In this brief article, I would like to introduce to you the tui shou exercise of yiquan.
Yiquan is modern style of Chinese internal martial art. It was created during the last centrury by the legendary master Wang Xiangzhai. It consists of several main training methods - zhan zhuang (pole standing), shi li (testing of strength), fa li (release of power), moca bu (friction steps), shi sheng (testing of voice) , tui shou (pushing hands) and san shou (free fighting).
Tui shou also appears in many different forms in other internal styles. Here, I would like to concentrate on the basic ideas of tui shou and on finding the answers to the questions such as why to practice it and how. Several common misunderstandings and mistakes during practice will be enlightened by the three experienced teachers of internal martial arts.
At first I would like to look in on the name. Tui means "to push" and shou means "hands". So, tui shou means "pushing hands". But this term is not very exact. In the internal martial arts we are not pushing with our hands - each movement is produced by the whole body. We are using coordinated whole body power which is known as hun yuan li (or nei jin). And much more, tui shou in yiquan is not only about pushing. We also strike with different parts of the body. Basically you can issue the force with hand, elbow, shoulder, foot, knee, hip or head. Because of this, I rather use original term "tui shou" instead of "pushing hands" or "push hands".
Tui shou in yiquan
In yiquan, there are two types of tui shou. Single hand tui shou (dan tui shou) and double hands tui shou (shuang tui shou). Both types of tui shou have several levels of practice from the basic one to the free style practice. You can practise it stationary or using various steps in every direction.
Tui shou is an exercise, in which both partners connect their forearms (or eventually, during free style practice, any other part of the body) and try to feel, control and manipulate the other one.
On the following pictures, you can see one of the stages of tui shou practice - fa li during tui shou.
Picture 1. Two students of Andrzej Kalisz during standard single hand tui shou.
Picture 2. Radek, on the right, neutralizes his opponentīs forward pushing hand.
Picture 3. Radek slaps his opponentīs hand and cleares the way to execute the strike. Note, that he is aiming at the elbow of his opponent.
Picture 4. As Radek moves his opponentīs hand down, he prepares his second hand for chop.
Picture 5. Radek chops his opponentīs neck and still maintain the control of the opponentīs hand near elbow. The whole pi fa - "the method of chopping" - (Pic.3 - Pic.5) is done during fraction of the second in explosive way.
The folowing is the interview with Mr. Andrzej Kalisz, chief instructor and director of the Academy of Yiquan (Poland) and disciple of Master Yao Chengguang.
What is the purpose of tui shou practice?
Thanks to tui shou you can check the results of practice of the basic training methods, and eventually correct and improve your basic practice.
The most basic tui shou is just one of the basic training methods, but with partner. And when we are talking about so called free tui shou, it's part of free fighting. In any fight there are often situations when there is contact between arms of both opponents. Thanks to tui shou practice, you are able to react properly in such situations. You learn to feel your opponent, to affect his balance, to use holes in his defense and to create them too.
At higher level you should be able to use any part of your body in this way,
not just hands. But of course tui shou is only a part of free fighting. It is said that tui shou supplements san shou and san shou supplements tui shou. Tui shou, even if you practice it free style, is not free fighting yet. On the other hand, without tui shou, your free fighting skill wouldn'tbe complete.
How it is connected with other yiquan exercises?
When we are talking about most basic tui shou, it can be said that it is shi li with partner. Shi li - testing strength - are slow movement exercises in which youare checking the feeling of strength, imagining that while moving you are overcoming some resistance, but at the same time trying to stay relaxed. Feeling the force of resistance actually means feeling the force with which you are overcoming this resistance. This is so called yi zhong zhi li - force inside mind, which is what was traditionally known as nei jin - internal force. Basic tui shou is often called shi li with
partner, as you practice in the same way as in shi li, but here instead of only
imagined resistance, there is some real opponent. Then a bit higher stage of tui
shou is practicing bianhua - changes. Here you are using some fa li - methods of
issuing force, which in other internal arts are known as fa jin. But in yiquan most important is free tui shou practice, which is kind of limited sparring. There can be different variants - sometimes you can concentrate on just pushing - unbalancing opponent and throwing him off, sometimes you can concentrate more on searching holes in his defense and hitting - actually some slight patting with palm is used, and of course you can practice both methods together. Thanks to this practice, when you do san shou - free fighting practice, you should be able not only to hit your opponent,
but also use the skills developed in tui shou - unbalancing, throwing off
and throwing down, changing direction of opponent's attack, searching and
creating holes in his defense. Sometimes the contact between your and your
opponent's arms is quite long, and then it's obvious that it's very much like the situation during tui shou practice, but sometimes it's just split of a second, and in such short time you should also be able to react the same way as in tui shou.
What is usualy overlooked or misunderstand by students
during tui shou practice?
Many students often forget about the relation between tui shou and san shou.
