“Move into empty space” Online Video Trailer

by John Upshaw on 2015/01/24

Theory and practice for finding space to move in during push hand.
Presenter: Chen Zhonghua   Length: 51 min.   In: English   Year: 2014  Difficulty:4/5  At:Toronto

Move into empty space
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{ 33 comments… read them below or add one }

bhargavk January 25, 2015 at 7:41 am

What an amazing clip! The way an abstract concept like ‘dimension’ has been explained and demonstrated is simply brilliant. Thank you Master Chen for this masterpiece!


Bruce Schaub February 2, 2015 at 10:42 am

‘ Behind Enemy Lines ‘

This is an expression Master Chen uses that I find particularly helpful in understanding the procedure for utilizing the method of fighting taught in the recent video ‘ Move into empty space ‘.

Engage the opponent

… this creates a ‘ front line ‘ like on a battlefield, causing the opponent to commit his troops to maintain that line. This is the same as the demarcation line. The key seems to be to cause the opponent to commit enough of his ‘ forces ‘ and attention to preoccupy him, while you move to step 2

Move into empty space ( Go behind enemy lines )

…. while maintaining the front line, you must use stealth to maneuver, another force to take up a position behind enemy lines, ( beyond the demarcation ( front line ) by moving into the empty space. The keys are, you must maintain the front line, the movement of the secondary forces must neither disturb the front line, nor should they be construed as a threat. In keeping with taiji threory, if the two ends are locked ( non moving ) this requires we move whats in the middle, ideally getting the kua in, (kua to kua)

Anchor into your new position

Your new position at this point becomes the critical pivot, the part you have shifted in behind enemy lines must be established as a lock, it must be anchored to the ground as if set in concrete, and must not move in relation to the ground.

Stretch or Rotate

At this point you can either lock everything very tightly and rotate, or you can extend and stretch your alignment once the new anchor point is established. Any type of move that is not either a stretch or a rotation will cause you to lose your anchor point. Technically, a stretch with a non moving anchor can be viewed as a rotation, but in this case, as is demonstrated in the video, when Master Chen instructs students to rotate, he has them lock into one piece.

— In the video Shifu uses different body parts to go ‘ behind enemy lines ‘ , it does’nt have to be the kua, he sometimes uses his head or other body parts. One classical Chen taiji specialization, he has mentioned on several occasions is called ” surprise the top, to take the bottom “, which means you engage the opponent to fight with your upper body then stealthily move the lead foot/leg into strategic position. But this is obviously only one method, he demonstrates many different methods using the same procedure.


Bruce Schaub February 2, 2015 at 10:44 am

Hugo Ramiro This is a really good point for me: “Any type of move that is not either a stretch or a rotation will cause you to lose your anchor point.”
January 29 at 1:56pm · Edited · Like · 3
Bruce Schaub Happy if it helps!
January 29 at 2:06pm · Like
Bruce Schaub Master Chens teaching is very clear, but its a very counter intuitive procedure. I have a tendency to miss his instructions, often times because of my own inability to stay focused on the lesson at hand or I have some pre existing conclusion already in my mind. Then he will say one thing and it will trigger a realization. ” Oh… so thats what he’s been talking about all this time…”
January 29 at 2:15pm · Like · 5
Michael Koh Most of the time the instructions are so clear that we did not hear them. Master Chen always say “in with the elbow, out with the hand”. Most of us did not actually hear this till after 2 or 3 years of training yilu. My class were discussing about when we need to bring the elbow in and push the hand out in the form, one of us said “why didn’t Master Chen tell us this in the first place?”!
January 29 at 9:07pm · Like · 3
Kelvin Ho To avoid that problem, you show nothing but one thing at a time, until that is actually done. However, students will leave very soon that way, and they may also say “you don’t teach”.
January 29 at 9:19pm · Edited · Like · 3
Patrick Dickson so true Kelvin


Bruce Schaub February 12, 2015 at 10:01 am

Question : How do you know which point to pick ? ( in push hands context )

Answer : ‘ Where ever he wants to push, it’s not going to move. See you pushed me here. Everywhere else can move except there. ‘ — CZH

at 37 min…


Discussion from facebook group February 12, 2015 at 10:02 am

Brett Alexander: easy for him to say (but realize it took many years of hard work)

Bruce Schaub: Yes, he makes it look easy

Brett Alexander: because for me, “where ever he wants to push..” .. it usually moves. so i should train more to move everywhere else to ensure ‘where ever he wants to push’ really doesnt move.

