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Nei Jia Internal Kung Fu

Pushing Hands (Tuishou)

Push Hands (Tui Shou): Chi Flow for Two

(The Application of T'ai Chi Ch'uan)
by Gerald A. Sharp

LEFT: Wu Style T\\'ai Chi Ch\\'uan Basic Double Push Hands Method


An integral part of T\\'ai Chi training is T\\'ui Shou or Push Hands. Similar joint-hand methods are also used in other Nei Jia Kung Fu disciplines including Xingyiquan and Baguazhang. Thought by some to be strictly a training exercise, adept T\\'ai Chi practitioners feel competent enough to utilize Push Hands or related techniques in situations that require effective self defense, and, besides, Pushing Hands is, for all practical purposes, the application of T\\'ai Chi Ch\\'uan.

In addition to being the most unique and evasive in application, Push Hands is more than just self defense. It is a way develop sense about others intentions and use of force. Just as T\\'ai Chi is considered a high level form of Chi Kung for health enhancement, Push Hands may also be utilized as an in-depth method of encouraging self-healing. To practice push hands effectively requires a great amount of sensitivity, relaxation, and precision. I remember the thrill I had when I first contacted chi in solo forms practice. The feeling was one hundred times more rich when I contacted my chi, another persons chi, and "our" chi when practicing Push Hands.

Push Hands as a Training Method that Works in Conjunction with Forms Training

At times, I have observed some students of the internal arts engaged in solo forms (or, Standing Meditation) practice either alone or in large groups and avoiding (as well as devaluing) the practice of push hands. They seem to feel that their practice is exclusive and high level. While in some cases that may be true, the many benefits by engaging in the touch of another and the manifestation of practice in close proximity with another practitioner offers far more reaching benefits.

So, if you regularly practice forms and not pushing hands, I encourage you to give it a go, and develop sensitivity to the touch that only Push Hands can deliver. It doesn't matter the style, Push Hands will improve, change, and bring a sense of wonder, reality, and joy to your internal arts practice. Additionally, your solo forms practice will experience positive changes as well.

Probably the most influential Push Hands teacher I have had the honor to train with was the late Ma Yueh Liang. son-in-law of Wu Chian Chuan, whose father developed Wu style. Ma was a legend who was recognized as one of the top 100 practitioners of the martial arts in all of China during his life, and was featured both in the documentary series and book, Healing and the Mind, by Bill Moyers. In the book, unfortunately not in the series, Ma does discuss the art of push hands. Ma was so soft, so sensitive, and yet so powerful and keen. I not only had the great honor of training with him, but I am the last student of his to see him alive before his passing at age 98 at Xu Wei Hospital in Shanghai on March 13, 1998.


Ma Yueh Liang\\'s senior students’ Zhou Zhan Fang (Left) and Zhang Jing Gui Pushing Hands

The Thirteen Principles of T\'ai Chi Push Hands Training

According to Ma, and based in the T\'ai Classics, there are 13 principles of power utilized in Push Hands practice and T\\'ai Chi application. These principles are called "Ba Men, Wu Bu" (or Eight Doors, Five Steps) and were passed to Wu Quan You, Ma\\'s grand-teacher and father of his father-in-law, Wu Chian Chuan, having originated from Yang Luchan, creator of Yang Style T\'ai Chi, and one of his sons, Yang Banhou, an exponent of the small frame. The principles can be applied or joined together in a variety of ways, and are essentially methods of harnessing and issuing energetics.

1. PENG (Ward Off / Evaluate)

The first principle is known as Peng. Peng by many accounts in the English language is defined as "ward off." However, according to Ma, Peng also means to "test" or "evaluate." This means when an opponent is doing something to you, you need to intercept or neutralize their attacks, and test or evaluate it. Actualizing or determining where the source of their power is, their lead-in technique, or where their center of gravity is located.

2. LU (Roll Back / To Follow)

The second is known as Lu. Known by many English language accounts as "Roll Back," or "Stroke," Ma felt Lu meant "to follow." Following is an unassuming objective according to Ma, and one which yields to overcome. If you follow your opponent closely enough, soon the opponent will run out of their position trying to catch you. According to Ma, confronting or fighting with the opponent is the wrong thing to do. Follow and overcome, and send the force or opposition out.

3. JI (Press / Pressing Through a Limb to Penetrate an Opponent\\'s Spine)

Third, Ji. Ji by some accounts refers to pressing, but Ma taught that it was a pressing through your limb or the limb of an opponent, and going through and penetrating the opponent\\'s center.

4. AN (Push Downwards)

The fourth is known as An. An translated means push down. However, for Ma pushing was not only a head on affair. The power of pushing is greatly amplified when pushing is done on specifically slight or wide angles with light, yet precise hands. Furthermore, pushing can be more useful when the position of the joint you are pushing is considered, and which way the opponent's joint is trapped or reacts as you penetrate with the push effects how much force or pressure is applied.

