Someone asked: “I have heard that Taiji Boxing comes from Daoism. The principles of Daoism emphasize non-competition. As Laozi said [Daodejing, chapter 8]: ‘If you do not compete, you will not lose.’ But boxing arts are all about fighting against people. If we say “don’t fight”, doesn’t that contradict what boxing arts are for?”
I replied that this is indeed the unique characteristic of Taiji Boxing. It says in the Treatise: “The basic of basics is to forget about your plans and simply respond to the opponent. We often make the mistake of ignoring what is right in front of us in favor of something that has nothing to do with our immediate circumstances.” This is a fundamental Taiji Boxing principle, to let go of your own ego and pay full attention to what the opponent is doing. If you can let go of yourself and follow the opponent, does this does not conform to the concept of non-competing?
Pushing hands is also called “hitting hands” for it is a method of practicing fighting with an opponent. However, it exhibits the principle of “neither coming away nor crashing in”. Not coming away means not disconnecting, thus following along with the opponent. Not crashing in means not resisting, thus letting go of your ego. If you can go along with the opponent, you are obviously able to let go of yourself. If you cannot comprehend Laozi’s idea, you will never be able to realize this principle. If you believe in the art, letting no doubts creep in, and practice it over a long period of time, you will naturally develop the quality of continuous flowing movement as you push back and forth with your partner, as well as the energies of sticking, connecting, adhering, and following.
By developing these energies, even if the opponent wants to attack you with great force, he will not be able to, and if he tries to force something to happen, the result will be his own fault. Laozi also said [DDJ, chapter 73]: “Win without fighting. Receive without demanding.” Based upon this idea are the principles of “draw the opponent in to land on nothing” and “use a mere four ounces of force to deflect his of a thousand pounds”.
In the beginning of learning pushing hands, both people connect with their arms and push, moving in circles back and forth. There are two methods: fixed step and moving step. Fixed step focuses on training the waist and legs, the alternating of emptiness and fullness, and on the arms neither coming away nor crashing in. As mentioned in the Playing Hands Song, it works the four techniques of warding off, rolling back, pressing, and pushing. Each should be clearly understood and performed with precision. In the beginning, you will feel like you are using a great deal of stiffness, and also that you are overwhelmed by the complexity of the movements, but once you have become familiar with the exercise, its subtleties will emerge and you will flow without pause.
[This paragraph added in the 1974 edition: The stance for pushing hands is called the “three-line” stance. Step your left foot to the forward left so that your feet are about shoulder width apart, the toes of both feet pointing forward. Your body squats down, both knees slightly bending. The weight shifts onto one foot, your front foot when your body moves forward, your rear foot when your body moves back. Keep your upper body upright, loosen your waist, hollow your chest, and breathe down to your lower abdomen. Keep your head straight, your headtop pulled up as if suspended so that spirit courses through to your headtop, and center your tailbone, curving your spine like a bow. Keep your arms slightly bent and level in front of you, your palms facing forward, wrists sitting, fingers pointing upward, spread and slightly bent, your front forefinger at nose level, your rear hand in front of your chest, the arm bent further than your front arm, your palms spread apart forward and back. Slouch your shoulders and droop your elbows, and then your shoulders will be united with your hips, elbows united with your knees, hands united with your feet. Your whole body should be lively and lack sluggishness.]
Pushing hands is also known as “feeding hands”. It is the beginning stage, a preparation. Once you have become skillful at feeding hands, you then have access to the real stuff. Standard pushing hands has four stages of training: listening, neutralizing, seizing, issuing.