The Nature of Push Hands Competition in America
The person who is able to physically dominate the opponent within the framework of the rules wins the push hands match. Sounds simple right? Wrong. The rules vary greatly depending on the particular tournament and which judges are scoring your match. Use of "excessive force" and "double grabbing" for example, are two of the rules that are a constant source of debate and disagreement at push hands competitions.
Excessive force is a joke. Some judges feel that if you shove a person across the room in a "brutish" way, with no poise, that it shouldn't count. Not only does it not count, you get a point off in some places! Forget the idea that the opponent should be able to handle any type of push…this is a sport. It has rules. Neither the rules nor the experience of the judges are standardized. It's very tough to train for these tournaments as a result.
Double grabbing means that you grasp the opponent with two hands at the same time. If you do this, you either get a warning or a point off. The idea is that this is not a "Judo" match and you should not use throwing or grappling techniques. Again, depending on who the judges happen to be, you may get away with grabbing one arm and pushing the opponent with the other. In another ring at the same tournament, you could get a judge calling "excessive force" or "double grabbing." So how do you handle this wide discrepancy in judging?
First of all, realize that you are participating in a sport. It is not the same as participating in a fight. If you want to win at push hands competition, forget punching, kicking, grappling, throwing, striking and anything else related to martial arts. Just get as strong as you possibly can. Find the biggest, strongest, most athletic opponents you can and practice pushing them. Play with your left foot in front, your right foot in front, and with your feet wherever the heck you want. Get strong. Become flexible, but flexible under the full pressure of a big, tough opponent. Forget points. Just play rough and tumble push hands. Play so that it's almost a "sumo" match, without the strikes and throws. This is the best way to prepare for a push hands match in an American tournament.
Personally, I realize that "martial arts" training is a different pursuit entirely. Push hands is a sport in Tai Chi tournaments in America. Martial arts training is much more comprehensive and difficult. Within Tai Chi Chuan training, push hands is an excellent training activity. The goals are not to "win" or "defeat" the opponent. The goals are to develop the ability to sense where the opponent's center of gravity is, stick to his limbs limiting his ability to attack and to neutralize incoming forces. Push hands training also helps develop root, improve strength and flexibility and provides a bridge from form to fighting.
My goal is to help you decide what you want to do, and how to do it. Are you interested in going to tournaments and winning in push hands? Get strong and push like an animal against the toughest opponents you can find. Then observe all of the matches before yours. Pay attention to the judging. Do what they want to see. Are you interested in martial arts? Tai Chi Chuan as a whole can be a fantastic martial arts experience. You need form, push hands, da lu, sword and fighting. Have no shame about being a "push hands" person. Just keep in mind that there is more to being a martial artist than pushing people around.