Welcome to The Palace Guard, the tai chi chuan and martial arts blog for intelligent martial practitioners. As the blog develops, I hope to feature other writers with a fresh take on the martial arts and related subjects. For now, I hope you enjoy my posts: feel free to leave comments, or email me at the address available on the profile.

Wednesday 21 November 2012

Death, and the online tai chi phenomenon...

Like it or not, the martial arts are about death. The thing about death is its inevitability, and what this means is, sooner or later we all lose to the Great Foe. Whatever Promethean or Faustian finesse we are in possession of, it will eventually come to nought. In our culture, death is the failure to end all failures, given the heroism of Jesus: we should all be aiming for his conquering attitude to death, I supppose. Our attitude to death has long held it at arm's length, such that many people die alone and unheeded right amidst an otherwise civilised society. There is another way to see death, a way enshrined in our practice of tai chi, and that consists of getting really up close and personal with it. In the martial arts we die a thousand times and more at the hands of our friends, and maybe in this way we could come to see death (or Death) as the latest in a life-long line of training partners, albeit one that we can't "beat" in the usual way. If tai chi teaches anything, it is that categories such as "winning" and "losing", "leading" and "following" simply aren't the cut and dried  certainties we assumed them to be. Could it then be the same for life/death? If death is anything, it is the great loss; but as tai chi practitioners, we invest in loss and welcome it as part of a whole, without which our art cannot become apparent.

Much as we shy away from death, we now appear to be shying away from real human contact in learning our martial arts. There is a proliferation of online tai chi courses, and some days ago I wrote and published a blog post about these, which I then removed. I removed it because it seemed rather a rant, and after all, who am I to tell people how to practice? I'll just say this: really great tai chi is about contact, about making your sense of touch into something fantastic and artful, and you won't ever get that online. Try online stuff, and then find a teacher. That is my advice.

You see, there was a link between the two...

Thursday 25 October 2012

The spaces in-between

The space that the martial arts create is a unique one. Those that enter to train have agreed to let certain things happen in that space that aren't allowed elsewhere, so the dojo is a liminal, that's to say an in-between space where "normality" is suspended. This space can be dangerous, not least because some teachers will use it to express their own control, power , fear or self-aggrandisement. A gentleman came to train with us recently whose art it seemed was that of martial compliance, thats's to say someone had trained him to die very politely at the application of the slightest force. I felt sorry for him. A teacher of my acquaintance admitted once that he had "run out of things to do" with his considerable crowd of students. This one particularly amazes me: what a gift to have a room full of people all willing to work together, all willing to drop some of the niceties of society in order to learn from blows and attacks!

So last night's training had a quiet edge to it. We zombied for well over half an hour, working on efficiency, flow and herding tactics. There's such a fine balance between letting them come, and pro-actively deterring the zombies. If you go in every time, you find yourself at their tactical mercy, as you have to keep turning in order to maintain awareness, and this is pretty disorientating. Sometimes it's better to let them sail past, using just a small evasion and cover, and hitting them as they go. Fists are fine, but open hand keeps forearms in play for smothering, chokes, locks and elbow-through-shoulder barges and hits. Our training in moving-step pushing has improved the use of lower body techniques, and I found that where top and bottom worked in co-ordination, the zombies balance and footing disappeared quickly and without warning...

There's not so much "teaching" going on. We can all, regardless of ability or experience, point out patterns or holes in people's movement (though experience improves this ability). If you've got a mob of keen people, and don't know what to teach, then don't teach: play, mess around, and thrash it out between you all. There's enough there to occupy several lifetimes. The lure of "the system" or "the art" gets them through the door, but what goes on once inside is much freer and vital than any system will ever be.

