Some teachers don’t like their students to compete. But others, like Li Yaxuan, Yang Chengfu’s most famous and competent student, said that you must practice your Tai Chi in free push hands and free sparring. Li also encouraged Tai Chi people to compete in Push Hands and Sanda/San shou tournaments. But if you do, he meant that this is to test your Tai Chi skills. You must really use your Tai Chi. You must be confident in your art, know how to always breath, stay relaxed and not use excessive or unnecessary strength.
But I can never see real Tai Chi skills when I look at Tai Chi Push Hands competitions. They all use brute force, tricks and speed. How come? Why is that so? I read about a quite famous teacher who commented Push Hands tournaments and why you hardly see anyone who use Tai Chi skills in competitions. That teacher said that even if students do everything right in class and use their Tai Chi when they practice free push hands in class, they tend to not trust their skills and practice when they meet the pressure in a competition. So they use brute force and speed instead.
This is somewhat a strange phenomena. One of the reasons of course could be that many of these competitors practice to compete in competitions and not too build genuine Tai Chi skills. Another reason could be that many of them are young and have not enough practice to keep their skill when they are pressured. I couldn’t not always do so for the first five or seven first years. Even when I met Tai Chi people for free push hands practice, I sometimes tensed up, and especially so if the other person was tense or used strength.
But the question is, if you want to develop genuine Tai Chi skills, what way, how and how often should you meet pressure and have your skills tested? Maybe competitions is not the best way. If you lose too much confidence in yourself and in your skill, will you have enough courage later to really use your Tai Chi? Will you ever be able to use it?
In my own humble opinion, the best way to test your Tai Chi skills is to test them against a Tai Chi practitioner who is much better than you. If you meet someone who really know how to relax, can keep relaxed all of the time, and can still play around with you just like you were merely a leaf caught in the wind, you will learn far more than if you put yourself into pressure when you yourself yet don’t know how to keep relaxed all of the time. If you meet up with skilled teachers and practitioners, you will feel how they feel, you will experience their timing and eventually come to understand their Tai Chi spirit.
This is the right way to approach Tai Chi and build genuine skills that can be used for real. First, learn to relax properly in a Tai Chi environment. When you can keep yourself relaxed and not tense up, then test yourself against non-Tai Chi practitioners. When you can demonstrate and keep your Tai Chi body all of the time, without interruption, you might want to expose yourself to people from various styles who are skilled in wrestling, competition push hands and free fighting. If you want to make your Tai Chi work for real, my advice is that you make your progress to develop in clear levels, taking one step at a time and learn how to keep your Tai Chi skills when dealing with different levels of pressure. Make one achievement at a time and let your progress in Tai Chi develop over the time it takes to jump up one level at a time. By doing so, you will always progress further without compromising your Tai Chi or your confidence in your art.