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Most martial arts employ some form of blocking technique. But what is a 'block'? A block is an attempt to stop the path of incoming force.
The opponent punches to your face and you raise your arm to prevent the fist hitting your face. Instead of hitting your face, the fist misses. The impact of the blow passes through the arm.
Blocking may indeed stop you from being hit, but it has certain drawbacks.


(i) Transference

Although blocking may successfully prevent a punch from hitting you, it does not stop you from being hit. It merely transfers the force of the blow to another body part.
Rather than a damaging strike to the face you receive a jarring blow to your arm. This is preferable to a facial strike, but is hardly the most effective solution.

(ii) The ideal

Ideally, you want the blow to miss entirely and no impact whatsoever to occur.

(iii) Newton's 3rd Law of Motion

For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.

Blocking guarantees a jarring adverse feedback into your own body. The very act of interfering with the incoming force means that much of the power will feed back into you.

(iv) 4 ounces of pressure

The more pressure/power you apply, the more resistance you will encounter. A stronger person will invariably dominate the weaker person. Speed, strength and power are important.

It all happens in a flash. And in that flash the mind decides, techniques and body follow. In all modern sports there is a pause, but in the martial arts there is no pause. If you wait, ever so little, you're lost; your opponent gets the advantage.

(Taisen Deshimaru)

Tai chi fighting method

There are no blocks in tai chi. Rather than block, we affect the incoming force in other ways:

  1. Wardoff
    – absorb, bounce up & forward

  2. Growing
    – spread forward within the defences

  3. Filing
    – rubbing, sliding, forward

  4. Interrupting
    - catching the opponent before their expression is manifest

  5. Adhere & stick
    – connect & remain, listen with your body

  6. Yielding
    – no resistance

  7. Intercepting
    – meet the attack, adhere, neutralise

  8. Wrapping
    – curl/slide around opponents arms

  9. Neutralising
    – softly redirect

  10. Leading
    – overextend opponent further, but do not force it

  11. Borrowing
    – bounce the attack back into opponent

  12. Blending
    - join the line of attack and move with the opponent

  13. Deflecting
    – slightly bump the attack away, rather than adhere

  14. Folding/entwining
    – bend, forward

There are many other jing that could be used but these are the main alternatives to blocking.


Every counter begins with soft meeting, using wardoff.
Wardoff allows you to make contact without banging or jarring. Without wardoff, contact is external.

Qualities of wardoff:

  1. Keeps the distance

  2. ‘Feeler’

  3. Soft meeting

  4. Springy

  5. ‘Hug tree’ qigong posture

  6. Exists within every tai chi movement to some extent

The use of wardoff will feel imperceptible to the attacker, with the defender skilfully moving into another jing immediately. There is no one-two rhythm. The moment must flow.

Common misconceptions

Beginners seldom express wardoff internally. Most beginners manifest the physical shape of wardoff without the internal energetic quality that makes it a jing.
Common misconceptions:

  1. Stiff block
    - fundamental error in perception

  2. Immovable
    - yielding is paramount. Without it, there is no tai chi- strength vs strength is not tai chi


  3. Tension used rather than connection/groundpath
    - beginner's-level error


  4. Rigid legs, only turning hips
    - external attitude
    - stance too low


  5. Not using bow stance
    - pattern of movement lacks 5 bows


  6. Use of arms and shoulders
    - unite upper & lower timing sequence lacking
    - wardoff is not being produced by spiralling & rippling
    - power must rise up from the ground


Without sensitivity, beginners block the incoming force. It is necessary to be conscious of balance, rhythm, timing, spatial relationship, positioning and angles of attack.
These jing are fundamental and can be trained through a wide variety of partnered exercises:

  1. Listening
    - upon contact, listen with your body for changes in weight and motion

  2. Understanding
    - unconscious interpretation of information obtained by listening

  3. Following
    - respond rather than anticipate

Objects in motion

In our class, when somebody punches you, you do not try to stop the flow of force. If you stop it, the opponent will do something new.
Your aim is to encourage the belief that the punch is going to be successful. Any form of overt interference will alert the attacker's nervous system and cause them to adapt.
When you stop the motion of the opponent, it instantly triggers internal tension and halts their progress.
This is a natural defence mechanism designed to prevent injury when we encounter a stationary object.


If you are skilled at countering, you will employ subtle jing to control the trajectory of the opponent's attack without telegraphing your intentions.
You can also produce a jangling discord in the opponent and whiplash by adversely re-directing their forward momentum.

Wrong means

Doing the wrong thing will not produce the right outcome. With tai chi, you must get your head around the physics involved.
Angle, pressure, leverage, alignment, spatial relationship, gravity, mass, weight - these things are critical.
Otherwise it is like dialling the wrong phone number repeatedly in the hope that eventually the right person will answer.

Internal misconceptions

Whole-body strength should feel easy. Otherwise, what would be the point? Exerting yourself is external, not internal. Make your touch feather-soft. Use only 4 ounces of pressure.
If it feels strong, you're doing it wrong.

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Page created 18 April 1995
Last updated 16 June 2023