Basic movements and forms are the base for Tai Chi practice. The forms, when practiced slowly and softly, are to prepare for “fast and hard” in the future when it is used as a martial art.
Slowness and softness will enable students to “feel” the movements, from joint to joint, muscle to muscle, and the coordination of the whole body movement that leads from the waist, or more appropriately from the “Dantian”. Power initiates from the legs, which moves through the groin, then the waist, then to the body and finally the hands (there is actually no hand movement).
A good instructor can adjust the posture of students to achieve the “perfect structure”. This “perfect structure” will enable the student to feel the most “Chi” (energy) or achieve the strongest “Fa Jing” (explosive power).
Initially, the student has to carefully watch the instructor’s movements and then imitate them. That is why a proficient instructor is so important. Just like learning calligraphy, one should imitate the writing of the experts and not the writing of a primary student to begin with.
Tai Chi Push Hands is like the Tai Chi form. It is suitable for everyone irrespective of sex, age and health conditions. It is also ideal for improving general health and strengthening body conditions, besides the martial art value. It can also be used effectively to check the correctness of the body structure (body mechanics) in the form. It is a tool for Tai Chi to achieve martial art value.
In Tai Chi classics, it is said that: “Doing the Tai Chi form is learning to know yourself. Doing Tai Chi Push Hands is learning to know your opponent”. Tai Chi Push Hands cannot be good if the form is not “accurate”.
Forms and Push Hands should be learnt together. Forms are to learn “Ti” (body), while Push Hands is to learn “Yong” (application). If a student just learns “Ti” without “Yong”, this “self-defense” art will merely be a “Tai Chi dance”, like most Tai Chi schools are doing.
Tai Chi Push Hands is a tool towards using Tai Chi as a martial art. Power training to issue explosive power (Fa Jing) is essential in Tai Chi as a martial art.
As Grandmaster Chen Xiao Wang said to me in 1993: “What can you do after you have sensed an attack from your opponent?” Without explosive power (Fa Jing), it is like only having a gun, not a cannon in the battlefield. The battle will never be won.
Tai Chi Push Hands is the “tool” towards using Tai Chi as a self-defense art. Studying only the form without Push Hands means you are only studying “half” of Tai Chi.
In Push Hands, the basic eight self-defense techniques of “push”, “ward off”, “press”, “roll back”, “pluck”, “split”, “elbowing” and “shoulder hit” are being practiced. In Chen-style Tai Chi, there is the addition of joint locking (Chin Na).
Even though Tai Chi Push Hands uses only parts of the self-defense techniques (students are not allowed to kick, throw and hit with fists), students can still train to feel the direction, speed and amount of power from an opponent. The body should react accordingly. It can also strengthen the muscles, tendons and ligaments of the limbs. It is also a friendly and harmonious way to “compete” with your friends.