Taiji pushing hands theory is deep and wide and covers many related subjects. With this in mind,it is assumed that you already have a full understanding of certain concepts such as the differences in the definition of taiji and taijiquan. You should also have full understanding of the Thirteen Postures of taijiquan as well as the training theories of qigong. The basic concept of taiji pushing hands is to master the skills of eight basic jing patterns and Five Steppings (ba men wu bu, 八門五步). Once you have learned and mastered these skills, you will be able to perform pushing hands actions effectively and eventually you will be able to develop your skills of freestyle sparring. Taijiquan practitioners without the knowledge or training in these basic concepts will have lost the taijiquan training essence and their training will remain shallow. It is similar to building a house without first creating a strong foundation. Without a proper base anything built atop of it will eventually crumble. With this in mind we highly recommend you refer to the various books related to taijiquan at YMAA Publishing before beginning your pushing hands training.
Finally, a practitioner must also understand the six turning secrets. These six key training secrets will provide the practitioner with the knowledge of how to transfer their energy back and forth between yin and yang. It is important to know these methods of exchanging so you can comfortably change movements of interaction and gain control of your opponent.
About Pushing Hands
When discussing the concept of pushing hands we often envision two individuals engaging in an exercise where one is attempting to find the other's center of gravity (i.e., physical center) and push them off balance. In some cases, the tendencies of aggressive behavior evolve into a competitive interaction between the two individuals, and unfortunately the essence of taiji pushing hands becomes lost with one person winning the match through use of force. Pushing hands practice involves the application of taijiquan theory and basic movements into matching actions with a partner. To further understand the nature of taiji pushing hands we will explore a few theories written by taijiquan masters.
Taijiquan uses pushing hands training to practice the applications. Learning pushing hands means learning feeling jing. When there is feeling jing, then understanding jing is not difficult. Therefore, The Total Thesis (of Taijiquan) said: "from understanding jing then gradually reach the spiritual enlightenment." There is no doubt that this sentence is rooted in (built upon) pushing hands. Peng (i.e., wardoff), lü (i.e., rollback), ji (i.e., press), and an (i.e., push), four (jing) patterns are the stationary pushing hands of adhering, connecting, attaching, and following which give up self and follow the opponent.
Master Yang, Cheng-Fu (楊澄甫) illustrates here that the progression of understanding taijiquan applications is through pushing hands training. Through it you are able to build your skills of feeling. You will also note the emphasis on giving up oneself and following the opponent. By doing so you will learn to understand your opponent's intention and lead them into emptiness. These four basic jing (勁) patterns of stationary pushing hands are the main essence of learning this.
To give up myself and follow the opponent is to abandon my idea and follow the opponent's movements. This is the most difficult thing (i.e., training) in taijiquan. Because when two persons are exchanging hands (i.e., combating), the conception of winning and losing is serious. (In this case) the opponent and I will not endure each other, not even mentioning that when mutually (we) are attacking each other or mutually stalemating with each other and (you) are asked to give up your right (of trying to win in a resisting competition). What is called to give up yourself and follow the opponent is not only explained from the words. In our Dao (i.e., the Dao of taijiquan), its hidden meaning is extremely profound. (In order to understand them and apply them in action) the practitioner must put a gongfu in the four words: solely focus in cultivating the human nature.
"Four words" means wardoff, rollback, press, and push. From this Wu-style taijiquan secret, we can see that the most profound and difficult part of taiji pushing hands is to release the ego and learn to be aware of incoming forces. We tend to be competitive in nature and at times we allow the emotional bond of the ego and the need to win to control our actions, leading to mutual resistance in a pushing hands engagement. When you are able to let go of your emotion and be patient, you can then allow yourself to follow and adhere to your opponent's will. By learning to cultivate your emotional mind you will learn to manipulate your opponent's intent and lead them to emptiness.
[Leading]:"(When) lead (the coming force) to enter the emptiness, unite and then immediately emit," "(Use) four ounces to repel one thousand pounds." Unification means repelling. If (one) can comprehend this word, (then) he is the one born to wisdom.
Master Wǔ, Cheng-Qing (武澄清) further expands upon the concept of leading your opponent into emptiness. Four ounces to repel one thousand pounds is a term common to taijiquan practices and pushing hands training. This basic concept relates to the necessity of using the skills of listening, adhering, and following rather than resisting when engaging your opponent. This process of leading involves the development of unification between you and your opponent's mind intent. Once you understand this you will further understand the depths of taiji pushing hands.
The classic says: "Although in techniques, there are many side doors (i.e., other martial arts styles), after all, it is nothing more than the strong beating the weak." Also says: "Investigate (consider) the saying of four ounces repel one thousand pounds. It is apparent that this cannot be accomplished by strength." That the strong beating the weak is due to the pre-birth natural capability that is born with it. It (the capability) is not obtained through learning. What is called "using the four ounces to repel one thousand pounds" is actually matching the theory of using the balance (i.e., leverage). It does not matter the lightness or the heaviness of the body, the large or the small of the force, can shift the opponent's weighting center, and (finally) move his entire body. Therefore, the reason that the movements of taijiquan are different from other (martial) techniques is because they do not defeat the opponent with force. Furthermore, (it) can not only strengthen the tendons, keep the bones healthy, and harmonize the qi and blood, but also be used to cultivate (i.e., harmonize) the body and (mental) mind, keep away from sickness and extend the life. (It) is a marvelous Dao of post-heaven body cultivation.
Once again the author reminds us that taijiquan is an art that emphasizes softness in actions. It is different in that it doesn't rely on the stiffness of blocking but instead focuses on matching your opponent through the use of listening and following. The whole body and mind are relaxed and centered. Using this leverage the individual can move the opponent completely without force.
Ancient people said: "If (one is) able to lead (the coming force) into emptiness, (one) can (use) the four ounces to repel one thousand pounds; if (one is) unable to lead (the coming force) into the emptiness, (one) is unable to (use) the four ounces to repel one thousand pounds." This saying is quite correct and conclusive. The beginners are unable to comprehend (this saying). I would like to add a few sentences to explain this. (This will) allow those practitioners who have strong will to learn these techniques (i.e., taijiquan) be able to follow the opponent and have progress daily.
Master Li, Yi-She (李亦畬) also says that one should understand the concept of using four ounces to repel one thousand pounds of force. Once again, the foundation of taijiquan pushing hands is to lead an incoming force into emptiness. This is done through the skills of listening and following. He goes on to say that the skills of listening and following are necessary for knowing your opoonent, which means discerning his intentions and capabilities. Listening and following are also needed to know yourself, which means knowing how to harmoniously cooerdinate your mind, body, and spirit. You will find these written words located in the book, Tai Chi Secrets of the Wǔ and Li Styles, by Dr. Yang, Jwing-Ming available at YMAA Publication Center.
The above is an excerpt from Tai Chi Push Hands by David Grantham and Dr. Yang, Jwing-Ming, Pub Date November 2020, published by YMAA Publication Center, ISBN: 9781594396458