Wuwei Foundation - A Study of T'ai Chi Push-Hands

"I highly recommend it to anyone interested in a higher-level understanding of this subject - it's written by Xiang Kai Zhang, who began his Push-Hands training under Chen Wei-ming, and later studied Wu style push-hands with Wang Ruen.  His "personal recollections" near the end of this treatise are especially interesting and valuable, imho." - Michael Phillips

One of the all-time Best expositions of the theory of Push-Hands. Read the entire article here: http://www.wuwei.org/Taiji/Push-hands.html

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By Xiang Kai Zhang

People who practice T'ai Chi Ch'uan all know that practicing the form is the body (t'i), practicing push-hands is the use (yung). But are body and usage two different affairs? In order to answer this question, we must first clarify what is body: what is usage? Practicing the form, one never departs from the "13 Postures"; practicing the usage one also never departs from the the "13 Postures". Without the 13 Postures there is neither T'ai Chi Ch'uan nor push-hands.

The 13 Postures are:

  • peng (ward-off)
  • lu (roll-back)
  • chi (press)
  • an (push)
  • ts'ai (pull-down)
  • lieh (split)
  • chou (elbow)
  • k'ao (shoulder stroke)
  • chin (advance)
  • t'ui (retreat
  •  ku (look left)
  • p'an (look right)
  • ting (central equilibrium)

This is again well known by all. But when the average individual practices T'ai Chi Ch'uan or push-hands, does he pay attention to each of these thirteen postures? Naturally there are some who know that they must pay attention to this; but there are also many who imitate mindlessly. I dare say that even among those who practice the thirteen postures assiduously, there are those who practice the form but cannot "get it" or who practice the usage but cannot grasp the usage. Because of this the "Song of the Thirteen Postures" says, "If you don't diligently search for the meaning, you will only waste your effort and sigh (from disappointment)." Practicing the form is equivalent to understanding the essence of push-hands usage. Practicing the push-hands one utilizes applications attained from form practice. We can say that the entire body (or form) is functional and that the entire function (all applications) has a body. Accordingly, is there no difference between practicing form and push-hands? Yes, there is a distinction. Below, I will record what ancient T'ai Chi Ch'uan theoreticians have written regarding push-hands. After presenting my interpretations, we shall draw some conclusions. And finally, I will present research gleaned through my personal experience in push-hands. The T'ai Chi Ch'uan Classic says, "When the opponent is hard and I am soft, this is called tsou (yielding, moving away). When I follow harmoniously and the opponent gets backed up, this is called chan (adhering)." "Hard" has the significance of an attack.

But this should not be a hardness that is forceful or stiff. Rather, a good example would be the attacking movements of ward-off or press as used in push-hands. "Soft" has the significance of protecting, guarding or conserving (shou). But this should not be a softness that is weak or limp. Rather, a good example would be the defensive movements of roll-back or push as used in push-hands. Although "hard" and "soft" are nouns which stand in opposition as attack and defense, one should completely rely on i (intention, mindfulness, inner meaning) and posture. One should never use stiff, forceful energy to attack.


At this time, since Master Wang was teaching at Honan University, it was not easy to meet. After half a year I chanced upon him and excitedly began to demonstrate for him. He smiled and nodded his head, saying, "Although you are not at the heart of it, you are not far! You only know that the control is in the waist, but you have overlooked the word 'between' in the saying, 'The meaning and source of life is between the kidneys (here, kidneys means waist),' and you have skipped over the word 'middle' in the saying, 'You must at all times keep the mind in the middle of the waist.' You must understand that these two words show the location of the 'life meridian' of T'ai Chi Ch'uan. From these two sayings we can also see from whence comes the name 'T'ai Chi Ch'uan'. If you are unable to find this, then you will not find 'central equilibrium' among the Thirteen Postures. Moreover, how will you understand the principle of 'When you move, everything moves. When you are still, everythiing is still.' ? It is true that this theory is quite abstruse and not easy to grasp. And it is even more difficult to actually experience in the body. If one speaks of this to beginners, it is not only of no benefit, but, to the contrary, it would cause them to be skeptical and disparaging. Therefore the ancients did not lightly or easily pass on their knowledge. It is not that they were scared of people knowing, but that they were scared of people not knowing." When I heard this profound instruction, I was so grateful that I felt like crying.

The theories and experiences which I have shared above are, I feel, the most precious cultural heritage to be gleaned from our people's physical education and exercises. I felt that I should present this openly to the public. There are many people practicing T'ai Chi Ch'uan and not a few books on the subject. However, there are still very few who have written specifically and systematically on the theory of push-hands. So I have written this essay as a reference and study guide for all who love T'ai Chi Ch'uan.

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