Bruce Schaub: It’s not so easy in a fluctuating situation, but we understand to make it work, we have to pick the point the opponent is committed to ‘ having ‘ and stabilize it, then move elsewhere.

When I first got to New York, we went to breakfast that morning and Master Chen, while we were eating, immediately started talking about establishing a Rod in the body. We were sitting, me next to him, and he had me push hard against his shoulder. He pushed power into his shoulder there and it was very full and strong and stable at that point. But he said there had to be a line from that point down to the ground, to make it stable. Since he was sitting, he used his butt against the chair, and said since the chair was stable on the ground it was the same thing. Then he put his foot on the far side of the chair, hard against the ground and made a line from his foot to the shoulder, and said ‘ same thing ‘ . So as long as you can find a way to make that point stable, it works, then he moved anywhere but that anchored point.


John Upshaw April 10, 2020 at 5:43 am

1:22 “you adjust to where he is not” ~ MC That is the principle. What do you see going on?


John Upshaw April 10, 2020 at 10:42 am

What do you see happening?



John Upshaw April 10, 2020 at 1:00 pm

Ashley Hodge April 10, 2020 at 7:25 am [edit]
Hello. Thank you for sharing your video and asking for my feed back.
IMHO I see Master Chen placing his root under his opponent, aiming his right leg & intention (forward energy) towards “empty space” or as I call it his “third leg” or “the missing leg of the tripod which would be behind him.
Master Chen is also sinking his C of G while maintaining the height of his bridge or contact. This helps to float his opponent. Master Chen is also moving his hips back which allows him more forward reach without over reaching.
Thank you again. Ashley


Travis Knaub April 12, 2020 at 10:36 am

The missing leg of the tripod created a really good visual for me thank you!


John Upshaw April 10, 2020 at 1:56 pm

The gaining of Space can not produce Power…the opponent doesn’t feel ANYTHING.

What is the procedure?



charlie wishon April 10, 2020 at 3:30 pm

The word root is not clear…
In the practical method we use the term anchor point. And we use the concept of a hinge. The word root is very misleading


Brennan Toh April 10, 2020 at 5:36 pm

Procedure that I see:
1) Find the fight and the opponents structure
2) Maintain enough of your own power/structure that the opponent does not change (do not move)
3) Move to where they are not while maintaining 2
4) Finish


James Tam April 10, 2020 at 5:55 pm

What is/are the explicit actions for “Finish”? What are we trying to create in order to “Finish” (with respect to the structures of self and of opponent) as a result of those actions?


Brennan Toh April 13, 2020 at 10:27 am

Hey James! To expand on Ed’s comment below:

Action for finish: Move anything BUT (2). The only rule is that what you have cannot change, therefore by adding anything new is to “add one”.

Result of finish: Depends on the intent (and the action). Maybe they fall down, maybe they stumble back, lose balance, jump out. They have lost their structure/fight, and you still have yours.


John Upshaw April 10, 2020 at 6:17 pm

All these moves are segmented. After we have the opponent engaged, that becomes a “don’t move point”. When we move to where they are not, it’s critical we don’t move the contact point, and what we are using to take space has no power so the move can’t be felt. Then we maintain the space we took without giving space up in the mean time. That new space taken becomes our new anchor point…the we move something else…that is the finish…get in, get stuck and move something else…


John Upshaw April 10, 2020 at 6:23 pm

After space is taken…what is done to “finish”? That is a very relevant question James!


Edward Liaw April 11, 2020 at 10:05 pm

To finish, it seems you need to not move the part that filled space and extend through where they are fighting. In the crowbar analogy from the step up to Ji video, this is like applying the leverage of the crowbar after it has been wedged into place.


Edward Liaw April 11, 2020 at 10:06 pm

In one of the examples in this video, he said to not move the body and extend the arms out.


Edward Liaw April 11, 2020 at 10:22 pm

For this exercise,

1. Engage the opponent with your hand so that you feel the fight.
2. Don’t move your hand (where the fight is), move your kua to fill the opponent’s space.
3. Don’t move your body, move just your arm using the point you gained as the pivot.


John Upshaw April 11, 2020 at 6:49 am

At 3:51, when you go into that empty space “just touch don’t use power at that location.”


