Pushing hands or Tui Shou is one of the methods to work together with a partner, which is admitted in the so-called “inner” Kung Fu schools, such as Taijiquan or Bagua-Quan. They say that Tui Shou is the Gates for students entering in which they can experience the practical (applied) aspects of the martial arts. Up until the student learns and improves solo technique, fulfill his body with certain qualities, he does not feel any external forces. For example, in the individual taolus (without a partner), he just creates the opposite forces within his body. The Empty is replaced by the Full, the Opening is alternated with the Closing, the Explosion passes into the Serenity. This way of creating and managing of paired forces teaches the body and mind to master the basic model of Yang and Yin interaction, which back up any style of the martial arts (M. A.) However, carrying out the paired practice and crossing hands with the partner, the previously ephemeral (conceptual) technical images are instantly evident as reality.

Tui Shou: the basic principles

Yin and Yang are no longer an abstraction, but a reality that can dash against the wall, pin to the ground and take your life off. The practice of Tui Shou is aimed at fostering the skills of mastering the forces coming from the outside. The aspects such as balance, reflex, sensitivity, internal sense, coordination, spatial orientation are successfully revealed in Tui Shou. The main obstacle to success in Tui Shou is the nature of the human body which instinctively triggers the confrontation reflex under the life-threatening. To the force a person instinctively responds with the force. The decision of the conflict - as you understand - not always can solve the problem in the defender’s favor. Therefore, the first rule in Tui Shou is the rejection of any idea of confrontation with the partner. No matter how you sorrow for your Ego, you have to control it. Do not respond to the force with the force, but listen to this, redirect it in the right direction and use as a source of additional energy in the counter-attack. On a par with many tangible physical qualities, Tui Shou allows to develop something intangible, namely, Ting Jing — the power of listening, the sensitivity to the feelings. This is a subtle ability to recognize the partner’s intentions, primarily through tactile, optic and auditory channels. The Tui Shou’s purpose is detection, neutralization and use of the external force for one’s goals. The Tui Shou’s birth refers to the mid 17th century. The founder of one of the areas of Taiji Quan (later called by his name) was Chen Wang Ting. He introduced into his school exercises, which were originally called the crossed hands (Ke Shou). There was also another name — the striking hands (Da Shou). In the process of crystallization of the new method, Master Chen found it possible to practice Tui Shou not only with bare hands, but also with a pike. These days Tui Shou is often associated with the sports direction Pushing Hands.
Tui Shou cultivates the three basic principles of conduct upon contact with the external aggressive influence.

1. Rooting. This is the formation of an effective balanced and adequately changing position (stance) under the influence of the external forces.

2. Keeping out (flexibility). This is the formation of the ability to follow along with the direction of the external force coming from any angle without compromising its own balance (rooting).

3. Energy release. This is the formation of the ability to return the force, consisting of its own energy and “borrowed” from the opponent, to the attacking object. As a part of the diverse paired practice, Tui Shou is unique in the way that it creates the safe environment of the training (in contrast to traumatic sparring and free fighting). Mutually friendly behavior of partners allows removing the psychological barrier of injury and pain fear. In this mode, there is a possibility of using regulated, known to both parties, motions to refer to the inner qualities and possibilities of the human body; to release those instincts that can be useful for combat. Fear as a normal emotion, associated with the trigger instinct of self-preservation, is not a dominant factor in Tui Shou. On the back of mutual support, partners work profitably for each other. Instead of the brute force the objects of their practice are much deeper and more subtle processes of establishing the relationship between “psyche” and “physics” of the body. There comes the time of the “inner” work. All this does not mean harmless, unpunished, relaxed laxity while accomplishing Tui Shou. The methods of testing and correction don’t allow losing vigilance and are embodied in tangible impulses, disturbing equanimity and dashes.


How to practice Tui Shou, or the necessary skills

The first practices of Tui Shou, the close constant contact with the opponent continuously changes the consciousness of the participants from the solution of one problem to another, there appear chaos and sense of helplessness. The best thing one can do in this situation is to take a deep breath and relax. “Nobody has ever eaten the whole elephant at a heat”. Therefore, it is useful to understand what issues the Tui Shou technique is able to solve and then begin the practice anew, deliberately. First of all, it brings up some essential combat skills.

