Tui Shou (Scattering Hands / Push Hands), the term Scattering Hands immediately conjures a sense of the martial. Tui Shou translates as Push Hands in English, a bit of a misnomer as one would think that only the hands are being used and the actions consists only of pushing. That being the case, this would be eons from the truth.
Why the name Tui Shou and for what purpose was it created? Opinions on this are varied. From here onwards, I will use the term Push Hands. Within the style of Tai Chi Chuan I practise, as taught by the master Dan Docherty (Wudang Practical Tai Chi Chuan), there are eight major pushing hand drills each one different to the other including a few minor drills also.
We now reside in a time where many seem to be searching for some ease in this somewhat hectic and chaotic lifestyle, a less stressful existence, more zen I’ve heard said. This being the case there appears to be a definite leaning to all actions becoming the sole domain of the Yin element. As a result of this development an issue of imbalance arises. To maintain the natural order the forces of Yin and Yang must retain their equilibrium, for without this equilibrium chaos will ensue, yes, you see where I am leading to. Too much Yin cannot be a good thing. The same is true of too much Yang. I draw attention to this as there appears to be a very large contingent among the tai chi fold who seem hellbent on ensuring that all push hand practice be conducted in a very yin manner lacking any yang aspect.
We need to take a step back and ask honestly why was there a need for the creation of push hand exercises. Some claim that the purpose was to enable one player to locate and follow their pushing hand partner’s chi flow. Too simplistic for me. I can’t accept that centuries ago, when life and limb depended on their martial skills, pugilists would agree to cross hands with their rivals, standing seemingly immobile, in order to locate each other’s chi flow. I don’t accept this notion. I also refuse to accept the growing consensus among many modern teachers of push hands, that force should not be used during push hand practice. After all, yin and yang are both forces. The tai chi classics do state that yin is used to combat yang and yang is used to combat yin. Why should strength/force not be used during push hand practice? If one is truly endowed with tai chi skill and has mastered its core principles they then ought to be perfectly able to neutralise an adversary’s strength/force. The problem I think lies in the fact that far too many who profess to be expert are found lacking when called upon to demonstrate their skills against someone of superior physical strength. Their lack of such expertise becomes sadly exposed. As a result, they then set upon a path of almost total sanitisation of their tai chi push hands by decreeing one must never use force during push hand practice thus enabling them to push unsuspecting and compliant students from pillar to post. Here the bible springs to mind as there are many who claim to be believers but who choose to distort its teachings to promote their lack of true understanding and their own particular dogma.
My belief as to the creation of push hands was to enable the martial artist to practise skills with a partner at close quarters which would greatly enhance his ability to deal with a potentially life-threatening situation at close proximity among many other benefits. I believe there to be three fighting ranges, they are kicking, punching and grappling. It is the third range, grappling, which is relevant and the one in which push hands comes into its element. Cast your mind back to seeing two professional boxers fight (Western style), the moment one gets seriously hurt his immediate impulse is to grab hold of his opponent. We have now entered the domain of push hands. Push hand drills are all uniquely a two person routine utilising two or four hands depending on the particular drill being performed. It is absolutely imperative that the arms are adhered to during practice. This adherence acts as a kind of radar, an early warning system by which we are able to detect the minutest of muscular impulse emanating from our partner and deal with it in an appropriate manner i.e. diversion or otherwise. If we are to have any hope in push hands then we must adopt what I consider to be five essential imperatives.
Adherence: By adhering to the opponent’s arms we are able to detect his slightest intention before it becomes fully developed. At the very onset of a technique being developed a muscular impulse will begin to be discharged by our opponent which we will immediately detect through the radar of our adherence.
Softness: softness is invaluable as without this it renders adherence futile. If arm contact is rigid and stiff it will greatly hinder our ability to utilise our radar like senses. In talking here of softness I am not referring to a flaccid type of softness, but the softness referred to by the Chinese word ‘song’, softness with substance or the softness exhibited by the young tree which bows down under the weight of snow on its leaves, but springs back up as the snow melts away.
Following: The ability to follow the opponent’s attack and neutralise it is self evident if we are to maintain the upper hand in any situation. Only by being able to follow the direction of the opponent’s force can we begin to have any hope of success in overcoming them.
Rejecting brute and excessive force: The need to avoid brute and excessive force is I think an obvious one. Firstly, if the opponent is by far superior in physical strength it is then futile to even attempt to compete against with like. Secondly, by using excessive and brute force against an opponent’s brutish force this action will only serve to exhaust and tire us prematurely.
Spontaneity: Finally, after having negotiated and understood the four preceding points we are left with spontaneity. Our adherence and softness have enabled us to follow our opponent’s intent and also we have remained mindful not to engage in a duel of strength. Immediately having detected and redirected the opponent’s force into the void we must be spontaneous in discharging our own technique onto the opponent.
These five essential imperatives can be viewed as strategies employed to develop our ability in the practice of push hands.
Within the style of Tai Chi Chuan I practise, push hand drills fall within two categories; fixed step and moving step. The one standout truism between the two categories are they both train coordination between the participants and the constant interchange of the Yin and Yang forces. Some fixed step drills allow us to work through the power of pang, lu, ji and an. The ability to strengthen the waist, stance, development of a strong and stable root and finally but not least the ability to absorb force whilst maintaining our equilibrium. On the other hand, some moving step drills allow us to work through the powers of cai, lie, zhou and kao including evasion and counter attacking. I would suggest that those among us who view the practice of Tai Chi Chuan as the martial art that it is look upon push hands as the glue which helps the technique within the hand form to work in a realistic manner.
I have often heard it said and read articles where people refer to push hands and Da-Lu as though they were two separate entities. Da-Lu otherwise known as Great Sideways Diversion, Eight Gate Five Steps or more correctly, Four Corners pushing hands as it pertains to the four methods of using force, although an advanced push hands method, is a push hand method nonetheless. Those who consider it (Da-Lu) a separate entity simply display a total lack of understanding of push hands.
If we are to enhance our knowledge and understanding of push hands and elevate our ability even higher then there are three forces that must be understood and mastered. They are ting-jin, hua-jin and fa-jin. When in close personal contact with an opponent and the ability to use our eyes is impaired the ability to detect changes made by said opponent becomes greatly diminished and we must now use ting-jin, meaning to listen for force. This is not an aural listening but rather a feeling born out of the adherence with the opponent enabling us to detect his intention at the earliest point of its execution. Having detected the opponent’s force using our ting-jin, we must now redirect this force using hua-jin in order to divert his force away voiding his intention. Finally, having successfully accomplished ting-jin and hua-jin it remains now to fa-jin. Fa-jin can be viewed here as an explosive discharge of force with skill. To sum up, firstly we search for our opponent’s jin utilising our ting-jin by making contact. Secondly, once we have located his jin we then divert/redirect it by using hua-jin. Thirdly, having succeeded in diverting our opponent’s jin, it remains only for us now to mount a counter offensive by issuing fa-jin.
The benefits of push hands practice are varied and numerous. Undoubtedly push hands is not fighting but through its practice we are able to train many skills and concepts which are very pertinent to combat. For example, dealing with an opponent at close quarters, improved footwork, evasion, diverting incoming force, issuing force, application of chin-na techniques, improvement of self defence applications the list goes on. If I may be bold here for all the aforementioned I would suggest that push hands practice be compared to the concept of kata in karate.
I fully appreciate the fact that some may disagree with the opinions expressed this I think could be due to the origin of their Tai Chi Chuan transmission.
Godfrey Dornelly
August 2015