John Upshaw April 11, 2020 at 12:46 pm

11:03 “I use power here to engage, once that engagement is there, I use something different”

Principle of Indirect Power


John Upshaw April 11, 2020 at 2:01 pm


Time in the video starts at 15:18 and goes to 18:14. I gave you the clips…your turn…will tell me the instructions?


James Tam April 11, 2020 at 3:12 pm

[ https:youtu.be/MaXMXnAtX3M ]
– Engage contact points in horizontal plane (horizontal energy), and “finish” with cut in vertical plane; however, need a lead-up (“preempt”) by moving into (occupying) key space that opponent needs (i) to “stabilize himself” from falling or (ii) to establish a support base to initiate “a defensive counter”


John Upshaw April 12, 2020 at 5:52 pm

So if the top does not move, you can bring your kua
up or if the kua does not move, you can bring your top down.


Handoyo Widiya April 11, 2020 at 5:28 pm

We need ability to ‘stand still’ when engage, able to absorb the force without let go our power too. Just read & measure, then we can locate that empty space. I like to train this, until certain opponent’s force & speed which can’t be compromised.
This is a very good pushhands training.


John Upshaw April 16, 2020 at 9:47 pm

I tell my students, empty space is all the space around that you do not occupy. Additionally, what I think you are referring to Handoyo, if you don’t occupy the space within yourself, meanning having slack, that is space that can be taken as well.


Mark Hanley April 12, 2020 at 7:07 am

Thanks John for all the information and thank you Bruce for the Links through the blue lettering to other videos


John Upshaw April 13, 2020 at 4:24 pm

Damian J. beat me to the punch yesterday pointing out the change in dimension. Good eye!

The important parts, have a fixed non moving point, take space, maintain the stretch and add a new dimension!



Damian Jagosz April 14, 2020 at 3:29 am

John asked me to paste our conversation about video so here it is:

I’ve seen the whole movie and read the thread
you wrote “That new space taken becomes our new anchor point … the we move something else … that is the finish … get in, get stuck and move something else …”

but I understand it a little differently, especially if the opponent is strong and does not cooperate
taking space does not require power but is supported by anchoring the foot (1 dimension)
now we need the second dimension which is in the space we want to occupy
but we can’t lose first dimension
that’s why I don’t understand “new space taken becomes our new anchor point” it seems to me that in the new space we have a new pivot point that will be used for cutting
in video from you: https://youtu.be/At5FNGPG96c?t=6
Master Chen does not move the rear leg, move front kua forward and front leg changes dimension, the contact point acts like a hook
he did it slowly so we can see the rotation, if he did it decidedly, oppenent would be cut down
there is definitely power on the line: foot, kua, dantien and shoulder because the pivot point must be stable
i don’t know it’s my opinion as beginner, sorry for english

You bring up good points. When it has worked for me, I had taken their center…so sometimes the space I have taken isn’t enough until I have gone past their center point.

yes, one of the things i learned from chen xu, the fight is for the center

This is a good discussion to post. Winston Wang did a slow motion version of the clip I posted….I’ll see if I can find it and send it to You.
You can see his front foot clears his center point.

that’s what I meant, we also see dimensions


Kelvin Ho April 14, 2020 at 7:12 pm

In order to have multiple dimensions, we must be able to stack them, so we can’t lose what we have (i.e. we cannot retreat).


John Upshaw April 14, 2020 at 7:34 pm

Yes, if we add one, and take another away, nothing is gained…we still have 1 dimension…


joshua landau April 21, 2020 at 8:30 am

Kelvin, I love that terminology! I’ve been working on ‘stacking” for a long time now, and to hear Master Chen talk about changing dimensions is incredible. What’s even more incredible is that he told me personally about changing dimensions at your seminar in 2014 and I only heard him this week 🙂

I hope you, your family and everyone around you are well !!!


Matt Landau April 18, 2020 at 3:40 pm

I strongly recommend that anyone who has not yet bought this video should as there is critically important, fabulous lessons shared. Many excellent comments have already been posted. There are other lessons in this essential video not highlighted in those comments. Those that stand out in my mind are listed below. The viewer should research this further in the video:
1. The principle of how to “adjust to where he is not.”
2. How to train to a habit.
3. How to differentiate power so that a gain (i.e., when stepping in) is not double heavy.
4. How to develop and use a longer lever.
5. How to switch the fulcrum.
6. How to close and seal to take out space.

Near the end of the video Master Chen goes into some depth about how taiji is a transmission from teacher to student. This discussion alone is priceless.


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