1. Ting Ching. The ability of “hearings”. In radiotechnics there is the term “white noise”. It's messy, chaotic signal background, often blacking out the main information signal. To learn to hear the outside information means, first of all, to get rid of the “white noise” of one’s inner thoughts, alternating in a stream. Using the general relaxation it is necessary to “put the filter” to all that is not relevant to the present moment. Then, in the state of rest, when you forgot (left) your “Me”, tactile, optical or auditory signals will be strong and absolutely clear to understand.

2. Zhan Lian Nian Sui. The ability “to touch, to bind, to adhere, and to follow”. The thin division of the simple integral act as touching the partner's hand and following it is not accidental. Each of these skills requires attention, and together they form the core of such skill, as “conversion” of the external efforts. The moment of “listening” of the partner starts with the moment of the first touch — Zhan. This is followed by Lian — the binding of touching points to the process of movement. All of this together and in parallel lead to Nian, or “adhering” to the point of listening. Sui is the following in the direction of the external force; it completes this phase of work.

3. Zou. The ability of “walking” (moving) in Tui Shou differs in purposefulness. One has to maneuver so that the partner is out of balance. There are three factors: time, space and effort. Through contact, a partner must form a false, illusory goal, while attacking it he would fall into an unbalanced position. Choose the moment of your actions (movement) adequately: time. Move as much as the situation requires, filling the void provided by the partner and creating a niche for his efforts: space. Move in accordance with the vectors of effort that come from the partner in the mode of yielding to the moment, when your capacity begins to exceed the diminishing supply of the partner: effort. Be sensitive in your maneuvering.

4. Yin Jin. The ability of “asking” akin to the ability to create traps for the partner. Intentionally “asking” him to take up unprofitable position, breaking its structure (raising or lowering the center of body mass), providing false information about one’s intentions, it is possible to compel the other party to act in a favorable manner.

5. Hua Jin. The ability of “converting” the power of the partner is a fraud. Attacking, until the last moment one must be sure in attainability of the goal, although in fact there has already been occurred the transformation of the moment and the initial attacking force directed away from the goals and the success turns into a loss for the aggressor.

These are just some examples of what can be guided in the practice of Tui Shou.

Full amount of pair work in the “inner” fields of Kung Fu and the schools using the “inner and external practice” consists of five sections, in accordance with the metaphoric scheme of the “Five elements”:

Tui Shou — pushing hands, the element (symbol) — Water.

Ding Kang — paired supports, the element (symbol) — Earth.

Xiang Zhuang – paired pushings, the element (symbol) - Tree.

Pao Shou — “exploding” arms, the element (symbol) - Fire.

Qin Na — dashes and hacks, the element (symbol) — Metal.

Matching the element (the image) of Water, Tui Shou is the smoothest form of the practice. Many verbal images can characterize Water. To give a deeper understanding of the underlying qualities, acquired in the course of the practice of Tui Shou, here are some of the qualities: the smoothness, the amenability, the fluidity, the continuity, the permeability, the power, the occupancy rate, etc. Not in vain in many modern Chinese novels and the old Taoist literature, the poetic image of Water is used as a metaphor for Dao.


Tui Shou as an expression of the Taoist concept of the dialectical understanding of the world

The Taoist religious and philosophical concept of the dialectical understanding of the world surrounding the human being, the all-pervading dualism of the dispensation, found their concrete physical expression in the particular case of the Tui Shou technique. Crossing the hands in practice, the two men begin to show the two polar energies Yin and Yang. If one of them attacks another, the aggressive (positive) qualities and compliance to the metaphorical image of Jan are peculiar to him. The second opponent concedes this force, trying to work with it. His image at this point is Yin. Cyclic change of defense and attack, alternating with the manifestation of aggressive force and inferior works, is similar to the metaphorical flow of Yang and Yin. To understand this process notionally is not so difficult. However, for a physically untrained and psychologically inhibited person to follow the natural principle of harmonious interaction of the energies of Yang and Yin is quite difficult. For this is the main principle of Tui Shou!

