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There are four basic Taiji Quan push hands and fighting skills - Zhan, Nian, Lian, and Sui. They are also called four basic Nei Jin - internal trained force. Without use these skills, one is not doing Taiji Quan. So that people usually say that these four skills are the foundation of all Taiji Quan techniques. They should be included in everywhere. They are the most important characteristics of Taiji Quan. They show the biggest difference between Taiji Quan and other martial arts style. It is why people always use them to express Taiji Quan. They are used as the brief definition of Taiji Quan.
Zhi Ji Zhi Bi - "know yourself and your opponent"
To understand these four skills is the first step to reach high level Taiji Quan skills. Pushing hands practice is only way to learn these skills. Sensitivity is the basis of these skills because all of them requires people to know their opponent's reaction and from the reaction to decide the right way of their response. This idea is sometime started as Zhi Ji Zhi Bi - "know yourself and your opponent". Without this, one cannot do Taiji Quan correctly. These four skills embody some basic Taiji Quan principles, typically refereed to as Jie Li Da Li - "borrow force from your opponent and use his force to beat him back"; Yi Jing Zhi Dong - "using still to control
motion"; Hou Fa Xian Zhi - "launching later but reaching first"; and She Ji Cong Ren - "forget yourself and obey (follow, yield) your opponent".
The original meaning of Zhan is to adhere or stick something up. In Taiji Quan practice it means to get your opponent to follow you a while under your control. It looks as if your opponent is struck to your hand (or the other part of your body). The technical term of this is “stick a person up” (It does not mean to grip or hold him up!). If you can do this well continually, your opponent appears to follow you and jump as if you have bounced him. This works because you have shaken and moved his root and cause him to lose his balance and he will try to use you to regain it. When the opponent has lost his balance and tries to use you to keep his balance, he must
follow you to move. While most of the time Zhan is used to get your opponent to follow you in an upward direction, it can be in any direction. When using Zhan, you do not use your force to move your opponent, instead of he is moved by his own force but by your control. So it is called "borrow force from your opponent and use his force to beat him back". To do Zhan well, you must have really good basic kungfu, like sensitivity and integration, and also understand the basic principles very well.
Thus the level of your Taiji Quan skill always can be judged from this skill.
Jie Li Da Li - "borrow force from your opponent and use his force to beat him back"
The key point of making Zhan well is to make your opponent lose his balance. Basically there are two kind of methods for doing Zhan. With the first method, you can use some skill to lead or seduce your opponent to loss his balance. It is called "lead coming in to fall down into a empty place". It will cause that he wants to use something to maintain his balance. At this time, give the part of your body (most time just use the touching point between you and the opponent) to him and then he will be controlled by you. The more balance he lose, the more force he will be use for keeping balance, so the more available force you can borrow from him and the easier you can do Zhan. Most time, it is difficult to seduce the opponent to lose his balance directly, so that the second method is used more often. With this method the first thing you need to do is to unsettle your opponent, sometimes called giving him some trouble first. This means that you should use some skills to make him feel uncomfortable, as if lose his balance, and must adjust his body. When he feels in the trouble or off-balanced, his reaction offers you a chance to do Zhan.
Choosing the right time and direction is important to do Zhan well. For example, if you can make your opponent feel compressed down really, you will probably have a good chance to use Zhan on him. Pay attention to his reaction, if you feel his legs push his body up, just raise up your hand and you can make him jump up by his own force. When he jumps, you can use some other technique to beat him. This will save a lot of energy and is thus real Taiji Quan skill. For timing, if your hands raise too early, there is no enough reaction force from the opponent; if your hands raise too late, the opponent just get time to regain his balance and you lose your chance. In
both cases your Zhan will not work. The best time to use Zhan is when his reaction force almost at its maximum and the next change has not happened yet. This is the time when it is most difficult for him to make a change. For direction, you should follow the direction of the opponent's reaction force. Although it is the best direction, it may be too difficult. For additional safety, you can use the technique of changing his direction slightly. For example move your hand in an arc. A little bit of change can confuse your opponent and thus be very helpful. The other important technique is to keep a little bit force in the reverse direction of the opponent's reaction. It is called "Yin and Yang supplement each other". In above example, when you raise your hand up, at the same time keep a little bit force to push down, it will make the opponent feel your downward push still there so that he will keep his reaction to against you. If your opponent's reaction force is not enough, you can use one hand to Zhan him and your other hand to help, that is push him according to the direction of his reaction. But this help should be light, smooth, soft, and coordinate with the other hand. It is a common technique which require a good integration of your body. If your opponent does not really know Taiji Quan, that is if his sensitivity is slow and his changes are clear and straight, Zhan can be done easy and you can have incredible results. But if your opponent has Taiji Quan skills, using Zhan will be difficult. The interesting thing is that usually the result is not good if you use your mind too much to do this skill. You should keep in natural way and do it naturally. In fact, most times Zhan is not used big and clearly. It is always mixed with or included in some other skills.
