More Introduction to Taiji Push Hands

The article “Taiji Push Hands:  An Introduction” in the previous release describes Push Hands which is the practice with a partner applying many of the techniques and forms in Taiji form practice for martial applications, i.e., for one-to-one combat.  It describes the basic components of Push Hands:

  • Ting (the ability to “listen” to your opponent’s intention and respond by deflecting attacking force)
  • Yielding (not opposing, but supplements attacking force with a small force along similar direction)
  • Fa Jing (quickly generate power when it is time to counterattack)

This second article provides more details about these basic components of Push Hands.

“Know Your Enemy and Know Yourself”:  Is the well known axiom of combat by Sun Tzu in his classic book The Art of War.  The full quote [1] means that if you know your enemy and the enemy doesn’t know you, then you will win the battle.  This is the significance of “Ting.”

In Taiji, you learn about your opponent through touch, i.e., the contact point between you and your opponent.  You learn about the location, direction, strength, speed, etc. of your opponent’s intended attack.  By relaxing yourself, you increase the sensitivity of your body at the point of contact.  Furthermore, by relaxing yourself, your opponent will not be able to learn about you.  So what the opponent feels is like touching cotton, soft and without much resistance.  The end result is you know your enemy and your enemy doesn’t know you.

This is why Taiji always emphasizes relaxation and soft movements [2].  Relaxation, then, contributes to both the health aspect and the martial aspect of Taiji.  As a matter of fact, these double benefits apply almost universally to many aspects of Taiji, that is, what is good for health is also good for martial art, and what is good for martial art is also good for health.

When your opponent carries out his attack, you immediately need to do two things.  One is to turn you body so that the attacking force doesn’t end up on your body, at least not fully on your body.  Another is to deflect the attacking force.  Let’s denote the direction of the attacking force as x, then a small force along the perpendicular direction y will be able to deflect that attacking force, because the attacking force has no force component along the y-direction.

This is the fundamental basis of another classic Chinese saying “four ounces can deflect a thousand pounds.”  The word “deflect” means that you apply a force with a component along y, the perpendicular direction of the attacking force.  Since the thousand pound attacking force has no component along the y-direction, a small force in the y-direction will be able to deflect. [3]

Note that the classic Chinese saying doesn’t say that “four ounces can oppose a thousand pounds.”  To oppose successfully against that thousand pound attacking force, you will need a force that is larger than thousand pounds.  Then the person who wins the battle will be the bigger and stronger person.  The classic Chinese saying only says that “four ounces can deflect a thousand pounds.”  In Taiji, a smaller and weaker person can defeat a bigger and stronger opponent.

Supplement Your Opponent’s Attacking Force:  Instead of opposing your opponent’s attacking force head-on, supplement the opponent’s attacking force with a small force along the same direction (direction-x), i.e, yielding.  Then the opponent may over-extend himself, and lose balance.  That is, you just change the victim of this combat from yourself to your opponent.  When we combine this yielding x-force with the previous deflecting y-force, your total response to the opponent’s attack along the x-direction will be a force somewhere between the x-direction and the y-direction.

When the opponent senses that he may be losing balance by over extending himself in the x-direction, he may try to retrieve his attacking arm and change direction and move in the negative x-direction.  Then you also change direction and move in the negative x-direction, and change your defensive motion to an offensive motion by moving your arm forward toward your opponent.  This is precisely what is practiced in the second form “Wild Horse Shakes Its Mane” of the Simplified Yang Style 24 Form.  From yielding as a defensive move to a counter attack as an offensive move is so typical of Taiji that it is reflected in the Taiji symbol

Image result for Taiji symbol

The white fish-like part in the Taiji symbol can be thought of as a defensive move, and the black fish-like part can be thought of as an offensive move.  The small black dot inside the white fish-like part can be thought of as the potential for an offensive move while executing a defensive move.  Similarly, the small white dot inside the black fish-like part can be thought of as the potential for a defensive move while executing an offensive move.  When the Taiji symbol is rotated, the white fish changes into the black fish, and the black fish changes into a white fish, signifying that in Taiji one is in constant motion, changing from a defensive mode to an offensive mode, and changing from an offensive mode to a defensive mode.

