Tuishou vs. Roushou (push-hands vs. soft-hands)

Tuishou and roushou are what we might call martial arts parlor games. They are gentrified, limited two person fighting games.
For me, and many martial artists, tuishou and roushou are the arts of not becoming defensive.

How does this work?
On the emotional level one must train how to lose well before developing skill. The pride of winning is totally addictive. Because the parameters of both arts are strict limitations on actual fighting, someone who wants to win will keep trying to change the rules, or the parameters of the game. They will up the ante by, for instance, resetting their foot in a game of fixed foot tuishou. I often have a student handicap them selves so that they can practice losing to someone who is less skillful than they are. I tell beginners, the goal is to make your partner happy. To do this you have to really try to get to know your partner. If you practice correctly, an experience of intimacy replaces the desire to win.

How is this done?
There are many steps so I'm just going to cover a few of the ones that deal with undoing defensive responses.

First you must make and feel a ring shape with your arms (later it becomes a ball). Practicing very slowly at first, have your partner use their arms to make contact with your arms on the outside of your ring. Keeping contact your partner then slowly moves their hands toward your neck. A small increase in the size of your ring will arrest their progress (once they are stopped they should not keep trying but instead break contact and start again). This un-trains the defensive response often called against the wall, meaning using your back muscles to pull your arms apart (a reflex we use to protect our head and neck when falling backwards).

Second, you make the same ring but have your partner use their arms to make contact with the inside of your ring. Again they should proceed to attack your neck. Arrest the attack by making the ring smaller. This time you may have to also turn at the hip socket so that they don't touch your body, but shrinking the ring will stop their progress toward your neck. This un-trains the defensive response often called pincering, in which one uses chest and pectoral muscles to force the forearms together making a narrowing corridor shape with the arms.
Do not respond to these attacks by moving your arms up or down, just change the size of the ring. Then try the same thing with one arm inside the ring and one arm outside the ring. Repeat the exercise daily until it is second nature.

Once you have basic tuishou skills and you know how to keep your frame, you can try roushou. The big difference between the two is that roushou allows slapping with a soft hand. The basic rule is that I can only slap with as much force as I can get sliding off of my partner's defense. The harder or more actively my partner defends, the harder and more often they get hit. And of course, the same goes for me. So first you learn to defend lightly, than not to defend at all. Very cool.

Since both practices train sensitivity, it's fair to say that the muscularly stronger opponent has the disadvantage. Still it would be a mistake to say that we cultivate weakness because it gives us an advantage. The real reason for cultivating weakness is that it reveals our true nature. It's not that our true nature ever actually goes away, it's just that strength and the fears or fantasies that produce strength tend to obscure, or one might even say numb, our true nature.

Just a note: Searching google video for 'push-hands' gets lots of interesting results, but searching for 'roushou' gets nothing I would actually call roushou.  Time to make a video.