The original meaning of Nian is stick, adhere or paste to. In Taiji Quan practice it means to keep contact your opponent, and through this contact to make him feel uncomfortable. Keep this contact and never let him go away, like something adheres on his body. Be careful, it does not mean to use big force to hold your opponent. It should be light touching. When you use this skill, you should try to use the minimum force. We always say to unsettle your opponent a little bit each time but continually, until the opponent is in big trouble. Do not let him feel too much is important.
In pushing hands, when you touch your opponent, you should unsettle him. Do not use too much force, just let him feel that he must do something to solve the problem. Then he will give you a reaction. From his reaction, you can determine how you should respond. If you cannot make a chance, keep doing Nian, that means follow him, keep touching and giving him a little bit more trouble, and wait for him to give you more reaction. So Nian is also used to sound the opponent out. That means to give him questions and await his answers. The questions should hit his weakness point continually. If you have question for him one by one and he cannot give you the right answer on time, you are controlling him. The important things are to never let the opponent get away and to sense the right time and direction to make your next move. Be careful, do not use extra force, because if you use too much force, you will be difficult to relax, and it will cause your sensitivity to be sluggish.
Then you will be slow to change, and even maybe fall into your opponent's trap. So do not worry how big movement your opponent does, just to keep relax and touch him with a little bit change. Do not worry how fast movement he does, the interesting thing is just keep quite, relax, and touch him, and then you can get your chance.
This basic Taiji Quan idea is called "using still to control motion".
Yi Jing Zhi Dong - "using still to control motion"
The original meaning of Lian is continue or link. There are two meanings of Lian in Taiji Quan practice. They are continually follow and change. The first one means that you maintain continually contact by following your opponent and never let him leaving. Most time when people say Lian, they mean this. Basically Taiji Quan skills depend on your sensitivity. If you lose contact with your opponent (not just means physical, but mind and Shen), you cannot feel him any more, so that you cannot apply your Taiji Quan skills.
With Lian you just maintain continually contact with your opponent while waiting for a chance to use other skills. Lian is always included in other skills. It is also used to link changes, that means it like a transfer skill. If you can keep Lian, that means you can feel your opponent all time so that you can know him always. It is why sometimes we think it is first thing you should do in pushing hands or fighting. The basic Taiji Quan idea, "launching later but reaching (or getting control) first", is base on Lian skill. Also if you do some skills but failed, you can use Lian to get other chance. For example, when you use Nian to your opponent but he gets away. At that
time you should use Lian to keep contact him and to try another chance. If your opponent gives you some trouble, Lian can also help you to adjust your position and go back safe and comfortable situation. For example, when your opponent uses Zhan to destroy your balance, you should use Lian to follow him and adjust yourself, then wait a chance to beat him back. This is most common way to use Lian.
Hou Fa Xian Zhi - "launching later but reaching (or getting control) first"
The other way of Lian means continually change as you are following, that means each of your techniques are joined together like the links in a chain, never breaking your mind and movements, and never giving your opponent any chance to change. Link all changes one by one continually, smoothly, and never stop. The most common change of movement during Lian is to change the direction of your force and the most common way to change your force is to make your movements circular which keeps their direction continuously changing smoothly.
The original meaning of Sui is follow or obey. In Taiji Quan practice that means to follow your opponent's movement or mind. According to Taiji Quan principle, you should avoid to against the opponent by your force directly. You should make the opponent feel that he can get you but do not really let him get you. You should make him use some techniques that cannot really work on your body. If you can keep relax, you can do Sui well and from Sui you can feel and know your opponent well.
Sui requires that you really relax your body. Follow the direction and timing of your opponent' s force, whatever he does, do not let his force work on your body. It does not mean to use your force against his force. It means he cannot find a point to use his force on your body. Sui also does not mean leave and just run away. It means to keep touch with your opponent, never lose touch points. You should let your opponent feel he will have a chance to get you so that he will keep doing something.