If we understand the concept explained in the previous paragraph, we understand the fundamental basis of Taiji, the constant motion and change between defense and offense, which is so eloquently captured in the Taiji symbol.  This fundamental basis of Taiji is already exhibited very early, in the second form of the Simplified Yang Style 24 Form.

Circular Motion and Silk Cocoon Reeling:  The above discusses the importance of yielding and deflection, and then changing from defense to offense, and offense to defense.  This is why Taiji involves a lot of circular motion, in particular, in a technique known as “silk cocoon reeling (缠丝功).”  Silk cocoon reeling refers to the technique of pulling a silk string from a silk worm’s cocoon to provide the ingredient to make silk clothing.  To pull the silk out of the cocoon, one must apply a force.  However, that force must be steady to continue pulling the string, but can not be too large, because the silk string will break easily if the force is too large.  Since the silk is wrapped in a cocoon, the motion of pulling out the silk has to be circular.  This means that the pulling force has to be firm but not too strong and moves in a circular motion, like screwing or unscrewing a screw.  To provide that constant pulling motion without getting tired quickly and without breaking the silk string, the arm must be relaxed and the movement must be soft.

Let’s now discuss how is this related to Taiji push hands.  As discussed previously, the Taiji push hands practitioner must be relaxed to “ting” or to learn about the opponent and not to allow the opponent to learn about you.  He also must yield and deflect, i.e., apply a force that is somewhere between the x-direction and the y-direction if the opponent’s attacking force is along the x-direction.  He also must constantly change from a defensive motion to an offensive motion, and vice versa.  If you visualize a circular motion of your right hand (to be more specific, visualize your right hand doing a clockwise circular motion) while simultaneously moving your right hand slightly backward, you are deflecting and yielding to the opponent’s attacking force.  Furthermore, after you have successfully deflected your opponent’s attack, you launch a counter attack by pushing forward with your hand.  That is precisely what you are doing after your right hand has completed part of the circular motion, and then instead of continuing to move your right hand slightly backward, you now move your right hand forward, i.e., you just changed from defense to offense.

Generate Power Quickly:  When we counter attack against an opponent, for the attack to be effective, there must be sufficient force to the attack.   Since the transition from defense to offense occurs quickly, we must be able to generate power quickly, i.e., “fa-jing.”  The silk cocoon reeling movement is temporarily interrupted with “fa-jing.”  The importance to be able to generate power quickly becomes even more important when as discussed earlier, the transition between defense and offense may be repeating itself constantly.

Brief Summary:  In practicing Taiji Push Hands with a partner, we are utilizing the forms that we learn in practicing the various Taiji form sets in a one-to-one combat situation.  We make use of the basic techniques of Taiji:  relaxation, soft steady movement, “ting,” “yielding,” “fa-jing,” and circular motion as in silk cocoon reeling.  We execute the movements as reflected in the Taiji symbol.  As mentioned in the previous article, PushHands is practiced via initially a series of choreographed-exercises for the two participants (e.g., one-hand, two-hand, stationary, and moving choreographed-exercises), and later to non-choreographed free-style push hands exercises. [4]

[1] “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.”

[2] Soft movement until the time for you to counter attack.  Then you “fa jing,” i.e., generate power quickly.

[3] Of course, the amount of time it takes to deflect depends on the strength of the deflecting force.  If that deflecting force is very small, it will take a long time.  Therefore, in actual combat, that deflecting force cannot be too small.  What is important for the current discussion is to understand the concept:  that a small force in the perpendicular direction of the attacking force can deflect a large attacking force.

[4] There are many books on Taiji Push Hands.  One good reference is the book 太极推手技击传真, 2005 by 王凤鳴 (in Chinese.  My English translation of the title is Treatise on Skills of Taiji Push Hands, 2005 by Wang Feng-Ming).


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