Chen Xin’s Push Hand 36 Sicknesses

by Yhang Yun

Although it is said that Taiji Quan spread out from Chenjiagao Village, there were no real quality classics written down there until Chen Xin. So today Chen Xin’s Taiji Quan classic is greatly respected in Chen family.

Chen Xin (1849 – 1929) was a sixteenth generation member of the Chen family. His father and uncles were famous Chen style martial artists in the village. He and his older brother got training from when they were young. But the family arranged for his brother to do more martial arts and he to do more literature study. He was not really successful in his work. When he got old, he thought his brother was a success in martial arts but he did not do anything with his literature skill. So he determined to use his knowledge of traditional philosophy to write a Taiji Quan classic. He started working toward this goal in 1908. For about twelve years, he worked hard. Finally, he wrote a book which was called Taiji Quan Illustrative Teaching Materials and the other name is Taiji Quan Postures. He made four copies of this book in his own hand writting. He had no son, so he gave his book to his nephew Chen Chunyuan before he passed away. He told Chen Chunyua: “If you think someone is good enough to get this book, you can just pass it on to him. If not, just burn it.” Chen Xin died poor.

In January of 1932, Tang Hao and Chen Ziming, who was Chen Xin’s nephew and taught Taiji in Shanghai at that time, went to Chenjiagao Village. Chen Chunyuan showed them Chen Xin’s book. Later Tang met Guan Baiyi, the president of Henan Province Martial Arts School, and suggested to Guan that he should get a copy of this book. Guan collected seven hundred dollars to buy the book from Chen Chunyuan and then published it in 1933 with name Chen Style Taiji Quan Illustrative Description. Chen Chunyuan was very poor at that time. He did not even have money for Chen Xin’s funeral until he got this payment. Guan’s publication made Chen Xin and his book famous and popular. When Tang Hao and Chen Ziming met Chen Chunyuan in the village, Chen Ziming took two articles from Chen Xin’s book. They were “Push Hand Sixteen Items” and “Push Hand Thirty-six Sicknesses”. Then he published them in his book in 1932. So when Guan published Chen Xin’s book, these two articles were not included. Chen Ziming’s book was much less popular than Guan’s publication. This is why these two articles are not popular.

The second article describes some common mistakes or misunderstanding in Taiji Quan push hands practice. Each one has an item name and one or two explanatory sentences. The last paragraph is a summary of the article. Some of these mistakes are in general principles and some are with specific techniques. This article is important and interesting, especially for beginners. Because the principles of Taiji Quan are very different from other kinds of martial arts, some skills and principles are right and work well in other arts but not in Taiji, especially some skills which depend a lot on person’s athletic ability. This article tells us what skills are wrong in Taiji push hands practice, even though we may feel some of them are obviously right. The mistakes are called sickness which means they will block people from developing real Taiji skills. It does not mean people can never use them in their fighting. It means people should not intentionally use them in their practice. If one thinks it is good for he/she currently and does not want to change, generally he/she will get bad habits and can never reach a high level. In Taiji practice, people always say that you should throw something away which maybe you feel good today but is wrong in principle. For example, if you use your hand to block your opponent’s hands from pushing your body, it seems like a good defence. But if you just do it in your practice, you will not have a chance to study how to solve the problem when your body gets pushed directly. From Taiji principles, you should defend against your opponent with any part of your body. Wherever an opponent touches you, beat him back from there. Because the principle and skill of Taiji push hands are unusual, there are a lot of skills that are really difficult to understand for beginners. So to understand this article will really help people to understand Taiji Quan. If you read this article and feel something confuses you, it may mean you need more practice and to study Taiji principles more deeply. Be careful, it is the most important thing to separate what is right and what is wrong in your practice. Do not judge what you do solely based on whether it works for you now. You also need to access whether what you do is consistent with Taiji principles. Never let bad habits and faults get in gained into your body and into your practice.

For more people to get benefits from Chen’s article, I translate it here. I did not put any explanation from myself. I just try to keep the original meaning of the article. Because the article was written in traditional style and used a lot of ancient words, I give some notes so that people can understand it more easily. I hope it can help you develop your skills.

(Below all italic sentences are Pinyin transliterations of Chen Xin’s original item titles. Bold font sentences are the translation of Chen Xin’s original text. The regular font sentences are my notes.)

Kashou(1) San-shi-liu(2) Bing(3)

Push Hand Thirty-six Sicknesses

(1) Kashou is another name for Tuishou – push hands.

(2) San-shi-liu is Thirty-six. There are total thirty-six kind of push-hands mistakes included in this article. Some of them are very similar. Readers should pay attention to separate these different meanings very carefully.