Friday 14 September 2012

Tigers & Porcupines

 Tigers are beautiful and mysterious, powerful and deadly, and many martial artists wish to become like a tiger amongst the livestock of the human population. Many martial arts give the impression that they can turn out tigers through the process of their teaching. I am of the opinion that one is either a tiger or not, and, as in nature itself, there are fewer around than we think. There are lots of mynah birds who can do a good impression of a tiger call, or a few cats which, when viewed from a distance, look a little tigerish ( as happened in Essex, England recently.) but very few actual tigers and the first you'd probably know about them is when they knock your head off with one swipe. I have realised that my training, and the art in which I train, is not one that will magically imbue me with ferocity and the killer instinct. It is much more a case of being unappealing prey, much like a porcupine or a sea urchin. When and if someone chooses to attack me, I want them to very quickly get the impression that 1) it hurts to attack me, 2) that attacking me will not be a casual thing which they can end quickly in their favour and 3) there are much safer bets for preying on. The ego, of course, can raise real objections to all this, because really we want to be tigers and not porcupines. Perhaps there will be times when a pre-emptive strike is needed, and perhaps a porcupine won't be much good at that. But my life isn't so violent, and the likeihood for such an incident small, so I train according to my life.

Wednesday 22 August 2012

Here be Dragons

There is a story about  a man who loved dragons: he had paintings and sculptures, tapestries and vases all depicting dragons. But when a real dragon, curious about the man's passion ,appeared at his window, the man dropped dead in fright.

 There are times in training when you realise it’s all for nothing. All the hours of training and teaching can add only the merest iota to what the cosmos already has going on. You could take this in one of two ways: you could become dejected and defeatist and give up your training. Or you could accept the fact that this feeling of “there’s nothing much to be done” or “I am not in control” should in fact form the backbone of training rather than being an occasional flash of inspiration.
In the martial arts it is very, very easy to become complacent about conflict, to think “I could handle that.” Some martial art teachers even boast of instilling confidence in their students.
We got stuck into some intense training the other night, in a way that we‘ve not done for ages. I was not as “good” as I thought I would be which shows how complacent I was becoming. Because thinking that you are “good” at this stuff is simply not the point.
What’s crucial to bear in mind is that we are not trying to improve our sparring proficiency. Our training partners are not fellow competitors but rather training aids for us. Our goal is not to defeat martial artists in some tournament: it is to try and open ourselves in readiness for when life comes along in the form of someone who wishes to cause us harm.
Intense and pressurised training is a reality check. In the midst of chaos, there is no style, no technique, no winning, no losing, no action and no reaction. This may not sit well with the image we have built up of what our training is about. It may even make us feel like giving up. An unexpected dose of reality or near-reality can be difficult for someone who isn’t absolutely, totally ready to lose. "Invest in loss" isn’t a pretty aphorism: it is an essential imperative.
There isn’t some Truth to be proved in martial arts, some gritty baseline that only certain grizzled fighters can lay claim to. There is only that which life throws in front of you. There isn’t a Truth in the martial arts; but there are lots of opportunities for self-deception.

