BY CHENG TIN-HUNG AND DAN DOCHERTY
Doing the Pushing Hands practice with a partner is the best method of training the Five Strategies and Thirteen Tactics mentioned earlier. This practice will develop the sensitivity of our arms enabling us to detect our opponents’ intentions. It will also help to speed up our own reactions.
Pushing Hands practice is not designed to train us to fight, though it does link the combat strategy and tactics with the practical application of the Hand Form. This training, using a limited number of actions in a number of situations, conditions us to respond to our opponent’s movements in a natural way. Only when we have a good understanding of the Pushing Hands should we start to learn Self Defence.
The Tai Chi Chuan Classics tell us that once our opponent has just started a move then we should counter him before he can complete the movement. We can only accomplish this if we have attained a high degree of sensitivity which will allow us to detect any such movement. Such sensitivity can best be developed through the Pushing Hands practice.
There are eight types of Pushing Hands. Five are ‘fixed step’, meaning that the sole of the front foot may be raised or lowered provided the heel rests on the ground but that no other movement of the feet is permitted. The other three styles are ‘moving step’ and develop our ability to move forwards, backwards and to the side, in a nimble manner while applying the Pushing Hands Techniques.
When starting to learn Pushing Hands we must concentrate on adopting correct stances and postures and relaxing during the movements. Next, we must ensure that we adhere to our opponent’s arms so that we can employ the ‘radar’ of our sensitivity to detect his intentions and then use the Eight Powers in combination with the Five Directions to thwart these intentions. We must affect his balance by using his own force against him and then attacking his weak points. A good stance and sense of balance are crucial.
There are three main stages in Pushing Hands:-
- The first and highest stage is where the sensitivity of our hands is such that our opponent’s intentions are an open book to us while our intentions are a source of mystery to him. He will be completely frustrated, unable to attack or defend.
- The second stage is where our sensitivity is not fully developed and so we can only determine our opponent’s intentions at the last minute and so may not be able to react in time to counter his attack.
- The third stage is where our sensitivity is so poor that we cannot detect our opponent’s attack at all. This attack will then be successful and we will be defeated.
If we are to be genuine Tai Chi masters, we must be able to apply and combine the Thirteen Tactics freely and fluently. Practising Pushing Hands with such a master is like rowing a boat in a rough sea, since our actions will always be beyond our control. Our attacks would be too slow and too obvious to be effective, while our defence would also be inadequate to respond to his attacks. In every martial art knowledge of techniques, in itself, is useless; constant, thoughtful, concentrated practice is essential. Only in this way can we reach the first stage in Pushing Hands.
Tai Chi Chuan Self Defence Techniques are the practical applications of the individual styles of the Tai Chi Chuan Hand Form.
We know that practice of the Hand Form is good for health. Many ‘masters’ have a first-class knowledge of the Hand Form, but little if any knowledge of how to apply the techniques contained therein. It is as if they learn to recite a beautiful poem without being able to understand the words.
The practice of Pushing Hands is not sufficient either, as this is only an exercise to train our bodies and minds in the Strategy of the Five Step Path and the Principles of the Thirteen Tactics. It is a preparatory step to learning the Self Defence Techniques. Furthermore, in a real fight our opponent will not engage in Pushing Hands with us, but will attack with fist and foot from all directions. If Pushing Hands practice was sufficient in itself, what is the purpose of the different styles of the Tai Chi Chuan Hand Form?
What we must try to do is to learn the application of these styles. Some Tai Chi Chuan ‘masters’ try to interpret the styles themselves or blindly follow the way the styles are used in the Hand Form, as they lack both the experience and knowledge of how to apply them practically. Individual interpretations of the styles from the Hand Form, in the absence of any practical fighting experience, can lead to disastrous results. The same applies where the Hand Form movements are blindly followed, as the requirements and purposes of the Hand Form are quite different from those of combat. If we are to learn the Self Defence Techniques properly we must follow a capable and experienced Tai Chi Chuan master. We also require a partner to take on the role of opponent. In the absence of another student the master himself will take on this role.
The next step is to learn the Self Defence Techniques, one at a time. At first we must practice slowly, learning how to respond and then counter attack when attacked by our opponent. With practice over time we will be able to use the techniques to respond to even the fastest and fiercest attacks of our opponent. Reaching this stage should make us confident of our ability to defend ourselves we need not fear any attacker. Once we have become well versed in one technique we can then move on in the same manner until we become well versed in all the Self Defence Techniques.
The final stage which we are aiming at is the ability to combine all the Self Defence Techniques and make them as one. This ability will only come with constant practice. What it means is that, following the Strategy of the Five Step Path and the Principle of the Thirteen Tactics, we should reach the stage where we apply the styles as a natural reflex action. In other words, just as there is no definite limit to the way we can be attacked, just so there should be no definite limit to the ways in which we respond to such attacks. It is senseless to think only in terms of ‘in the event of attack X use response Y’. We must be able to mix and merge the techniques as the situation demands.
Tai Chi Chuan Self Defence Techniques also include wrestling techniques that may be used when grappling with our opponent at close quarters or in response to an attempted punch or kick. We must apply these wrestling techniques speedily, with sensitivity and softness, so that we can detect our opponent’s force and use it against him while he is unable to detect ours.
We must learn to be soft and yielding where our opponent is strong, but to be strong where he is weak. In other words, we must avoid his strong points and attack his weak points. If he is strong on the right side we must attack on the left. If his upper body is strong, we must attack his lower body.
