TAI CHI APPLICATIONS
In the Ming dynasty, the famous general Qi Ji-Guang investigated various martial arts popular at that time. Hewas mainly interested in practical techniques and compiled what he considered to be 32 key points or techniques taken from several martial arts. These 32 key points influenced the future development of Chinese martial arts and became the main source for the study of martial arts for later generations. Apart from Qi Ji-Guang’s book there were very few written documents on martial arts before then. A lot of martial arts started to develop around that time and most were influenced by Qi Ji-Guang’s writings. For example, the early forms of Chen style Tai Chi Chuan included 29 of the 32 techniques. Tai Chi Chuan is therefore linked to early attempts to classify and analyse the fighting applications of martial arts and not so much to the health or exercise aspects which came into the art later.
A second influence on Tai Chi Chuan were Dao-yin methods. Dao-yin includes various forms of Taoist Yoga, breathing methods, meditation and qigong, for example Ba Duan Jin and other types of qigong. These forms of exercise were directed at improving health and prolonging life, characteristics now associated with Tai Chi Chuan itself.
Thirdly, Tai Chi Chuan absorbed the Tai Chi philosophical system, in particular the Yin and Yang principle. So, Tai Chi Chuan attempts to maintain a smooth interaction and balance of the Yin and Yang. Tai Chi Chuan should reflect all three of the aspects mentioned above. However, during the development of Tai Chi Chuan some people have focused more on external appearance. It is also possible that some movements in the form have been changed to make them look better. In addition, people are often more concerned with the obvious; they may understand obvious uses but are not conscious of the implied applications. For example, they may understand that a technique is a punch but do not understand how to produce the power – i.e. they have only a partial understanding of the movement. And, sometimes it is a feint – it may be the grab or lock preceding the punch that is more important.
Tai Chi Principles:
There are several important points, probably familiar to most practitioners, that are important for both form and application. These are: the hand distinguishes between the open and the closed, it settles or flexes at the wrist; elbows always point down covering the sides of the body; sink the shoulders; let the tongue touch the upper palate; the head is held straight, chin in, neck straight; the back is straight, waist loose, the hips turn/rotate; knees are bent, the feet grip the floor; qi sinks; and so on. We must also be aware of the concepts of Xin and Yi which are important for both form and applications. Xin means ‘heart’ in Chinese but really conveys the idea of ‘mind’, i.e. that what occurs in your mind will be expressed through the body as you perform a Tai Chi movement. Yi can be translated as ‘will’, ‘purpose’, or ‘intention’ and is the same word as in the martial art Xingyi (Hsing-Yi). Yi should combine with Xin.
The Tai Chi Form:
When practising the form you should always follow the principles mentioned and also when you use the techniques for applied purposes; but in use you have to make adjustments to suit the situation. When you do theform you have to balance the Yin and Yang as it relates to you, one person. You just focus on the Yin and Yang in yourself. In a fighting situation you have to attend to the Yin and Yang of the other person as well. In the form you may shift your weight back before going on to another movement but in use against an opponent you might go straight in. Hand positions, footwork, body position, angles, in the form need to be altered to suit the situation. The form does contain a lot of self-defence techniques but you cannot simply expect to take a movement from the form and apply it unchanged. In some books you see movements from the form being used directly in self-defence situations without adapting them appropriately. Not very believable apart from a few obvious and simple uses.
The form is, though, valuable for a number of reasons. For instance, it includes sequences of connected techniques, one leading into another; techniques applicable to more than one opponent, an opponent behind or in unexpected positions, or there could be two attackers – one behind, one in front. The form also shows you how to act if a technique fails, how to adapt if an opponent stops your attack, for example your punch is blocked. The form also allows us to develop focus and intent, a calm mind, smoothness of movement, and an unbroken and strong flow of qi.
Not in the form:
But there are certain aspects not included in the form. In most forms there is no speed and power training, so you have to practice ‘fa jing’ (issuing of force) and speed outside the form. The form will not help you to improve your ability to take a blow – there are various types of qigong training to develop that. There is not much obvious use of evasion, retreating, and varied types of footwork. They are there to a certain extent but not always easily recognisable. So, realistic training outside the form is necessary. Practice applications with a variety of partners, first slowly and carefully, then let the partner attack with full speed and power. Your partner should attack in various ways not just as a Tai Chi person. It is not very useful if you can only defend yourself against a Tai Chi practitioner. Get your partner to attack as a boxer or karateka would or like an untrained person. Try to deal with a hard powerful attack by using the appropriate degree of ‘softness’ in your defence. If you go back or retreat you must retaliate immediately. Remember what Sun Tzu said about retaliation, ‘it begins after the enemy, but arrives before him.’ You must be able to attack effectively after an evasion – there’s no point in being able to evade or deflect an attack if you can’t deliver a powerful and determined response. Be aware of the position of your body, distance and range, when you deal with an attack and how best to position yourself to deliver a powerful counter.
Pushing hands training (Tui-Shou) and pre-arranged ‘self-defence’ (San-Shou):
Tui-Shou is not self-defence or a kind of self-defence exercise though it can contribute to the development of self-defence skills. And, although called ‘pushing hands’, it involves a lot more than just pushing and the use of hands. Without going into great detail, Tui-Shou helps you improve your awareness of distance and range, timing, co-ordinating footwork and balance, the ability to ‘listen to’, sense, or be aware of your partner’s force or Jing, how to deflect it, and how to apply your own force appropriately. It also gives you an opportunity to practice various locks and grappling techniques. Tui-Shou is certainly useful but no one will develop fighting skills just by doing that and the form. The type of choreographed San-Shou where you have a part A and part B designed for two practitioners to go through together is not really very practical. It might be an enjoyable exercise but not very realistic and certainly not as useful as the sort of self-defence training already mentioned. San-Shou should refer to Tai Chi fighting applications not a pre-arranged two-person set or form.
Professor Ji has mentioned several points which may be of some interest but this is only a short article and there are of course many aspects not included. If readers have anything to add or comment on they are welcome to do so.
Professor Ji Jian-Cheng China Jiliang University Zhejiang China
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