on TUI SHOU ~ push hands

Tui Shou is an art of internal balance, and pre-eminently so; where two move together as one, either to maintain a continuity in each other’s locus of chi, or to find the centre of that energy and subtly disrupt it. Done with an honest heart, it cannot be faked; and where the physical skill is lacking, or not yet learned, an intellectual grasp alone will not be sufficient, will in fact be a barrier. In the first place, its usual translation – as ‘push hands’ – maybe misleading: our minds jumping far too easily, too roughly, to the verb, to the push. ‘Sensing hands’ or even ‘Playing hands’ might serve us better, especially in beginning; only later and by its regular and patient practice may we seek its revelation, the true depth of knowledge that it may bring.

The study of Tai Chi Ch’uan in the solo forms is fundamentally one of self-awareness, an opening up through movement to our meditative heart/mind hsin. Without that, Tui Shou will almost certainly seem baffling; paired with another we may surely only interpret them, find their heart, if we have first uncovered our own. And then? We must give ourselves up, lose our way – and follow. The only guides we take with us are those we already know: Golden Thread – manifestation of Tao in us, and a sure root; then the forms: ward-off peng, roll-back lu, push an, and press chï.

And in continuing… The learning of Tui Shou will best be undertaken with gentleness.

Encounter your partner with courtesy – a small bow, and meet them as you would the future – with calm awareness. Allow a falling away of frustration and struggle, replacing these with unrestrained ease. The hands are joined, balance taken, with nimble lightness, ching. The stance of our posture should be strong in the Earth, and deep as the drawing of a bow, both forward and back, with unrestricted movement through the pelvis. The upper body must be subtle, enjoying the paradox of softness within firmness: our senses lively, especially that of touch. The gateways of the tu meridian are open, with Heaven at the top of our head.

Then, in movement, to the elements of form we must add four Virtues – manifestation of  in us: firstly, listening within ting, then yielding tsou, thereafter sticking nien, and moderating hua, which unless the play is to continue round must include the overcoming of our partner. Once these are comprehended and practised with as many players as we can find, we may undertake to develop a fifth virtue: the skill of fa-jing – that of issuing forth power.

Often in the practice of Tai Chi we may test individual postures in order to understand where the balance within resides – internal balance, and how with the smallest adjustments we may maintain (or lose) our physical integrity. In most cases of testing we are receiving a yang force from without and co-mingling that with our internal yin: we are, for a short moment, borrowing another’s chi and accommodating it within our own. In Tui Shou where the forms combine, in and out and through each other, this process is made profound by its nature of constant changing: as such it is a signifier of Tao, not only in our body but in our lives. Though there is duality there must be no division, no lets or byes; one cannot move alone.

In developing our skill in Tui Shou we must surely be learning that Tao is not self-centred, but sees a single nature in the many, and yet, in multiplicity, is itself many times single-natured. So here is our aim: whether in earnest or playful challenge, whether in sensing stillness or the uninterrupted stream of chi; to be finally, intimately aware of our inter-penetrating consciousness – wherein nothing is wasted but is restored, nor is lost but is recovered, nor fails but is fully, sublimely alive.

 … as drop enters ocean, ocean enters drop
(Ch’an saying, found in Blofeld)