Experiencing “Not-On Not-Off”

by Ping Wei on 2012/12/17

When I first heard Master Chen said “not-on not-off” in push hand a few years ago, I thought it was impossible. We either push (on), or not push (off). Through years of training, I slowly come to understand that “not-on not-off” is the result of “peng”, or Yin Yang separation.

A few days ago, after I wrote about stepping training by hugging a tree, I dreamed about a new exercise to help students experiencing “not-on not-off” by pushing a tree.

Since I only shared this with only two of my students, we haven’t trained for long enough to test its effectiveness, I hope other people who are interested in and give it a try and let us know if it help you or not.

Stand in front of a tree, one foot front and the other back, and push the trunk with hands, take a moment to establish the connection between your hands and your rear foot. Only your rear foot is really pushing. It doesn’t matter how much pressure are applied to the tree trunk by your hands. But you can feel the pressure from your palms. (Photo 1)

Without changing the pressure applied on the tree trunk by your hands, try to step the front foot further. You bend your elbow; you move your body closer to the tree. While you are doing all these, your push on the tree, the amount of pressure on the tree never changed. Not less, not more. (Photo 2)
Alternatively, try to move the rear foot forward without changing the amount of pressure you pushed on the tree. (Photo 3, 4)


We need to establish a point of “not moving” in every form we do and in push hand. “Not moving” applies to not only physically/spatially, but also “internally”. In the above exercise, if the pushing pressure is decreased, even though your hands might be still on the tree trunk, internally you moved back. If the pressure is increased, you are moving forward. “Not-on not-off” is the middle way.




The Chinese characters for this state is written as follows by Master Chen Zhonghua:


{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

cshum00 December 17, 2012 at 1:28 pm

I think it is important to define what is “not-on not-off” first. Otherwise, people won’t understand the meaning behind this training. I will attempt to describe what it is. Feel free to debate, if it is something different from what you had in mind.

In a way, this is the ability for the opponent to get pushed away without you having to push him at all. You are not pushing the opponent (not-on) but the opponent feels that you are pushing him (not-off). The “not-on not-off” is the result off “persistently (2)” applying “Peng (1)” on your opponent.

(1) Let’s take a look at “Peng” first. Peng is like a wall. The stronger you push the wall, the stronger you feel the counter-push. If you don’t push the wall, you don’t feel the counter-push. Therefore, if you are able to create Peng, you are actually “matching” your opponent’s force. But Peng does not push the opponent itself.

(2) Then there is applying Peng “persistently”. When the opponent pushes you, you create Peng so that he is not pushing you; but he is pushing your Peng. But if the opponent backs away, you “follow” your opponent so that he is still pushing your Peng. This is also what many people refer to as “sticking” in TaiChiQuan.

The end result is the same as what a cat feels having a tape stuck on his furs: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1gl7xr5rftc

What your training seems to do is rather a more advanced. You are trying to be able to apply “not-on not-off” while being able to step-in, step-out or move other parts of your body.


Chen Zhonghua December 17, 2012 at 2:13 pm

Learning is about WHAT it is. Application is a bit about what it ALSO CAN BE.
So NOT ON NOT OFF just means “not on not off”.
PENG just means Peng.
Once this is understood, you will realized that NOT ON NOT OFF always means NOT ON NOT OFF! But sometimes other things can accidentally happen to be exactly the same as NOT ON NOT OFF. But only sometimes. We don’t need to learn that.
NOT ON NOT Off is the result of it is not on and it is not off. It is not the result of what other people think, believe, or feel.
Chen style taijiquan practical method requires a recalibration of terminology so that a meter is always a meter. As to sometimes it feels like two meters, we can leave that alone. That’s not what we pursue. It is not what we are against.
When you apply the same action to ten people, the ten people will report ten different experiences. It is important that you don’t recalibrate your action according to any of the ten. You recalibrate according to the requirement of the action.


studentofmethod December 17, 2012 at 4:03 pm

Ping, Thank you for sharing your cool exercises with us. I enjoy them very much.
Thanks for getting the pictures up as well because they are very helpful but I do have a question, it seems the order of the pictures should be (3, 4, and then 1 + 2) to match the descriptions in the article. That is how I understand it, but please let me know if Im reading that wrong.

You also said, “Alternatively, try to move the rear foot forward without changing the amount of pressure you pushed on the tree. (Photo 3, 4)”

(which looks to me like Photo 1, 2) I would like to ask if you are pushing with the rear foot and then try to move it forward, How is it possible to maintain the ‘not on, not off’ push (peng) while the rear (pushing) foot is off the ground to step forward?
Does the pushing foot become the Forward foot while the rear foot moves/steps forward? And if so, Why are you not able to be pushed back at that moment?


pingwei December 17, 2012 at 5:11 pm

You are right. The correct photo sequence should be 3, 4, 1 and 2.
IF you want to move the rear foot, you do need a quick switch to have the support on the front foot. It might be difficult, but possible.


Calvin Chow December 18, 2012 at 2:03 am

I have tried to experience “NOT ON NOT OFF” with an electronic weighing scale(or use other kind of weighing balance on the table). If you can keep the same reading, that is to keep the same pressure on the scale, I think it should be a “NOT ON NOT OFF” state. Then you can try to keep the same pressure and move the legs. To tie an electronic weighing scale on the tree and do the stepping exercise or else just ask a buddy to feel if there is any change of pressure when you move the legs may work too.


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