Escape, response aggression, consternation are three absolutely normal reactions to external threats that are launched by the human body unconsciously with the trigger of one of the fundamental human instincts, self-preservative instinct. To survive at all costs — this is the evolutionary heritage hidden in our DNA! In this regard, it is difficult to predict what strategic plan will be launched by the internal “Me” in a dark deserted alley. A hefty gym-rat may hunker down from fear and cover his head with the hands at the sight of the glitter of a blade from the pocket. At the same time, a slender girl will jump desperately to confront her offender’s attacks with her bag, tear the skin on the faces with sharp nails and bite his griping hands with the teeth. One can resent the unresponsive behavior in the first case, or admire the courage in the second one. By the way, the courage is born as the result of suppressed fear. However, all three lines of behavior - escape, mindless courage and passivity - are flawed. After such situations the victims can hardly remember what happened, and pop-up details are presented in a distorted way. People are not able to constructively analyze the nature of conflict, and, consequently, they learned nothing. If there happens a similar situation again, the result will be the same, or even sadder. The conclusion is clear: one has no experience. It is necessary to deeply understand the truth that not the situation itself is fearful, but how we react to it, what we are doing in this regard.

Tui Shou helps to break the vicious circle of fear in front of aggression, because the constant contact with the body of the opponent allows one to track (to feel) all the stages of a full attack action and to build the appropriate and adequate response. Any attack has phases of development. At the initial moment of acceleration the inertia of the launched mass is such that the destructive power of the attack is insignificant. The verb “attack” is concordant with the “Take that!” So, it means that the weight of any body part in the attacking becomes hardly controlled, although the destructive power at this stage, of course, can be significant. The appropriate response in this case will be help to the aggressor in his falling. A practical solution to neutralize the attack at this stage is radically different from “Take that!” Here, Tui Shou offers: to adhere, to follow (according to the force vector), to reject and to use. As you can see, simple logic says that there shouldn’t be fear aggression. The situation can be got under control. After all, the Fortuna is kind to the one who has wider range of actions. The attacker is limited. Having started the attacks, the attackers cannot stop the inertia of movements of their body mass. At the same time, following the attack vector, the partner can wait until the last moment, having multiple solutions of the problem to an action. The whole matter of the conflict from a position of Tui Shou, as you can see, is considered under another point of view. Being united, the two previously independent systems create a fundamentally new situation which one has to stop running away from, to fight it or to enter into mental block (please refer to the article “Systematicity in the Martial Arts” by I. Messing across the Jook Lum club’s website). Tui Shou brings up the sensitivity of perception of the previously elusive nuances of the actual event to live with them, and appropriately and effectively respond to them. At first, in the Tui Shou exercises it can be difficult to get rid of the two errors.

1. The desire to fight with a partner, to prevail, to win. This is akin to the same vicious tactics to respond to aggression with aggression, negative consequences of which have already been discussed. In the paired practice, they completely destroy the idea of Tui Shou. Termination of “listening” of the partner leads to physical exchange of attacks.

2. Excessive protecting the partner. Sorrowing for your partner, you don’t give him the efforts of the attack to which he has to rely in his answer. You do not help, but hinder him and yourself to practice.

To eliminate these errors one applies the test actions. Excessive aggressiveness can be responded with much deeper “keeping out” and gives the opponent the opportunity to “fail" in the attack or helps to lose balance. In the case of lethargy and passivity, the partner is punished by pushing, pulling or dash. Dynamic balance in the paired practice comes through the tactile experience of “listening” of the partner’s intentions. The power of the external signals depends on two diametrically opposite conditions. On the one hand, deep mental and physical relaxation is necessary. On the other hand, there is necessary the strict concentration on what is happening: the presence of “here and now”. It's interesting that whether you want to or not, the practice of constant contact with a partner sooner or later leads to a reflex skill of joining the incoming power and the ability to return it back to the attacker.

A brief illustration of one form of Tui Shou for the two hands of the school “Jook Lum” is shown at original Russian text of this article.


Igor Messing

Translated by Ekaterina Pryamova
“Jook Lum” St. Petersburg, Russia

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