She Ji Cong Ren - "forget yourself and obey (follow, yield) your opponent"
There is a famous sentence about Sui. It said: "forget yourself and obey (follow, yield) your opponent". It is a basic Taiji Quan idea. People always say if you cannot do this, you cannot do real Taiji Quan skills. But many misunderstanding also come from this point. The most common misunderstanding is to think Sui just means following or obey the opponent. To do Sui in this way will cause you become weak finally because anyone's movements have a limit, just do to follow in this way, finally you will in a very bad situation. This wrong way even causes some other misunderstanding or wrong impression, for example Taiji is too soft and cannot be used to
fight, or Sui is wrong idea that means real Taiji Quan skills can never do it. In fact a real Sui skill should follow your opponent first, maybe just in very short time, that means whatever he wants to do, just follow him and never against him. From this following you can get time to feel your opponent and then you should try to find a chance to make change, be careful for this change the smaller the better, usually to lead and seduce him to wrong way. It just like another classical sentence said: "to follow your opponent is for finally let him to follow you". A real Sui skill must include this idea. In fact Sui should be used in the beginning of almost every Taiji Quan
skill, especially to defense some hard attacks, but cannot be used too much, that means never use it in all of the way, else Sui is going to weak. How much you should to do is really depend on the situation. The key point of Sui is how to transfer it to other skill. Unfortunately, many people overlook this point.
5. Main Difference
The meanings of Zhan, Nian, Lian, and Sui are similar at some points, or we can say there are some parts mixing or overlap. So that for understanding them clearly, we need pay more attention to what is difference between them. The main difference between Zhan and Nian is that with Zhan you should make your opponent to stick to you by himself, but with Nian you should stick to your opponent, let him feel bad but can never leave you off. The main difference between Nian and Lian is that with Nian you should always follow your opponent and at the same time make trouble for him, but with Lian you just follow your opponent and do not try to unsettle him. The main difference between Lian and Sui is that with Lian your following like to chasing your opponent, you should always keep touch him and never let he go away. With
Sui your following like go away (does not mean losing contact) from your opponent, although he can always touch you, he can never really get you. The main difference between Sui and Zhan is that with Sui you should follow your opponent's active action, but with Zhan you should follow your opponent's reaction which is his passive
Generally, Zhan and Nian are skills which are to find a chance to give your opponent trouble. Lian and Sui are skills which are to solve the problem that your opponent gives to you and
wait a chance to beat him back. Although they are different skills, in fact, they cannot be really used separately. They are always mixed and used together. For example, most times you
should include Nian in your Zhan. Usually before you do Zhan, you should unsettle your opponent first. If your Zhan does not work well, you should use Nian immediately. At that time
Nian will help you to adjust yourself and to make another chance to continue your Zhan. You always need to include Lian in your Nian also. When you do Nian, if your opponent can do
Sui well, you will difficult to get him. So your Nian will not work well, you should use Lian to keep touching him and wait another chance to do Nian again. You should do Lian and Sui together. When you do Lian, your opponent may get a chance to beat you back. So you should do Sui to follow him. You should do Sui and Nian together. If you only do Sui without do Nian at the same time, it is so easy to make you become too weak. To do Nian with Sui will help you a lot. Sometimes people say to do these four skills successively, that is to do Zhan, if it does not work well, then to do Nian; if Nian does not work well, then to do Lian; if Lian does not work well, then to do Sui. But, in fact, they can never be really separated.
Sometimes, different part of your body does different skills. For example it is very common that one side the touch point in you body does Sui and at the same time another part of your body does Nian. The good practitioner should have all these four skills (or Jin) when he touches his opponent. All other Taiji skills will include some of them. So that they are the basic skills of all Taiji techniques. For example, when you do Yin - lure or seduce, you should use Sui and Lian in the beginning. When you do Fa - release force, you should do Nian and Zhan
first. So that people said they are the foundation of all Taiji Quan skills.
7. Common Mistakes
Ding Bian Diu Kang
When we do these four basic skills, there are four kinds of likely mistakes, Ding, Bian, Diu, and Kang. Ding and Kang will happen when you do something too much, usually called Guo. Bian and Dui will happen when you do something not enough, usually called Buji. For the beginners, to do Gou is very common mistake. Usually it means too hard or tight. For the advance students, to do Buji is very common mistake. Usually it means too weak or loose.
