Monday, June 11, 2012

Taichi Push Hand Dummy

I somehow thought this week my creative juices will slow down, and I was really looking forward to use it to document some of my older wacky ideas like my con-lang viz-fon that I dreamed up when I was a teenager, my various mouse replacements like chair mouse, butt-pad, exercise ball gyro etc.  Boy I was wrong.

So, this morning's idea: Taichi Push Hand Dummy.  I even drew a draft on my notepad at 4am this morning!  

Taichi Dummy Draft at 4am...
Steam Punk Robot?
Those who've known me for a while probably know that I am interested in martial arts, and have been studying Chen-style Taichi under Master Zhang Xue-Xin for quite a while.  Master Zhang is one of the best Taichi master alive, and at age 85 he can still neutralizes any of our sucker pushes or random locks and throw us to the ground with ease, while maintaining a look of calm disdain.  The problem is, I still can't do any of that, even after over a decade of practice.

One of the many missing components in my practice is that I don't do push-hands with a partner enough.  Mostly due to my own timidity due to my low level of Taichi, but the reality of life definitely plays a part. Taichi is definitely not a popular sport among my age and social group.

So I thought I should make myself a push-hand partner.

The idea of practicing martial art with a roughly human size prop is nothing new.  Heavy bag for punching and kicking, Makiwara for Karate, the newer incarnation of the heavy bag - Bob, various MMA grappling dummies, but the one that has always captured my imagination is the Wing Chun Wooden Dummy木人樁  (Cantonese: muk yan jong/Mandarin: mu ren zhuang), first introduced to the masses by the late Bruce Lee.   Here's a link to an excellent Youtube video of a Wing Chun master practicing a traditional routine using a wooden dummy:

Wing Chun Mok Yan Jong
There are even wacky/cool robotic Muk Yan Jong that will punch back!

Taichi push-hand is traditionally practiced with a live partner, or less effectively with an imaginary partner.  No equivalent of a heavy bag or dummy practice exists, as far as I know.

You may asked: "Why not just use the wooden dummy, or some heavy bags with strap on appendages for Taichi practice?"

I think the main difference is that push-hand is mostly a close quarter sticking/following, push/shove, neutralize, throw, shoulder/body checks practice, and Chen style has more elements of grappling and joint locks, leg/knee techniques mixed in.  See this excellent video of a great example of push-hand:

Great Push Hand Video

As one can see, punching, kicking, and hard blocks are not central to push-hands.  Therefore heavy bags and wooden dummies are really not adequate.

Some design goals:

  • It should resemble a human body with arms and legs - like life size mannequins used by artists 
  • It should weigh like a grown up - say 150 to 250 pounds
  • It should be a free standing but stable structure - I want to be able to give it a good shove to send it sliding/bouncing backwards by a few feet and the structure should still be standing.  Hence the multiple legs
  • It should have movable joints resembling hip, knee, back, shoulder, elbow, wrist, that can return to a natural configuration after manipulations.  Hence the ball joints and spring coils
  • It should have rotatable waist and shoulder. Hence the ball bearing chest and abdomen
  • It should have detachable arms (and may be detachable legs) to allow for different configurations, with options for punching arms, double forward push palms, circular "ward-off" arms, long extended soft bendy arms
  • It should have padded surface all over just for good-ole whacking and kicking, general entertainment after a bad day
If we make it this far, a natural extension would be to somehow add programmable robotic automation for the circular arm movements, arm configurations from push to circular block, weight shifts, light to heavy resistance, reaction by touch etc.   That sounds like 2 to 3 order of magnitude harder than a static dummy though.

There, do you think it is worthy of a Kickstarter and/or Maker Faire project?

P.S. I doubt I will get many views on Apple's 2012 WWDC first day, not that I am getting many views to begin with :-)  But man, I want those new Macbook Pros!


  1. Saw the vid, very nice! Here's an idea... integrate Push Hand with the Tango! Or the Twist for those more fun loving people. May start a new craze :)

  2. Thank you 老兄

    That project will have to wait even longer :-)

  3. For an easy and cheap alternative:

    I have done this for a few years now when I dont have a regular partner. Use a gym ball for your chen style large circle stuff, I use a football (soccer ball) for my Yang style small frame push hands.

  4. Hello I never seen your design before but I to have thought about a push hands dummy I Practice Yang Style long form so you are not alone

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