(3) In traditional Chinese, some wrong things or mistakes which can prevent you from going ahead in the right way are usually called Bing – sickness, illness or disease. Some of them may never kill you but if you do not correct them, you cannot go very far.

1. Chou – withdraw; take out; leave; get awayThis means that when you attack(1), you can not get in optimal position(2), and you feel that you will lose, so you want to withdraw your body(3).(1) The original character is Jin which means to go forward or come in. In push hand it means to make an attack.(2) The original word is Deshi which means you are in right place which gives you an advantage over your opponent; and therefore your opponent is at a disadvantage. The other technical word, which is also used often with this word, is Deji which means you get the right timing. In push hand principle, you should always keep yourself Deji and Deshi.(3) When you feel that your position and timing are not optimal, then you simply want to withdraw from physical situation.

2. Ba – pull out; run awayThis means to withdraw your movement and run away.

3. Zhe – cover; block; shield from; hide fromThis means to use your hand to shield(1) yourself from the opponent.(1) To shield or cover from means, for example, that when your opponent attempts contact your body with his hand, you use your own hand to shield your body from his hand; or you use your hand to block or brush away his hand. It means that you are afraid to use your body to defense attacks.

4. Jia – fend offThis means to use your arm to fend off(1) the opponent’s hand.(1) Fend off has the meaning of blocking; in martial arts technique sense, in an upward or outward fashion, usually after having made contact with the attacking arm.

5. Keda – knock against directly; clashIt looks like using something to knock against something else directly(1).(1) In many martial arts a directly clashing type of block is commonly used, but using such clashing will prevent you from achieving higher Taiji skills.

6. Mengzhuang – suddenly and vigorously collide or dash againstSuddenly collide recklessly attack, just depending on brave force to dash forward vigorously; it is not natural(1), just want to take chance.(1) In Taiji natural means responding to the situation appropriately. It is not natural; rather, just taking the chance to win.

7. Duoshan – dodgeDodge your body from the opponent’s hand. To make a sudden dodge(1) causing the opponent to fall down.(1) This means to leave from contact.

8. Qinling – invade, aggression, intrude into and maltreatWant to invade into the opponent’s control sphere(1) and to mistreat him.(1) The original character is Jie which means a space. In push hands, we say each person has his own Jie where he can do his best. If he goes out this space, it is easy for him to lose his balance. If you come in to his space, you are in danger. The Taiji good skill is to lure or lead the opponent to go out of his space and come in your space.

9. Zhan – chop; cut offLike to use a sword to chop something.

10. Lou – hold in arms; hug; embraceTo hold the opponent’s body in your arms(1).(1) For example, to wrap your arms around the opponent’s body forcibly as in a bear hug.

11. Mao – resist; support with hand; hold; helpThis means to forcibly use the hand to resist and press the opponent holding him down.

12. Cuo – rubThis likes to rub something in the hands. To rub(1) the opponent with your hands or elbows.(1) This rubbing just causes local pain at the target.

13. Qiya – bully and oppress; ride roughshod overQi means to cheat or deceive, Ya(1) means to press down the opponent’s hand with big force.(1) Qiya simply is bulling or riding roughshod over the opponent.

14. Gua – hang; put up; get caughtThis means to use the hand or the foot to hook(1) the opponent.(1) For example, hooking your hand or foot around the opponent’s bodypart in order to control or throw him away, just like some wrestling skills.

15. Li – leave; go away; separate fromThis means to separate from the opponent, and be afraid that he will attack you.

16. Shanzuan – dodge and deceiveThis means to deceive(1) the gullible opponent and then attack him.(1) Using sneak attack tactics on the gullible opponent (eg. hey, your shoe laces are untail).

17. Bo – move; dispel; fiddle withThis means to use the hands forcibley(1) to move the opponent.(1) The original character is Ying. It means forcibly struggling.

18. Tui – pushThis means to forcefully push the opponet aside(1).(1) This push is without a specific purpose.

19. Jianse – hard and unsmooth; involved and abstruse; intricate and obscureThis means your skills are not mature(1).(1) Your skills are not well developed.

20. Shengying – stiff; rigid; harsh; lack of changeJust attack with reckless qi(1), and try to win with stiff skills.(1) Reckless qi means simply attacking without understanding the required principles.

21. Pai – push aside; push out; repel; exclude; reject; removeThis means to push the problem away(1).(1) Without directly solving the problem.

22. Dang – block; hold back; hinder; stop check; obstructThis means that you cannot use the lure skill(1) to make the opponent in trouble so just to block him out with force.(1) The lure skill should be included in almost every Taiji skill. Instead of blocking a person from coming in you should study how to lure someone in and upset his balance.