Saturday 7 July 2012

Creation Myths

It's the done thing these days to imagine a "prologue" to the main events: witness the recent film "Prometheus" as one of the very worst examples of this to be found in popular culture...
People like to do prologues to tai chi chuan as well, to explain the "backstory" as it were. Many of them, in fact most of these are very unconvincing. Particularly the ones that edit out the martial content. Tai chi chuan has always seemed to me like the art that was designed to be done after having trained in some "hard" style. It is, in my opinion, more of an approach to martial situations than a formal style of movement. It has now become a style, of course, out of necessity: it's very difficult to market a concept, particularly when one is surrounded by schools who are very sure of their lineage, the effectiveness of their art, and the skills of their founders. I'm not just talking about nowadays: I imagine it was the same in China two-hundred years ago. When someone says "demonstrate your art" what do you do if you don't have a "form"? Is is possible that the tai chi form arose out of a desire to have something concrete to demonstrate to prospective students? Obviously the Handform has benefits in and of itself, but I wonder...
It used to de rigeur ten or so years ago to talk about tai chi chuan as having sprung out of the combination of Xing-Yi and Ba-gua, which makes total sense to me on a physical level. Seven Stars looks like pure Xing-Yi and when I did Nine Palace Stepping recently in front of some Shaolin guys, they asked if I  had ever trained in Ba-gua. These two arts are rarely mentioned in connection with tai chi chuan's genesis today, presumably to give weight to tai chi chuan's miraculous virgin birth several thousand years ago, as some would have it. Others would point out that tai chi chuan became what is recognisable to us today right about the time George IV was illegally marrying Catholics and burning his way through the country's finances in the pursuit of various architectural follies.
I like to imagine tai chi chuan being cooked up by a bunch of worldly-wise and weary old salts who simply no longer possessed the vim required for extreme conditioning, or  acrobatic high-kicks, but whom were essentially still damned kick-arse. Using their pooled years of youthful high-jinks and encounters, and perhaps mixing in some basic Taoistic wisdom which favours the less frenetic approach to life, they came up with something none too fancy but which worked even if you were a bit overweight or had a dodgy knee or whatever.  Whoever they were, and however it came about, I salute and thank them for their cleverness, and their bloody-minded lazy-arsed effectiveness.

Thursday 24 May 2012


Whether it's with weapons, or empty-handed, the thing is this: we can't hang back. We can't be purely defensive. If it takes too long for us to catch the turning tide of their attack, to spot an opening, we will simply be overwhelmed. Tai chi is certainly counterattacking, but it isn't and can't be purely defensive. If our technique is good, perhaps we can cut down on the lag-time between attack and defense: ideally they are simultaneous. The weakness with many Pushing Hands drills is that they subconsciously train us to allow five, ten or twenty attacks to go without a decisive response. Repetition is key to making the movement a habit, but we don't want to make  a blind habit where something is applied in an inappropriate manner. The point of Five Element Arm, for example, is not to be able to deal with five punches, but to deal with changing and varied punches. But really, we don't want anyone to land two shots on us, or even a single one if possible. This doesn't mean however that in training we don't ever let anyone land anything on us...It's tricky stuff this. We need to train the swift response, and the seeking out of the gaps, and general non-compliancy. We also need to feel what it's like (to a certain degree) to take a bit of a pasting. But it's important to know which we are training, and to realise that neither has the monopoly on "realistic".

This brings me to something that I've been thinking about. The benefit of some random, non-compliant, free-response training is boundless, simply because of the non-linear nature of the martial arts. A picture being worth a thousand words, anything that approaches a "whole" or "total" situation will encourage learning in a way that broken-down, linear-organised drilling simply won't. The danger in the first case is that it's easy to confuse with "reality". Now, five of your training partners coming at you in an intense and unpredictable way is a good training tool, and nearer to the "total" picture than is, for example, Seven Stars Stepping drill. But it isn't "total". "Total" can only happen in those nasty real-life happenings outside (hopefully!) the dojo. No-one is going to confuse Seven Stars with a "real" situation.
When you throw new people (or even more experienced sorts) into the "free" situation (and there are still plenty of rules and provisos for sure...) they can flounder and panic. This is where the more limited drills come in: they give the person the courage to enter fully into the "free" situation. They may even enhance their skills when they are in there. But what they also do is to give a kind of "spotter's guide" as to what's happening there amidst the hurly-burly, so they can identify and learn. It's like giving someone on safari some binoculars and a book which identifies the relevant beasts, but the obvious wonder of the safari is in its immersive quality and not for example, in the exact total number of wildebeest spotted. We want to get people to the point where they can spot for themselves, because then the real learning appears rather than the copying, mimicking or following.

