YMAA Level 2: Pushing Hands and Martial Theory

Class Offered (Following Level 1 Class Time) :

Monday 5:00 to 6:00 PM

Thursday 7:30 to 9:00 PM

Saturdays 10:30 to Noon

Pushing Hands and Martial Theory


The bulleted list of content we cover in the Pushing Hands class is described in more detail below, which comes directly from the YMAA website.  In addition to closely adhering to the YMAA training methods and system, we focus on two training themes throughout the training:

  1. Fa Jing:  There are many different ‘jings’ in Tai Chi, each of which requires one to balance internal and external feeling.  Fa Jing (which means the path of power) affords the practitioner the chance to see how relaxed, rooted and linked their entire body system can be, as tension or disruption in that linkage will clearly hinder efforts to issue (whip) power through the mechanical system of the body.

  2. Martial Applications:  Visualizing the martial meaning of the form alters both the intent and the physical structure of the form practice and enhances the mind-centeredness through purposeful intent.  Even light practice in chin Na (joint locks) stepping and uprooting provide profound feedback to the core practice.

The practice methods include:

  • Single and Double Push Hands

  • Tai Chi Symbol Training (See Below)

  • Small and Large Rollback Training

  • Coiling and Na Training

  • Fixed and Stationary Push Hands (See Below)

  • Tai Chi Fighting Set (See Below)

Taiji Stationary Pushing Hands (太極定步推手, Taiji Ding Bu Tui Shou). The purpose of Taiji pushing hands training is the same as that of the fighting forms in the external styles. However, Taijiquan emphasizes sensitivity to touch (i.e., listening) (Ting), understanding (Dong), following (Sui), sticking (Zhan), and adhering (Nian). In stationary pushing hands you must learn many fundamental techniques, such as single pushing hands and double pushing hands. These incorporate the energies of wardoff (Peng,), rollback (Lu), press (or squeeze)(Ji), push (or suppressed by palm)(An), pluck (Cai), rend (or split)(Lie), elbow (Zhou), and bump (Kao). In addition, other advanced pushing techniques, such as coiling, controlling, borrowing, leading, and neutralizing Jins are trained. In YMAA stationary pushing hands training, there are four basic neutralization patterns which a pushing hands beginner must learn. Next, he/she will begin double pushing hands training, which includes six different training patterns. Normally, these trainings are used to introduce four basic Taiji Jin patterns: Peng, Lu, Ji, and An. An international training routine has also been absorbed into YMAA training and is simply called “Peng, Lu, Ji, An training.” Next, a student must learn the other four basic Taiji Jin patterns, Cai, Lie, Zhou, and Kao. Again, this includes two basic training routines, one is from Dr. Yang and the other is an international routine. These routines are commonly called “Da Lu”, “Lu-Ji”, and simply “Cai, Lie, Zhou, and Kao.” YMAA has its traditional “Da Lu” training, even though an international training routine has also been absorbed into the YMAA training and is called “Cai, Lie, Zhou, Kao training.”

Silk Reeling Taiji Symbol Training (太極圈纏手練習, Taiji Quan Chan Shou Lian Xi). Silk Reeling Taiji Symbol training is the foundation of the Taiji Pushing Hands and Sparring. This training includes two portions: the Yang symbol and the Yin symbol. A student starts with Yang symbol, solo practice first, then with a partner. Begin with stationary practice, then move to forward and backward. After a student is able to move forward and backward with closed eyes, he or she then starts the parallel walking training. Finally, he or she will complete this symbol with the Bagua walking. When a student has mastered the Yang side, then he or she should learn the Yin side and follow the same training procedures. When these two Yin and Yang symbols are mastered, a student will be able to change his or her techniques smoothly and easily and apply them in the Pushing Hands or Sparring.

Taiji Fighting Set (Taiji San Shou Tui Lian). The Taiji fighting set was designed so that two people could practice together in a situation resembling actual fighting. The main purpose of this training is to teach the student how to step and move his/her body into the most advantageous position in combat. Naturally, it also teaches the student how to avoid being channeled into a disadvantageous situation. The student needs to have practiced stationary pushing hands first, so that he/she can combine that experience with the fighting set to make the techniques come alive.

