Friday, April 01, 2005

My Experiences In The Study of Push Hands by Xiang Kairen

In 1923 I began the study of Taijiquan from Chen Weiming in Shanghai.
Master Chen and his own teacher, Yang Chengfu were just the same. They loved to use ward-off and press to advance and attack. However, they didn't issue power. They just forced me into a posture where I was
stuck and completely without strength. I was neither able to move out
of the way nor neutralize. This stage was the hardest to bear as a
beginning student of push-hands.

Later Master Wang Ruen arrived in Shanghai. I studied Wu Style form
with him. When I tried to use the ward-off and press techniques that I
had learned from Master Chen, Master Wang was able to nullify my
attacks very easily. The result of my study was a realization that my
sensitivity was very dull. Master Wang could use his postures to
attack as he wished, keeping extremely light and spirited. I would
wait until my strength was exhausted. Having already lost my center of
gravity, I could neither move out of the way nor neutralize.

I asked Master Wang, "How would Wu Jianquan attack while pushing
hands?" He said, "When Master Wu would push-hands he very rarely
attacked. However if you tried to oppress him, then he would always
force you into a position of being without strength and unable to
defend. Because of this most people say that Yang emphasizes
discharging power; Wu emphasizes neutralizing. But actually,
discharging is neutralizing. If you cannot neutralize, then you are
unable to discharge, However, the personalities of these two
individuals are different, and their methods differ accordingly."

In 1929 I studied push-hands from Xu Yusheng in Beijing. He had
learned his Taijiquan from Song Siming. This was the lineage of Song
Yuanchiao. Master Xu paid special attention to opening and closing
techniques and matched movements with his breath. He analyzed each of
the movements according to the Thirteen Postures, and paid special
attention to "central equilibrium" as the mother of the Thirteen
Postures. All postures issue from "central equilibrium." He also paid
attention to five words mentioned in the boxing manuals: "
perseverance, diligence, daring, energy and appropriateness". He said
that "appropriateness" was the most important. The meaning is to find
an appropriate usage for each movement. Thus Master Xu had the best
ability to make use of each kind of movement in the form during his
push-hands. Unfortunately, at that time he was director of both the
Beijing Martial Arts Hall and the Beijing School of Physical
Education. He was too busy with work and was unable to spend much time with me discussing technique. He introduced me to master Liu Ennuan, who taught me push-hands.

Master Liu had also learned his Taijiquan from Song Siming. However,
his pushing method was different from that of all the masters
mentioned above. He would be suddenly light, suddenly heavy, suddenly
distant, suddenly near. In each case, I was unable to follow or
adhere. Sometimes he would suddenly lift up, and even my heels would
be lifted off the ground. Suddenly releasing, I would fall ahead into
the void. After three months, I gradually became accustomed to this
and was no longer seduced by his technique. In the past, I had studied
external boxing; sometimes I would get aggravated by Master Liu's
attack and use external boxing methods to strike. He would immediately
stop pushing and say, "Push-hands is a method of training; it is not
fighting. Your mind must not be struggling with the thoughts of
winning or losing. If we were comparing our abilities in competition,
then our postures would not be the same. There would be no principle
of standing without moving or waiting for your partner to attack.

When I heard these words, I was very ashamed. I had a deep sense that,
while pushing hands, I should harbor no thought of winning or losing.
Not abiding by the rules and trying to steal a hit is what martial
artists call "breaking tradition." In social intercourse, my actions
would be called "lack of courtesy". Essentially I was being immoral.

In 1934 I was in Changsha pushing hands with a classmate. Wang Ruen
was watching from the side. Suddenly he said, "How is it that there is
no opening or closing in your push-hands?" I quickly stopped and
asked, "When you taught me push-hands you never spoke of opening and
closing. Teach us, where should we look for this opening and closing?"
He said, "Don't the Boxing Treatises say that if you can open and
close, then you can breathe, and if you can breathe then you will be
spirited and lively? You should have discovered this principle
yourself." I said, "A long time ago I suspected that I didn't really
comprehend those two words. What is the meaning of "if you can open
and close, then you can breathe"? Being unable to breathe, isn't that
the same as being dead?"

