To Push or Not to Push - What Is Pushing Hands?

This article looks at Tai Chi Chuan's Pushing Hands, or otherwise known as Tui Shou. Please comment and review this article at the bottom of the page.

To Push or Not to Push - What is Pushing Hands?

“Pushing Hands” is a translation of the Chinese word 'Tui Shou', which is the Chinese name for a set of partner drills connected to Tai Chi Chuan.

 The name is quite unsuitable as these drills contain a great deal more than pushing and involve more than simply the use of hands. All styles of Tai Chi Chuan have their own versions of push hands suited to the particular style but all train timing, distance, angle, balance, footwork and co-ordination. Some other drills train a certain concept. The exercises we have come to term as push hands were obviously developed at a later stage than the self defence applications of the art and were developed to enhance fighting ability. This would involve controlling an opponent at a close quarters level and revealing vital points to attack.

 The drills develop listening ability where we can feel the opponents force and what he is doing or about to do. They teach you how to then divert or neutralise the opponents attempts and thirdly how to discharge or more importantly when to discharge. Pushing hands drills are a way of practising the eight forces and five steps which are connected to the thirteen tactics associated with Tai Chi Chuan.

 For the sake of the article, I shall divide the push hands drills into two types: fixed and moving step. I shall begin with the fixed.

 Four Directional Pushing Hands

The four directional drill involves four different uses of force: Peng (upwards diversion), Lu (sideways diversion), Ji (straight push) and An (downward push). From this drill, we can move into many self defence applications involving sweeps and locks etc.

 Fu Yang

Bow down, look up. This trains the stance and the waist. As one bends forwards in a front stance to press on the torso, the other bends back and looks up, then as the partner slides his hands down his body he sinks down and bends at the waist in a back stance.

 Zhou Lu

This drill uses the forearm to divert and lock the opponents arm. This kind of action can be used whilst wearing boxing gloves or whilst the hands are occupied with a weapon.

 Reeling Silk

This trains the concept of gyrating arms. When an opponent presses down on your arms, you follow the direction of his force and circle round in an arc to counter attack.

 Single Handed Pushing Hands

This trains the stance and the waist: as one partner gives by bringing his weight forward whilst pressing the others arm, the partner receives and brings his weight back turning his waist. I shall now go on to the moving set drills.

 Seven Stars Pushing Hands

The seven stars teaches a diagonal evasive step which is based on the seven stars of the Plough, or the Dipper. It teaches evasion and counter attack. It consist of seven steps and pushes forward whilst the partner takes seven steps back with seven diversions.

Da Lu This drill is known as the Great Sideways Diversion but my master prefers to call it Four Corners Step Push Hands which is a better description. The four corners are four methods of using force. This time they are Cai (pluck), Lie (to spiral), Zhou (use of elbow or forearm), and Kao (use of shoulder to bump). With this exercise you can go through the eight gates (eight trigrams) with your partner or do it in a freer way.

 Nine Palace Step Pushing hands

Here the pusher does a cross step as he does two pushes and the partner does two diversions to counter, they then change roles. This method can also be applied to sticky spears.

 Cai Lang

This is the uprooting wave and it’s concept of using the body in a wave type motion can be added to self defence as well as all the other methods of push hands. It also appears in the form, Nei Kung and weapons work. My master has only taught this to a select few so I shall refrain from going into more detail.

 Competition Push Hands

Many believe free push hands to be a genuine test of skill for Tai Chi Chuan, as it involves grappling skills and the ability to redirect the opponents force and to apply your own force at close quarters. Competition can be great if the rules are not too tight. Some Tai Chi practitioners are against this and complain that push hands in no way tests the martial ability and skill. However, the aim of pushing hands competition is to get the opponent off balance. This is a crucial skill that sets the opponent up for a sweep, throw, strike or lock. Striking arts such as Karate and Taekwondo do not possess this and it is one of the main reasons many of these practitioners take up arts, such as Tai Chi Chuan which train this type of skill. I personally think push hands competition is a useful addition to ones development . Over the years, I have found many armchair experts in Tai Chi who will talk for hours about why not to do something. They are usually reluctant to demonstrate their skills at a push hands competition or San Shou contest. I am very pleased to have gained experience from many a competition and have since moved on to other things.

 Tai Chi Pushing HandsSo that’s the end of my brief explanation concerning push hands for those who are unsure of what it is or what the benefits may be.

 I hope I have managed to shed a little light on the subject.



The picture to the right shows two Tai Chi Practitioners carrying out Pushing Hands.

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ashley's picture

Thanks Andrew for this article, it's extremely useful and i'm sure it will be read by many. I didn't realise there were so many types of pushingg hands, in general it seems to have the same principle as Chi Sao, in a way that it's all related to sensitivity, is that right?
clouddragon's picture

Thanks Ashley for adding it to the articles, I could have wrote a lot more on the subject but didn't want to become boring! As for a relation to Chi Sao I would say yes, especially Reeling Silk push hands that involves strikes to body and head. I have seen Chi Sao as a competition also. Yes the push hands trains sensitivity to a great degree and I think is a very important part of an internal system. Cheers.
Chaleira's picture

Great article, very detailed. Thanks for the post. I love reading and learning about tai chi. Pretty much all martial arts. Tai chi one of the favorites though. This article was enlightening
clouddragon's picture

Thanks, I am glad you liked it and appreciate the feed back.
444four444's picture

Thanks for clearing that up. I really had no idea what it was. :P
clouddragon's picture

No probs, it is only one aspect of a martial art and is also a part of other Internal martial arts. It's a link or a useful training tool but not a means to an end on it's own. Like my friend Medway said it shouldn't be mistaken for fighting. It does help gain the skills needed though. :)
Tim-Bo's picture

Great article
decker dude's picture

A great article Andrew, i am hoping my wife will start Tai Chi soon, so all the info i can get for her will help i feel!
clouddragon's picture

Oh glad you enjoyed, I did another one on the tai chi punch as well, I did it quite a while back but sure you will find it here somewhere :)
ashley's picture

The Tai Chi punch article is listed in the 'related articles' just at the top of the comments on this page.
Karate Kitty's picture

Informative and I learnt something new. Also very interesting. Great share.
clouddragon's picture

Thanks again Kitty :)