Taiji Moving Pushing Hands (太極動步推手, Taiji Dong Bu Tui Shou). Taiji moving pushing hands is the training before Taiji sparring. In moving pushing hands, the student must use stepping strategy with the techniques learned in stationary pushing hands and the fighting set. Students who have reached the level where the opponent cannot set them up, and can use their own techniques skillfully, have completed the basic training for sparring.

Caveat:  The Important Distinction between Martial Training and Self-Defense Explored Below:

At YMAA Western Mass, we train Tai Chi within its martial origins and train it as a martial art, but we do not train it for self-defense. This nuance suggests that we feel that there is a strong link between Tai Chi’s Martial Roots and its Healing Capabilities.  It is our experience that for some, the depth of the relaxation and the deepest requirements of the mind body integration require feedback systems that are only available in the martial training and partner excercises.  But, for our practice group, the martial training is constrained by our aversion to injury.  We are simply not in a position where we can expose ourselves to significant injury.  As a martial art, this presents a real limit to how seriously we can pursue the self-defense aspects of the art.

For example, while we train the two person fighting set rigorously, we do not train free sparring.  While we do a lot of pushing hands, we do not practice take downs or wrestling.  We practice Chin Na through applications of the form, but we do not permit the application of joint locks in the pushing hands.


You can learn far more about the relationship between Tai Chi and martial training by reading Dr. Yang’s recent article, posted below:

Some Remarks About Sparring

by Dr. Yang, Jwing-Ming, April 18, 2016

Taijiquan is an internal style of Chinese martial arts. All Chinese martial styles, after a thousand years of practice and experience, understand that in order to have an effective way of fighting, they must acquire the four skills of kicking, striking, wrestling, and Qin Na. The skills of kicking and striking are good for subduing Qin Na, wrestling is good to conquer kicking and striking, and Qin Na can be used against wrestling. Four of them mutually compensate and support each other. If there is one missing, then the art is not complete. It is for this reason that every Chinese martial style emphasizes the practice of the techniques of kicking, striking, wrestling, and Qin Na that are used to match the internal Gong’s (i.e., internal Gongfu) practice.

It is commonly known in Chinese martial arts society that every style must acquire four categories of fighting skills. Without all four of these categories, the art will not be complete and can be defeated easily. These four categories are: kicking (Ti), striking (or punching) (Da), wrestling (Shuai), and Qin Na (Na). These four skills mutually compensate, counter, and support each other.

However, these four skills are the external manifestation of the internal understanding (i.e., mind) and Qi. Therefore, all Chinese martial artists must also cultivate internal understanding of the arts and learn how to build up the Qi to an abundant level. When this Qi is led by the mind to the physical body for manifestation, its power can reach to a more highly efficient level. That is why it is said: “Internal and external are unified as one” (Nei Wai He Yi,). Gong means Gongfu. Any study or task that will take a great deal of time and effort to accomplish is called Gongfu.

Kicking, striking, wrestling, and Qin Na are shaped externally. The effectiveness of their applications is a function of the depth of the internal Gong’s cultivation. What is internal Gong? It involves using the Yi to lead the Qi, so that it can be manifested externally. Because of this, all styles also emphasize the practice of internal Gong’s breathing and using the Yi to lead the Qi. Thus, Taijiquan practitioners should practice both internally and externally; only then can (they) reach the profound understanding of the Taijiquan essence.

In order to become a proficient Taijiquan practitioner, you must not just know the external physical actions of the art. You must also practice the internal aspects. These internal aspects include: the cultivation of the Qi until it reaches an abundant level; the use of the mind to lead the Qi so it can circulate in the body smoothly; and the manifestation of the Qi into external physical actions. Furthermore, you must also keep pondering the Taijiquan theory until your comprehension has reached a profound level. Only then can you become a proficient Taijiquan practitioner.

Taijiquan’s Attaching and Adhering

To stick means to attach. It means to get contact and then stick and connect. To adhere means to stick together without separating. The most difficult thing in Taijiquan sparring training is the Jin of attaching. If (you) are able to attach, then you are able to adhere, connect, and follow. Attaching can be classified into two kinds: the attaching from the body’s not being connected to connecting; and the attaching in that the bodies have already connected and you attach to the opponent’s center to upset his root.

