Great post that wonders at the end how to get the correct middle ground in push hands – between the extremes of push hands as a form and push hands as san shou. Of course that is already the same struggle Kano and judo had with kata vs. randori vs. shiai. According to this essay I mentioned earlier, randori is for “research and development” of throws – to allow students to get some trial and error experimentation they wouldn’t get in either kata or shiai. I think as a training method along these “R&D” lines, it’s been far more successful than push hands in the modern world, yet I don’t think it’s found any sure way to walk that middle ground, either. Sometimes it requires the instructor to tell us to lighten up but some of it is also you have to make those mistakes on the list yourself to understand what’s better and what’s worse for your training. Where Kano’s method is more successful, I think, is that the 3 training methods are actually adopted by pretty much all students. Most students getting confused with taijiquan aren’t doing form, tui shou, and san shou (maybe due to lack of available instruction), and all of the “rules” and conventions are different and the frustrated parties try to change the “rules” on the fly constantly. That is probably the biggest culprit – poor and inconsistent training methods and conventions keep the “real art” inaccessible and mysterious.
In the end, it really doesn’t matter too much if you can keep from getting hung up on the constantly changing “rules” and so forth. Perhaps taking a Taoist approach to even that kind of change is best. At this point I would like to do any kind of push hands at any extreme – too much like form or too much like san shou – any “wrong” extreme is still pretty much fine for me as I’d get more training in than I’m getting now and craving. I don’t care too much at the moment what is more “right” or “wrong”. They all teach something if one is really motivated to pay attention. Of course as someone interested in actual martial skills, I don’t want to get too enamored with push hands and neglect the idea that tui shou should be for san shou or learning techniques or other things, but there is just so much it seems to keep offering every time one comes back to it. When people say they get “deeper with their practice” I think that’s true because the actual lessons seem to reveal themselves in layers. This process seems to mainly require more training and very minimal analysis. When people say “it’s hard to put into words” I think that’s also true. Still I’ll have to try posting some notes as time goes by. Reflection using words does seem to help with retention.