Monday 16 April 2012

Something else entirely

It has occurred to us in the last few weeks of training that many of the elements of tai chi chuan come into play after the fact. What I mean is that, in a "real" situation, and even in sparring or competitions, you have to set up your Pushing Hands, or your  particular application with something else. It is this "something else" which forms the bridge between your approaching or closing down the opponent, and either escaping or taking him down. Here are some things that are difficult to do without the something else:

1) Going round the opponent with something like a Nine Palace Step. Unlike in flawed application training, an attacker will not pick one vector and stay on it. He or she will swivel quite naturally to find and hit you wherever you may go, unless you really are extremely fleet of foot. If they are at the centre, they only have to turn a few degrees, whilst you have to travel a couple of feet.

2) Any kind of throw. You see this in competitions, where people shoot in for the Double Hand Takes Legs, or they jump and swivel in for a White Crane Flaps Its Wings. Normally they expend energy and give away position for very little effect.

3) Effective striking, by which I mean striking from a position where it's hard for the opponent to strike back. If you are just standing centre line to centre line, exchanging punches, you are not using your tai chi chuan to its best advantage.

4) Sweeping to take their balance. Again, in competitions particularly one sees major shin-kicking contests where the opponents try to apply sweeps and trips with little effect (though a good kick to the shin can have its very own special effect...)

5) Locking  an arm, or controlling the motion of the opponent.

There are probably more, but these are the most obvious to me.
Lots of the syllabus in tai chi chuan, and I imagine, in other martial arts, is based on a kind of end result: techniques applied once you have already done a certain amount of work on the opponent. I'm not sure if I want to specify exactly what this might be at this time, mainly because I can't think of  a way of explaining it that isn't misleading. So I'll ruminate a while longer, and get back to you.

Wednesday 28 March 2012

Shaolin and Wudang

Recently, In the spirit of martial camaraderie I accepted an invitation to train with some Shaolin chaps for an evening. I had gone along, mouthguard in bag, expecting some sparring, but we kept it quite mild-mannered and focused on some martial drills instead. The key to these seemed to be stances, mainly based on quite a wide and deep step which is somewhat different to my usual ambivalent stance. These stances were used to generate extra power, something which we don't pay too much mind to in our approach, beyond using the right mechanics  for the job (and perhaps conditioning). The long stance did indeed feel powerful, but also slightly immobile and ripe for sweeping. There were similarities also, with both Seven Stars and Nine Palace Stepping being part of the Shaolin repertoire, albeit under different names. The drills were lively and energetic, and utilised a range of punches from angles different to those I am used to, but my "kickboxing"(!) approach to them seemed to serve me well enough.
The martial approach of these fellows seems to be "quickly in, quickly out", a kind of sniping approach if you will. Sifu Tim was able to demonstrate some great combos and evasions. By contrast, our Tai Chi way is more akin to throwing a weighted net over someone, or like a cloud of bees that you just can't get away from.
It was interesting to me that the teacher referred to my movements variously as "kickboxing", "boxing", "bagua" but never "tai chi". In fact he was of the opinion that, of all the things they teach in their particular Shaolin syllabus, the Tai Chi would be the one I'd most benefit from, which only goes to say that our ideas about what Tai Chi is are rather different.
The main difference really is in the approach: these Shaolin soldiers were training for the ring, whereas in our Tai Chi, we are inspired by the notion of usage in  "real" martial situations.

Thanks to Tim, Jon and Rich for a great evening, huzzah for the Shaolin style!

