Ralph from the Internet writes:
“I have been doing Tai Chi for about ten years, my teacher moved several years ago and I have been going here and there. I have very little push hands experience. Some tell me that push hands is not that important, just continue to do the form and it will produce the same results. Is this true?”
The answer to your question depends on what you wish Tai Chi to do for you. In wanting to spread the health benefits of Tai Chi to the world, Professor Cheng did not want to teach the whole world push hands. He wanted to teach his T’ai Chi form. However, there are things in push hands which are very good for you that you cannot get from the Tai Chi form. So the answer is this: learn and practice push hands only if you wish to get those benefits which can only be gotten from push hands.
The first benefit of push hands to come to mind is a softness check to see how softly you are doing the Tai Chi form. If you are moving slowly while practicing your Tai Chi, and you slowly run into a small tree, a sapling, and you push it out of your way as you go, instead of melting around it, then you are not soft, only slow. Practicing push hands with a partner will help you to understand and develop this sense of softness. You will know that you can feel, and move out of the way of, a blade of grass, so soft will you become.
Second, you will get an idea of how good your balance and root are, (both are developed in the form) by playing push hands. When someone is trying to unbalance and push you, you know if you balance and root are OK, as well as your softness, as stated above.
Third, in your practice of Tai Chi form you are working on attaining a state of calm. How calm you are is a thing you want to take to all areas of your life with you. You want to always be calm, and as you paractice Tai Chi, be increasing that sense of calm. In push hands you have a realistic, but pretend threat. So if you can stand up to it. staying calm and soft, when someone is trying to push you, you have proven your Tai Chi skills are working, at the mental and emotional, as well as the physical, level.
You learn to see the postures in a new light when the postures teach you about the push hands, and the push hands teaches you lessons about the postures.
In sum, pushing hands proves up your skill at form, and makes you more aware and better at it. Form improves your push hands, giving you good movement habits and keeping you aware of a multitude of things that you need to do.
In Tai Chi,