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When you read a lot of Zen literature you occasionally come across the frog motif. What is so remarkable about frogs? A frog sits and sits and sits. In fact, all frogs seem to sit in the exact same posture.
They just sit. Unmoving. Still. Calm. There is no fidgeting, no restlessness. Frogs just sit. Then, suddenly they erupt into motion. With no warning and preparatory build-up.
In tai chi we call this 'cold jing'.



The term 'telegraphing' is used in martial arts to indicate that you are broadcast your intention in advance of performing the planned action.
There are no techniques as such in our syllabus because you do not really know what the assailant is preparing to do. We just wait.
Our aim is to respond to the attack at the earliest indication. As soon as the assailant begins, we move with intent.

It is said; “If the opponent does not move, then I do not move. At the opponent's slightest move, I move first."

(Wu Yu-hsiang)


Tai chi combat does not involve any planning or forethought. You just wait. If you do not know what action the attacker plans to do, what exactly are preparing to counter?
What are you responding to?
Your own mental agitation...

Tai chi fighting method

Everything you do is a response to the attacker. They are the centre of your universe. You move as they move. Only because they move. The attacker is your focus.
Be here and now, in the immediate, in the moment. Preparatory movement telegraphs your intentions. It illustrates your unease, your emotional state, your fear, your nervousness. This is not the Way.
Emulate the frog.


When you come to terms with the fact that incapacitation is not fighting, you lose any notion of reciprocity. Your aim is not to trade blows, or win, or look cool.
Tai chi combat is about avoiding harm. It is about incapacitating the attacker without being injured yourself.


Skipping about involves rhythm. In order to attack you must change rhythm. This is a form of telegraphing - advertising your intentions. Such behaviour is not tai chi.
Stand silently, alert and calm. Wait for the attack to begin, then move smoothly and decisively. Do only what is necessary. Waste no motion. Step only when and if you have to.
A tai chi person should not offer a predictable rhythm when defending themselves. Patterns can be anticipated, countered and exploited. The form is not symmetrical. Learn from this.

In conflict it is better to be receptive than aggressive,
better to retreat a foot than advance an inch.

(Lao Tzu) 

Pointless stepping

Many new starters are flighty. They skip around and have no centre. By moving too much they lose their root. A common fault is what we call the 'purposeless step'. It is an anticipatory action.
The purposeless step is where somebody is defending themselves and chooses to step for no obvious reason.
The step does not strengthen their pattern of movement, open up new possibilities or compromise the attacker in any way.
It actually takes away the defenders root, stability and composure. It renders the applications ineffective.
The step has no effect upon the opponent and fails to meet the criteria of advance, withdraw, see the left, see the right or central equilibrium.


If you look at the tai chi form, each pattern of movement features one or no steps. We take this principle into our combat work and seek to take one or no steps.
The step (if taken) must do something adverse to the opponent. Otherwise, why step? Many inexperienced students take lots of steps in response to a single attack. This is pointless. It suggests fear.
It comes from thinking too much and not being in the moment.

Skilful stepping

Tai chi employs skilful stepping in order to manifest change and offer a highly evasive system of combat. Every step is potentially a kick, sweep or lever with which to incapacitate the attacker.
The simple of act of stepping strategically can entirely alter the spatial dynamics of a combat situation.

Self-fulfilling prophecy

The very act of seeking to avoid something can actually precipitate the event. Your actions are in response to an imagined threat. They may suggest a pattern to your attacker.
They may highlight an opportunity. In seeking to avoid something that may not even occur, you draw attention to a possibility. You indicate its existence and demonstrate its potential.
Your adversary may wonder what you are doing, and why. They may extrapolate the reason.


If you are present, you will be like a frog. Silent, calm, receptive, spontaneous. If you are not calm, you will be jittering about inside, flighty and uncertain.
People seek to compensate for their fear by being forceful and aggressive. This is not tai chi. You need to compose yourself and become quiet in mind and body. Settle and wait. Do not anticipate.

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Page created 18 April 1995
Last updated 16 June 2023