23. Ting – straight up; stand; hold outThis means hard, tough, or stiff(1).(1) Ting means that you already know you have lost but you are incapable of accepting or admitting defeat.

24. Ba – tyrant; overlordUse force to control others, like a tyrant(1) beating with force.(1) For example, using force, not skill, to get others to obey you.

25. Teng – remove something to make room; releaseTo use the right hand to hold the opponent, then to use the left hand to support his arm, and then to release the right hand to strike him(1).(1) This means using a complicated series of techniques instead of using a simple direct technique.

26. Na – control; grip; take; holdTo grip and control the opponent’s joints.

27. Zhi – straight; direct; frank; forth rightThis means to use straight force; there is no twining, softness, and winding idea included in it.

28. Shi – simple and unadorned; dull; naiveThis means too simple and unadorned(1), it is easy to be cheated and bullied.(1) The skill is dull and changeability is not understood.

29. Gou – hookThis means to use the foot to hook(1) and throw the opponent.(1) Using a specific technique to control the opponent.

30. Tiao – raise; push upTo push up(1).(1) This means forcibly raising something up, controlling, and then throwing away.

Peng31. Peng (1) – expand; inflateTo use hard Qi and force(2) to fend off and push away the opponent’s attack, not to use Zhongqi(3) to contact the opponent’s hand.(1) From Chen Xin’s explanation here, I think the Chinese character should be other Peng instead. The other Peng character is pronounced the same but has a different meaning. It means expand.(2) Hard qi and force means muscular force.(3) Zhongqi results from Zhongding (central equilibrium).

32. Di – conflict; resist; withstand; keep out; supportThis means just to use hard Qi and force to resist the opponent.

33. Gun – roll; trundleTo be afraid of getting hurt, so roll to side. This looks like a ball rolling away.

34. Gentou Gunzi(1) – somersault stickThis means when I push the small end of the stick down, the big end turns back and hits me(2).(1) Gentou means somersault. Gunzi means stick. Somersault stick has one end is bigger, the other is thinner. When the stick is placed on the ground, hit the thin end quickly, the stick will fly up (somersault). This is a children’s game. If you are making a mistake to stand in the way, the stick will hit you. Usually it will be the big end that hit you.(2) In push hands, your successful technique causes your opponent to hit you.

35. Tuoda – “steal hit”; sneak attack; surprise attackDo not attack directly, just surprise attack to some parts where the opponent is not prepared to defend.

36. Xintan – greedy; corrupt; covert; avariciousYour skills are not good enough to win, but be very covert and greedy; it must lose if try to fight.

For the above thirty-six sicknesses, someone may have all of them, or four or five, or one or two. If a person has any one of these, his skill will not mature. When a person’s skill has matured, no mistakes will occur. To keep Yuanqi (original qi) smooth, no movement may be uncomfortable. But how do you do push-hand? It is said: when the opponent’s hand is coming(1), I should use my hand to lure him in, and then let him get into an uncomfortable position. It is called Zou – go (or walk away). Zou has the other name of Yin – lure. Why is the skill named Yin (lure) also named Zou (go)? Yin means lure him to come in; Zou means he is coming and I am going, and do not oppose him, so it is called Zou. But in Zou there has to be some Yin and Jin (enter) with it (a high level pratitionor can lure the opponent come in, and even let him feel he must come in; if he comes in, I am in comforable position and he is uncomfortable, so that I can do whatever I want) (2). This is really a wonderful key in (Taiji) Quan, but without long and hard practice, it cannot be achieved.Note:(1) In Chinese when we say that the opponent’s hand is coming, it just means he makes attack to you whatever skills he uses, punch or kick.(2) This note was written by Chen Xin himself.This article discussed some of the most common mistakes in push hands practice. Some of them are always made by most people, so that it is why I think the article is very important for our practice. Taiji Quan is not like other martial arts. If Taiji is approached in a general martial way, it is easy to go astray. If you make some of the mistakes described above, it does not mean you cannot fight; it just means you are not using real Taiji skills. If you cannot avoid these, you cannot reach a high level of Taiji Quan. To really understand Taiji is not easy, especially for beginners, because everyone can just understand what he can do straightaway. Usually we say Taiji skill is not obvious and direct. For you to understand it, you should touch someone who can really show you this skill, and then add hard practice and deep thinking. Little by little you will make progress. I hope Chen Xin’s article gives you some inspiration.

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3 responses to “Chen Xin’s Push Hand 36 Sicknesses”

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