Form calls for two legs, function requires four. Push hands in tai chi is both a training ground and an experimental lab for the experiential development of the principles. This is a short list of some of the benefits that come from regular practice.
Balance is one type of skill when you are stationary and free standing, and a whole different type when movement and external forces are involved. There is the type of balance required to be still when you are standing stationary on one leg, and then there’s the type of balance required to stand up without holding on while riding a moving bus. Adaptive balance is the ability to maintain structure and central equilibrium in the face of disruptive forces.
Push hands develops the ability to engage and to feel with the whole body. This kind of sensitivity means that when something changes in the wrist, the ankle changes to accommodate, and likewise throughout the whole body. It is the ability to maintain steady contact and pressure, to sense subtle changes in tension and alignment, and to feel impulses before they manifest as action.
Fluidity is a quality of connected suppleness throughout the body, a way of moving without excess friction or tension. It is the free flow of momentum throughout the body’s tissues and structures, allowing forces to pass through without being absorbed. It is allowing cause and effect to have free reign in an uninterrupted sequence. Fluidity is what allows us to move without stress and strain, increasing the efficiency of force we can exert and extending the mechanical durability of the body.
Push hands shows us that much greater effect comes from pushing at the right time, rather than from pushing harder at the wrong time. Rather than exerting a forceful effort of will, one only has to stay present and aware, and poised to fill the gap of opportunity.
Structure is the alignment of the bones that maintains a uniform distribution of force throughout the body. Stresses and strains that build up at a single point are indicative of structural deficiency. Good structure is completely egalitarian; when good structure is in place no joint or muscle bears more or less than its fair share of the burden.
Each action arises in the moment and is a response to momentary conditions. Spontaneity is action without expectation, continually holding open the full range of possibility. Spontaneous action is not necessarily original or unpredictable, it is simply unpremeditated.
Push hands teaches the resolution of conflict and the dissolution of paradox. It is a way to experiment with the reconciliation of apparent contradictions, such as how to yield without compromising, or surrender without capitulating. It allows us to perceive the reality that conflicts that appear external always originate internally. Its lessons adapt the way we move, think, and breathe, and spill over into every aspect of life.