Commonsense seems to be missing nowadays. There is a paradox at work here. The more popular a system is the more commonsense flies out the window.
I said to a student that push hands is for learning combat and he said that he thought it was for energy management. I wouldn’t say that he is totally wrong.
Energy management could be a sub-objective of doing push hands. However, I would not say that push hands is entirely about energy management. Consider the following train of thought :-
What is Tai Chi CHUAN? A health exercise? Fitness exercise? Combat art?
What is the purpose of learning Tai Chi CHUAN? Exercise? Fitness? Combat?
If the answer to both questions above is either exercise or fitness then you can stop reading at this point.
If the answer is combat then you can read on.
If we want to train Tai Chi CHUAN as a combat art then how do we do it?
Consider the first question – what exactly is Tai Chi as an art of combat? Is it a wrestling art? Hand striking art? Kicking art? Locking art? Bit of everything?
How do we train the combat part of Tai Chi? By pushing each other around? What is the purpose? Oh, OK, energy management.
So how does managing the energy help us to survive an attack? By pushing the opponent back? By pushing him so hard that he does not want to be pushed any more?
Unless you managed to push an opponent to hit a wall so hard that it knocks him out I don’t quite see the point. More so, if you happen to be fighting in a big space where the nearest wall is 50 feet away.
So all that pushing up and down doesn’t really make much sense. Not unless you are training to put your opponent off balance by using a pushing motion to control him. If so, then why do we need to push opponent so hard when a lesser push is what we need to put him in a disadvantaged position momentarily for us to set up our technique?
To me push hands is a method for training the various factors that are relevant to combat. What are they?
For starters you can train proper distancing. I realized that even students who have learned for over 10 years have poor distance management. If you go too close you may not be able to apply your power, not to mention technique properly. There is a distance at which a technique will work, one at which it will work ineffectively and one in which the technique will not work.
The form trains us to maintain the proper distance in our mind. However, due to our over-excited nature we still need to use push hands to train ourselves to rein in our instinct to rush in as close as we can.
Another thing that push hands trains us is to keep calm. You don’t have to over-react to every movement and if you do react you should learn to react with a good response rather than just push back with a knee jerk reaction that can be used against you.
Learning to be calm can help you to counter fast strikes. If you only ever play with other Tai Chi players who only push you back then this is not a useful skill. But if you do touch hands with styles that may hit you and throw you fast missiles then this will come in handy.
There are so many more areas I could touch on but this should give you an idea why push hands is not just a single objective method of training. It is so much more than that. So don’t restrict yourself. Be critical in your thinking of answers you are given. Otherwise, you will be the one who miss out.