Sunday 18 March 2012

The Samurai Game©: a Daimyo's reflections

Of all the roles in the Samurai Game© , I was quite, quite certain that the only one I definitely didn't want was that of daimyo, the leader of the clan. So, when, after much change and hesitation, the other members of my clan silently lined up in front of me to indicate their choice of leader, I was filled with horror and surprise , but perhaps too a little gratification.
I won't go into to much detail about the rules of the Game out of respect for its integrity, and so that those who go on to do it afterwards don't have too many preconceptions. But let me make it clear: the way that the Game is set up makes it feel very real. Once I had welcomed my samurai to the clan, the challenges started in earnest. Initially, fate was on our side and we didn't suffer any deaths for a short time. But then, the tide turned and the deaths started to pile up. Warriors eager to prove their mettle rushed into the fray, only to be killed and find that, even in death, they were racked with disappointment, frustration and grief. One of my clan said that, whilst dead, she couldn't get over the feeling that her soul would be stuck in limbo as she couldn't let the manner of her death go, she couldn't let it pass. There were also moments of great beauty: one of my samurai gave a great poetry reading, but then killed himself in deference to the spirit of his opponent's reading. A champion from each clan was selected at one point, and there was held an epic twenty-minute long battle of endurance and heart, which was proclaimed an honourable draw.
Every decision I made had an immeditate tangible effect: at the start I had to choose a sentry, a role which requires the utmost mental vigour. Whoever was chosen would battle with themselves and the Game. I made the decision many times to send someone to a battle which both I and they knew they would lose.  I saw my clan furiously try to assert their strengths, only to be challenged on their weaknesses: when they could turn the odds, though, there was cause for somber celebration.
In the end, all my samurai fell. I sent the sentry in for his one and only challenge, for which he'd waited the whole war. He lost, and I was left to face the enemy daimyo and her clan alone. We met on the field of battle and she fell. Her clan chose to kill themselves rather than ally with me, with the exception of one, and so it was that only we two were left alive to savour the rather bitter taste of victory.

If you wish to find your edge, to step into another world of life and death, I heartily recommend this great Game which I know will stay with me for a long time. Advice? Enter wholeheartedly and there will be a victory of sorts. Only it may not feel like it.

Friday 16 March 2012

The Samurai Game©: prologue

Tomorrow this Palace Guard goes to play The Samurai Game©, the famed training tool developed by the late and great George Leonard. I really have no ideas what to expect, and I'm trying hard to lay aside my pre-conceptions, which I'm finding impossible. It might be better just to play  with my preconceptions fully in place...
I always want to "do things well". This self-evidently has its positive sides, but the negative sides are pretty strong. It means I worry a lot about how I should be in any given situation. I feel I need to be impressive, and that is quite a lot of pressure to live under. Undoubtedly, the Game will poke at this tendency and a whole lot besides...
I will give a full debrief upon my return, although I'm under the impression that they like people to keep the details private. I shall abide by whatever they say. Until tomorrow then...

Friday 24 February 2012

Hand-to-hand experience

In Zen Buddhism, they speak of the transmission of the Buddha mind as being accomplished "warm hand to warm hand". Similarly, in the sphere of martial arts, and more particularly in tai chi, there's no substitute for a real, live human teacher.  Due to the wonders of technology online courses in tai chi are now appearing. But don't you think we already spend quite enough time messing about in front of screens? One of the reasons I love tai chi is that it points away from all that. I love that, to learn this art, we have to stand up somewhere with a teacher, and move our bodies and minds around until we really feel it. Two hundred years ago in China, it was done the same way. The context and the surroundings may be different; but our efforts in training link us bodily to those largely unsung tai chi ancestors.
Tai chi is one of the most tactile activities around. The visual element of it is purely incidental. The passing on of quality tai chi depends on feel, upon contact with someone who knows the art deep in their bones. One of the online courses currently available offers "in depth workshops", but how in-depth can we get with a screen? I'm all for making tai chi accessible. But at the same time, when someone does get into tai chi, I want it to be worthwhile, for the "game to be worth the candle". Tai chi is one of the few things which conforms exactly to the dictum "you get out what you put in". I am reminded of Keanu's immortal line in The Matrix after he downloaded hundreds of fighting style directly into his brain: "I know kung fu!". But kung-fu of any kind isn't known: it is felt, and it is lived.

