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If you want to use taijiquan in combat, it is important for you to have the ability to move in any direction with ease. Spontaneity is fundamental in combat.
We need freedom of movement, ease, comfort, naturalness and whole-body strength.
The stances popularised in many schools are extremely low or linear. They offer a certain kind of strength but limited mobility when pressure-tested.
Large stances impede joint mobility and deny the skeleton its full range of natural movement.
If you work on the premise that all attacks are likely to involve more than one opponent, you make no assumptions regarding stance.
Stretching can weaken you
Boxers have fought using an upright skeletal stance for millennia, yet many people stand as if performing yoga. Why is this?
Yoga is great for strong stretching but has no known combat application. It is common for exponents to over-commit themselves and displace the joints; this is bad for combat.
If you want to do a strong stretch, do yoga. If you want to lengthen, only stretch to 70%.
Li is not internal
Taijiquan stretching is mainly internal, not external. The stretching is mild. We address the bulk of our stretching during qigong, leg stretches, core strength and Taoist Yoga.
Be careful not to take strong stretching into combat.
The human skeleton is upright. Standing upright, with the feet beneath the shoulders/hips maximises your ability to rotate the hips, move the hips, knees, ankles and shoulders comfortably.
Do not interfere with your body. If you cannot generate power standing easily and naturally, you are relying upon unnatural stances.
Exaggerating your art
Exaggerating the taijiquan is a bad habit practiced by inexperienced students who lack a subtle sense of the art.
Instead of moving in a way that follows the underlying kinetic energy flow, the student takes huge steps, low stances, and extends their arms absurdly far from the centre.
Big stances limit your ability to move the joints in a fluid, comfortable way. The overly-extended limbs create tension in the joints that hamper free movement.
Taijiquan is not yoga. It is about spontaneous movement, not strong stretching.
Your body usage needs to feel as comfortable and as natural as possible. This will improve mobility, attract less attention and protect your knee joints.
If you cannot get power from an everyday standing position, you are overly dependant upon the hips and the solidity of your base.
Whole-body movement generates power in a wave-like fashion. A low stance is simply redundant.
There is a danger in seeking to improve the human body. Taoism encourages an attitude of going with the flow, of working with what you have.
Keep your movements as natural and comfortable as you can. If it feels like a posture, then you are exaggerating it.
Combat requires spontaneity and ease of movement. It asks you to move in any direction at any moment. Being fixed will not offer you this.
A large frame offers you a gain in one area at the expense of a loss in another. We need to remain open and flexible, free and mobile.
Stand normally, with your knees relaxed - you already have mobility. Why mess with it?
Taijiquan magazines, articles and video clips often feature Chinese people adopting extremely demanding postures. These are certainly impressive.
However, such stances are merely demonstrations of agility, strength and suppleness. They possess no martial value whatsoever. Adopting an exotic stance in combat would be suicidal.
It is important to consider your motive when training taijiquan. If your intention is to perform in front of audiences, then exceedingly low stances may well be a crowd-pleaser.
If you are seeking good fitness and martial skills, such exotic postures are unimportant. Taijiquan is not about extremities. It is about natural, comfortable, easy movement.
The emphasis needs to be upon the word 'movement'.
Combat is not static or fixed. An extreme stance represents a martial commitment that will hamper your ability to move smoothly.
Besides, if you are a Western adult, your knees may well suffer if you try and squat inches from the ground in a very low stance. Why bother?
The final test of taijiquan fighting ability is freeform combat against multiple opponents.
This will not prove whether or not you will succeed in a real life street confrontation, but it will pressure test your art.
Do not take our word for anything. Prove it for yourself. Try low stances against earnest opponents who launch random, unstylised punches, kicks and grapples.
Find out for yourself what works and what does not.
One of my friends studied
judo for years and years. She was waiting for a chance to use it, but for a long
time nobody tried to attack her. Then one day somebody grabbed her in a parking
lot - and she slugged him with her purse!
And then she thought, "Oh! What happened to my judo?"
She must have been practicing judo as if it were an isolated thing. We should always practice to let the immediacy of the moment come through. Then you always have a sense of what you are doing now.
(Chungliang Al Huang)
18 April 1995
Last updated 26 January 2020