Marty S. has left a new comment !
"Like anything else to be proficient in tai chi the practitioner must put the time in. As a practitioner of over 40 years, I've learned and I am still learning.
With that said if you are interested in learning tai chi as a self defense you must practice push hands with many opponents and then practice sparring with many oponents.
You can not get the feel and practical ability without having the experience of sparring. "
It is true that one must "practice push hands and sparring with many opponents" as an integral part of martial training in Tai Chi. In the case of Classical Tai Chi however, push hands and sparring are taught after one can show at least some rudimentary internal discipline. Practicing even push hands before that physical internal development is putting the cart before the horse. All it does, is to confuse the student and merely gives one the illusion of progress. Notice, I say "physical" internal development, because merely having the right mental attitude aka an "internal demeanor" does not confer physical internal discipline. We have spoken extensively of Internal Energy, and to reiterate, it occurs inside the body with the physical turning of the body at the core, using a compact frame not the hips, kua, etc. of a large frame.
Now we have to go a bit off the beaten path from our discussion of internal energy to deal with self-defense. The reason is that in self-defense...anything goes and we are not limited to using internal energy/internal discipline. I do agree with your assertion however about push hands/sparring being an integral part of self defense training, but with the stringent caveat that it also has severe limitations which are overlooked. My own 40 years of experience and research tell me that sparring, push hands, weapons, etc. are good martial training but unfortunately most often give people the "Illusion" that they have self defense ability.
In all self defense situations however, I learned the hard way that "anything goes" which Tai Chi in a controlled push hands and sparring does not teach. I also have rather unfortunate experience with personal self defense in light of violent physical attacks. As it has been said, one can be attacked by people and wild animals but what holds one in stead is an accurate appraisal of one's integrity. In other words, not only an honest assessment of one's own abilities and/or limitations martially, but ask yourself do you honestly want to hurt someone or do you simply want to just defend yourself. I've met many people over the years both teachers and others who seem to take enjoyment from the hurt that others have to endure at their hands.
To close, I think that in being honest with myself and my own abilities that the experience of sparring and push hands is wishful thinking when it comes to being mugged by a large group of people. Sparring and push hands is wishful thinking when it comes to someone trying to run you down with their automobile. Sparring and push hands is wishful thinking when it comes to someone confronting you with a firearm from 5 feet away. I think you see my point and I'm sure you would agree that sparring and push hands have their uses but we should also be aware of their limitations. Hence, my feelings that martial training may often give people the illusion of self-defense in one time situations but internal energy is for life.