A Slow Discourse On Push Hands (Part I) (Partial)
By Zhang Yi Jun, translated by Peter Lim Tian Tek

Push Hands is the way of learning combative methods in Taijiquan, the way to practice defensive skills, but it is not the goal of learning Taijiquan. What is the goal then? One is the goal of strengthening the body - ridding illness and adding years; one is the goal of combat - sparring hands (two people engaging in combative exchanges without fixed forms).

Push Hands is the ingenius method to practice 'understanding energy' (Dong Jing). It is also the ladder connecting form learning to sparring hands.

Those who learn external boxing, have an old saying, it goes 'to learn hitting first learn to suffer'. Therefore when learning boxing, you need to learn qigong, to make yourself able to bear heavy blows. Taijiquan's theory is different, it emphasizes 'attracting into emptiness, using softness to defeat hardness' (Yin Jin Ru Kong, Yi Rou Zhi Kang). That is to learn how not to be on the receiving end of your enemy's strength, which means having 'to learn boxing first learn not to suffer'. Thats why only after learning sticking jing (nian jing), neutralising jing (hua jing), after being able to stick and able to neutralise then taking the next step to learn holding jing (na jing) and emitting jing (fa jing).

In researching the usage of Taijiquan, the methods left to us by our forebears who created the method of Push Hands, in interactions between two people of Ward-off (peng), rollback (lu), press (ji) and push (an), to study the rationale behind the usage of Taijiquan. Both seeking out the opponent's weak points, initiating the attack, watchful namely of emitting jing and neutralising jing. In order for oneself to be undefeated, it is necessary to learn neutralising jing, attracting strength into emptiness, causing one self not to be on the receiving end of your enemy's strength. Through not letting go and not resisting of the two hands in contact, learning continuous sticking, learning how to 'understand jing'. First learning how to neutralise energy, being undefeatable, what remains then is learning the method of learning achieving victory over your enemy (that is holding jing and emitting jing).

That is why, when beginning to learn Push Hands, it is very important not to have a heart set on winning. One must concentrate the heart and mind solely on 'listening' to the enemy's strength and neutralise it. Only through a relatively long period of Push Hands (of course needing instruction from a teacher who understands), causing oneself to be able to understand jing, able to neutralise jing, then proceeding to learning holding jing and emitting jing would then be easy. It can also be said, that being able to neutralise jing, emitting jing is also from there.

But because in Push Hands there can be victory and defeat, the matter concerns what we Chinese regard with special importance of face value, those beginning to learn Push Hands, all only think of winning and am not willing to lose when pushing hands, what overcoming hardness with softness, attracting into emptiness, is completely forgotten; the rationale being first learning how to neutralise jing is also not bothered with; concentrating the heart and mind soley on winning. Therefore even the strength for nursing milk is also completely taken out, seeking to use great strength to create a situation of pressing to topple, attempting to win over the opponent, this is abandoning reason in the eagerness to gain victory, committing the mishap of 'resisting' This is definitely a common problem with most who are learning Push Hands, what is being learnt is Taijiquan, what is talked about is overcoming hardness with softness, but when its put into use its great leaning strength, using strength to gain victory over the opponent. Its really laughable and something to sigh about!

Those who are mainly observers, careless people, the self-opinionated and those who have too great a desire to win, as well as those who have attained a good standard in external martial arts, all cannot learn well Taijiquan Push Hands. Only those who do not possess the above mentioned dispositions and conditions have hope of fathoming Push Hands Skill's essence and wonders.

Hsu Chen in his 'Profundity of Taijiquan' says "rather follow reason to seek the essence, don't abandon reason in the eagerness to gain victory". This is certainly a great insight, precisely the good medicine to cure this illness. On the basis of these two admonishments, the have caused me to remain constantly cautioned and alert in my studies, making less mistakes during Push Hands, benefiting much.

Push Hands is the mutual probing of the internal jing, its dependent on the sense of touch, seeking out the opponent's centre of mass and flaws, definitely not the same as the methods of external martial arts, even more unlike what is called "horizontal defeating the straight". At the start is the study of fixed stance Push Hands, which must emphasize 'ward off, rollback, press, push must be dilligent", must not simply go through the motions, cultivate careful listening to jing, completely neutralising, not messily moving, etc, the above good habits. Then proceeding to study Big Rollback (Ta Lu), using pluck, split, elbow stroke, shoulder stroke, also equally emphasizing on listening to jing. When highly skilled people Push Hands, they mutually seek out each other's jing, not conforming to any fixed forms, this is also known as Sparring Push (San Tui).

Push Hands can be considered as a type of cultured combat, the form being more refined, content abundent, striving for meticulousness, opposing coarseness, therefore focused on fighting with intellect and skill, disdaining fighting with strength. Even though emitting jing's results are relatively shocking, hitting a person over 3 and half metres is a common thing, but this is not normally like external martial art's bumping hand, hitting until the nose is green and the face is red. Not only can we from it raise our skills in attack and defense, as well as a friendly competition, not only moving and lively, also winding and lingering, if being emitted jing by an expert, also can be deeply feel shock till it moves the soul, the attack being the same as being electrocuted. Many of those studying Taijiquan, once they meet they love to Push Hands, to the point to becoming Push Hands addicts, this is because within there is some kind of interest, outsiders are not aware of this. The pleasure during Push Hands advances friendship, improves health, increases the skill and thought. A single thing with many benefits, why would one not be glad to do it!