Peng, Lu, Ji, and An are considered to be the foundation by which the other hand methods are based. In Yang Style, they are practiced during Grasping the Bird's Tail. However, while they are subtly present in Wu\'s Grasping of the Bird\'s Tail, they are practiced formally in Wu\'s Basic Manipulation of the Pushing Hands Methods. The introduction of this method is done solo, and practiced as Peng, Lu, An, and Ji, but when joined with another practitioner, the two make Peng, Lu, Ji, and An together.

1. 13 Principles (con\')

5. CAI (Pulling / Grabbing Beyond the Point of Contact)

The fifth method is known as Cai, or pulling suddenly. Cai appears as a grab but that is a rough generalization. Ma described the true T\\'ai Chi technique as a grab beyond that which you are grabbing. Closer inspection shows it is much like a hooking of the opponent's joint, while the "pulling" hand may form an "Eagle's Beak" or "Claw Hand" or a gentle unassuming grasp.

According to Ma when a forceful grab is applied, the center of gravity is exposed, and the grab may soon be rendered useless. However, the pulling technique is more sensitive and less easily detected when the pulling hand acts similar to a back hoe that reaches beyond before getting a hold of a joint of a limb.

6. LIE (Twisting or Twining while Lifting)

The sixth method is Lie or twisting or twining while lifting. T'ai Chi practitioners will recognize "White Stork Flaps Its Wings" or "Jade Girl Works at the Shuttles" as Lie techniques manifesting in form's practice. Wherein one limb or both are raised for upsetting or advancing on the opponent's center (or spine).

7. ZHOU (Elbowing / Elbow Press)

The seventh is known as Zhou or elbowing. Practitioners who love to be lifted only to drop an elbow square into the lifter appreciate the elbow strike. For Ma, the elbow was a valuable tool for applying gentle pressure to the outside of the ribs or limbs. Taking the opponent out of their center and practically out of their shoes.

2. The 13 Principles (con\'t)

8. KAU (Shoulder / Back)

The eighth principle is known as Kau. In this method, the shoulders, as well as the back, are used to issue power or explosive force. Well into his 90\\'s, Ma could, with lightning and sudden speed, unleash a strike with his back that sent many a practitioner flying. If you thought Fa-Jing (Explosive power) was reserved for hands, elbows, or legs think again. Explore the other half of your body, and its usefulness.

9-13. The Five Steps include 9. JIN (Advancing); 10. TUI (Retreating); 11. KU (Look to the Left / Left Side Step); 12. PAN (Look to the Right / Right Side Step); 13. ZHONG DING (Central Equillibrium)

The five final techniques of power include: Jin, Tui, Ku, Pan, and Zhong Ding. They refer to movement or quality of movement, while initiating or reacting to change. Jin refers to advancing steps, and Tui to retreating steps. Ku and Pan refer to side to side stepping or movement with Ku meaning looking to the left, and Pan meaning looking to the right. Zhong Ding refers to central equilibrium. It refers to how connected you are, both to the ground and to the opponent\\'s body or intentions. Zhong Ding often refers to maintaining your stability and root, although your opponent may be losing theirs. Zhong Ding may also take the form of hands sliding on and across the opponent\\'s body continuing to be "connected," as you test, follow, push, pull, lift, or raise the opponent while at the same time maintaining your stability.

3. Wu Style Single Hand Training Methods

In Wu style Ta\\\'i Chi, their are numerous Push Hands training methods including: 5 Single Hand methods, a Self Practice Method, 13 Double Hands Methods, and 6 Moving Steps Methods.

The first three Single Hands Methods are referred to as: Pushing, Adhesion, and Chopping. These three methods utilize three target training areas or levels known as upward, middle, and lower. This is different than some approaches to single hands methods, that merely go around and around maintaining a constant level. Instead in the Wu style method, the practice starts in the upper region of the body such as the head or throat area, moves to the middle of the body or heart, and moves down to the lower abdomen region.

The last two methods of the Single Hands methods are known as the Internal and External Adhesion methods. In these methods the levels don\\'t change, as they do with the previous and more circular methods. The internal adhesion method bridges an aggressive flat elbow press by an opponent with a vertical elbow that is more linear and perpendicular to the opponent\\'s center, while the external adhesion method subtly wraps the from the outside of the opponent\\'s aggressive flat elbow, and plucks the crook of the elbow for the purpose of neutralizing the opponent\\'s aggression or to eradicate the center line.

Ma Yueh Liang pushing hands with Gerald Sharp during a public demonstration in Zhongshan Park in Shanghai.

All five single hand methods teach the practitioner to rely on less and less force, and more on precise movement with the least amount of effort in order to neutralize and counter aggression.

4. Wu Style Two Hand Training Methods

The Self Practice Method was a favorite of Teacher Ma\\\'s, in which you practice the basic shaped techniques referred to as: Peng, Lu, Ji, and An. Moving steps, and change hands operations are practiced in this Self Practice method, so that when combined with another person, the practice of Push Hands with another person is easier and more compatible. However, the best thing about the Self Practice method according to Ma is that you can always practice the methods and movements of Push Hands if no one else happens to be around.

It also works to relax the hands, joints, and shoulders, if you\\\'re one of those people who tightens up even the slightest bit when engaging in Push Hands practice with another person.

These 13 Double Hands methods combine the quickness of Wu style\\'s small frame with techniques that sensitively change, maneuver, and penetrate an opponent.