When you start to understand Taiji Quan but your skills are not good enough, these mistakes happen in almost everywhere. The reason is that you cannot relax well and your sensitivity is not good enough. If you cannot relax well, you cannot follow your opponent smoothly. If your sensitivity is not good enough, you will always lose change or use your mind too much. To understand and avoid these common mistakes is very important for improving your skills.
The most common mistake in Zhan application is usually Ding - to go against on touching point. It means that your force is in the reverse direction of your opponent's force too much. In Taiji Quan, you should avoid to use your force resisting your opponent's force directly. But in Zhan if the timing and direction of your force are wrong, the part of your force will be used to against to the opponent's force, so that you cannot follow your opponent well. In this case he can even feel and get you. The reason is your sensitivity may be not good enough or you do not understand Taiji Quan principles well. If you cannot find the right timing and direction from your opponent's
reaction, you cannot really borrow his force, and worse thing is that your force will help him to regain his balance. At that time, your opponent's reaction force can even give you trouble easily.
The most common mistake in Nian application is usually Bian - weak or flat. It means that you do not do Nian enough so that you do not get enough information from your opponent and you will not know which way you should go. When Bian happens, your opponent can go away from your control easily. In Nian, if you cannot find the weak point from your opponent and make him fall into bad position little by little, that means you cannot make trouble to him continually, it is said your hand too weak. So you cannot control your opponent finally.
The most common mistake in Lian application is usually Diu - lose the touching point. It means that your opponent can get away or you cannot follow him any more. When Diu happens, you lose contact and cannot follow him continually. So you cannot feel him well and you cannot find a chance to control him. To do Lian, if you cannot relax well, you will be easy to lose the touching point and let your opponent get away. In this case you lose contact so that you cannot use your sensitivity.
The most common mistake in Sui application is usually Kang - resist in the touching point. It means that you cannot follow your opponent so that you and your opponent are in resisting case. In this case, who is stronger who will have more chance to win. It is not follow Taiji Quan principle. In Sui, if you resist and cannot follow your opponent, you cannot get a chance to adjust yourself without to use big force. So your opponent can get you easily if he is stronger, faster, or just in a better position than you.
Usually, many people just like simply to use Ding and Diu to explain these general mistakes in their Taiji Quan practice. Here Ding (here it is same as Guo) means too hard, too much, too far, resist, or excessive. When you want to control your opponent but do too much, you make this mistake. Diu (here it is same as Buji) means too weak, no enough, short, lose, leave, or deficiency. When you want to relax but do too much, you make this mistake. In fact, Ding (or Guo) and Diu (or Buji) are the human's nature actions. They just like two extreme points of human's behave. They are used in most martial arts skills. When you attack with a big force, it is Ding. When you dodge or move away, it is Dui. They are the right way there. But Taiji Quan skill require everything you do must be exactly right according to the principle, like just enough and never waste your energy, and the most efficiency way. So that to use these two points will become a wrong way in Taiji Quan. For avoiding do them, you should get a special training. In fact almost all training methods of Taiji Quan are designed to avoid them. In the nature behave, you can only jump from one point to the other, that means from the view of Taiji Quan you are either too much (too hard) or no enough (too weak). Taiji Quan training will change this natural action. From the training, you will study how to balance your skill and close to the center point that means to do neither Ding (or Guo) nor Diu (or Buji). We can simply use a figure to
show this situation.
Ding (or Guo) Neither Ding (or Guo) nor Diu (or Buji) Diu (or Buji)
This changing is the most important and difficult training in Taiji Quan practice. Only when one can do this well, one can be consider really understand Taiji Quan. It is the foundation of all Taiji Quan skills. So that it is as a standard rule for measuring the level of people’s Taiji Quan skill.
The last sentence of Da Shou Ge - Fighting Song, one of the oldest and most famous Taiji Quan classical poem, said: "Zhan Nian Lian Sui Bu Diu Ding" that means you should always do Zhan, Nian, Lian and Sui and never do Diu and Ding (the common way of Bu Diu Ding is called Bu Diu and Bu Ding – not Diu and not Ding). It is one of the most important key points in your Taiji Quan practice.
Zhan Nian Lian Sui Bu Diu Ding - "do Zhan, Nian, Lian and Sui and never do Diu and Ding"
source : http://www.ycgf.org/Articles/Z-N-L-S/arti_znls.htm