Attach (Zhan) and then Adhere (Nian) are two different Jins. These two Jins are considered two of the most difficult Jins to understand and practice for Taijiquan practitioners. Attaching is an action of contacting and then connecting. Adhering means after contacting, then you stick together. In order to do so, you must maintain your contact and follow your opponent’s movement. It is just like fly paper that sticks on your opponent’s hands and cannot be separated.

Attaching can be distinguished into two kinds. The first kind of attaching is to get in touch with the opponent’s body and then connect. Naturally, this is to build up a connection from a separated original position. The second kind of attaching is after you and your opponent’s bodies have connected, then you find the attachment of your Jin to his center and root. Normally, in Taijiquan pushing hands training, both parties are constantly searching for each other’s center so the opponent’s center can be damaged and the root can be pulled. Once you have attached to this center, you will stick with it, and keep connecting and following. This will place your opponent in an urgent and defensive position at all times. Therefore, this kind of attaching Jin is always associated with Growing Jin (Zhang Jin). Growing Jin is a continuous Jin through which you can attach to the opponent’s center and grow into it until it can be destroyed.

At the beginning of a fight, the opponent and you do not have any contact. (In this case), even if you have special expertise in pushing hands skills, you still cannot use it. (Therefore), in order to use your pushing hands skills to defeat the opponent; you must first understand how to connect with the opponent with Attaching Jin. (After attaching), then (you) immediately follow with the Jins of Adhering, Connecting, Listening, and Following, thus placing the opponent into a position that allows neither advance nor withdrawal. To apply this Jin, (you) must wait for the opponent’s first attack, then following (his/her) coming posture and attach with it. If the opponent does not attack first, then you must use a false attacking posture to induce (his/her attack). When he emits his hands, immediately attach with them.

When you first encounter an opponent, you are not in a connecting position that allows you to apply your pushing hands expertise. Therefore, you must first attach to your opponent’s arms so you can place him into the disadvantageous position for your further attack. The best way to build up this attachment is waiting for the opponent’s attack and then following it and attaching to it. However, if the opponent does not attack first, then you must present a false opportunity, or use a faking action to induce his attack.

This kind of training exists in almost every style and is commonly called Intercepting (Jie). However, the difference is that once a proficient Taijiquan fighter attaches to an opponent, he will not separate.

If your opponent and you have built up a connection and his pushing hands skills are not worse than yours, and if the opponent’s Xin is peaceful and his Qi is harmonious, if his Qi moves naturally with the Yi, and if his Jin emits following the Yi, then it will be hard to defeat him. In order to win, you must be able to find his center and connect with it with Attaching Jin to damage his central equilibrium, pull his root, irritate his Xin, and to make his Qi float. However, in order to execute this Jin efficiently, (your) sensitivity exercises of attaching, adhering, connecting, and following must have reached a profound level.

In a different situation, in that the attaching Jin is applied after you and your opponent have already connected with each other, and are in the exchange of pushing hands skills. In this case, if you know how to attach your feeling and Jin to his center, follow it, and finally damage his balance; you will find his mind is irritated, his Qi is floating, and his root is shallow. Naturally, you are in a position of winning.

However, if your opponent is also a proficient pushing hands expert, then your sensitivity (i.e., Listening Jin) of attaching, adhering, connecting, and following must be higher. Otherwise, you will be in an awkward situation. Because of this, you must keep practicing your sensitivity in these Jins. In addition, in order to keep the Attaching Jin connected with your opponent, you must also know how to apply Growing Jin (Zhang Jin) effectively.

What are the sensitivity exercises of attaching, adhering, connecting, and following? Yang, Ban-Hou said: “What is attaching? It means to raise up and pull to a higher position. What is adhering? It means reluctant to part, and entangled with (the opponent). What is connecting? It means to give up yourself, and without being apart from (the opponent). What is following? It means when the opponent is yielding, you respond (with follow). (You) should know that without clearly understanding attaching, adhering, connecting, and following, a person’s conscious feeling (i.e., sensitivity) and movements will not be developed. (In fact), the Gongfu of attaching, adhering, connecting, and following is very refined.” What he said is very reasonable.

The above is an excerpt from Taijiquan Theory: The Root of Taijiquan by Dr. Yang, Jwing Ming.