The root or the ability of the feet to remain planted firmly in the ground develops quite rapidly with the practice of these techniques, as the center is quickly violated.

Although the Wu style appears more upright than other styles of T\\'ai Chi, the rooting is continually developed more and more as the techniques are learned and applied. Techniques that often attack the outside of the elbows, shoulders, and ribs and move into and envelop the center of the opponent. Techniques that at times come inside and maneuver on very sharp, concise angles of the opponent\\'s center.

5. Wu Style Moving Step Training Methods

The Moving Steps methods include: The Side Step, The Great Turn Over, The Seven Star Step, The Nine Serial Steps, The Chain Steps, and the Da Lu.

The Side Step is utilized when an opponent steps outside of you to gain leverage on one side of your body. You step with them, and maintain your center facing theirs.

The Great Turn Over is used to prevent an opponent from moving behind you to gain advantage. In this way when the opponent grabs from behind you, or attempts to move past you, you step across them, and turn maintaining your face off position with them.

The Seven Star Step helps you to maintain your position as the opponent tries to step across or past you on an angle. In this way, you follow their step. All the while maintaining your face off position by crossing over their steps, as if following points on a star.

The Nine Serial Steps is a series of steps utilized to ward off a series of steps by an opponent. As they attempt to cross over you, and behind you to gain advantage.

The Chain Steps is used to divert an opponent from first crossing over you from inside your center, and seeking to step past you to gain an advantage. Again in this case you follow the opponent, as they attempt to cross over you, and then turn to face them as they step past you.

The Da Lu in Wu style is useful to deal with an opponent who assumes advantage on your side or shoulder and then as they step to your back for advantage, you step into them. Then as the opponent moves to take advantage of your advance, you step opposite and follow them; in order to continue facing them.

It is difficult to break the habit of sitting back, as the body "retreats," in order to shift your weight forward. The moving steps help to develop and build on stepping utilized when practicing the slow set such as "sitting" deeper in the substantial leg, or relaxing your toes in order to meld into the ground. When moving with a partner, during push hands, move slowly and be sensitive to your opponent\\\'s actions--no matter how large or small. This sensitivity is often times referred to as listening energy or "Ting Jing" as Ma Yueh Liang would reference it. Additionally, avoid moving arbitrarily forward and back and routinely turning your waist. Instead, wait on your opponent to initiate and simply follow more than anticipate neutralizing or displaying any type of reaction other than "sticking" to them.

6. The Ever Important Form

The Brush Knee, the White Stork Flaps It\\\'s Wings, Grasping the Bird\\\'s Tail, Strum The Lute, Partition of the Wild Horse\\\'s Mane, Parry and Punch, Jade Girl Works at the Shuttles, Needle at the Sea Bottom, Fan Through the Back, and all the "forms" have uses in push hands practice as well as in Self Defense.

It\\\'s very useful to practice with a variety of practitioners and engage in "friendly" Push Hands. Try to remain relaxed and rooted despite all advances. Invest in losing, and allow yourself to let go; yet keep your central equilibrium. Letting your energy go into the ground through the balls of your feet, but, at the same time, remain erect.

Avoid trying to "get them" Instead neutralize, and investigate testing (Peng) and following (Lu). Come to know the power in yielding. Yielding to discover the true source or center of the aggressor\\\'s power and their center of gravity without exposing your own center requires keeping the torso at the center of all movements.

When you move your hands, don\\\'t move your body first. Let your feet trail your movements, even if the movement is merely relaxing the hands, body, and feet. The feet finish effectively when the practitioner can sink their energy down through their Yongquan (Bubbling Well) point located just at the base of the ball of the foot. If at all possible, avoid shifting the weight back and sitting back, and then moving the hands such as "holding a ball." If a ball is to be formed whatsoever, relax the hands, the torso, and then legs, ankles, and feet. Use the entire body in a sequential manner to form a ball.

7. Ma Yueh Liang

Ma referred to the original name of Ta\\\'i Chi Ch\\\'uan as "Ba Men, Wu Bu," or Eight Doors, Five Steps. In his own writing and drawings he penned for me when I first met and trained with him in 1990  a sketch of the Trigrams of Bagua. In this he said look for this in your opponent both vertically and horizontally.

"Read vertically from the opponent\\\'s heart outward to their throat, their two shoulders, their two arms, each of their hips, and their lower abdomen. This way you will begin to see an opponent\\\'s center of gravity and source of power. Then read horizontally the eight doors for the way to go. In this way you can learn about your intentions and other\\\'s intentions through the practice of Push Hands," Ma often said to me.


Wave Hands Like Clouds application from the Wu style Taiji Fast Set, Wu\\\'s Original form.

8. Push Hands

Two indoor students of Ma Yueh Liang Zhou Zhan Fang and Gerald Sharp pushing hands in Shanghai. They are featured on a 2 Volume DVD video series presenting the entire collection of Wu style Taichichuan push hands training methods.

Ma Hai Long, Ma and Wu\\\'s eldest son, and his wife with Gerald A. Sharp just after Ma Yueh Liang\\\'s passing in March, 1998.

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