Of all the numerous articles about Yang Family Tai Chi Chuan which have appeared in many magazines, not one of them has done more than scrape the surface. Yang style is perhaps the most popular of the tai chi styles due to four generations of dedication to promoting the art. One great master of Yang style, Yang, Cheng-Fu, traveled all over China to promote the art. Although he taught thousands of students, he accepted only five people as formal disciples, and marked his eldest son--Yang, Sau-Chung--as his successor. Therefore, although many people claim to teach his Yang Family Tai Chi Chuan, there are only a very few people who are actually teaching the authentic art.
In order to distinguish between the popular and the traditional version, I shall call the latter classical yang style, as this is the only version that includes the complete transmission from Yang, Cheng-Fu. The popular version, due to the personal interpretations of generations of outsiders, no longer has any association with the classical version taught by Yang, Cheng-Fu and his eldest son, Yang, Sau-Chung.
The "pushing hand" aspect of the classical art is one of the least understood. The term "pushing hand" was originally used to refer only to the Yang style method of developing chin, power or strength. Later, other styles adapted this term. In Yang style, the pushing hand method includes eight fundamental postures and a special kind of power called "buoyancy power." This buoyancy power is unique of its kind among all martial arts; one can only find it in the system of tai chi chuan. It is the functional or applicational meaning of chin.
The Nature of Chin
One may ask what chin is and how it is developed. Chin is a common name referring to various techniques in pushing hand. It is similar to chi (internal power) except that chin is used and specifically developed in pushing hand exercises. Even if one practices chi, one may not have the strength to perform hand techiques. If chi is an internal power, then chin is a purer internal power. Chin is more advanced than chi; it evolved from chi and requires much harder work to master. Most people practice chi simply for health benefits. But people who practice chin do it not for health alone, but because it holds the martial aspects of tai chi chuan. Tai chi cultivates the vital chi in the body, but chin has to go beyond this. While pushing hand exercises practice with this vital chi, the fruit of this practice is called chin.
In the pushing hand exercise, neutralizing the opponent is not enough. You will not develop chin by this means because you are overcoming your opponent with your skill, not with your chin. But if you have chin, you can apply any of the eight postures and easily destroy your opponent. What follows is a brief description of the eight fundamental postures which use and develop chin power.
1) Warding off chin. The forearms, which possess chin, rotate outward. Because the form is composed mostly of this chin, it is necessary to understand it well. The function of this chin is to act as boundary line. Therefore, when you are doing movements such as ward off, closed hands, step up, and cross hands, you should not let the hands be too close to the body. If this happens, you will not possess chin on the forearms.
2) Pull backward chin. The palms, which possess chin, rotate inward. This applies to almost every movement which requires shifting the body's weight from a forward stance with or without bringing the hands back. There is a simple and a complex way of doing this. Neutralization is the simple way. You deflect the oncoming power of your opponent to the side as you move your hands and waist to the side. But this does not help to develop chin (strength) in your hands because your hands do not take any pressure from your opponent's oncoming power.
In executing the complex technique, your hands possess strength in contact with your opponent's hands, and you then bring your hands back slowly. You are storing strength and your opponent is giving up all of his strength. When he reaches his maximum stretch, he will fall on the ground with no strength left. This is complex, because your hands and arms must have enough strength to cope with your opponent's forward stance advantage. If you are not careful, you will end up using power vs. power.
3) Press chin. Two hands together are applied in warding off chin. Strength is focused in the hands, rather than in the forearms.
4) Push chin The two hands, which possess chin, are focused on one specific point and applied in warding off chin.
5) Pull down chin The two hands, which possess strength with different force, are applied in the same direction. When this is used, the opponent will fall, no matter how strong he is. This is called "cool chin," because it occurs suddenly or unexpectedly.
6) Split chin The two hands, which store the warding off chin, apply it in opposite directions. Often the result is that the opponent spins like a whirlpool.
7) Elbow strike chin After the opponent has passed your hands, which are the first defense, apply the warding off chin with the elbow.
8) Shoulder strike chin After the opponent has passed your hands and elbows, which are the first and second defense, apply the warding off chin with the shoulder.
Pushing hand exercises the tendons and muscles, making them first soft, then elastic. Tai chi can only condition or tune up the tendons and muscles. However, pushing hand also stimulates them.
Chin is nurtured, not natural. It is hard to master because it goes from weakness to strength. In other words, chin grows only when two practitioners who are working together have unequal chin, and the weaker pushes the stronger. The hardest part of this kind of pushing hand practice comes when practitioners have to apply all the chin they possess. But after each pushing hand session, practitioners gain some chin. In the long run, one will gain a lot of chin. This is one of the reasons why it takes tai chi practitioners a long time to master the art and possess the chin or power. It is obvious that the strength possessed by Yang, Cheng-Fu or any other members of the Yang family is not a myth. People who do not believe the Yang's ability simply do not know the facts about them.
Pushing hand can be classified or divided into three stages, according to what it develops: chin or strength development; technique development; and application development--strength with technique.
1) Chin development. In this stage, students practice dynamic pushing hand. The term pushing hand was created to refer to this stage. Hands and legs are the major concern. The exercise is as follows: If A has more strength than B, then B applies press techniques against A everytime. However, when doing the solo form, strength does not really appear. Therfore, the solo form functions only as a warm-up exercise. This pushing hand exercise not only helps B gain strength, but also helps A gain strength, because when B presses against A, A has to maintain his balance and generate strength to overcome B's strength. A can apply warding off, shoulder strike and push techniques at first. Later, when strength increases, he can use any part of his body. You can see pactitioners' strength increase in this phase and their body's condition improve as well.
2) Technique development. In this stage, students focus on coordination, sensitivity, balance and techniques. These are four exercises that must be practiced in this stage: the basic jointed hand operation; four directions with active steps; and da lu--four corners and four directions. The basic jointed hands operation develops the student's sensitivity as he rotates his hands in circular motion. In four directions with stationary step exercise, the student practices the four major postures: warding off, pull backward, press, and push. In the four directions with active step exercise, the student practices the four major postures and the five steps. And in the four directions and four corners exercise, the student practices the pull down, split, elbow strike, anf shoulder strike postures. All the exercises here require body coordination and balance, especially the last two exercises. Therfore, when students practices these two exercises, the knees must be bent and they must pick up speed each time. The lead man has to be quick and the follower has to be able to catch up.
3) Application development. No definte exercise is required in this stage. Students practice according to the strength and techniques they have each developed in the first two stages. If A is stronger than B, A control every move of B. The more strength A has, the easier it looks for him, and the reactions of B look as if they were preplanned. It is hard for onlookers to believe that B's ability to respond to a much stronger opponent is genuine. Because of this, many stories about the Yang family members developed.
Pushing hand is the martial art aspect of tai chi chuan. Therfore, it cannot be done all "soft" like the popular version of yang style. I think we should abolish the popular version and let the classical version carry on, because this is truly the most famous yang style tai chi chuan.