Once Upon a Push Hands 3

Part 1 is here and Part 2 here.

Our thinking today is shaped by the prevailing things around us. For example when we think that an approach is scientific we tend to think in terms of biomechanics and associate this with mathematical equations and lab studies to prove a hypothesis.

However, this does not mean that the logic of Tai Chi which is not couched in concepts, analogies and strategies are any less scientific. As I was writing Part 2 of this series I came across information on the Wu (Hao) style master, Yao Jizu. As you know one of the forms in the syllabus that I teach is a form called Kai He (Open Close) which is the name given to the Wu (Hao) style long form in Dong style Tai Chi. So naturally I would be interested in information on Wu (Hao) style Tai Chi.

I want to highlight some information from this post which you can read in its entirety here. One theory which I mention to students but have not written in any blog posts in that the Yang style of Grandmaster Wei Shuren should be very similar to what Wu (Hao) style is like through the historical connections between Yang Luchan and Wu Yixiang.

Though my only study of the Wu (Hao) style is confined to that of the long form that is found in the Dong style I would venture an opinion that the fundamental 6 forces and 2 augmentative forces of Grandmaster Wei’s Yang style can be easily implemented in the Wu (Hao) style movements. This begs the question would historically the use of jing in Wu (Hao) be the same or very similar to that of Yang style?

I have to answer that your guess is as good as mine. The Wu (Hao) style lay heavy emphasis on the use of opening and closing hence the alternate name, Kai He, for the form. However, opening and closing is but one of various methods of using jing in Yang style.

After I read the article on Yao Jizu I cannot but help being struck by what is written because it basically describes some of the things we do in Yang style too.

In doing our push hands game I stress to students to pay attention to not resisting and not letting go. Some understand what I mean but many are skeptical. Look at how Master Yao described this principle; it is practically the same in essence as what I told my students <sigh> :-

When explaining the principle of ‘bu diu bu ding‘ [don’t lose contact or resist], he said that it wasn’t just about not losing contact with the opponents, the amount of pressure had to be just right. To illustrate, he dragged a matchbox around a tabletop. He told us that if you used too much force [ding], the matchbox would be stuck to the table and wouldn’t move; if you used too little force [diu], your hand would slide off the matchbox and it still wouldn’t move. It is only if you use just the right amount of pressure that you can drag the box around as you please – the same applies to pushing hands.

Whenever I explain to a student how to apply the principle of Rollback I would say that the waist and legs must do the job, the arms move minimally to stick, listen and bait. As for Master Yao this is what he said :-

…… in interpreting the principle of ‘my opponent doesn’t know me, I alone know him’ [ren bu zhi wo, wo du zhi ren], he emphasised that the hands should not wave about in pushing hands, because following and hitting the opponent is mostly in the waist and legs, the point of contact is merely a conduit for jin.

In my earlier years it is common for me to fajing as soon as contact is made but as time went by I reduced this a lot, to the point whereby now when doing push hands game the aim is not so much to fajing the other person but to control and gently unbalance him. This is actually the application of the principle of Grasp Sparrow’s Tail from Yang style. Part of the training that I went through with my Dong style teacher was in just following and flowing. Read what Master Yao’s thoughts are on this :-

Thus, in pushing hands, he required his students to practice launching less and focus on practicing sticking and following [zhan nian lian sui]. When he pushed hands with us, he would often ‘lock up’ the force we gave him and we would have to follow him forwards, backwards, all the while not seeing his hands moving much. This is called ‘quan da bu zhi‘[hitting without the opponent knowing?]. He told us, if you can lock someone up with your shenfa, you can hit them at anytime, so we shouldn’t be too eager to launch people.

Finally, in regards to fajing the description of Master Yao doing fajing is very similar to what we do in Yang style :-

In 1981 Miura Hideo, the director of the Japan Taichichuan Association, during a Japanese taijiquan delegation’s visit to China pushed hands with M Yao. M Yao raised his hands in front of his chest in a ‘peng’ posture. As soon as Miura pressed on M Yao’s arm, he was launched out by a motionless M Yao.

Fortunately for us there are videos of Master Yao out there. I have found two; one has him demonstrating the form and the other showing spear practice and push hands. My students would no doubt recognize some of the things we do in the push hands clip.


Spear Practice & Push Hands

I always say that we should look to the forms for information as they are our main reference material. Forms trump lineages and ranks in terms of advancing your Tai Chi skills. This is why masters in the past are careful about divulging forms to the point where sometimes they don’t even mention the existence of certain forms and when they do they don’t show them. If you manage to get them to show these forms they may demonstrate them with movements missing, abbreviated or changed so that you never get the proper and complete information.

A number of forms were used for reference and research in configuring the approach of push hands game. Ultimately, I don’t think push hands game is really required because the information is already encoded into the different forms. If anything push hands game is a learning approach for those who have problems seeing and ultimately using the forms to help them Master Tai Chi Today.


Want to learn Tai Chi in Singapore? At Singapore Yang Style Combat Tai Chi lessons covering forms, weaponry, push hands, fajing and applications are offered. Lessons are conducted in English. Send enquiry today at the link here.

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