I Got a "Gold Medal" In Push Hands or, LOL Tournaments
I knew push-hands tournaments in the US were bad. I knew, I knew, I swear I did. I've been reading Bullshido for years, I saw the "Pushing the Issue" documentary on YouTube! But...
But a few months ago, after talking to my uncle (my mother's brother that is, not my "gongfu uncle" or anything), he told me that they were getting better, and that he recommended the "xtreme" (sic) push hands game on the portentously named International Chinese Martial Arts Championship tournament circuit, which he knew from its home base on Florida. That was March. At about the same time my workplace announced that it would be doing some health screenings in May, so I said to myself I'd spend two months trying to lose a little weight, and if I succeeded, I'd then spend the summer training for "xtreme" push hands.
Which is not any more extreme than any really fun park play, by the way:
(This video has been posted here before. I think it's in the full-contact thread somewhere.)
In March I weighed 195, and by May I weighed 186, so I was pleased with my progress and decided to sign up. I also decided I'd rather be the fattest dude in the 161-180 lb weight class, so continued losing weight. I just watched pastries and stuff, did a bit more exercise than usual. For push hands training, I went from occasional attendee at one park push-hands club to committed enthusiast at two park clubs, including the locally notorious "bad-ass" club where white people complain that the Chinese attendees treat them poorly. (This was not my experience there, by the way. I think it was just some racist whining by inferior players.) And of course I pushed with my teacher and classmates regularly. One guy at the "bad-ass" club brings boxing gloves each time, so I did some drills and light sparring with him too over the past several months, just to get loose and work on upper-body movement and such as well.
Then when registration opened for the event last month—no extreme push hands! But I was already well on my way to my weight goals and psyched to play. So I signed up for "restricted step", which as regular readers may remember from push hands threads here, I was actually unfamiliar with. I'd done fixed-step as a basic drill, but in the school and the clubs normal mobile taiji with head control and trips and a few sneaked elbow strikes to the sternum and ribs are the usual game. I've yet to find anyone who can tell me what restricted step is even supposed to train as a drill much less what purpose it is supposed to serve as a competition.
Anyway, I watched a few YouTube videos, read the rules, and kept going. For the past two weeks I cut the carbs almost entirely and further increased calorie-burning exercises and I rolled in to the tourney yesterday at 177.7 lbs.
It is perhaps a good thing nobody told me that push-hands weight classes are done on the honor system and so I needn't have bothered. But I was already annoyed.
And then I spent the entire day being dicked around. There was no schedule, no real planning, no information from either organizers or judges, nothing but the usual dance-offs and kiddie LARPing...and there was some neat sanshou. I watched a few matches in the morning and really enjoyed them. Some top teams—East Bay Martial Arts for example—were there. One of the very McKwoonish co-sponsors of the events pleasantly surprised me by having some competitors in the sanshou that acquitted themselves well. I guess all the suckers in their "black belt club" vests subsidize some real training.
Anyway, it wasn't till about 4:30 that push hands was finally announced, the there was hardly anyone playing. I'd only signed up for restricted-step, and nearly everyone else had signed up only for fixed-step. Some of the guys were 'good' fixed-step players, by which I mean that they were fairly sensitive and knew the usual tricks that only work in that drill. Little nudgy/grabby stuff one shouldn't do when your opponent can respond by either stepping back or plowing right into you.
As is typical with judging at these tournaments, the "good" judge knows a lot about competition taiji but almost nothing about it as a real martial art. In one fixed-step "bout" (does it even qualify as a bout?) two guys kept locking up and the judge yelled at them. One of the kids, who was winning and who apparently follows ICMAC around for the purposes of annualized scoring, got annoyed and shout-whined, "What else am I supposed to do when he is throwing so much energy at me!" There are any numbers of answers to this—most are some combination of sinking the weight and turning the waist like anything else—but the judge's only answer was to yell back at him and then to decide that everyone had to play super-softly, like little old ladies in the park from then on. Because that's the real taiji, you see.
The "bad" judges are truly bad—one guy even answered a call for confirmation of a violation with, "Uh, sorry, I just blinked and zoned out and wasn't watching." You know, it being his job to watch.
(By the way, Yelly ended up playing in two weight classes at once—that's some honor system!—and got a gold in fixed-step at my weight class by being the only one to show up. And I thought my gold medal was easy.)
Just to get some sort of thing going, I volunteered to play an exhibition (not for "scoring" in the annual circuit) against a woman of about my size who had nobody of her weight and gender to play with. They had misplaced the red sash one of us was to wear to assign us colors and literally struggled for three minutes to come up with an alternative way of telling us apart. I got yelled at by the main judge for pointing out that I was playing against a woman and that that should be sufficient for anyone with a pair of eyes, but then the judge immediately accepted my idea.
Anyway, she wanted to play fixed step for safety and then nearly got DQed for violence, which made us both laugh—very important to DQ someone in an exhibition match! At one point the judge shouted at her, "You just hit him in the head three times!" She got a warning, and as an act of mercy apparently only got one warning for all three bonks (more like spazzy brushes, really) instead of being DQed right there.
At about 5:15 in the video below I get very annoyed with the proceedings and trip her. That's literally the most exciting thing that happened in all the push-hands matches that day.
So I win 3-0. Two points were her fouling on me (head bonks, and pulling me down when I pushed her) and I scored a point for tripping her. The actual high spot of the match was when we both start openly laughing at the judge and her warnings.
So, ultimately, my division (restricted step, 160-180 lbs) had three people, one of whom just wandered off—I presume because he realized that life was too short for this bullshit. I'm not so smart. So suddenly the only official match I was in was the gold medal match!
Of course, nobody had managed to solve the problem of The Missing Sash, so the other guy who has a little red on his shirt is called red. And we're again yelled at and told to go very soft. So we do. Again, this is restricted step, so we can move back and forth a bit:
I give him a tiny push; he wobbles, I get a point.
(Part II is a brief eighteen-second video of us standing around.)
Another tiny push and I get point, and at some point he moves his leg the wrong way or something and I get another point. Another 3-0 victory for me.
And I win the gold, woohoo, in the Crippled Vagina Olympics!
Literally, the chi sao competitions looked better and more "alive" than pushing hands. There was a lot of smacking and silly punching and such. They had to wear mouthguards and helmets! As an aside, it was interesting to see the demographics: sanshou attracted real athletes of all races, chi sao were almost all guys in "Asian street kid" mode and their tough-hot girlfriends, and push hands was 100 percent weirdos. And oh god, the form competitions. You will believe a nerd can fly!
Anyway, I put this post up as part of the consumer watchdog mission of this site. It is not unusual for gongfu instructors, especially those with designs on classes full of kiddies and their gullible parents, to brag about all the medals they win at such tournaments. The slightly smarter ones will say that they've won medals not just in form, but in the combat skills divisions. Hilariously, push-hands is a combat skill. But remember parents, those idiot "masters" can get a gold medal for slightly nudging someone, or just for showing up if nobody else does!
I do have to say that I'm pretty chuffed to have lost almost twenty pounds in my over-preparation for this event, and I'll definitely continue to keep it off and try to lose another ten or so.