Master Wang laughingly replied, "I am afraid you really don't
understand! Everybody breathes. This is the breath of the natural
person, but it is not the breath of an artist. If an artist cannot
synchronize his breathing, then he feels like he cannot breathe at
all. This is extremely important. When you read books praising
demonstrations by martial artists, there are always two expressions
used, 'The face does not change color and 'The breath is not panting.'
Just now as you were practicing push-hands, you were panting. This is
because you were not paying attention to the breath." I said, "Xu
Yusheng once told me that there must be opening and closing
coordinated with the breath. At that time I disregarded his teaching.
Nor did I pursue him to ask how to find that coordination.
Furthermore, I was not aware that push-hands also has opening and
closing which must be similarly coordinated with the breath."

Master Wang continued, "When you first began to study, I couldn't
speak of this kind of movement, because it is too complicated. It is
not easy to feel and comprehend. But at this stage in your training,
you must devote your effort to synchronizing opening and closing with
the breath." He then proceeded to point out some examples from the
form. For instance, ward-off and press are "opening". Roll-back and
push are "closing".

From that time on, I began to search for opening and closing movements
whenever I practiced the form. After several days I thought I had
gotten it. I practiced "Grasp the Sparrow's Tail" while Master Wang
observed. Master Wang said with a laugh, "No need to continue. Your
opening is not opening; your closing is not closing." At that time, he
had a folding fan in his hand. As he waved the fan, flicking it open
and closed, he asked, "How is this opening and closing produced?" I
said, "It is produced by the motion of your hand." He shook his head
and pointed to the button that held the ribs of the fan together,
saying, "Only if you have this thing is it possible to open and
close." Then he pointed to the door of the house, saying, "It is just
like this door--which must have a hinge in order to open and close.
You haven't yet discovered this pivot, so naturally your opening is
not opening, your closing is not closing." I asked, "Where is the
pivot?" He replied, "This is something you yourself must find. If I
tell you, it would be of no use."

Because of this "pivot" I immersed myself in study and practice for
more than a month. I thoroughly familiarized myself with the theories
concerning Taijiquan. The result was a sudden insight--I realized that
the pivot is in the waist. Thereupon I began again to search for
"opening" and "closing". In order to bring the form more in harmony
with my realization, I changed many of the linkage points between the
postures. Later I felt that within each movement there are several
openings and closings, all of which must coordinate with the
breathing. I spent more and more time refining the movements.

At this time, since Master Wang was teaching at Hunan University, it
was not easy to meet. After half a year I chanced upon him and
excitedly began to demonstrate for him. He smiled and nodded his head,
saying, "Although you are not at the heart of it, you are not far! You
only know that the control is in the waist, but you have overlooked
the word 'between' in the saying, 'The meaning and source of life is
between the kidneys [here, kidneys means waist],' and you have skipped
over the word 'middle' in the saying, 'You must at all times keep the
mind in the middle of the waist.' You must understand that these two
words show the location of the 'life meridian' of Taijiquan. From
these two sayings we can also see from whence comes the name
'Taijiquan'. If you are unable to find this, then you will not find
'central equilibrium' among the Thirteen Postures. Moreover, how will
you understand the principle of 'When you move, everything moves. When
you are still, everything is still.'? It is true that this theory is
quite abstruse and not easy to grasp. And it is even more difficult to
actually experience in the body. If one speaks of this to beginners,
it is not only of no benefit, but, to the contrary, it would cause
them to be skeptical and disparaging. Therefore the ancients did not
lightly or easily pass on their knowledge. It is not that they were
scared of people knowing, but that they were scared of people not
knowing." When I heard this profound instruction, I was so grateful
that I felt like crying.

The theories and experiences which I have shared above are, I feel,
the most precious cultural heritage to be gleaned from our people's
physical education and exercises. I felt that I should present this
openly to the public. There are many people practicing Taijiquan and
not a few books on the subject. However, there are still very few who
have written specifically and systematically on the theory of
push-hands. So I have written this essay as a reference and study
guide for all who love Taijiquan"

* * * * *

Xiang Kairen was a writer of martial arts novels and also had an
opportunity to study with many of the noted teachers of his day,
especially with the Wu and Yang families.


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