Tui shou is not pushing hands for sake of pushing hands. Tui shou practice should serve the demands of san shou practice. So when you practice tui shou, although it is limited comparing to san shou, you should remember that it is part of san shou and not something independent. But quite many students tend to seek some "tricks" or "methods" which work in tui shou only because of its limitations, but wouldn't make any sense in free fighting.
For example when we practice free pushing hands, some students tend to take very low and extended stances, so that opponent cannot push them. In this limited situation it often works - opponent is not able to push. But if someone would do it in free fighting, it would immobilize him for a second, and he would be easy prey for fast moving opponent with good footwork. So it is important to remember: "don't do in tui shou anything that you wouldn't do in san shou". In tui shou we practice just some aspect of san shou, and not something without relation to san shou.
Can you tell us something more about hunyuan li and
its role during tui shou?
In most internal arts the term nei jin - internal force is used. When in yiquan we say about hunyuan li it's actually the same thing. Of course there are many aspects to it.
I already mentioned the feeling of "force inside mind", but there is of course the body mechanics aspect involved, and also ling - swiftness, fluidity and agility which come from the mind and coordination of mind and body. Hunyuan li means a holistic force.
Hunyuan means one, unified, primeval. Sometimes it is written with different character for yuan, and then there is additional meaning of 'round'. To put it in simple words, hunyuan li means that there is specific coordination ofmind and body, and also ability of using of specific body mechanics, and what is most important you are able to use it any time, in any direction and with any part of body, and change it freely. To give some more idea about it, imagine an athlete, for example a runner. He is ready to run, and when there is a signal he starts running. Now he is still waiting for signal, but
his intention is already directed forward. He is not completely static, he is as if starting to run already, but stopping immediately, and yet like starting to run again. Hunyuan li is something similar, but instead of readiness of moving in one direction, there is readiness of moving or using force with any part of body in any direction at the same time. In tui shou you have situations changing all the time, but at each point of movement you should maintain alignment of body proper for this situation, and you
should be able to change, to adjust yourself to changing situation. This is not about some sets of movement, but about readiness to react properly in changing conditions. Of course in tui shou, there is also aspect of fa li -issuing force, and it is also based on concept of hunyuan li and on working with it using all kinds of basic training methods.
How differ tui shou in yiquan from taiji tui shou (and
other styles tui shou practice)?
Yiquan comes from xingyiquan, so it puts stress on developing this kind of strong but at the same time elastic power. Although there is softness in it, we don't stress it so much as most taijiquan people seem to do. There is more of powerful issuing force than of "inducing opponent into emptiness". Of course with time the skill of yiquan practitioner becomes very refined and subtle, but for beginner what is simple and direct works better than something very sophisticated. So in yiquan beginners can develop some useful skills in quite short time, and then gradually refine them and make them
more subtle. You can see it in our tui shou practice when comparing it to most schools of taijiquan. Another thing is that in many schools of taijiquan - of course this is not case of all schools - they concentrate only on tui shou, neglecting san shou, so their tui shou becomes just pushing for sake of pushing instead of serving san shou. And in yiquan we always stress the relation between tui shou and san shou. We see tui shou as
a part of san shou, not replacing san shou with tui shou.
Can you say a few words about mindset during tui shou
and san shou?
San shou can mean real combat, but it can also mean some various kinds of practice preparing for combat. It makes some difference. Because in real combat, I mean when there is real threat, you must do everything to win. You are focused and determined. In zhan zhuang we gradually develop this kind of mindset. But in san shou as a training, you must take care of not only your own safety, but also your partner's. So it's impossible to keep the mindset proper for real combat. Sometimes, you can do some limited sparring, when you can come close to this mindset, but only because what you and your partner do is somewhat limited, because of reason of safety. When the sparring becomes more free, with less limitations, you must have some more control. So this makes difference between san shou as a sparring and san shou as real fighthing. Of course you wouldn't spar with your partner as if it was real fight. When talking about tui shou, here there also could be different mindsets.Basic tui shou is like shi li, where you concentrate on feeling the "strength" in changing situations. Then there is some free tui shou, but it's still far from sparring - you are focused, but not so determined,rather concentrating on observing what's happening. And there is free sparring, when you are focused and much more determined. In some versions, like in competition tui shou, where the usage of different methods is limited to issuing force for unbalancing opponent and throwing him off, it's possible to come close to the mindset similar in some aspect (the determination) to that in real combat, although used methods are so limited.
Tui shou from the point of view of the other teachers
I also asked Mr. Tim Cartmell and Mr. Karel Koskuba about their oppinions and ideas about tui shou practice.
The first is short interview with Tim Cartmell, well known martial arts writer and teacher of taijiquan, xingyiquan and baguazhang. He studied yiquan with Gao Liu De.
Why to practice tui shou?
Tui Shou is a drill that aims to develop tactile sensitivity in the hands and arms ("Listening Skill") and the awareness of your center of gravity in relation to your partner's center of gravity. The basic practice involves cycles of pressure applied by both partners with the intent of controlling your partners center of gravity while simultaneously keeping your parner from controlling your center of gravity. Tui Shou is the more advanced practice of defending oneself while finding an opening in the
opponent's defense. The ability to immediately and effectively apply an appropriate
offensive technique at the slightest opportunity is the goal of training ("Understanding Skill").
