Tui-Shou 

Tui-Shou is usually known as ‘Pushing Hands’ in the West and is the main partner drill and sensitivity exercise used within Taiji Quan to teach a student about the eight energies. It is a necessary part of the training if you ever wish to understand how Taiji Quan actually works but at the same time is not the final goal. It is not 100% a martial exercise, neither is it solely an energetic exercise. It serves several purposes which are summarised below:

  • It teaches body structure whilst moving in contact with another person.
  • It helps to develop a person’s sensitivity at touch to another person’s movements, force and intent.
  • It increases internal sensitivity to your own and your partners Qi flow.
  • It helps to develop the basic powers of Peng, Lu, Ji, An, Cai, Lie, Zhou and Kao.
  • It teaches the important Taiji Quan skills of Listening, Adhering, Neutralising, Leading, Borrowing and Issuing.
  • It teaches how to ‘scan’ through another person’s bodily structure upon contact and so spot weaknesses which may be exploited in combat.
  • It helps a practitioner to relax under gradually increasing amounts of pressure and learn how to never resist an incoming force, instead you redirect it.
  • It demonstrates how relaxation and softness can be used to overcome aggressive power which is known as dull force in Chinese martial arts.
  • Through continued training you learn how to collapse an opponent’s structure with minimal effort or force. This can then be used to ‘uproot’ them.
  • At the highest level of ability it teaches how to use emptiness within combat and so become ‘weightless’ as outlines within the Taiji Quan classical texts.

The above list is obviously not exhaustive and there are many other benefits not listed above. These are simply the main points of Tui-Shou which I focus upon within my own training.

It is often the case that Tui-Shou is misunderstood by teachers and one of several things happens:

  1. 1.It is completely removed from Taiji Quan training
  2. 2.It is turned into a physical sort of wrestling
  3. 3.It is turned into a competitive sport

All of these are terrible and lead a practitioner nowhere. Removing Tui-Shou from Taiji Quan means that a person will never understand the style at all. They can never be considered anything more than a beginner. You even get the awful situation of a person with no Tui-Shou experience or understanding becoming a teacher of the art. These people are again contributing to the watering down of the style. Turning Tui-Shou into wrestling requires physical force which immediately makes it an external exercise. This teaches none of the subtlety of Taiji Quan and gives people a false feeling of ability. They may well be able to push people really well in Tui-Shou training but put them with a Chinese wrestler or a Judo practitioner and they would be completely taken apart. Why turn a subtle partner exercise into bad quality wrestling?

Competition Tui-Shou is a strange concept. It is an exercise, not the be all and end all of Taiji Quan. If you really want to compete then why not spar as in every other martial art which has competitions? Competing encourages the wrong intent, physical tension and means that none of the technical sides of the exercise are learnt.

Learning Tui-Shou is usually done by moving through the following stages of development:

  • Firstly you should learn the actual shape of the partner exercise known as Tui-Shou. Usually you will begin with single handed practice and then double handed practice. There are also other versions of the exercise such as Rou-Shou and Da-Lu which are normally taught much later.
  • Next you should increasingly soften the body whilst maintaining light contact with your partner at all times. If you soften the body too fast then you will lose your structure and become weak so gradually ease the tensions out of your joints. In particular the shoulders and legs.
  • Now start to think about the four main Taiji energies of Peng, Lu, Ji and An and how they relate to each other. This is one of the main purposes of Tui-Shou training. This should be combined with a constant adherence to the principle of Yin and Yang.
  • Gradually begin to develop your sensitivity to the other person’s bodily structure, weaknesses, strengths and intent through their actions and movements.
  • When you are confident with this stage of the training, begin to develop an awareness to the relationship between your own and the other person’s energy body. Look for the expansions and contractions of Qi which are constantly taking place during your inter-change.
  • Only now should you begin to search for the others persons ‘root’ and attempt to destroy it whilst hiding your own. If you attempt this stage too early you will simply be using physical force. This means you are no longer training Tui-Shou.
  • Try all of these stages when stationary, moving and then finally try to integrate the principles from Tui-Shou into your forms and boxing practice.

Important Classical Text for Tui-Shou Training

Below is an important classical writing for the practice of Toui-Shou.

The text is known as the Song of Pushing Hands and is attributed to Wang Zong Yue.

Da Shou Ge (The Song of Pushing Hands)

Expand, Contract, Press Horizontally and Suppress are of great importance. Follow your enemy in any direction so he may find no chance to attack.

Let him bring any amount of force he likes, Lead his actions using 4 pounds to deflect 1000 pounds. 

Lead him into complete emptiness, join with him and then issue your connected power. Utilise the principles of Sticking, Adhering, Connecting and Following. Never disconnect nor resist your opponents force.

The Content of the Text

The above text accurately covers the method for learning Tui-Shou, the skills required to advance within it and the purpose of the exercise. All of this is contained within only a few lines. Beginners and advanced practitioners alike should make themselves completely familiar with this text and allow it to inform their practice.

In my opinion, if you are able to understand and apply all of the principles within this song then you will be practicing Tui-Shou to an extremely high level indeed.

Yin and Yang within Tui-Shou

The first and most important principle to understand within Tui-Shou is the principle of Yin and Yang. If you lose the concept of Yin and Yang when reacting to your partner then you will breaking the philosophical foundations of Taiji Quan. This will result in one of either two things: You will either lose contact or you will resist their force.

Yin and Yang directly relate to each other and in order to understand this it is easier to turn them into numerical data. If we see Yin as one percentage and Yang as another than in total we should have 100%. This is the key to neither losing contact nor resisting your opponent. Resisting your opponent will prevent you from being able to neutralise and lead an attack into emptiness.

Yang is the incoming force and Yin is the yielding response to it. When one partner pushes and applies pressure they are Yang. You should always react by yielding, neutralising and leading which is Yin. If you do not react in this way then you are not practicing Tui-Shou.

If neither force is pushing then we can say that Yin and Yang are both at 50%. This is complete balance and neither person has the advantage. In Tui-Shou this would be the result of both parties simply sitting with their arms in light contact. Neither is pushing so neither has anything to yield to.

If one person pushes forward then you can say that Yang is increasing in percentage. The other person should adjust Yin accordingly in order to maintain this equality of Yin and Yang. It is quite easy to understand when we see it laid out in a table as below:

Incoming Force (Yang) Receiving Force (Yin)
50% 50%
60% 40%
70% 30%
80% 20%
90% 10%
100% 0%

As you can see, the person receiving should yield accordingly in order to maintain an exact 100% balance of Yin and Yang. Once the incoming force has reached 100% then it cannot increase in power any more. This would be the point where the first person has finished pushing; the second party now changes to pushing. The first person has no choice but to change to yielding if they are to follow the principles of Tui-Shou. This would be the point within the Taiji symbol where Yang has reached its peak and so begins to change into Yin. This continues throughout Tui-Shou training and so we have a continually revolving cycle of Yin and Yang energies.

Vibrational-frequency

The top each wave shows the point where Yang reaches its peak and begins to change back into Yin. This is the final extension of a persons force when they are attacking. If you can understand an attacking force in this manner and are able to neutralise it without sustaining injury then you may easily stick to and defeat an opponent using Tui-Shou principles.

The bottom of each dip shows the maximum a Yin force can reach before it begins to change back into Yang. In Tui-Shou this would be the point where you had successfully led an opponent’s force into emptiness. As the Da Shou Ge states: This is when you issue your force into the enemy for maximum effect.

When you first read this passage and look at the diagrams this may not make much sense. I advise you to simply keep this in mind and see how you can apply it to your practical training. Over time it will begin to mean more to you.

Remember that the most important principle to keep in mind is to keep the total balance of Yin and Yang equalling 100%.

