Taiji pushing hands is commonly called "communication" or "question and answer" (wen da, 問答) in taijiquan practice. When you begin taiji pushing hands practice, you are exchanging your mental intent, skills, and qi with your opponent. You are applying your yin and yang sides of taijiquan training into actions with a partner. As such, the feeling (or "listening" in taijiquan) is extremely important. First you must have listening, and then you are able to understand. From understanding you are able to attach, stick, follow, and connect. These are the crucial keys of taijiquan techniques. In fact, it is from these basic keys that the taijiquan martial skills can be applied.
From these basic practices, you learn how to master the fundamental structure of taijiquan: Thirteen Postures (十三勢). If you are not familiar with these postures and cannot apply them in action, your taijiquan will have lost its essence and should not be called taijiquan.
The contents of taiji pushing hands can be listed as:
- Taiji Qigong: learn how to use the mind to lead the qi for action.
- Balance and Rooting: learn how to keep yourself at the centered, balanced, and rooted position both when stationary and when stepping.
- Stationary Single Pushing Hands: the first step to teach a beginner how to listen, yield, follow, lead, and neutralize. From single pushing hands, you build a firm foundation of double pushing hands.
- Stationary Double Pushing Hands: also called "peng, lü, ji, an". A drill teaches you how to use both hands to apply the first four basic structures of taijiquan. The four basic structures are wardoff (peng), rollback (lü), press (ji), and push (an).
- Moving Single Pushing Hands: learn how to step while applying the basic four postures.
- Moving Double Pushing Hands: learn how to step while using both hands to apply the basic four postures.
- Rollback and Press: also commonly called "cai, lie, zhou, kao" and means pluck, split, elbow, and bump. Rollback includes small rollback (xiao lü) and large rollback (da lü). This practice focuses on mastering the second four of the taijiquan Thirteen Postures.
- Freestyle Pushing Hands. Once you are able to apply the eight basic jing patterns with smooth and skillful coordination with stepping, then you progress to freestyle pushing hands. Freestyle practice provides a firm foundation for sparring and set-ups for kicking, striking, wrestling, and qin na.
From the fundamental practice of single pushing hands, advancing into double pushing hands, (you learn) to listen, understand, advance forward, retreat backward, beware of the left, and look to the right. When (you) have reached a natural reactive stage of using the yi without the yi, then (you) may enter the practice of moving pushing hands. (However, you should know that) in moving pushing hands training, the practice of advance forward, retreat backward, beware of the left, look to the right, and central equilibrium also start from single pushing hands. Its main goal is to train central equilibrium so it can harmonize the criteria of advance forward, retreat backward, beware of the left, look to the right. After the hands, the eyes, the body movements, the techniques, and the stepping can be coordinated and harmonized with each other, then (you can) enter the practice of double pushing hands, large rollback, and small rollback of stepping moving pushing hands. Afterward, (you can) enter the practice of taijiquan sparring. From the practice of sparring, (you) should continue to search deeper for profound understanding, experience, and applications. After a long period of practice, the moving of the Five Steppings can be carried out as you wish.
After you have mastered all of the basic skills for your body's strategic actions and are familiar with the techniques of applying the eight basic jing patterns in stationary pushing hands, start your pushing hands training while moving. Without mastering these basic skills in the stationary position your body will be tense and stiff while moving. You will be unable to maintain your central equilibrium, your root will be shallow, and your techniques will not be effective. In order to build yourself to a high level of skill, bad habits must be corrected first and basic skills must be reinforced.
When you advance to moving pushing hands, again you must start from moving single pushing hands before progressing to moving double pushing hands. In this stage of training you learn how to maintain your central equilibrium while you are stepping and turning. After you have reached a comfortable level where the yi (mind) does not have to be there (i.e. natural reaction), then you can proceed to large and small rollback training. Gradually, you proceed into sparring and other advanced jing skills such as spiraling, coiling, controlling, and borrowing.
The above is an exerpt from Tai Chi Push Hands: The Martial Foundation of Tai Chi Chuan by David Grantham and Dr. Yang, Jwing-Ming, Pub date November 2020, YMAA Publication Center, ISBN: 978-1-59439-645-8.