to Control Movement
  3. Force to Cause Pain
  4. Force to Cause Injury

The art of Offsetting, though can be employed to enact any one of the above force distinctions, and in various combinations with each other, on its own is based in causing and controlling movement.


The art of Offsetting is closely tied to the high level ability of reading pressure while in contact with another person. Though it is an art that requires real training and proper instruction to acquire, it is a skill set that renders one more capable of appropriatizing ones use of force and energy. This is further enhanced by considering the whole entity, which should include breath control, reflection and meditation as well as an active practice of moderating ones use of force and energy, relieving the impulses to use brute strength, in its place, the desire to move with ease, in a mindful and effortless inner zone.


For more information or inquiries about personal training, professional programs, yearly training camps, teacher training programs, workshop bookings or audio-visual study aids, please contact Mr. Zacharias directly @

Jamen Zacharias

All Things Institute

1-250-455-0384 BC, Canada

10 Questions with Eli Montaigue

Posted in 10 Questions, Taijiquan with tags , , , , , , , , on February 7, 2012 by Combative Corner

What was it like as a youngster growing up with a father so well-versed in martial arts?

Well when I was younger, it was always cool knowing my Dad could kicks anyone’s ass kind of thin.  It was great also because I was home-schooled, and Dad did a lot of his classes from home, so he was always around.  There was of course a lot of play fighting etc, though from as far back as I remember whenever we’d be wrestling, he’d be getting me to strike in ST9 etc, so of course I was to small to hurt him, so I got a lot of Dim-Mak practice.  It was when I was 14 I started taking the training seriously, 7am every morning for 2 hours, a class with Dad.  Girls were the only thing that ever made me late!  Like father like son!
As I started getting better at the fighting arts, I became his main training partner, he called me Kato (Pink Panther), as I would always attack him in the house, either with a punch or a heap of questions.
I started at 14 with him having to push me to train, then by 16 he was having to hide!  I was so into it, and wanted to be as good as him.

When and how did the drive to become a martial art teacher start and/or evolve?

I guess ever since I started enjoying the training I figured I’d start teaching one day.
When I was 16 I started attending all of Dad’s workshops and classes, and helped out teaching the beginners.  Then when we moved to Wales, when I was 18, I got a job offer through one of Dad’s other students  to teach Tai Chi form and self-defence to children at the public schools in Swansea.
It was a great place to start teaching on my own, as they were aged from 5 to 15 years old.  So didn’t matter if I made mistakes.  That built up my confidence as a teacher.  Then after a year of doing that, I opened my first self-run classes.  At 19 years old I was very skilled in the arts, and a good teacher, though looking like a kid I wasn’t able to get many people to stay with the class.  (As so many people think Tai Chi teaches have to be old!)
So most of my students were of people who knew who I was.
I opened up more classes in the week, knowing I wouldn’t get many people to the Bagua one, but just did it because I liked this girl that was attending, so meant I could see her more.
She became my first love, and we were together for nearly 4 years.
So yeah I loved the arts, loved teaching them, and found that I could make money doing it!  So it’s not really something you’d say no to.  And when I started traveling all over the world with it, I got hooked, and has grown bigger and bigger.  Then Dad died, and I suddenly had a lot more work to do!
What is your daily training routine like?

I get most of my training though all the teaching I do.  That’s been one of things that has taught me most in my training.
So at the moment, I just do a little on my own.  Wake up, do a little stretching on my legs, Qigong, Tai Chi form etc, then I get all my partner training in classes.
When I was younger – 14 till 20 or so, I did a lot of learning new stuff through the day, class with Dad in the morning, and then watching DVD’s.  Then I would get Dad to look at what I learned to show me where I was going wrong.  And I would do my Standing Qigong for 20 to 30 minutes morning and night, in Australia in the summer I’d get up at 5am just as the sun was coming up, as even then it was 30 degrees, so was to hot in the day for Qigong.
As someone from the fast-food generation and someone who constantly travels, how does your diet fare?

And I’m a Vegetarian! No. I really don’t have much of a problem finding food.  France is the hardest.  They don’t seem to understand the concept of not eating meat.  But I always manage to find good healthy food.  The only time I would not eat well would be on a long driving trip, as the food in the Motorway services is not great.
You have to look a bit harder, but there’s good food in most places.

What are some of your favorite forms or exercises to practice and why?

My favorite form would be the Yang Lu Chan Tai Chi form – For it’s “stoner qualities!” It gives the best feeling of building power in my body, and switching off the mind – getting high off the Qi.  It to me is the most complete form, I could do just that form everyday and get what I need out of it.  I’ve felt the most interesting things happen to me in that form, and seen great things in other as well.
Push Hands also.  I feel push hands has taught me more than anything else about the fighting side of things, and it’s s a great full body work-out as well.

How does your method of teaching push hands differ from most traditional styles?

Our push hands is to train you how to kill.  And there are no rules, just like there are no rules in the street.  All other styles that I’ve seen, seem to do push hands to beat other people at push hands!  I don’t know why you’d want to do that.
They push you and if you move your foot they think they’ve won! – whilst being completely oblivious to the strike I have just put in (while moving my foot).  We don’t stand still when we fight, so we don’t in push hands.
Other styles seem to put a great emphasis on up-rooting.  They try to get you off balance, then push you back.  This is what we teach to beginners only, for a bit of grounding and balance training.  If I try to up-root one of my advanced students, I’ll get a punch in the face for it! You can not up-root someone that wants to smash your face in… just like if I try to put on an arm lock, or throw a fancy high kick.  These things do not work in real fights, and push hands is about real fighting.  So once we learn the basics of push hands, if you were to watch me and another instructor doing it, we just look like we’re trying to kick the shit out of each other.  We try to pull any deadly shots, but there are still a lot of bruises and bloody lips etc.  After one of my last sessions I was limping home, and my partner was throwing up in the street!
Internal arts have been called the “soft styles” – This is because we are soft on the inside, in that we use the least amount of muscular force to get the job done.  So we look softer than someone using more muscle etc.  But in these modern times this has led everyone to believe that we fight softly!  You can’t fight softly, anyone who tells you this has had a very sheltered life!

Your father imparted many things to you over the years, what sticks out most in your mind?

To not take things so seriously.  Make fun of yourself.  Never think yourself better than anyone else.  How to love, how to hug, even to those you don’t even know.  To show love to them and care.

What would you have been doing if it wasn’t for the martial arts and why?

Music –  I do it now anyway.  I’m a drummer in a rock band, and also play for the Swansea Belly Dancing girls.  When Dad died someone had to fill his spot in the band as lead male vocals.  At that time we found out I actually had his voice.  So I’m now lead singer for our band.  So I guess if I didn’t have the Tai Chi I would put more time into singing and try to do something there.

When someone is starting out in Taijiquan, what is most important for them to concentrate on?

Depends on the person.  Young, fit guys usually have to work on softness, whereas girls tend to have to work on power.
I guess the main thing I work on with beginners would be strength and structure, while at the some time staying soft.  And just do it!
So many people worry so much about if they’re doing it right, that they never do it!  You’re not going to get it right at the start, so just do it as best you can.  We all suck at the start, I have video footage to prove it!

What does Eli like to do when he is not training, teaching or traveling the country doing workshops?

Mountain hiking/camping. Skiing, Motorbikes, spending chilling out time with family and friends, hugging, swimming, ping pong, roller-blading, Kayaking, Cycling, playing drums, singing,…or when I’ve just been doing to much, my friends will make me have an evening of doing nothing!  Just sit around watching movies, chatting, and just wasting time.  That’s always nice too, just not all the time!



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