Finer points of yiquan push-hands

By Yao Cheng-rong

Translated by Tu-Ky Lam

Push-hands, which is a combined application of zhan-zhuang (standing practice), shi-li (testing of energy) zou-bu (stepping) and fa-li (power discharge), is an important part of Yiquan training, aiming to improve the martial arts skill of practitioners and students. Push-hands supplements free sparring very well as it can help practitioners and students to improve their fighting skill and reduce the chances of getting injured to a minimum.

There are two kinds of push-hands: single push-hands (left and right) and double push-hands.

If you want to improve your push-hands skills, you must frequently take part in push-hands practice. During your practice, you must pay attention to the following:

Spend a lot of time doing zhan-zhuang and shi-li so that you can have some foundation skill to rely on.
Avoid turning circles without any purposes. Make sure that there is “yi” (mind/intent) in every one of your moves. You need to stand up and face your opponents and should not run away from them.

When doing double push-hands, you should use “Hun-yuan-zhuang” (Embrace a tree) posture, with 30% or 40% of your body weight on your front foot and 70% or 60% of your body weight on your back foot. Both of your arms should be kept round, like embracing a big balloon. Your feet should be kept at a comfortable distance from each other. Then move your front foot to the center line between your opponent’s feet (your back foot has to follow), and make your front forearm come in contact with that of your opponent, with your front forearm pointing to the center of your opponent’s chest. Your back forearm should be raised and kept round and in contact with your opponent’s other forearm. (Your opponent will do the same as you.)

The point of contact between your arms and those of your opponent is the focus of the push-hands battle. Through the spiral and circular movements of our arms we know, from the point of contact, the energy of our opponent and volume of his strength. Through our forearms, we use the strength of our whole body to threaten our opponent’s center-line (chest), trying to unbalance him. Throughout the push-hands practice or contest, our wrist, forearms and upper arms should have spiral force. In other words, the spiral force comes not only from our arms but also from our whole body. It is the result of our whole body working together as a unit. The sayings such as “Moving your hands out like using a steel file, and moving it back like withdrawing a fishing rod” and “your waist should turn like a wheel and your legs like a drill” are examples of spiral force.

During push-hands practice, do not use too much force on your arms otherwise you will not be able to know the substantial and insubstantial changes of your opponent. During push-hands, you need to find out for yourself how much force to use, how fast to move, and where to move. Once an opportunity arrives, you should mobilize the strength of your whole body and release it. If you use a lot of force once your arms contact your opponent’s, you will be top heavy and your strength can easily be used by your opponent. Your strength can also be stiff and cannot change. Even if you have an opportunity, your strength cannot reach your hands and so your power cannot be discharged.

Of course, if you use too little strength, you will not be able to ward off your opponent. How much strength to use all depends on the strength of your opponent. If your strength can be used by your opponent in a contest, you have made a mistake. If you can use your opponent’s force and control him, you have got it right. Generally speaking, just use medium strength when your arms get in touch with those of your opponent. Your strength is between substantial and insubstantial and can change easily.

In push-hands, people often talk about listening skill. In my opinion, listening skill means the skill or ability to control our opponent. If we do not know the changes of our opponent’s strength, we cannot control him. And we often hear people say relaxation and not using force are very important so they dare not use force during push-hands. When we ask them why, they say if you use force your whole body will be stiff. I think relaxation does not mean not using force. If we do not use force, we will not be able to contest with our opponent.

Relaxation does not mean not to use force, but reduce the degree of force that we use. Relaxation and tension should interchange. We use more force when we need to, and relax when we do not need to use so much force. Then we should go further to make sure that in tension there is relaxation and in relaxation there is tension. If we relax properly, we can produce strong force when we tense up.

Push-hands is a test of our training on zhan-zhuang, shi-li, zou-bu and fa-li. The purpose of doing zhan-zhuang is to develop “hun yuan li” or whole body force. Shi-li is an exercise by which we try to test the internal strength developed through doing zhan-zhuang. When we do any movement, we have to make sure that our yi (mind/intent) and li (strength) are always present and not broken. Zou-bu or stepping mainly prepares us for fighting. If we are good at stepping, we can move fast and can create opportunities for us to discharge power. During stepping training, we must remember that when our legs move, our upper body and arms will have to follow and vice versa. We must try to keep our whole body well coordinated so that we can feel strong and comfortable when we move forwards, backwards, left, right, or up and down.

Push-hands practice or contest is closely related to Yiquan’s basic training. The reason why beginners do not know how to use what they learn from the basics (zhan-zhuang, shi-li, zou-bu and fa li) is that firstly, they do not understand the purpose of push-hands, secondly, they care too much about winning and so forget the principles, thirdly, they try to look good and lack the power to threaten or destroy their opponents, and fourthly, they have not spent a lot of time doing shi-li and so they lack the ability to control the opponent.

All push-hands techniques are based on Yiquan’s basic training. If you want to be good at push-hands, you need to spend a lot of time practicing shi-li, such as “hook and Hang” shi li, spinning shi-li, throw a ball shi-lli and “the holy turtle moves out of the water” shi-li. You need to spend time doing zhan-zhuang and doing zou bu shi-li which is shi-li while stepping. Without training hard on the basics, it is very hard to improve your push-hands skills.

During push-hands, you must not be nervous and should not care about winning or losing. You must try to feel how your opponent’s force is changing and try to control your opponent. You should also pay attention to the movements of your opponent, while maintaining the good coordination of your body. Only when you know yourself and your opponent well, can you achieve what you want.

The speed of push-hands varies. Sometimes it is fast, at other times it is slow. When it moves very fast, it is very hard to apply our techniques. In this case you need to stick to Yiquan training principles, later on the good result will show up. During push-hands, you should be very alert so that you can deal with the intention of your opponent. When you have good concentration, you will know what is happening and can utilize the hidden potential in your body. Do not treat push-hands lightly, thinking it involves only turning circles, some pushes and power discharge. We should treat it like fighting an enemy who is trying to kill us. Once we get in contact with his arms we should be able to control him, and we should not be controlled by him.

All the techniques in push-hands are executed through using our internal strength. We should also learn how to use our shoulders, elbows, knees hips, head, palms and fists so that they can be useful to us. We must be careful and try to avoid injury.

When facing our enemy during push-hands or sparring, we should adhere to these principles: do not attack if we cannot hit our target, do not attack if our strike is not heavy enough, and do not attack if we cannot put our opponent out of action completely. We must be so highly alert that our opponent feels intimidated. Every one of our movements should be so powerful that it will destroy our opponent, otherwise we cannot defeat our opponent.


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