In this video, recorded in 2007 in Manhattan’s East Village, we are treated to a lesson, by Roberto Sharpe, on “4 key words” applied to tuishou (pushing hands).
Roberto Sharp is a martial artist with about 4 decades of experience. His training includes, but is not limited to, Tai chi, baguazhang, xingyiquan, capoeira, judo, karate, boxing, jiu-jitsu, and shuaijiao.
The Four Word Secret Formula is attributed to Wu Yuxiang 武禹襄 (Wǔ Yǔxiāng), the founder of the Wǔ (武) style tai chi. (Wǔ style is also called the Wu/Hao style and not to be confused with the more widely known Wú 吳 style founded by Wújiànquán 吳鑑泉.)
The four word formula, in typical Chinese style, consists of about 57 characters, (about 49 words). The key words are
Usually called “Fu”, this can be interpreted as “cover” or “spread”. It is like covering your opponents energy so they are trapped and cannot express their attack.
“Gai” is “a cover”, “a lid”. As a verb it means to “cap” or “top” or “cover” the opponent. But this is often called “block” in English, because the lid or cover is used to obstruct the opponent’s attack, but in a different way than Fu.
“Dui” is “intercept”. But it is not merely the physical act of meeting or confronting the opponent’s movement. To intercept requires that your intent and energy connect directly to the source of the opponent’s attack. You move before they do.
In Roberto Sharpe’s words, “You learn to hear them before they speak.”
“Tun” is to “swallow”. Roberto Sharpe give a wonderful explanation in this video, and demonstrates it clearly. Some martial artists will try to “chew you up and spit you out.”
But tun implies that you swallow the opponent’s energy whole, as a snake does, by letting the whole body receive and neutralize the attack. Don’t meet it with force and aggression, but let your training and the cultivated structural integrity work for you.