Wednesday 15 February 2012

War drones and fish without fuss

I came upon a strange thing in my local supermarket: "NoFuss Fish!" it proclaimed. "No smell, no mess, all the taste without the fuss." My heart sank,and then leapt up again. This kind of thing makes me realise just how much I love tai chi chuan, and the martial arts in general.
I'm no Sgt Rory Miller (whose books I implore you to read ): I don't deal in violence for a job. Nor do I live in a dangerous neighbourhood. I have an easy life. I get up, and have hot water at my disposal for a shower. I have water from the tap for drinking. Food is readily available. I earn my money in a civilised and mostly stress-free way. No-one has ever pointed a gun at my head, or forced me to become a refugee. I like this modern life, and I realise what a lucky bubble I inhabit. Which is why it's important to do something like the martial arts in which this bubble is at least acknowledged : my life is free from violence, but violence is always a possibility, and for many, a daily probability. In the martial arts, you can't avoid responsibility: no-one else can do your defence for you. There may not be anyone else there when you need help most. So you train, and take on the duty of being at least semi-aware of the dangers of our society,as well as the responsibility for your body and your reactions.  This brings me to the drones, articles about which can be found on the Guardian website here and here. Now, I don't know what the "average" soldier might think about the use of unmanned drones in warfare. If it makes their job easier, they may agree with it. But I wonder if there isn't part of them which feels that it may be wrong to kill individuals in this manner from a distance. One of the arguments  for would be that we already have many "impersonal" weapons: laser-guided and smart bombs, missiles and of course nuclear weapons. But the intent is different. Where these are designed to be used against installations, buildings and vehicles, the drones are for use against individuals. It the military equivalent of the NoFuss fish. We want the taste, but not the mess. To take an individual's life must be a terrible thing indeed, but I can't help but think there are ways of doing it which will heap ignorance and denial on top of the already steep cost of killing. The drones I think will do this. Hitler will of course crop up in the counter argument: "Would you have used a drone on Hitler?" But then of course, we have to imagine the situation if Hitler had been the one in charge of the remote control.
It seems to me that the further we put our bodies from dealing with suffering, the worse that suffering becomes. I'm lucky that in my life that manifests as NoFuss fish. I'm lucky that it doesn't involve someone I love being murdered by a flying, semi-autonomous killing robot.

Wednesday 8 February 2012

Softly, softly...

The best recommendation I can make if you are trying to convert your "Handform-only" tai chi practice to a martial one is to take it slowly and softly,which we should have no problem with, right? You would think that after years of doing the Handform, all that flowing and relaxed movement would cross over into our martial training...
In my experience, people who do mostly Handform, and then get into a bit of Pushing Hands, tend to be stiff, tense, overt strength-users intent on "winning". This is a very curious thing. Often, they will do everything  in this way, whether it's compliance-based or not, whether it's a drill or more free-flowing.
Now "softness" is a terrible term, but it's the word that has become symbolic of what tai chi practitioners are trying to achieve. There's a reason for this quality of softness. It has nothing to do with chilling out or going with the flow or magical chi energy. It has to do with the fact that "softness" is better for fighting with than "hardness". People may become confused at this point. They may say "well softness is fine for defence, but what about when you have to put someone down to stop them hurting you?" Yes, softness is also better for that. It isn't that softness is yin, and hardness is yang, or that softness is defensive and hardness offensive. Softness can be present in both attack and defence. Which is also not to say that you don't need strength. You do need some. We might  rather say that good structure is required, which in turn requires a certain amount of trained strength. People have a tendency, especially in Pushing Hands drills, to approach them as if they were in a Strongman competition: their arms are tense, their movements mechanical, their listening skills non-existent. Four Directions or Seven Stars is not the place to train strength. You should have conditioning training for that. These drills are for training sensitivity which is best discovered through slow, soft and awareful (I know that's not a word but it ought to be) movement. An old Wudang maxim is "Fine work, neatly done." So it is with martial training. Of course, we then need wilder, more intense arenas in which to test what has been taught, but the "structured" training is best done soft and slow, unless its aim is particularly geared towards pressure testing, in which case it needs to be free enough to let the learner discover for themselves if it works or not. Put another way: one drill cannot test everything. You can't elicit dexterity, strength, spontaneity, aggression and cool-headedness from just one drill. Everything we do in the martial arts is a drill, because it happens in a controlled environment (unless you really are putting yourselves in danger) so you have to think: what is this drill for? Do it softly, and find out.

