… Push hands is not fighting. It’s a limited type of sparring in which Tai Chi practitioners can practice the skills they would use in a real fight in a relatively safer environment. Contact is already made in push hands, so there’s no opportunity to cover one of the most important things in real fighting – the ability to ‘bridge’, that is to connect with your opponent from a distance.
— Source: Push hands is not fighting | WuSource
I agree with the article above that the ability to bridge is one of the most import aspects of a real fight. For those that don’t know what this means, bridging is basically training how to connect and/or close in on an opponent. A simple bridging example would be to block a punch and then step into the opponent for another technique (throw, sweep, strike, etc). Compare this with simply blocking an opponent with no additional follow-up or change in footwork to a more advantageous position.
Some applications are taught in the context of push hands patterns. Imagine trying to explain to a beginner they had to learn push hands before learning how to do an application? Is this really necessary? I don’t think so.
When I studied Tae Kwon Do back in the day, applications were taught in a “one-step sparring” scenario. Basically, two people face off and the attacker steps in and throws a punch. The defender will then block and counter. This type of application work is easily grasped and understood. Also, the one step sparring scenario can teach some rudimentary bridging-the-gap techniques. In fact, this was my first exposure to martial arts applications.
In truth, I have done very little push hands training. I know some basic patterns and stepping drills, but a majority of the application work I have done has been either through one-step sparring or free sparring. When I trained in Liuhebafa and Swimming Dragon Bagua, applications were taught in the one-step sparring manner, that is, applying a technique when an attacker is coming in from a distance with either a kick or punch. The intent of the application was to take an opponent out fast and quickly, resulting in either a qinna style bone break or an attack to an internal organ. No push hand patterns. Once contact was made the goal was to end the encounter.
To me, push hands should really be called “Sensing Hands”. I believe push hands is more about teaching sensitivity skills.