The Importance of Expansion and Contraction

Peng and Lu within Tui-Shou are initially expansion and contraction. An attacking force within Tui-Shou is generally manifested as an expanding force. This is the mistake that many people make. Although it looks as if you are pushing each other you are in fact expanding forwards into the opponent’s space. You are attempting to expand through their centre so that they have a force to practice yielding to. As you receive the force you utilise Lu which is the Yin force of contracting. If you can understand expansion and contraction, Yang and Yin then you can understand Tui-Shou. Remember that Taiji Quan is an advanced Gong Fu style and as such deals with abstract concepts of combat rather than literal techniques.

Leading an Opponent into Emptiness

Taiji Quan is a martial art which specialises at close range combat. The ideal range for Taiji Quan is to be in physical contact with your opponent. Your enemy should feel smothered by you. Fighting a high level Taiji Quan practitioner has been likened to having a large blanket thrown over you. You are smothered and confused, none of your techniques work as you are always in contact with your enemy, and therefore there is no space to build up momentum. The majority of martial arts rely on having the space to put momentum into percussive techniques. Taiji Quan does not use this type of force and good practitioners are able to strike from contact.

The other advantage of being in contact with an opponent is that you are able to understand the principles of Sticking, Adhering, Connecting and Following. These key principles are outlined below:

Sticking

The skill of sticking to an opponent is highly important within Taiji Quan. Quite simply, if somebody cannot stick to their opponent then they cannot use their Taiji Quan as a martial art.

Sticking takes place at several different levels. The most basic level if the ability to completely keep Yin and Yang in balance when in contact with your opponent as described on the previous pages. As a person brings their arm forwards you are able to stick to them with your palm and then as they retract their arm you ‘stick’ to it and so follow it back towards their body. This requires a high amount of physical sensitivity which must be gained though a great deal of Tui-Shou training.

If you can achieve this then it will feel to an opponent like your limbs are fly paper. No matter how much they move they will not be able to shake off your palm which simply ‘magnetises’ itself to them.

Adhering

Adhering at first sounds very similar to Sticking but it is in fact a different skill which comes before Sticking. Adhering means to gain contact with your opponent. This is obviously one of your first concerns in combat as you will most likely not start in contact with an aggressor. This is the most dangerous time for somebody who is proficient in Taiji Quan as without contact you will not be able to use your sensitivity to your full advantage.

The skill of adhering is learning to make contact with your opponent when combat ensues. This is known as ‘forming the bridge’ in Chinese martial arts. This may not immediately seem to be something which you would train in Tui-Shou but in fact it is. The skill in Adhering to your opponent is making the contact without them realising it has happened. This requires a great understanding of the concepts of Peng and Lu which are learnt within pushing hands practice.

Connecting

Connecting with your opponent means to be able to understand exactly what is happening with your opponent’s structure and intent whilst you are Sticking to them. If you are able to connect to your opponent then the whole concept of combat will seem irrelevant. There will no longer be any threat, instead you will feel as if you are one entity and you simply move together. If you achieve this high level of skill then you have achieved complete connection. Somebody who is good at Connecting will also have achieved the ability known as Ting in Chinese Gong Fu. Ting can be translated as meaning ‘listening’ but does not refer to the ears. Instead you are able to ‘listen’ to your opponent’s bodily movements and intentions via your physical contact. Your whole body will begin to act like a cat’s whisker or some kind of sensor. You will sub-consciously be able to understand exactly where your opponent’s centre of balance is, where their structure is weak and what they are intending to do. Even the slightest muscular movement within their body is registered by your mind allowing you to pre-empt their actions. It is often said within Taiji Quan circles that: ‘my enemy attacks but I strike first’. In order to achieve this you need a high degree of Ting and Connection skill.

Following

Following the opponent means to simply allow them to continue their intended actions without clashing with them. If your enemy expands into your space with a Yang strike then you allow them to finish it. The vast majority of martial arts would seek to stop the attack or to move out of its way by creating space. Taiji Quan focuses on the ability to Follow the attack and relate to it by understanding Yin and Yang.

Although this may seem like a recipe for disaster, it is actually very beneficial for combat as it leads to two other skills known as: Neutralising and Leading.

