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27 September 2007

Fighting smart

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

By Stephanie Fowler

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.

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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.