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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Geoffrey Howe dies, aged 88

Howe was Margaret Thatcher's longest serving Cabinet minister – and the man credited with precipitating her downfall.

The former Conservative chancellor Lord Howe, a key figure in the Thatcher government, has died of a suspected heart attack, his family has said. He was 88.

Geoffrey Howe was the longest-serving member of Margaret Thatcher's Cabinet, playing a key role in both her government and her downfall. Born in Port Talbot in 1926, he began his career as a lawyer, and was first elected to parliament in 1964, but lost his seat just 18 months later.

Returning as MP for Reigate in the Conservative election victory of 1970, he served in the government of Edward Heath, first as Solicitor General for England & Wales, then as a Minister of State for Trade. When Margaret Thatcher became opposition leader in 1975, she named Howe as her shadow chancellor.

He retained this brief when the party returned to government in 1979. In the controversial budget of 1981, he outlined a radical monetarist programme, abandoning then-mainstream economic thinking by attempting to rapidly tackle the deficit at a time of recession and unemployment. Following the 1983 election, he was appointed as foreign secretary, in which post he negotiated the return of Hong Kong to China.

In 1989, Thatcher demoted Howe to the position of leader of the house and deputy prime minister. And on 1 November 1990, following disagreements over Britain's relationship with Europe, he resigned from the Cabinet altogether. 

Twelve days later, in a powerful speech explaining his resignation, he attacked the prime minister's attitude to Brussels, and called on his former colleagues to "consider their own response to the tragic conflict of loyalties with which I have myself wrestled for perhaps too long".

Labour Chancellor Denis Healey once described an attack from Howe as "like being savaged by a dead sheep" - but his resignation speech is widely credited for triggering the process that led to Thatcher's downfall. Nine days later, her premiership was over.

Howe retired from the Commons in 1992, and was made a life peer as Baron Howe of Aberavon. He later said that his resignation speech "was not intended as a challenge, it was intended as a way of summarising the importance of Europe". 

Nonetheless, he added: "I am sure that, without [Thatcher's] resignation, we would not have won the 1992 election... If there had been a Labour government from 1992 onwards, New Labour would never have been born."

Jonn Elledge is the editor of the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric. He is on Twitter, far too much, as @JonnElledge.