What is Pushing Hands or Tui Shou: quotes & thoughts

Honestly, Push Hands is a big mystery to me. I cannot put my finger on it, but I know I am still not sure what is Pushing Hands (or 推手 Tui Shou, the Chinese name).

Even though I continuously visit Tai Chi Push Hand workshops and classes and try to figure out, what is Pushing Hands. But there are still missing pieces. Thus I wanted to dig deeper and find out, what is said about Push Hands in different books.

Let’s start with my very own definition of what is pushing hands or Tui Shou, which I published in my Taijiquan & Qi Gong Dictionary*:

what is Pushing Hands / Tui Shou in Taijiquan

Tui Shou push hands, also called listening hands or sensing hands. A two-person training routine in Taijiquan. It shows the connection between the Taijiquan form movements and the self-defense techniques. Different methods of Tui Shou are Dingbu, Shunbu, Hebu, and Houbu.”
I think the most important part about this definition is that even though Push Hands sounds quite aggressive, it is actually quite soft. Like most things in Taijiquan. It is about listening and sensing my own body and my partner’s body. It is an opportunity to try all the Tai Chi principles and different applications of Tai Chi moves in a friendly setting. I think Andrew from InterMartialArts puts this into great words:
“The name is quite unsuitable as these drills contain a great deal more than pushing and involve more than simply the use of hands. All styles of Tai Chi Chuan have their own versions of push hands suited to the particular style but all train timing, distance, angle, balance, footwork and co-ordination. Some other drills train a certain concept. The exercises we have come to term as push hands were obviously developed at a later stage than the self defence applications of the art and were developed to enhance fighting ability. This would involve controlling an opponent at a close quarters level and revealing vital points to attack.
The drills develop listening ability where we can feel the opponents force and what he is doing or about to do. They teach you how to then divert or neutralise the opponents attempts and thirdly how to discharge or more importantly when to discharge. Pushing hands drills are a way of practising the eight forces and five steps which are connected to the thirteen tactics associated with Tai Chi Chuan.”
The more I think about what is push hands, I notice how the term itself is really misleading. On my search found out more about what is Pushing Hands, I then discovered an interesting article. It seems that Tui Shou or Push Hands are relatively new terms:
“Many people approach Chen Taijiquan’s “push hands” without really appreciating its subtleties and its place within the training curriculum. Interestingly even the term “tuishou” or “push hands” is a relatively recent term. Go back through the literature left by earlier generations and the term more commonly used was “geshou”. The literal translation of this is “putting hands”, but for readability in English we can say “placing hands”. Think of the action of putting a glass of water onto a table. Without paying attention and putting it down carefully we’ll either spill the water on the way to reaching the table. Or, worse we’ll drop the glass onto the floor if we release it too early. From this simple example we can see that the distance, angle etc must be exact.”

I wonder, why was the name Tui Shou or Push Hands created? Because I think Ge Shou or Placing Hands are actually easier to understand. Because that is what happens during a Pushing Hand session: you place the hands on each other and then listen with your hands.

And I have to admit, as I said before, that Push Hands are still a mystery to me. How it works and how I can be good at it. But Josh Waitzkin (the Chess Champion and Push Hands Champion), gives a very good description of how he felt during his first Push Hands sessions with William C.C. Chen, his teacher:

“On a basic level, the idea of Push Hands is to unbalance your opponent, and I tried to apply my old basketball instincts to do so. This guy [William C.C. Chen] was sixty-four years old and I was an athlete – shouldn’t be a problem. But Chen controlled me without any effort at all. He was inside my skin and I felt like I was doing a moon dance, floating around at his will, without any connection to the ground. At times he felt immovable, like a brick wall, and then suddenly his body would dissolve into cloudlike emptiness. It was astonishing”.

That is a really good description how I feel, when practicing Push Hands with a more advanced student than me. It is truly astonishing and I always get into this feeling of “I want to be able to do this, too!”. And I know I just need to continue practicing. Somehow I am patient with my Taijiquan practice, but not with my Push Hands. But that is another story.

