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The Art of Adhering

Yun-choi Yeung B.A., M.B.A., M.Ed., M.Sc.
Certificated Instructor of the Gospel Martial Arts Union
Certificated Instructor of the International Federation of Pankration
Certificated Instructor of the Physical Fitness Association of Hong Kong SAR

Adhering is a unique development in Chinese Martial Arts, and it is very much associated with styles that advocate the avoidance of using brute force. These styles are namely Xingyiquan (Hsing I Chuan), Taijiquan (Tai Chi Chuan), Baguaquan (Pa Kua Chuan), and Yongchunquan (Wing Chun Kuen). Since 1915, Sun Lutang (1860-1933) published this thesis in Xingyiquan, Taijiquan and Baguaquan. Yongchunquan is the more recent development which became very popular before any formal publication in the early 60’s in Hong Kong. Brute force is the shortening of muscle fibres or concentric contraction of muscle fibres, while non-concentric movement is purely done by elongation of muscle fibres and recoil. The uniqueness of these styles is the focus in developing techniques making use of muscle elasticity or recoil, springy hand techniques so to speak. This is why the techniques of these styles are very similar in terms of turning and stretching to extend the length of muscle fibres rather than shortening of muscle fibres to produce power. And these techniques share the common properties of sticking and following to neutralize and utilize the incoming forces.

There might be an interesting historical link between Xingyiquan in the North of China and Yongchunquan in the South of China, and their associations with legendary figures of Internal Martial Art involved in revolving against the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). It is very difficult to verify these stories but technically there are some similarities between the two styles. In a way, both Xingyiquan and Yongchunquan claim their origin from the Yijinjing (The Book of Tendon Reversals or Changing Tendons) which is a form of fitness exercise handed down from ancient China aims at strengthening the tendons. The Yijining is also regarded as the highest level training method of the Shaolin Monastery (built in 495). There are many versions of Xingyiquan and Yongchunquan, as they have been learnt and modified by different people. Some have preserved and developed the art of adhering while the others just ignored the basic principle of non-concentric contraction of muscle fibre. Yip Man taught his students the basic sticking hand techniques very early in their training in order to utilize the practical fighting skill embedded in the routines, which might explained its popularity. While the Xingyi two men sets are taught as advance level techniques when students are quite proficient with the art, and capable to counter very powerful strikes and capturing the opponent to encounter.

Taijiquan claims to have similar origin as Internal Martial Art developed at the time of Song Emperor Huizong (reigned 1101-1126), but again it is very difficult to verify with too many missing links. Sun Lutang learnt Xingyiquan, Baguaquan and Taijiquan, and published the Xingyi two men sets and Taiji pushing hand in his books. The Bagua pushing hand routine was published in 1987 by Fu Yonghui, as it was developed by his father Fu Zhensong who was famous for his Baguaquan as well as Taijiquan. Bagua pushing hand routine was taught openly by Fu Yonghui in Guangzhou and Sun Baogang in Hong Kong as advance level techniques.

Due to the promotional effort of the Chinese Government since 1956 with the compilation of the simplified 24 forms Taijiquan, Taiji pushing hands also became popular for a while until most people turn away from the principle of use no brute force. Now a day, Taijiquan became a kind of light health exercise for the mass and a kind of performance arts for elite athletes instead of a practical fighting art making use of adhering skills. There are many teachers of martial arts in Hong Kong and China teaching Taijiquan without Taiji pushing hand. Taiji pushing hand techniques are easy to learn as long as the learner does not use brute force that is pushing forward concentrically with his or her rear leg for example. Because that will imbalance oneself and became an easy prey of the opponent, who can more or less just to change the direction of the incoming force after resisting it with his or her body weight. People teach Taijiquan and do not know how to do pushing hands is an interesting social phenomenon in China, and the postulation is that government programme attracted a lot of people from other disciplines into teaching Taijiquan. And they have also blended Taijiquan with all sorts of martial arts and Qigong exercises mostly contradictory to the theories of Taijiquan. In a way Taiji pushing hand is difficult to learn from books and videos without hand-on experience to make it practical. This has sort of explained why Taiji pushing hand is falling out of favour by the mass and diligent students only to find inconsistence between theory and practice in what they have learnt.

The art of adhering seems to mend the gap between stand up fighting and wrestling techniques, and to provide exercises to simulate fighting with attacks and encounters. In fighting, there are the entrance, maintaining, defensive, offensive, and ground techniques. Adhering is predominantly in maintaining the opponent within reach, to strike or takedown, and to control the opponent’s hands from striking or takedown in close encounters. Non-concentric training seems to have an advantage in improving speed and strength at the same time without significant increase in muscle mass. But the advantage of this unique development is yet to be seen in recognised international martial arts combat games although adhering is a game of its own. 

Jenning Ng on the left and Niki Ng on the right at the Chinwoo Athletic Association of Hong Kong, demonstrated the use of Rotating Fist of Xingyiquan to attack and encounter with the open palm (Tan-sau) of Yongchunquan in Photo No. 1, and the use of smashing palm of Baguaquan to attack and encountered with the blocking technique from the “Pulling Peacock’s Tail” of Taijquan. This will follow with the capture techniques, and enter into the stick and follow exchanges before the decisive stage of a strike or takedown. The first contact and follow with a capture technique is quite a skill to learn, and most beginners will start off in the touching hand position to practice their sticking hand or pushing hand routines.  The capture skills in adhering require quick releases, as the opponent will rotate his or her forearm very quickly to encounter, and a stiff wrist will be easily twisted. This is one example of not to use brute force in holding onto the opponent’s forearm.

This article is only an introduction to the art of adhering embedded in Chinese Martial Arts, and it is the hope of the writer to elaborate more on the subject in future articles.