In Wu Zhi Qing's book "Traditional Taijiquan", there is a record of Mr Xiang Qi Ran's experience in practicing Taijiquan, there is a part which discusses the usage of Push Hands, it is discussed carefully, it is repeated here:

"We martial artists, whether its Taijiquan or some other martial arts, all should know the meaning of the word 'fast', not in the two hands, the speed of extending and retracting, also not th speed of the feet in advancing and retreating, possessing the same kind of hands and feet, the speed of extending, retracting, advancing, retreating, other than the amputated, the aged and the senile, as well as the frail, fatigued and deformed, mostly are about the same. It is necessary to know the difference of fast and slow, the importance is in the eyes. But possessing the same two eyes, what then is the difference, it is in the speed in seeing opportunities. If the enemy does not expose a viable opportunity, even if the hands and feet strike his body, it does not have the desired effect, rather every time it presents the enemy opportunities to penetrate. When two are in combat, where are the opportunities? The instant the opponent loses control of his centre of mass, that is the opportunity. The two eyes see the opportunity, taking this precious opportunity to attack, is it certain to hit down the enemy? It is not certain. It is still necessary not to lose position, not to lose direction, then it is effective. Because the enemy's control over his centre of mass is lost, having ascertained where the flaw is, from that place attacking, from which direction to attack from, then can using less strength gain greater success. If the direction, posistion is not measured and settled, though the opponent originally has already lost control over his centre of mass, sometimes in being attacked can regain it. It is the occassion of two people in combat, opportunities appropriate for attack consistantly occur for each other, the only difficulty is in the two eyes not discovering them, sometimes discovering it too late, the opportunity is past, somtimes because the attacking position and direction is wrong, even attacking cannot bring results, this is also missing the opportunit. Practicing Push Hands listening to jing, the emphasis is on seeking opportunities, also learning what kind of opportunity requires which position, which direction to attack. Two ees not losing the opportunity, attack not losing position and direction, this is the excellence of martial skill, completely not on what is the speed of the hands and legs. Differentiating the depth and shallowness of the art, the martial skill's high or low, completely depends on this. If not waiting for opportunity, not knowing direction and position, this is only brutish hitting, brutish seizing...".
In this portion, Xian Qi Ran emphasizes the usage of the two eyes (sense of sight) in Push Hands, this is naturally important. But it should be supplemented clearly, during Push Hands, listening to jing (sense of touch) is even more important, definitely not less so than the sense of sight. During Sparring Hands, it is also necessary to add the sense of hearing and the sense of reasoning (intellectual judgement), the usage of four senses. Teacher Ya Xuan likewise strongly emphasized this "four senses to face the opponent" in sporting usage.

Other than training the boxing set, Push Hands is Taijiquan's other content, it is with the boxing set, mutually promoting, mutually complementary, mutually completing.

Push Hands has different natures, it can be divided into the Study type Push Hands and the Sport type Push Hands types. These two types of Push Hands in form do not have any difference, but the guiding idea is completely different. Study type Push Hands is researching how boxing theory can be applied in actuality, the goal is to raise one's skill level, winning or losing should be outside its context. Sport type Push Hands, its goal is on gaining victory, two soldiers in conflict, there can never be too much deception in war, insubstantial insubstantial subtantial substantial, there are myrid changes, fighting on intelligence, fighting on skill content, is therefore even more.

If only for training the body to be healthy, if only practicing the boxing set, not learning Push Hands, it does not make much difference. If one seeks to fathom the marvelous combative skills of Taijiquan, then it is imperative to study Push Hands. When pushing hands with an expert, one can discover one's non-conformity and shortcomings, learning the opponent's good points. When pushing hands with someone of inferior skill, one can also understand one's own good points and the opponent's flaws. From there we can correct the inaccuracies in the boxing form, whilst continuing to promote one's good points. Flaws in the boxing form, in Push Hands will definitely show up, it is not possible to hide them even if one wanted to. Therefore, if one does not practice Push Hands, one can onl think that one's form is correct, not being able to get an objective assessment; not practicing Push Hands, one cannot also know the meaning of the two words 'Taiji' in the boxing, the content of the boxing theory, also cannot be understood. Only practicing the boxing set, at most one has only learnt half of Taijiquan. In actual fact, not studying Push Hands, one cannot learn well Taijiquan.

Push Hands has the form as its basic exercise, it is the usage of relaxed and soft skill, but within has also some other methods that definitely require a teacher to transmit. Especially when first learning Push Hands, there are certian rules, these must be observed. If one does not meet a teacher who understands, always blindly stirring things up, beginning wth figting with strength first, gambling to conclude, there is no way to enter into correctness.

After understanding Push Hands, both hands conduct a sense of touch in a lively manner, without transmission other than the two eyes, gaining another two eyes. When pushing hands with others, if the opponent's skill is relatively inferior, I can sense from the hand's touch and know my opponent's entire situation, like the magnitude of his strength, direction, map of his intentions, etc. Feeling that the opponent has flaws and weaknesses everywhere, being able to attack him at anytime from anywhere. As to the opponent's incoming strength, in a state of proper and natural relaxed lightness, attract it into emptiness, neutralising without form. Those who have not gone through long periods of Push Hands training, their hands will never be able to have this kind of ability. This then is what the boxing manual says 'from familiarity gradually realising understanding jing', the meaning of 'understanding jing'.

(translation still on going and not yet complete, to be continued....)



All comments are most welcome.

  1. The copyright is retained by the author so please do not publish it. Check with me first if you want to do anything public with it.
  2. Please distrbute the document complete.
  3. This document was written for the benefit of fellow enthusiasts, please do not use it for commercial purposes or profit making purposes.

Back To Peter's Taijiquan Resource Page

Email Peter Lim Tian Tek