Wednesday 25 January 2012

The Gentleman's Art

There are far more brutal arts than tai chi that one can study. An art like Western boxing undeniably grants swift access to fitness, and simple, potent technique. A study of MMA would almost certainly give someone the tools they need to defend themselves more quickly than if they studied tai chi. If we are pursuing our martial interests through tai chi chuan, then clearly we have other aims in mind, and I would go so far as to say higher aims.
For a start, I believe we are lazy: but I don't mean this in a pejorative sense. What I mean is that we aim to use our energies in the most efficient way possible. Our way is to put up a sail, rather than to row. So first of all is to consider this: what level of violence is your life likely to contain? And of what type? Of course, violence can explode from unknown quarters. But we are taking a measured risk in deciding the intensity of our training. Unless we are in a very dangerous situation,  it doesn't make sense to spend every waking hour in training, if only because there are so many other things of interest in the world. We certainly don't want to incur too many injuries in the course of training, because avoidance of injury is necessarily top of the tai chi person's list. What is the point in learning to defend ourselves only to become our own worst enemy? The enemies of bad health and boredom are probably more relevant to most of us than actual physical, combative humanoid foes. This however should not be taken to mean that the martial element can be ignored. I conceive of tai chi as a study in martial movement, that's to say the mastery of one's physicality in the most testing of situations, namely "a  fight" for want of a better word.  In tai chi we aim to keep our manners even in the roughest situations. This means calm amidst carnage. We may not  always succeed, but we start from a place infinitely more nuanced,and more suited to a legalistic, litigious society than the "ground and pound" of MMA, for example. This civilised approach is not based on spurious issues of honour and chivalry, but rather on the long tactical view: the more enemies you make, the more dangerous your life becomes. If you can deflect or defuse an attack without incurring wrath, revenge or the attentions of the Law, then you have saved yourself making an enemy.  This is our craft. It is no mere survival tool, whipped out in a hurry when we are backed into a bad situation. I mean, it can be just that. But it isn't merely that. It is a lifetime's study into the most mannered way to move, in the most pressing of circumstances.

Wednesday 11 January 2012

Close encounters of the Tai Chi kind

I love getting in close. I know where I am then, I know what the other person's limbs are up to. My worst nightmare is some high-swinging roundhouse kick. I'm not much of a boxer, so the mid-range is somewhat sketchy too. But once you're in at that infighting range, it's all Pat Horse High and Fair Lady works At Shuttle, which both contain an element of surprise, a spirit of overwhelming the opponent. It is the range at which the "Four Corners" of the Eight Forces come into play: Tsai (uprooting), Lieh (spiralling back in), Zhou (elbow) and Kao (shoulder), excusing my almost certainly inaccurate spelling...
It is up close and personal that the pressure builds as the space and time lessens. This is prime territory for stiffening up and/or flinching. It seems to require a certain bloody-mindedness to operate at this range. People's tendency seems to be to go up on their toes when someone gets in close, which is why the aforementioned techniques can be effective.
As far as the Handform goes, we can see that there is a great deal of expanding and contracting in it. So we can imagine that we contract to get slip through gaps and get in close, and then expand when we are in their centre, as in Parting The Wild Horse's Mane. This comes about through turning the waist on contact, especially if they are using two hands, so that we slip between their arms. Going through the middle in this way takes bravery, or it comes about as a forced error because really, we want to be on the outside of them and not the inside..but that's what makes being on the inside so surprising.