Musing about An (Push)
This week we will focus on An which is usually translated as Push, but because we are talking about Push in Tai Chi Chuan, it requires some explanation. This is a rather long exploration of the topic. We will continue with “Outreach”, and “Uproot” next week.
Push is, I would say, the most identifiable movement in Tai Chi. Whereas Ji or Press is a bit mysterious, we have all been doing push since we were in the crib as a baby and continued probably everyday of our lives.
People generally think about “Push” as two hands on something and moving it away. Yet we can Push with any part of our body, including the feet and legs, hips, shoulders, back of the arm, back of the hand. An (Push in Tai Chi) is composed of two parts. The first is a neutralize, done either slightly upward, then downward, before the push upward to uproot; or slightly downward first before the slightly upward for the uproot. For our discussion, we’ll look at a couple of common applications for An. First a little theory.
Think about the baby, lying on its back in the crib. It decides to look around. What does it do? First it rolls over (a lot of effort to learn that skill), as it can’t sit up yet due to the abdominal muscles not being developed yet. Once on its belly, and if the arms somehow get caught under the torso, it figures out, after many tries, how to push the torso away from the mattress and elevate the head, so it can now look around. Amazing. Once this skill is learned, it keeps happening until the baby learns to crawl. Yet if you think about it, crawling utilizes push with one arm then the other, alternating.
The baby learns to use push to send away food it doesn’t like. If it has a crib mate, he learns to push it away for the fun of it. The baby uses push to stand up, and then it learns to push all sorts of things out of the way. As it ages it learns to push drawers close, push doors closed, push the shopping cart at the grocery store, push the lawn mower, push the broom to clean the studio floor. In high school I “pushed” the shot putt.
Push requires at least two surfaces. Most people push primarily with their arms, by bending at the elbow, attaching the hands to a surface, then straightening one or both arms. The result is that usually the lighter object moves while the heavier one stays put.
How can that be? I’ve pushed a car, and certainly the car is heavier than I am. But think a moment. The car is free to roll. I place my arms on the car, get in close, bend the legs, with my feet on the ground. When I straighten my legs, the car moves because I am in the center, expanding in both directions at the same time and the earth is heavier than the car. What happens if this happens on fairly fresh ice. The car is heavier than the water/ice, so when I push the ground away, I might end up cracking the ice, falling in, while the car stays still. In space, because of the lack of gravity, it is easy to see that the heavier object stays while the light one pushes itself in the opposite direction.
So let’s look at a Tai Chi push. There are several ways to do this effectively. If the person who we want to push is heavier, we must use the “car push” which means we need to use our legs, get our center of gravity under theirs, and push down against the earth with our legs. This results in what we call “an uproot”. A root is caused by the gravity of the earth pulling an object (the body in this case) down. The uproot occurs because we get our center under the partners and let our legs push downward, while the upper body aims upward, severing the root. The hands and arms act as the attachment to use the energy of the legs to do the work.
The legs generally use what I call “Step Up”. The idea is that you are going to step in with your forward foot and replace his body with yours, pushing him away. Try this. You and a partner face each other, using the Bow stance, left foot forward. Toes of the forward foot are on the same horizontal plane. Your arms are in Push shape, his forearm is in Ward Off (round in front of the center of the chest). Your hands are attached to his wrist and elbow. Keeping your elbows in front of your torso, bring the right foot up, just to the side and slightly behind your left foot, shift the weight to this foot, step into the base of the partner with your left foot, sink your internal energy, and finally shift your weight forward onto the left foot with a slight lifting push. This push energy is coming from the front leg pressing down. His body should be displaced by yours.
Another Tai Chi push is to use the arms pushing at an angle to partner’s base of support . For instance, have some one stand in Bow stance, weight on the forward foot. Now place your body to the side of the partner, not in front. And then push straight, side to side. I’m sure, if the person doesn’t figure out how to soften and wiggle out of the push, he will be thrown off balance. This sideways push usually follows your peng or yang energy being neutralized to the side, so you come back at his center from the side.
If you stand directly in front of the parter who is in Bow stance and push straight, it is easy for the person being pushed to direct the push energy into the rear leg, making that person heavier and harder to move. This is called “borrowing the energy”. Remember, if you want to jump high, you first bend deeply into your legs, “borrowing energy”, then release by springing upward.
A more stationary Tai Chi push, called a “circle push”, mostly uses the uproot technique. Here is how it is done. The partner is directly in front of us and attempts to push us with straight ahead energy. We out reach (join with this energy on our front foot), neutralize by shifting the weight back and, at the same time, we lift a bit so his upper body rises some so he can’t root into the front foot. We then borrow his energy into our rear leg by sinking our internal energy, sending our energy into the ground (rooting, borrowing), send it forward under the ground, and come up under his root and throw him away by pressing down into our forward foot.
This sounds complicated, but it isn’t once you understand what is needed. It is like rolling a ball in front of the body. From the arms at the level of the center of the chest with the weight on the forward foot, the arms circle first up as we shift back, down to the lower torso as we sink our internal energy, and finally back up to the center of the ball when we all the way forward.
So imagine holding a ball by the sides. As you shift back, the ball comes up towards the face. Then drop the weight as the hands lower down to the Dantien (lower belly) level, then back up as you finish the movement forward. A nice, smooth circle in the front of the body.
Please excuse the rather rambling nature of this discussion. I just hope some of it will resonate with you. Next week we continue looking at the Thirteen Methods.
First Saturday Workshop – May 4, 1 to 4 PM – Studio Push Hands – $30 –
At The Studio: 913 L St. in Port Townsend
This workshop will focus on what I call “Studio Push Hands”. Studio Push Hands means our focus is on understanding how energy can be used appropriately, and for form improvement. Tournament Push Hands is for competition skills. We will work on simple partner energy exchange exercises that illustrate Peng, Lu, Ji, and An. Depending upon time, we will start with single hand (each person uses one hand), and move into four hands (each person uses two hands). If you haven’t had push hands experience, this will change your solo form, bringing inner reality. If all goes according to plans, we will continue this study for several months. See you there. One needs some Tai Chi experience. You don’t need to have finished the form. Any style is fine.