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Feature Article

Push Hands with A Great Tai Chi Master

Grandmaster Fu Sheng Yuan, now 70 years old, is the 5th generation of a long tradition of Tai Chi experts who teach the world famous Yang Style Tai Chi.

Grandmaster Fu began learning Tai Chi at the age of nine. He studied with his father, Tai Chi legend Fu Zhong Wen and many of Yang Cheng Fu's disciples. Training was hard and his father's standards were very high. There were times when his father demanded that he practised the Tai Chi form thirteen to fourteen rounds. One round of the form is 20 minutes, so Grandmaster Fu would train four hours continuously. This type of training develops leg strength, stamina and internal strength. By the time Grandmaster Fu was 20, he had already achieved a good level of Tai Chi kung fu. This means that his body had changed according to the training and had developed the desired level of internal power and spring force (pung jin). Grandmaster Fu continued training and eventually began teaching his family's art.

B&W_2_men.jpg (6852 bytes)For over 50 years, Grandmaster Fu lived closely with his father, always listening and learning from the interactions of his father and his father's peers. Fu Sheng Yuan became the repository of the knowledge of the great masters of the Yang family lineage.

It has been 12 months exactly since we last saw Grandmaster Fu. All those who attended the workshops were inspired by the vitality and strength of this 70 year old man! Students were amazed at his relaxed and graceful movements. People half of his age are not able to move through the form as effortlessly as Grandmaster Fu.

The authentic Yang Style Tai Chi form is the foundation for the health, relaxation and martial aspects of this system. The development of specialised skills in preparation for the use of Tai Chi as a self defence art is borne through the practice of Push Hands. If the movements of your Tai Chi form are correct, your Push Hands will quickly develop and reach a proficient standard. Push Hands demands a high degree of relaxation, sensitivity and coordination. Practising Push Hands is necessary for fighting and is good for simply deepening your understanding of Tai Chi.

Push Hands involves learning and practising Tai Chi's 13 kinetic movements:

  • the 5 directions: left, right, forwards, backwards, centre, and

  • the 8 energies: pung, lu, ji, an, tsia, li, jou, khor (ward off, roll back, press, push, uproot, split, elbow, "shoulder").

Push hands helps to develop your understanding of Tai Chi as a fighting art. You learn to use your body efficiently, improving your coordination and the various energies.

One of the first requirements for Push Hands is developing listening energy, a very high degree of sensitivity. This is done by practising in a relaxed, slow, smooth manner. Over a period of time, you will sense the slightest change in you opponent.
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Through Push Hands training, you learn the meaning of using only four ounces to deflect a thousand pounds. The training is not of brute strength, but of skill, sensitivity, coordination and timing. It also builds internal strength. Yang Cheng Fu was known to throw his opponent far away with just the slightest of movement.

In this type of training, there is no substitute for the direct experience of a master's touch. As soon as you feel the degree of softness, sensitivity and strength in Grandmaster Fu's body, you begin to understand what you are trying to achieve, and the real meaning of relaxation under pressure. Read the impressions of the students who had this rare opportunity (June 2001) to push hands with a practitioner of such world recognised lineage and expertise!

Chief Instructor Brett Wagland


"I benefited greatly from Grandmaster Fu's workshop. I feel that I now have a much better understanding of the principles of Yang Style Push Hands. Grandmaster Fu's correction of my technique made enormous difference to my practice, giving me an appreciation of the relaxation, awareness and supple strength required in Push Hands. The highlight of the workshop was practising Push Hands with Grandmaster Fu; now I have an inkling of how much further I have to go!"

Peter


"Pushing hands with Grandmaster Fu gives a visible form to the principles of Tai Chi. At the start of the class, he emphasised the importance of ward off. Practising with him not only improved my ward off posture, but also illustrated the requirement that all movements should have ward off energy. His body is also extremely relaxed when he moves. Doing the lead-follow exercise with Grandmaster Fu was like trying to put my hands on a cloud. I could see it, and I could reach it, but I couldn't quite grasp it. I was also on the receiving end of a demonstration of the effects of sinking the chi. While always moving very gently, Grandmaster Fu was able to make me feel as if I was 'up' and off balance, while always staying 'down' and in balance himself."

Nigel


"Any movement Grandmaster Fu did with me felt as if his whole body was behind it. I felt potential power in every movement. I always felt as if I was being led into a trap.