Neutralising

Neutralising an incoming force can be done in two ways. The first is to clash with it and stop it from proceeding any further. This is the simplest way and not the Taiji Quan method of dealing with aggression. The second method is to Follow the incoming force and to allow it to finish its trajectory whilst you yield to it. This is the Taiji Quan way.

Now if you were to completely yield to an attack then you would obviously be struck as your structure collapsed. The way we avoid this is through an understanding of the ability to Neutralise a force.

The key to altering an attacks trajectory is rotation. In Tui-Shou this is taught by the person turning their waist in time with the joint expansion and contraction. If you do not turn your waist when you first start learning Tui-Shou then it is unlikely that you will ever get to grips with neutralisation in Taiji Quan. Over time you refine your technique and your waste turns get smaller and smaller until after many years they are entirely internalised and no outer physical movement can be seen.

It is also possible to neutralise an incoming force with other parts of your body such as the palms, the wrists, the body and the legs. The subtle rotations of your limbs and joints can even neutralise an attack at its very point of origin when you are fairly advanced meaning that an attacker will feel as if they are literally unable to generate any power at all and they are constantly pushing on something which simply isn’t there.

The reason why we want to allow the attack to finish its trajectory is so that we may utilise the next Taiji skill which we call Leading.

Leading

Once an opponent has had their attack neutralised they will then continue until their attack has reached its peak (provided you are skilled!). They will continue to express Yang or expansion and you will yield with Yin or contraction accordingly to keep this 100% balance present. There will come a point where their Yang attack has reached 100% or near to it. This is the point where their attack must begin to change into Yin. This will be the point at which they are about to withdraw their attacking limb. In Toui-Shou it is when the person has tried to push you or expand into your centre but has been neutralised. It is at this point that you use the skill of Leading.

Because they have reached the peak of Yang they are now changing to Yin. They quite simply have no force left and so it is extremely easy for you to lead their limb to where you want it to go. This is the beginning stages of Leading and after you are more advanced you should aim to lead their body or more importantly their centre of balance to where you want it. The point you are trying to Lead them into is Emptiness as stated in the Da Shou Ge.

Understanding Emptiness can be difficult at first but the easiest way if to think of a chair. If the chair is stood normally then it is stable and rooted. If the chair is stood on two legs then it is extremely finely balanced. Even the slightest push will cause it to fall over. It is stated within Taiji circles that even the weight of a fly landing will cause a person to fall when they are at that point of emptiness.

The idea is to lead a person to this point. If you can bring to that state where they are like a chair stood on two legs then you will be able to issue your force into them with maximum effect. It is here that you emit Jin into your target. Up until you have maintained this 100% balance of Yin and Yang. Now you have led your opponent into emptiness then it is time to break this balance. Now you add as much force as you wish to increase the amount of Yin and Yang beyond 100%. Ideally you wish to increase it to 200%+ so as to launch your enemy away from you using one of the 8 key powers of Taiji Quan as explained elsewhere in this book.

Leading is at first achieved through large waist turns and obvious movements but over time you shrink the movements down into increasingly subtle covert levels.

In Conclusion

  • To understand Tui-Shou you must first understand the concept of Yin and Yang.
  • You must be able to keep the total amount of Yin and Yang at 100% until ready to issue force.
  • No physical tension must be used to receive or issue force at any time.
  • You must understand the terms of Peng, Lu, Ji and An.
  • You must be able Stick to, Adhere to, Connect to and Follow your opponent.
  • Never release contact or resist the opponents force at any time.
  • Lead the opponent into emptiness.
  • Gradually increase your internal sensitivity to what is going on within your own and the other person’s body.
  • When the opponent has been led into emptiness, increase the amount of Yin and Yang beyond 100%. Increase Yin with a powerful Roll-Back or Yang with a strong Peng, Press or Suppression downwards.
  • Keep training these abilities through continuous Tui-Shou practice until they begin to switch from the stage of large, obvious movements to the more advanced stage of externally invisible covert movement.