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 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.