Almost every Chinese martial style, both external and internal, has its own hand-matching training similar to Taiji's pushing hands. In southern external styles it is commonly called Qiao Shou (Bridge Hands) or Pan Shou (Coiling Hands), while in northern external styles it is called Da Shou (Folding Hands) or Dui Shou (Opposite Hands.)
Although the names are different, the purposes are the same. The techniques trained and emphasized by each style reflect the essence of that style, and are usually kept secret to prevent other styles from copying them or learning how to counter them. Once a student accepted as a legitimate student and is taught these exercises, he has begun the serious study of his style.
In Taijiquan, there are also many styles of pushing hands (Tui Shou), since almost every different Taiji style has its own emphasis. Some styles are extremely soft, and therefore emphasize only the soft Jins. Other styles emphasize harder Jin training, which tends to be more easily accepted by beginners. Some styles stress high postures and a small defensive circle while others emphasize low postures and a large circle. Even in the same Taiji style, there are often differences from master to master, according to their emphasis and understanding.
You may start pushing hands anytime after you finish learning the solo sequence, and it should be part of your training for as long as you practice Taiji. You learn to sense and follow your partner without resisting, so that you ultimately understand his strength and use it against him. Pushing hands also gives you a chance to practice the applications of the techniques, which increases your understanding of the sequence. Without such understanding, the sequence remains dead.
Doing Taiji without pushing hands is like buying a car and not learning how to drive. Pushing hands teaches you how to drive in a parking lot. However, even if you can drive skillfully in this lot, it does not mean you are capable of driving on the freeway or in the city. In order to be able to drive in "real traffic," you must also learn the two-person fighting set and free fighting. The fighting set was designed to give fighting experience, which resembles real fighting. This is like driving your car with an instructor's supervision. The last stage, free fighting, is your solo driving traffic.
In pushing hands, the first step is to build up your sensitivity in the sensing Jins—listening Jin and Understanding Jin. These two Jins are the foundation of all Taiji martial techniques, and are developed through the practice of Adhere-Stick Jin. Until you can "hear" and understand the opponent's Jin, you will not be able to understand his intention and power, and will not be able to fight effectively.
After you have grasped the tricks of Listening and Understanding Jins, the next step is to learn how to neutralize, lead, and control the opponent's Jin. Once this is learned, you will be able to react with the various offensive Jins as appropriate to the situation. Naturally, during all your practice you should not forget the fundamentals, such as keeping your body centered, comfortable, and steady, otherwise you will lose your balance. You must remember to coordinate your Qi with your Jins.
Key Points in Pushing Hand Training
There are a number of important principles you should always remember when practicing pushing hands. Theory and practice continually reinforce each other, so your ability and understanding will benefit from repeatedly reading and pondering these written records of the masters.
- The Xin (heart, mind) is quiet (calm).
Use the Xin (heart, mind) to transport the Qi, (the mind) must be sunk (steady) and calm, then (the Qi) can condense (deep) into the bones.
- The body is agile.
Once in motion, every part of the body is light and agile and must be threaded together.
- Qi condenses.
(The mind) leads the Qi flowing back and forth, adhering to the back, then condensing into the spine; strengthen the Spirit of Vitality (Jing-Shen) internally, and express externally peacefully and easily.
- Jin is integrated and balanced.
The root is at the feet, (Jin is) generated from the legs, controlled by the waist and expressed by the fingers. From the feet to the legs to the waist must be integrated, and one unified Qi. When moving forward or backward, you can then catch the opportunity and gain the superior position.
- Spirit is retained.
Shen (Spirit) should be retained internally.
- Qi must be full, stimulated, and sunken to the Dan Tian.
Qi should be full and stimulated. An insubstantial energy leads the head upward. The Qi is sunk to the Dan Tian.
- Qi must circulate freely and reach every place in the body.
Circulate the Qi throughout the body, it (Qi) must be smooth and fluid, then it can easily follow the mind. Transport Qi as though through a pearl with a 'nine-curved hole', not even the tiniest place won't be reached."
- Movements are continuous and not broken.
No part should be defective, no part should be deficient or excessive, no part should be disconnected. Step like a cat walks; applying Jin is like drawing silk from a cocoon.
- The root is firm.
(If) the Bubbling Well (Yongquan cavity) has no root, the waist has no master, (then) you can try hard to learn until you almost die, you will still not succeed.
- The waist is loose and leads the hands.
The Qi is like a cartwheel; the waist is like an axle. In every movement the heart (mind) remains on the waist, the abdomen is relaxed and clear, and Qi rises up.
- Breathing and the Hen-Ha sounds coordinate with the movements.
Grasp and hold the Dan Tian to train internal Gongfu. Hen, Ha, two Qi's are marvelous and infinite.
- Develop a sense of enemy.
Touch (find) the movement in the stillness, (although there is) stillness even in movement. Vary (your) response to the enemy and show the marvelous technique.
- Do not resist. Adhere-connect, stick-follow.
When the opponent is hard, I am soft; this is called yielding. When I follow the opponent, this is called sticking. When the opponent moves fast, I move fast; when the opponent moves slowly, then I follow slowly. Although the variations are infinite, the principle remains the same. When there is pressure on the left, the left becomes insubstantial, when there is pressure on the right, the right becomes insubstantial. Looking upward it seems to get higher and higher; looking downward it seems to get deeper and deeper. When (the opponent) advances, it seems longer and longer; when the opponent retreats, it comes more and more urgent. A feather cannot be added and a fly cannot land. The opponent does not know me, but I know the opponent. A hero has no equal because of all of this.
- Footwork coordinates with the fighting strategy.
Steps change following the body.
- Distinguish substantial and insubstantial.
If there is a top, there is a bottom; if there is a front, there is a back; if there is a left, there is a right. Substantial and insubstantial must be clearly distinguished. Every part (of the body) has a substantial and an insubstantial aspect. The entire body and all the joints should be threaded together without the slightest break.
- The body is upright and centered.
No tilting, no leaning. Stand like a balanced scale, (move) lively like a cartwheel. When standing, the body must be centered, calm and comfortable, so you can handle the eight directions.
The above is an excerpt from Tai Chi Chuan Martial Applications: Advanced Yang Style by Dr. Yang, Jwing-Ming.