Being awkward

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New starters who are unfamiliar with tai chi tend to do all manner of odd things when introduced to partner work.
Working in close quarters with another person can be strange, so nervousness is to be expected. Remain calm and only do what you were asked to do.

Time wasters

Avoid ad-libbing. Ignoring instructions wastes time. Instead of training the required skill, you are potentially locked in some macho contest for no discernable reason.

The tool

Now and again a student decides to be a total tool during a playful partnered game. This is the equivalent of agreeing to play cricket and pitching like it's baseball.
Or using rugby rules during a football match. Would anyone be impressed?

Proving a point

Sometimes a new starter seeks to prove a point during partner work. This usually takes the form of "It would not work on me".
Presented in advance with the format of what is to take place, the new starter braces themselves and uses their tension against the anticipated efforts of their partner.

Real life?

The awkward new starter may believe that they are reflecting real life combat but they are actually doing the opposite.
In actual real life conflict, nobody will tell you in advance what they are going to do. It would somewhat defeat the point.
And, if you are awkward or tense against a more experienced opponent, they will simply adapt and do something else.

Showing your knowledge?

Occasionally a new starter will profess to have martial insights. Typically these are not informed and will not work against the attacks featured in our syllabus.
A layperson - with no martial background - is simply not qualified to speculate on the martial viability of the material being studied.
Let your knowledge grow with actual experience. If you already feel qualified to challenge the teachings, then clearly you have no need of martial tuition.

Tai chi fighting method

The whole syllabus cannot be taught in one go. Subjects, themes, principles, skills and insights must be broken down into component parts and then explored piecemeal. This is inevitable.
At any given time, a student is studying a fraction of the whole.


As the student proceeds through the grades more and more aspects of the whole becomes apparent. They gain a sense of context.

Here and now

Focus on what you are working on right now. Get the hang of this skill. Everything in life starts with the fundamentals. Get comfortable with these and then you will be introduced to more.
Rushing headlong into a more realistic, potentially violent scenario is not so smart in a martial arts class. Give it time.


The aim is to neither cooperate nor be uncooperative. Find the middle ground in which you give your partner just enough to work with.
If your partner is using local muscle tension and disconnected strength, then encourage them to perform the drill properly.


The lower grades are for learning the basics of the art. Until you are working through the black belt syllabus there is no need to be concerned with an uncooperative opponent.
When your skills have developed, a line of force will just be a line of force. It will not matter what the attacker is doing; they will always be offering you something to work with.


Suppose we estimate the strength of a man in units of one. Let us say that the strength of this man is 10 units, whereas my strength, less than his, is 7 units. Then if he pushes me with all his force, I shall certainly be pushed back or thrown down, even if I use all my strength against him. This would happen from opposing strength to strength.

But if instead of opposing him, I leave him unresisted, withdrawing my body just as much as he pushes, at the same time keeping my balance, he will naturally lean forward and lose his balance. In this new position, he may become weak (not in actual physical strength, but because of his awkward position) as to reduce his strength for the moment, say to 3 units only instead of 10 units. But meanwhile I, by keeping my balance, retain my full strength, as originally represented by 7 units.

Here then, I am momentarily in a superior position, and I can defeat my opponent by using only half of my strength, or 3 1/2 units against his 3 units. This leaves one-half of my strength available for any other purpose. If I had greater strength than my opponent, I could of course push him back. But even if I wished to and had the power to do so, it would still be better for me first to give way, because by so doing, I should have greatly saved my energy and exhausted my opponent's.

(Jigoro Kano)


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Page created 18 April 1995
Last updated 16 June 2023