Taijiquan martial techniques contain four categories of fighting techniques: kicking, striking, wrestling, and qin na (ti, da, shuai, na; 踢、打、摔、拿). That means almost all movements were created with the possibility of applying these four categories in a battle. Therefore, as a martial taijiquan practitioner, you should understand and familiarize yourself with these four categories of skills. Even after you understand the theory and techniques, it does not mean you are able to fight. You must know how to apply it while engaging your opponent. You still need partners to train with so you are able to build your reflexes. Remember, when you are in battle, you will not have time to think. You must react without thinking. Once you have developed your reflexes and are able to react accurately and automatically, you need to accumulate experience.
Taiji pushing hands provides the bridge to applying the knowledge of the sequence in action for freestyle fighting. Over time you will expand your knowledge of taijiquan through the practice of a taijiquan fighting set. This eighty-eight-form structured fighting set allows the individual to apply the techniques of pushing hands training and further deepen knowledge of taiji fighting. If you wish to explore the taiji fighting set, please refer to the book Tai Chi Martial Applications and the DVD, Tai Chi Fight Set by YMAA Publications.
One cannot deny the importance of knowing the Thirteen Postures and the applications of such. At this level of training, you should already have some fundamental knowledge of these Thirteen Postures and how to apply them for martial techniques. If not, it is highly recommended you refer to other books on this material.
You can find this subject explored in detail in many of the taijiquan books available at YMAA Publication Center. In addition to the theories of the Thirteen Postures, we would like to introduce you to a few theories and the common terminology used in taijiquan fighting such as the concepts of empty doors and windows as well as rings and circles. These are common terms of which the taijiquan practitioner should be aware when training with a partner in pushing hands as well as when applying strategies in taijiquan martial application.
The Thirteen Postures, (are derived) according to the theory of five elements and eight trigrams. They are the thirteen total jings of pushing hands. There are not another Thirteen Postures. The five elements are advance, retreat backward, beware of the left, look to the right, and central equilibrium. They can be interpreted by dividing into internal and external. Those applied to external are advance forward, retreat backward, beware of the left, look to the right, and central equilibrium. Those applied to the internal are attaching, connecting, adhering, following, and not lose contact and not resist.
十三勢者,按五行八卦原理,即推手之十三種總勁,非另有十三個姿 勢。五行者,即進、退、顧、盼、定之謂。分為內外兩解。行於外 者,即前進、後退、左顧、右盼、中定。行於內者,即粘、連、黏、 隨、不丟頂。
In this passage Master Wu, Gong-Zao (吳公藻) speaks of the Thirteen Postures being related to taiji pushing hands. Taijiquan was developed from the theory of yin and yang. We know that yin and yang are two opposite poles which, as described by Master Wong, Zong-Yue (王宗岳), divides when in motion. Yin and yang divide into four phases and, in turn, the four phases divide into eight trigrams. These eight trigrams correspond to the eight basic moving patterns of taijiquan. Just as eight postures of the thirteen are related to eight trigrams, five of the postures are related to five elements. These elements are metal (jin, 金), wood (mu, 木), water (shui, 水), fire (huo, 火), and earth (tu, 土). Each element corresponds to the Five Steppings of taijiquan. Master Wu continues to describe the internal aspects and external aspects of the Five Steppings. The pushing hands practitioner and taijiquan martial artist must be able to combine the internal and external aspects of the five postures (steppings) smoothly in order to gain the advantage over the opponent.
The secret of thirteen total postures, few people have learned since ancient times. (Those) who have the predestined relationship (with me) have a deep fortune (today), (I) break the rules and tell you (this secret). Arc the arms, must be round and alive (i.e., peng jing), (when) the hands go out (i.e., contact with the opponent), (first) ask the feeling (i.e., ting jing). When opponent ('s power) is void I press (i.e., ji jing) and when the opponent ('s power) is solid, (I) sink (my) elbow and repel (i.e., hua jing). Wardoff diagonally (i.e., lie jing) upward from outside, (the opponent) will lean backward and cannot stand firmly.
Master Li, Yi-She (李亦畬) tells us that few individuals have learned the true essence of taijiquan postures. He goes on to say that he will break the rules of secrecy and expose strategies of the Thirteen Postures. For instance, he explains the nature of wardoff energy (peng jing, q勁) with respect to arcing the arms in a round manner and keeping the movement alive, not just remaining in a stagnate position. Once again, we see the reference to making contact and listening to the opponent's power or intent. When they are void of power you may apply press jing (ji jing, 擠勁), and if they are solid you may drop your elbow and neutralize this force with redirection. Finally, you will see the reference to warding off diagonally from the outside to uproot your opponent (i.e., diagonal flying; xie fei shi, 斜飛勢).
When encountering the opponent's peng (i.e., wardoff) do not enter the territory (i.e., formed in his arcing arms). (When this happens), to attach and adhere (with the opponent) without separating is really difficult. To shut off the peng you must use the cai (i.e., pluck) and lie (i.e., split). When these two techniques have become real (i.e., succeeded), (the opponent will be) urgent without rescue. An (i.e., push) can be used to firm the four sides; consequently, the corners have different variations. Once attaching with (opponent's) hands, immediately occupy the most (advantageous position) first. Lü (i.e., rollback) and ji (i.e., press) two techniques should be applied when the opportunities allow. When zhou (i.e., elbow) and kao (i.e., bump) are used to attack, the heels are ahead first (i.e., techniques follow stepping). When there is an opportunity and an advantageous position, advance forward and retreat backward (to seize the opportunity). Gu (i.e., beware to the left) and pan (i.e., look to the right) are used within one third front and two thirds rear of attention. The solid power of the entire body depends on the yi (i.e., mind) and ding (i.e., central equilibrium). (The skills of) ting (i.e., listening jing) and probe (the opponent's intention) (i.e., understanding jing), follow, and (then) neutralize are all related to the spirit and qi. (When) seeing the (opponent's) firmness, (I) do not attack (but) gain (i.e., keep) my offensive situation (i.e., advantageous position). The day that the gongfu can be accomplished is (the day) when the entire body acts as a complete unit. (If ) train- ing without following the applications of the body (i.e., postures), (even) have cultivated (i.e., trained) until the end (i.e., death) the art is (still) hard to refine.
Master Yang, Yu (Ban-Hou)(楊鈺)(班侯) explains the application of the Thirteen Postures of taijiquan. Strategies are given such as the use of wardoff (peng jing, q勁) and the difficult nature of sticking with someone who applies this posture. About applying wardoff (peng jing, q勁), he mentions the use of pluck (cai jing, 採勁) and split (lie jing, e勁) to dissolve it and lead the opponent away from being centered. He continues with the use of push (an jing, 按勁) for sealing as well as the use of rollback (lü jing, w勁) and press (ji jing, 擠勁) being used in succession when the opportunity arises. Elbow (zhou, 肘) and bump (kao, 靠) are also mentioned along with the importance of keeping your central equilibrium while stepping to apply such forces. Finally, he places emphasis on the mind, spirit, and body training. Each is a separate component but they all act as one as the student continuously trains applications to reach a high level of skill.
One should be cautious when engaging an opponent of high skill level. Knowing the opponent's skill is accomplished through listening and understanding.
The above is an excerpt from Tai Chi Push Hands: The Martial Foundation of Tai Chi Chuan by David Grantham and Dr. Yang, Jwing-Ming, Publication date November 1, 2020, published by YMAA Publication Center, ISBN: 978-1-59439-645-8.