“An” is the fourth of the major energies of tai chi. It is referred to as one of the four cardinal directions, or perfect energies, of tai chi tuishou. The other three energies being “Peng, Lu, and An.”
In the Yang style form, it is represented in the fourth part of the movement called “Grasp the bird’s tail”.
“An” is usually called “push” in English. However, it is sometimes translated as “press”, which leads some to confuse it with “ji”. Ji is the third energy, and is also sometimes called “press”. However, “An” is like pressing a button, and “ji” is like a wine press.
The Chinese character for “an” contains the radicals for “hand”, “lid”, and “woman.” This has caused some trouble for those who suggested that the energy of “an” is like “keeping a lid on a woman.” In fact, the energy is better described (for many reasons) as the “feminine hand” which “keeps a lid on things.”
The Yang style version of “an” follows immediately after “ji” (also called “press”, “squeeze”, or “cram”). “An” starts in a forward “bow stance” (front leg bent, back leg straight) with the arms extending straight forward at shoulder level, about shoulder-distance apart, with the palms facing down. The movement begins with shifting the weight to the back leg as the hands draw backwards and the chest and the elbows drop and bend. The hands then lower to just in front of waist. The second part of the movement is almost a complete reversal of the first part, except that the hands turn palms forward in a pushing gesture.
The overall appearance of the hand movement is like catching a basket ball, bouncing it once on the ground, and then passing back to whence it came.
In Chinese, the word “an” can refer to pressing on something or someone, like performing a massage, or pushing a button. It can also refer to setting some thing or some matter aside, like putting it on a shelf. “An” is also used to describe a type of restraint, such as to “control one’s temper” [按住心头怒火(ànzhù xīntóu nùhuǒ)]. “An” also implies keeping in contact with something for the purpose of remaining aware of it. It is like an editor’s reference, or a mother keeping tabs on her baby.
So, in tuishou, can consider “an” in this way. Our opponent (or training partner) applies a focused and insistent energy like “ji” towards our centre. Now, since ji is so focused, and usually includes power from both sides, it is not always suitable to try to simply let it roll off. Instead, we receive it directly in, and add a downward vector. This causes the attack to be redirected downward. If the attacker resists the downward energy by recoiling or pushing upwards, we change direction by following upward and adding a horizontal vector back into the attacker’s centre.
At no point do we try to resist or forcefully suppress the attack. We simply move at right angles to the force.
It is like the idea of acknowledging a troublesome child by saying, “Thanks for sharing” and then redirecting the child’s interest elsewhere. Hence “the feminine hand keeping a lid on things.”
“AN”按 does not contribute to the conflict. Nor does it try to forcefully suppress the attacker’s energy. “An” simply recognise the attack, allows it to express itself harmlessly, and then sends it on its way.