Fighting smart

Instead of exhausting your own energy, why not use your opponent's strengths against him?

Bruce Lee famously said: “To know oneself is to study oneself in action with another person.” All Chinese martial arts that have a root in Taoism, such as Tai Chi Chuan, follow the Yin/Yang concept of complementary forces that function simultaneously – not separating things into opposites, but considering them as interrelated aspects that must work in harmony with each other.

The concept is a simple one. The sun, for instance, is not contrary to the moon, nor is man contrary to woman (despite what we may think at times!). They are complementary and interdependent. Applying this in a martial context, one should work in harmony with, and not against, the force of the opponent.

One of the special aspects of two-person training in Tai Chi Chuan is that we aspire to the level where “Nobody knows me, while I know everybody.” We train to develop our sensitivity so that we can feel the movement and intention of an opponent while concealing our own energy and intention.

Then we can listen to and use the opponent’s own force against them in self-defence. The idea is to complete the opponent’s force, to follow their movement without opposing it. As some may say, we just help our opponent to carry on going, to where they are already heading.

Tai Chi Chuan fighting has in the past been called the art of shadow boxing – when someone tried to hit a Tai Chi Chuan fighter, they found themselves falling into the shadows, not knowing where the opponent went. After a while, you can get a sense of an opponent’s intention even before contact is made- in some cases, this allows us to avoid conflict before it even arises.

From the Yin/Yang symbol to every movement that is performed, the circle is fundamental to the philosophy, practice and martial application of Tai Chi Chuan. In terms of structure, a circle is stronger than a square, whose sharp edges and angles give it an integral weakness when compared to the circle.

Who needs great strength when you have a circular structure which allows you to rotate, spinning your enemy away? Like a wheel, you can apply great force, but the point you push will just rotate away.

A circle has an inner and an outer side, and can make use of centrifugal force in which the central rotation may have a very small force. But this translates into a far greater force and momentum in the outer circle. In terms of the body, the movements of the extremities, such as the hands, work on the outer side of the circle, while the waist works on the inner side of the circle.

Therefore, any movement involving the rotation of the waist may seem slow and small, but it is actually fast and can respond more quickly. "If the opponent does not move, I do not move. If the opponent moves, I am already there."

This is why all movements in Tai Chi Chuan start from the central body, using the relatively small rotation of the waist, which emanates out to give the body a whip-like action. In this way, we can respond to an incoming force with as little effort as possible.

Lazy man’s fighting? Sounds like efficiency to me.

Stephanie Fowler first began learning martial arts in 1992 at the age of 17. Her training in Tai Chi Chuan began a year later. She has trained with many top masters from all over the world, including the current Chen-style lineage holder Grandmaster Chen Zhenglei. She has also practised Qigong and another internal martial art, Bagua Zhang.
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It's not WhatsApp that was at fault in the Westminster attacks. It's our prisons

Britain's criminal justice system neither deterred nor rehabilitated Khalid Masood, and may even have facilitated his radicalisation. 

The dust has settled, the evidence has been collected and the government has decided who is to blame for the attack on Westminster. That’s right, its WhatsApp and their end-to-end encryption of messages. Amber Rudd, the Home Secretary, wants tech companies to install a backdoor into messages like these that the government can then access.

There are a couple of problems here, not least that Adrian Russell aka Khalid Masood was known to the security services but considered to be low-risk. Even if the government had had the ability to gain entry to his WhatsApp, they wouldn’t have used it. Then there’s the fact that end-to-end encryption doesn’t just protect criminals and terrorists – it protects users from criminals and terrorists. Any backdoor will be vulnerable to attack, not only from our own government and foreign powers, but by non-state actors including fraudsters, and other terrorists.

(I’m parking, also, the question of whether these are powers that should be handed to any government in perpetuity, particularly one in a country like Britain’s, where near-unchecked power is handed to the executive as long as it has a parliamentary majority.)

But the biggest problem is that there is an obvious area where government policy failed in the case of Masood: Britain’s prisons system.

Masood acted alone though it’s not yet clear if he was merely inspired by international jihadism – that is, he read news reports, watched their videos on social media and came up with the plan himself – or he was “enabled” – that is, he sought out and received help on how to plan his attack from the self-styled Islamic State.

But what we know for certain is that he was, as is a recurring feature of the “radicalisation journey”, in possession of a string of minor convictions from 1982 to 2002 and that he served jail time. As the point of having prisons is surely to deter both would-be offenders and rehabilitate its current occupants so they don’t offend again, Masood’s act of terror is an open-and-shut case of failure in the prison system. Not only he did prison fail to prevent him committing further crimes, he went on to commit one very major crime.  That he appears to have been radicalised in prison only compounds the failure.

The sad thing is that not so very long ago a Secretary of State at the Ministry of Justice was thinking seriously about prison and re-offending. While there was room to critique some of Michael Gove’s solutions to that problem, they were all a hell of a lot better than “let’s ban WhatsApp”. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.