Pushing hands is a two person practice for deepening the shen fa (body method) of Tai Chi Chuan. It is a means of helping players develop the skills contained within the art. Through this practice, one learns to organize around and embody various vectors of force. It is a cooperative and contrived practice. I say contrived because pushing hands is an agreement.
Push hands is closer to a game of tennis than wrestling.
The point of contact is established and maintained as a means of having an exchange. The point of contact is the “ball.” The ball may move over the course of the field (the body), but both players must seek to control and direct it toward their goal. If you disregards the ball, there is no game. The skill is in the control and manipulation of the ball, receive and return it. Much like in tennis, a momentum will build up in the “point” or exchange. A series of shots causes one to get progressively behind until a critical mass is hit and the shot cannot be returned. Also like in tennis, if there is a skill discrepancy the game falls easily in favor of the better player. However, regardless of each player’s ability, they can have enjoyable volleys and exchanges in which both parties get to practice and deepen their relative skills.
Why is this useful for martial arts? In addition to strengthening the body method that one should be cultivating in their solo practice, push hands gives us a chance to extrapolate off of the first contact, which is the make or break moment of a fight.
The solidity at the point of contact is essential. If one simply yields and has no shape you will be overwhelmed and hit by anyone with power.
You are forced to show up or eat the hand. The question is, can you show up fully, receive, listen and change?