The power of tai chi’s pushing hands

Written by James Sumarac

There are eight primary forms of movement used in push-hands:

The eight gates of tai chi with James Sumarac.

1 – Peng, referred to as ‘ward off’, is your invisible armour. It uses subtle energies that expand in all directions, not unlike water that buoys a boat on its surface, and brings structural integrity to all the energies used in push-hands, and in fact all combative tai chi applications.

2 – Lu or ‘roll back’ energy is used to neutralise and redirect incoming force sideways, past you into a void, thus creating an opportunity to counter. As with the other energies, it can be applied in a high or low position and with one or both hands.

3 – Ji is usually translated as ‘press’, meaning to squeeze or stifle your opponent’s intention. Chen Pan Ling described it as the force of a ball bouncing off a wall. You wait for your opponent’s pulling force, change direction slightly and press to their centre. This can be performed at any level and with all parts of your body.

4 – An (push) is like water rapidly flowing downward: although water can be very gentle, it contains tremendous power. An is used to neutralise your opponent’s press and lead them into a void, or you may follow their retreat with it. It may be backward but is usually a forward and downward pressure with strong intent.

5 – Tsai, or to ‘pluck’, is like the action of dropping a heavy object or of plucking fruit from a tree branch: it is a sharp and sudden downward force with one or both arms, with the intention of destroying your opponent’s balance and structure.

6 – Lieh, meaning ‘to split’, refers to opposing forces applying leverage on an immobile part of an opponent’s arm, leg or body. It can be used to destabilise or to lock joints.

7 – Zhou is using the elbow, arm or even a chopping hand to attack in any direction. A very powerful weapon, the elbow is also used to defend and neutralise in push-hands.

8 – Kao is the energy of a bump and is usually delivered with your shoulder in a forward, backwards or upward direction. But kao may also imply a bump with your hip, back, knee, chest or even head.

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