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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The tale of Battersea power station shows how affordable housing is lost

Initially, the developers promised 636 affordable homes. Now, they have reduced the number to 386. 

It’s the most predictable trick in the big book of property development. A developer signs an agreement with a local council promising to provide a barely acceptable level of barely affordable housing, then slashes these commitments at the first, second and third signs of trouble. It’s happened all over the country, from Hastings to Cumbria. But it happens most often in London, and most recently of all at Battersea power station, the Thames landmark and long-time London ruin which I wrote about in my 2016 book, Up In Smoke: The Failed Dreams of Battersea Power Station. For decades, the power station was one of London’s most popular buildings but now it represents some of the most depressing aspects of the capital’s attempts at regeneration. Almost in shame, the building itself has started to disappear from view behind a curtain of ugly gold-and-glass apartments aimed squarely at the international rich. The Battersea power station development is costing around £9bn. There will be around 4,200 flats, an office for Apple and a new Tube station. But only 386 of the new flats will be considered affordable

What makes the Battersea power station development worse is the developer’s argument for why there are so few affordable homes, which runs something like this. The bottom is falling out of the luxury homes market because too many are being built, which means developers can no longer afford to build the sort of homes that people actually want. It’s yet another sign of the failure of the housing market to provide what is most needed. But it also highlights the delusion of politicians who still seem to believe that property developers are going to provide the answers to one of the most pressing problems in politics.

A Malaysian consortium acquired the power station in 2012 and initially promised to build 517 affordable units, which then rose to 636. This was pretty meagre, but with four developers having already failed to develop the site, it was enough to satisfy Wandsworth council. By the time I wrote Up In Smoke, this had been reduced back to 565 units – around 15 per cent of the total number of new flats. Now the developers want to build only 386 affordable homes – around 9 per cent of the final residential offering, which includes expensive flats bought by the likes of Sting and Bear Grylls. 

The developers say this is because of escalating costs and the technical challenges of restoring the power station – but it’s also the case that the entire Nine Elms area between Battersea and Vauxhall is experiencing a glut of similar property, which is driving down prices. They want to focus instead on paying for the new Northern Line extension that joins the power station to Kennington. The slashing of affordable housing can be done without need for a new planning application or public consultation by using a “deed of variation”. It also means Mayor Sadiq Khan can’t do much more than write to Wandsworth urging the council to reject the new scheme. There’s little chance of that. Conservative Wandsworth has been committed to a developer-led solution to the power station for three decades and in that time has perfected the art of rolling over, despite several excruciating, and occasionally hilarious, disappointments.

The Battersea power station situation also highlights the sophistry developers will use to excuse any decision. When I interviewed Rob Tincknell, the developer’s chief executive, in 2014, he boasted it was the developer’s commitment to paying for the Northern Line extension (NLE) that was allowing the already limited amount of affordable housing to be built in the first place. Without the NLE, he insisted, they would never be able to build this number of affordable units. “The important point to note is that the NLE project allows the development density in the district of Nine Elms to nearly double,” he said. “Therefore, without the NLE the density at Battersea would be about half and even if there was a higher level of affordable, say 30 per cent, it would be a percentage of a lower figure and therefore the city wouldn’t get any more affordable than they do now.”

Now the argument is reversed. Because the developer has to pay for the transport infrastructure, they can’t afford to build as much affordable housing. Smart hey?

It’s not entirely hopeless. Wandsworth may yet reject the plan, while the developers say they hope to restore the missing 250 units at the end of the build.

But I wouldn’t hold your breath.

This is a version of a blog post which originally appeared here.

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