To sum up, we must let our opponent move first, so that we can detect his weak points and use his own force against him in a devastating counterattack. If our opponent doesn’t move, we should use feints or draw out his attack and then deal with it in the same way as before. To apply this method properly we need to practice the Self Defence Techniques frequently and under the watchful eye of an experienced master who can advise and guide us in the practical application of the theory.
This is only a brief introduction to Tai Chi Chuan Self Defence Techniques. One cautionary note we should heed is that such techniques are only of value if we are in a fit state of health to apply them. This means that we must do Internal Strength training to build up our health and strength because, even if our reactions are good, if we lack striking power we will be unable to counterattack effectively. This is a particularly dangerous state of affairs if we are facing more than one opponent.
In ancient times, Internal Strength (Nei Kung) was the first thing that a student of Tai Chi Chuan would be taught. It provided a strong foundation on which to build the rest of the art. However, as teachers began to depend on Tai Chi Chuan for a living and had to teach more students, Internal Strength was only taught to students of good character. It takes time to assess students so nowadays students will normally be taught the hand form and some pushing hands first.
Internal Strength is the most important part of the art of Tai Chi Chuan, as well as being the most mysterious and least understood. When faced with more than one opponent, even if our defence is good, we must expect to take some punishment. If our body is weak we may sustain severe injuries, while our own blows are too weak to have any effect. This means that before we can be good fighters we need to develop a strong physique.
The Internal Strength regulates breathing and improves blood circulation. Practice loosens and relaxes the joints, making our movements more fluid, which in turn leads to quicker reactions and greater speed in attack and defence. Our sense of balance will also improve with practice.
There is a series of twelve Yin exercises and a complementary series of twelve Yang exercises. The Yin exercises are designed to develop health and physique. It is for this reason that the Yin exercises are taught first. The Yang exercises are designed to increase our power and physical strength.
A shorter version of the hand form was developed by Dan Docherty known as the Short Form.
The reasons for the development of this form are to provide:-
- A form which can be learned in a shorter period of time. To cope with the impatience of western students.
- A standardised form suitable for competition, where time limits are imposed.
The Short Form is not a simplified form, the movements are a combination of simple and complex. But it can be taught to new students in a fraction of the time required to learn the Long Form. So it provides an “attainable” goal for the new student, and after learning the short form they then go on to learn the long form. The skills they have learnt for the short form apply to the long form and help the student learn more speedily.
An Advanced Short Form has recently been created. The reason for the creation of this form are twofold:-
- To give advanced students a more challenging form for their practice.
- Provide a more technically demanding form suitable for use in competition by advanced students.
The Advanced Short Form contains a number of more demanding techniques and transitional movements. There is also greater scope to demonstrate balance, coordination and flexibility.
The Long Form consists of 119 sequences of movements and takes approximately 18 minutes to perform. The Short Form consists of 34 movements, the Advanced Short Form consists of 38 movements. Both the Short Form and Advanced Short Form take only 4 minutes to perform, which makes both suitable for use in competitions.
There are three types of weapons taught in Wudan Tai Chi Chuan. As well as having self-defence applications they also train the body and mind.
The weapons provide a method of exercise quite different to that provided by the hand form. They can stretch out and relax the muscles and bones, promote the circulation of the blood, make the breathing smoother and longer, and are of great benefit to the health and constitution.
The sword nourishes the Chi, the spear promotes wisdom, the sabre cultivates the resolve.
When practising the Sabre, we employ movements such as spring up, shift, dodge and display. The sabre is entwined like a belt round the waist and then shoots out; when the steps change the body shifts; advance one step, withdraw one step; chop once, cut once. Hand and sabre in conjunction; coil and spin, rise and fall; like a long rainbow passing through the skies. Like a swirling wind rotating snowflakes.
- Pi to chop/split from various angles
- Ci to stab/pierce
- Tan to search out, slashing upwards to the groin
- Tou to push up left hand supporting the blade
- Ti to lift an upward diversion
- Liao to stir diversion and slash in a continuous movement
- Chen to sink diverting an attack by pressing downwards
- Lu to divert an attack to the side
When practising the Sword, the actions employed are chopping, stirring, stroking and stabbing. The techniques are finely linked together. One drawing forth (of opponents attack) and one strike; one flourish and one presentation.
The body follows the movements of the sword which circles the body and can be seen in every direction. Lithe and graceful, surprising and subtle; body and sword are as one. Like a Spiritual Dragon, speeding like an arrow, or a male phoenix soaring and circling in the air.
- Kan to chop
- Liao to stir divert and slash in one continuous movement
- Mo to stroke subtle circular diversion
- Ci to stab/pierce
- Chou to draw forth diverting upwards with a whipping action
- Ti to lift an upward diversion
- Heng to sweep across horizontal diversion followed by thrust
- Dao to invert diverting to the side, sword pointed down
When training the Spear, adhere, connect, entwine and stab; one lift, one hit; one drag, one dot. Obstruct and cut, rapid and intense; in the midst of fullness, conceal emptiness. Like a snake coiling and striking; or like a willow tree swaying in the wind. In the finest stage, the changes can be infinite.
In the spear we use Peng, Lu, Ji, An as the warp (vertical and horizontal) and Tiao, Tan, Qian, Dian as the woof (diagonal). This means that the spear should be used in a three dimensional way and not flat, so we can defend and counter from any angle.