Slanted Flying, there was a very good post explaining Taijiquan push hands and what it is for. An excerpt is below. The full post may be read here.
Tui Shou (推手), or push-hands, can be used to train many things in the
study of Taijiquan (太極拳), and different schools likely have numerous
specialized methods for using this training tool. But, since I have seen
online forums where practitioners question the fighting usefulness of
push-hands (at least as commonly trained, especially as seen in
competitions), I though that I would present my understanding of this
Wikipedia does a good job of explaining Taijiquan push-hands (see: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pushing_hands).
The article states that push-hands is the “gateway” to understanding
the martial aspects of this art, but does not explain how practitioners
would transition from the “gateway” of push-hands into fighting
It makes sense that such qualities as “leverage, reflex, sensitivity,
timing, coordination and positioning” would be valuable for a fighter,
and that training to “undo a person’s natural instinct to resist force
with force, teaching the body to yield to force and redirect it” may
differentiate Taijiquan training from many other styles of martial arts.
addition to the principles mentioned in the Wikipedia article, I would
propose that a major aspect of Taijiquan push-hands is training in the
middle range. To transition into fighting with Taijiquan, practitioners
may need to practice additional methods not commonly taught in the
If we look at martial arts fighting in general, the typical distances
utilized tend to fall into the two categories of striking (long) range
and grappling (short) range.
In both MMA and Chinese Lei Tai competition fighting, it is fairly
common to see competitors using primarily striking and
grappling/throwing (transitioning to ground fighting in MMA), and there
are many styles of fighting around the world that emphasize one or the
other of these skills. In Western fighting styles, these would perhaps
be best illustrated by boxing and wrestling.
But Taijiquan focuses on a middle range not typically emphasized in
other systems, and rarely seen in MMA or Lei Tai fights. While striking
and grappling are important aspects of fighting, and should not be
ignored by Taijiquan practitioners, the emphasis is initially focused on
developing skills in the middle range.
To land a strike, an opponent would need to cross through this middle
range. Similarly, grappling would need to get inside this middle range
to be effectively employed. From this middle range, with proper body
dynamics, both effective strikes and throws can be achieved by skilled
The middle range is a difficult range to control (thus its relative
rarity), and this is what push-hands seeks to train. To succeed in this
middle range, Taijiquan emphasizes sensitivity (“listening” and
“understanding” energies) as well as stick and adhere, connect and
follow (zhan nian lian sui 粘黏連隨) and other concepts.