What is the most misunderstanding or mistake during
tui shou practice?
There are two mistakes I commonly encounter. The first is beginning the practice of Tui Shou too early in the training. Practitioners need to have good anatomical alignment, power, and a thourough understanding of technique or the practice of Tui Shou is 'empty.' The goal of Tui Sou practice is the cultivation of sensitivity so that you create the opportunity to apply your technique while preventing the opponent from applying his technique. This is only a meaningful practice if the practitioners have already developed power and the ability to apply practical techniques.The second problem is the use of innapropriate force. Many practitioners struggle against force with brute force while many others are like rag dolls. Tui Shou is all about the appropriate use of force.
What is the main area on which one should
concentrate during tui shou?
In general, students should concentrate on adhering to their partner's center of gravity (and not a particular place on the partner's arm per se) and, most importantly, students should understand that the proper practice of Tui Shou is based on simultaneous offense and defense, not one then the other.
Here are some of the ideas of Karel Koskuba, UK based martial arts teacher. He teaches taijiquan, baguazhang, xingyiquan and yiquan. In yiquan, he is a student of Master Yao Chengguang.
What is the most important thing during tui shou practice?
There are many important things and it is impossible to arrange them in order of importance. It depends on what our aim is and on our level.
For example, for the absolute beginner relaxation (both physical and mental) is one of the most important parts. Then you should practice movement patterns of tui shou with light contact and relaxed concentration for quite a long period of time.
This stage require concentration on self and on the way the movements affect us.
Later sticking, following, leading, neutralizing etc. is practised. At this stage, we should focus on our opponent's centre.
During the next stage it is important to create unity of movement between both partners. So it is not clear who leads and who follows. From the technical point of view, you should practice techniques of peng, lu, ji, an (this holds for Taiji) etc.
Which mistake appears most often and what one should pay attention to?
Considering that the order of importance changes, it is the same with mistakes - a small mistake in the beginning could be a big mistake later on!
One of the main mistakes, which can be found in 99 % of practitioners, is the lack of patience.
We must pay attention to our own mistakes. Usually, we are aware of our partnerīs mistakes. For example, one often occurring problem is that our partner is stiff and we are unable to practice lightly and softly as we would wish. But we are not aware of the fact that our partner has just the same problem. And both of us are right. To solve this situation is not easy until one of the practitioners is on a level where he is able to neutralize the stiff partner. Or we should go back to the beginning level, where we practice "patterns". So it is better to practice with someone who is much better or much worse. In such situation both of the practitioners are able to make better progress rather then when practising with someone who is on the same level.
Why is tui shou so important?
We must understand the purposes of the practice. In the internal martial arts we are developing certain type of movement and power generation. One of the main purposes of tui shou is to practice the continuous application of ījinī (internal strength). During practice of stances we relax and unite the whole body, then we train to move (e. g. during forms) using whole body and generate whole body power. Tui shou is the level where we learn how to work with ījinī and manipulate our partner. At first very slowly and carefully, later we can add throws, joint locking and leverages, etc.
In your opinion - what is the main difference between tui shou in yiquan and tui shou in other styles?
Differences are determined by applications. If a style contains many complex elements (e. g. joint locks, etc.), this will be reflected in tui shou.
All of the internal styles try to control the centre of the opponent.
The most important manifestion of the power in Taijiquan is īpeng jinī. During a contact with an expert we have a sensation that there is nothing to push and if we are lucky to find some solid point and push, we find, that this point is not solid after all and our power is going to the side. On the other hand, we are not able to prevent him to do with us what he wants even if he is moving seemingly slowly.
The main concept of Baguazhang is evasion, and is also reflected in tui shou. In contact with an expert, we also have the feeling that there is nothing to push. But it isnīt because of the fact that his body has no solidity, but because his body is not there. We are pushing empty space and his arms are controlling our centre from the other side.
Xingyiquan tui shou is a sort of controlled fight and the main idea is to control opponentīs centre as quickly as possible. The best is not to touch him in the first place!
Yiquan is quite a simple style and this is also shown during tui shou. The main idea is to manifest īhun yuan liīin every direction and to conquer the opponentīs centre. During tui shou with an expert we will find that immediately after contact, we lose our balance and it may be very difficult to avoid being thrown in one direction or another!
But this is just a simplified view, of course.
In my opinion, tui shou is one of the best ways to free fighting. I learned from this method so much! Through tui shou, I deepened my understanding of body mechanics, proper alignment, balance, timing, force issuing and much more.
In their book "Secret techniques of yiquan", Yao Chengguang and Kubo Isato say: "In a real fight the ultimate goal is to control an opponent naturally." Tui shou with other training methods handed down by Wang Xiangzhai is quite a simple and direct way toward this goal.
For more information about yiquan, visit Andrzej Kaliszīs site:
Tim Cartmellīs website is.
Karel Koskubaīs websites are: