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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Jeremy Corbyn's Labour conference speech shows how he's grown

The leader's confident address will have impressed even his fiercest foes. 

It is not just Jeremy Corbyn’s mandate that has been improved by his re-election. The Labour leader’s conference speech was, by some distance, the best he has delivered. He spoke with far greater confidence, clarity and energy than previously. From its self-deprecating opening onwards ("Virgin Trains assure me there are 800 empty seats") we saw a leader improved in almost every respect. 

Even Corbyn’s firecest foes will have found less to take issue with than they may have anticipated. He avoided picking a fight on Trident (unlike last year), delivered his most forceful condemnation of anti-Semitism (“an evil”) and, with the exception of the Iraq war, avoided attacks on New Labour’s record. The video which preceded his arrival, and highlighted achievements from the Blair-Brown years, was another olive branch. But deselection, which Corbyn again refused to denounce, will remain a running sore (MPs alleged that Hillsborough campaigner Sheila Coleman, who introduced Corbyn, is seeking to deselect Louise Ellman and backed the rival TUSC last May).

Corbyn is frequently charged with lacking policies. But his lengthy address contained several new ones: the removal of the cap on council borrowing (allowing an extra 60,000 houses to be built), a ban on arms sales to abusive regimes and an arts pupil premium in every primary school.

On policy, Corbyn frequently resembles Ed Miliband in his more radical moments, unrestrained by Ed Balls and other shadow cabinet members. He promised £500bn of infrastructure investment (spread over a decade with £150bn from the private sector), “a real living wage”, the renationalisation of the railways, rent controls and a ban on zero-hours contracts.

Labour’s greatest divisions are not over policy but rules, strategy and culture. Corbyn’s opponents will charge him with doing far too little to appeal to the unconverted - Conservative voters most of all. But he spoke with greater conviction than before of preparing for a general election (acknowledging that Labour faced an arithmetical “mountain”) and successfully delivered the attack lines he has often shunned.

“Even Theresa May gets it, that people want change,” he said. “That’s why she stood on the steps of Downing Street and talked about the inequalities and burning injustices in today’s Britain. She promised a country: ‘that works not for a privileged few but for every one of us’. But even if she manages to talk the talk, she can’t walk the walk. This isn’t a new government, it’s David Cameron’s government repackaged with progressive slogans but with a new harsh right-wing edge, taking the country backwards and dithering before the historic challenges of Brexit.”

After a second landslide victory, Corbyn is, for now, unassailable. Many MPs, having voted no confidence in him, will never serve on the frontbench. But an increasing number, recognising Corbyn’s immovability, speak once again of seeking to “make it work”. For all the ructions of this summer, Corbyn’s speech will have helped to persuade them that they can.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.