Grandmaster Fu looks at least 20 years younger than his age. He moves gracefully, effortlessly and skilfully. Only those who have trained long and hard with the traditional old master are able to move as Grandmaster Fu does.

The demonstration of Fa Jin after class was truly amazing. The speed and power that is generated from being able to relax totally is awesome!"

Chris


"Grandmaster Fu Sheng Yuan's touch during single-hand Push Hands is singular testimony to the product of this kind of training. His arms feel very relaxed and almost rubbery to touch. This kind of 'texture' is usually indicative of two things: enormous speed and advanced ability to 'listen' to or interpret an opponent's energy.

In the actual single-hand Push Hand practice, the importance of the leg training we had been practising in the Internal Martial Arts classes became evident. To 'sit' during Push Hands, you really need that leg strength, otherwise even five minutes can be quite painful. Moreover, if the legs aren't strong, the upper body starts to tense up. This means that you are less pliable in responding to the opponent's force. Also your ability to connect to the internal is immediately limited because you can't really relax. These are just the basics, and the basics are quite difficult to get right, let alone do them skilfully.

Grandmaster Fu Sheng Yuan is always smiling and ready for a joke. His distinctive good humour, friendliness and concern to pass on the true essence of his art are obvious to anyone on first meeting him. At 70 years of age, he is a living testimony to both the physical and mental health benefits of Taijiquan practice."

Matthew


"I thought the workshop provided great insight into the martial art aspects of Tai Chi and my understanding of body mechanics. It was amazing to feel how correct the movements seemed after Grandmaster Fu made adjustments to my posture and arm positions."

Stephen


"It was quite an eye-opener, meeting Grandmaster Fu. For someone who has already passed the 70 year mark, Grandmaster Fu moved with a strength and fluidity that belied his age. In the two hours of the workshop, he made a point of spending time with each of us for each exercise. This led to some very sore legs by the end of the session, but some very useful insights as well. Although Grandmaster Fu's English is limited, he communicates with his body - a twist of the wrist here, a shift of the shoulder there - small changes, but they really make a difference. As a result, my Push Hands technique is now much more stable and efficient. Attending the workshop and meeting Grandmaster Fu really brought home to me the power behind the form and the benefits of dedicated practice."

Jim


"Push Hands with Grandmaster Fu was both annoyingly frustrating and inspiringly enjoyable. As soon as we'd started, he told me to relax, and I did so. Then he told me to relax more, and I relaxed as much as I thought I possibly could. Again, he told me to relax, and I'm sure I've never before in my life been quite so relaxed. As he moved on to the next student he told me, as an aside, that I should try to be more relaxed. It took me quite a while to realise that I hadn't been able to feel how relaxed he was - I just couldn't tell where his force was coming from.

The workshop as a whole was also inspiring. Learning some of the ways that the practice of Push Hands ties in with the Tai Chi form was particularly interesting, and I'll be incorporating those ideas into my practice of the form."

Alex


"Of course it was great! It was a great privilege to get the benefit of Grandmaster Fu's wisdom and experience. But at the same time, I couldn't help thinking it was wasted on people like me. I really need to get to a regular Push Hands session (maybe next year when I have finished my uni course). Then a lesson from the master would really be beneficial, as I would be able to carry over what I learned into my daily practice. But for me, now, it was only a taste of the next stage of Tai Chi beyond the form.

No doubt the younger guys, who are doing Push Hands regularly, really benefited from it."

David


"I have always found Tai Chi a graceful art - this is what attracted me to it. Yet through the Push Hands Workshop, I began to understand the power that is developed by harnessing the entire body in a single movement. I must admit that I found forty or so minutes of pung, lu, ji and an strenuous, and was amazed at Grandmaster Fu Sheng Yuan's almost youthful ability to practise with everyone in the workshop. I would recommend the workshop to anyone. It grants an understanding, I think, of how power can be brought up from the ground and transmitted through the hands, whilst undertaking a gentle shadowing of your partner's movement."

Govinder


"It was a wonderful experience to spend two hours with Grandmaster Fu, concentrating on Push Hands. It is hard in class to spend the proper amount of time, focussing on this aspect of the practice. Listening to Grandmaster Fu reinforced and extended what Brett teaches us in the Internal Martial Arts classes. It was a privilege to practise with Grandmaster Fu - he was incredibly soft and relaxed. It's something for us all to aspire to."

Simon

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