I would like to add one more quote about the importance of Push Hands within Taiji training. Because maybe you are wondering if you should engage in Push Hands. Or just enjoy your Tai Chi exercises and the solo form. This is from one of my favorite Tai Chi books:

“In Pushing-Hands practice you will learn how to find a person’s yin and yang aspects and locate his center of gravity. Every person is different. You will learn not to be double-weigthed when you confront an opponent. Also, you will learn to find the opponent’s line of attack so you can push him over easily. If you do not practice Pushing-Hands, you will not learn these things. It is necessary to use your hand to interpret, and solo drills will not teach you this. I believe that a person cannot acquire a high level of skill if they do not practice Pushing-Hands.”

As he says, one can learn the solo form and become really good at it. But that is just one aspect of how to learn Tai Chi. Practicing Pushing Hands is vital to get deeper into the art and to gain insights in myself as a practitioner. It should be a part of all Tai Chi classes.

Now I would like to know from you: do you have a better understanding of what is push hands now? Obviously it is most important to just go and try it. But I would also like to hear your thoughts on Push Hands and which aspects are most important to you. Feel free to leave a comment what is Pushing Hands to YOU?

Happy Qi!


P.S.: In addition to this article about what is Pushing Hands, I want to write another article about the different kinds of Pushing Hands. Until then, have a look at this article for more information.

Or have a look at my Pinterest board dedicated to Push Hands and Tai Chi applications.

what is push hands or tui shou

If you are interested in more definitions, have a look at The Taijiquan & Qi Gong Dictionary*!


  • Hey Angelika,

    I love the design of your website and how informative it is 🙂

    I’m a fellow taichi student and stumbled upon your website upon searching the grasp the bird’s tail taichi move 🙂

    Would love to talk more if you have the time (do check out my website if you have the time as well, cheers :))

  • Hi Ronald,
    thank you for your kind note! I am happy to hear that you like my blog and that you have the same goal: to bring Tai Chi and with Tai Chi health to the people!

  • Pushing hands should be a part of all Tai Chi classes. Should be but is missing most of the time :-((((
    Most teachers are actually afraid of this exercise, and conveniently most people do not care about this part of taijiquan training.
    Did you know that push hands naming came from Yang school? In other styles, it is sometimes called playing hands and it is the fun part of the training!
    Fixed step trains flexibility. Moving step train coordination. We stick to and move along with each other continuously, making circles endlessly. The more you practice the more you are confortable and find this exercise fun to practice.
    Have fun

  • I agree, pushing hands should be part of all Tai Chi classes! And that is good to know, that the more I practice it, the more I will feel comfortable. Looking forward to that!

  • You have a nice website.

    William C.C. Chen is mentioned and he is one teacher who, through workshops, shaped the approach I take with my own students decades after I first met him.

    Particularly if you are studying push-hands on your own with partners not much more experienced than yourself than his “free-style” approach is probably best [in my opinion] and can lead, with time and effort, to a valuable understanding of the core concepts of push-hands.

    Studying any of the more structured methods is more difficult unless you can spend a great deal of time learning choreographies from people that can do them effectively; and, in the end, such skill can be a bit of a trap in the sense that one becomes “good at doing structured push-hands” as opposed to understanding intuitively how to change and be “sensitive”.

    Anyway, apologies for advice offered without having been first asked for my opinion. 🙂

  • Hi Michael,
    thank you for your comment! And I find that very interesting, that you say that structured push hands is better with a more experienced partner and free style is better with people on the same level as me. That is food for thought, thank you!

  • Hello Angelika,
    In the long-run, the more free-style approaches to push-hands can lead to greater levels of martial skill against unrehearsed “attacks” but the structured methods can provide a better foundation, especially in stylistic terms, for understanding whatever core principles are considered essential by your teacher or role-models.

    Like any other aspect of taijiquan, skill in push-hands comes, if it comes at all, from practising regularly with a variety of partners under the supervision of someone who has such skill and is willing and able to share it. Practising with different body types and different approaches to how aggressive or passive a partner can be are also potentially useful learning experiences.

    Too many people who practise push-hands either don’t take it seriously enough or conversely are so serious that they don’t enjoy the activity for it’s own sake. I once heard a teacher at a workshop say playfully that push-hands could be much like sex… when it’s good it’s great but even when it’s not great, it’s still pretty good. For both interpretations, good partners are essential, not luxuries!

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