How, historically, did American push-hands get so restrictive in comparison to Chinese push-hands?

By | May 18, 2012

In tai chi circles outside of China, push hands competitions are noticeably more restrictive in their rules and format:

  • Many competitions use "fixed-step" rules (for example, this British event and this Canadian event). In these events, such as in this clip, points are scored for merely getting the opponent "off balance".
  • As documented in "Pushing the Issue", several American events have rules against "charging" or clashing, using any substantial grip, and even "throwing" or simply using force.

Not all European and American events have these restrictive rules, but it seems very common.

In contrast, Chinese events seem to be much more free-form, as a rule. There are no such restrictions on stepping, far fewer on grips, clashes are only separated in the case of stalling or lack of action, and throws and force are absolutely encouraged.

For example, this Chen village push-hands tournament clip shows participants fighting for grips and throwing with vigor. This tournament in China showcases many big throws and multiple instances of force. The same is true of this tournament, and seems to be true in everyday practice in the park in addition to competitive events. Points are scored for knocking an opponent down, throwing them to the ground, and pushing them out of the competition area, not for merely getting someone "off balance". We see that Chinese tournaments seem much closer to vigorous wrestling than a calm drill.

Why the distinction? When and how did these two paths diverge?