The Chinese divide fighting techniques into four categories: hand attacks (fists, elbows, push…), feet attacks (kicks, knees,…), wrestling (throws, grappling) called Shuai Jiao, and joint locks (or Qin Na).
These are broad categories that are common to ALL martial arts. It is simply a way to talk about techniques. And some techniques have a mix of two or more categories; kicks that become throws, etc….
Different martial arts have a mix of some or all of the categories. For example, Southern and Northern Chinese martial arts are known for their emphasis on either hand techniques or kicking techniques.
It is very useful to think in those terms when dealing with the Hand Forms in a Tai Chi style. It is possible to find many applications in the form that were “hidden”, or less obvious. A clear example, found in Master Wang’s 2nd Volume, is the punch found in Drag Down as an alternative application.
The Joint Locks and the Wrestling applications are more difficult to find. I think that there is a bias within Tai Chi practitioners against the wrestling moves found in the form. Wrestling tends to be a very physical, forceful practice, at odds with the more gentle, health-oriented practice that most people are familiar with.
They also require a far closer range. There are many techniques in Chinese wrestling that use the armpit as a way to pin an opponent’s arm. Leg throws require you to step into the personal space of your partner. These are not the arms-length techniques that you find in Push Hands.
But the joint-locks and wrestling moves are everywhere. And sometimes they are the more likely application in a technique. For example, in Single Whip, the usual and somewhat awkward application of the Bird’s Beak hand performing a 1-2 push to the side has been that it is a quick punch to the face of the opponent, with the Talisman hand supporting the wrist. Perhaps. If the finger position is perfect, the Talisman hand MIGHT be a good support for a punch made with an open fist.
But… if the Talisman hand is seen instead as performing a wrist lock, then the application makes perfect sense. The two extended fingers of the Talisman naturally wrap around the fist of the opponent. The three other fingers loosely close around the wrist. The first push brings the Talisman hand vertical, which TWISTS the opponents hand painfully down. The second push shoves the opponent down, the joint lock making it impossible for him/her to resist.
I found it useful to go through the entire form with one category in mind. Find all the hand strikes. All the kicks, all the knee strikes, all the sweeps, the joint locks, the wrestling moves… By being methodical about the four categories, a multiplicity of applications are revealed.
And..that’s the way the originators of Tai Chi would have thought about it.