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Tai chi fighting method

Beginners inevitably resist force. They tense-up, pull-back, contract and brace. The most obvious form of bracing featured in most martial arts is a 'block'.


The internal art of tai chi (applied correctly) does not use blocking at all. Using force indicates failure to utilise the principles appropriately. Instead of flowing with you are banging against.

When standing we should have a sensation of being more in our heels than the front of the foot. However, there should be no tendency to tighten the toes or lift them off the floor. Let the toes lie freely and allow the whole foot to 'soften'. Let the weight go down 'into' the floor so your feel grounded. This gives a firm base from which to think of lengthening upwards. Free your ankles so there is a little sway available to help discover upright balance. In order to enjoy standing without strain we should never get fixed in position.

(Noel Kingsley)


'Bracing' is about making your structure feel stronger:
- if pulled; the student seeks to feed the force into the front leg and thereby gain stability
- if pushed; the student uses the rear leg for support 

Neither of these methods are appropriate for tai chi combat application.

Yield to force

Instead of bracing when pulled, you yield and go with the pull. When pushed, yield and go with the push. This follows Newton's 3rd Law of Motion.

The upright body must be stable and comfortable to be able to sustain an attack from any of the eight directions.

(Wu Yu-hsiang)

How to yield

The forms of tai chi were designed to teach the student how to yield to incoming force:

  1. Turn the waist & shift the weight into the other leg

  2. Step

  3. Bend at the hip

4 ounces

Unless you yield when pushed or pulled, you violate the 4 ounces of pressure maxim. Bracing presents the opponent with a surface with which to apply force.
When your partner exerts force, allow that force to move you and do not fight against it.


Peng must be maintained at all times. When force is applied, turn, step, move but do not crumple. If you feel crowded, or your peng is costing you effort, then you are too close to the attacker.
Make space.


If somebody pulls on your arm and you are employing a 70/30 stance, you will eventually topple forwards unless you step. By stepping you avoid bracing, and maintain central equilibrium.
This process is called 'adjustment'. It is very hard for an opponent to exert force on you or manipulate your body when you move as they move.

Sinking to one side allows movement to flow; being double-weighted is sluggish.

Anyone who has spent years of practice and still cannot neutralize,
and is always controlled by his opponent, has not apprehended the fault of double-weightedness.

To avoid this fault one must distinguish yin from yang.

(Wang Tsung-yueh)


A fixed stance is not required in tai chi. It is strategically unsound to maintain an unyielding position when faced with an opponent or group of attackers.
Flexibility, freedom and mobility are necessary. Stance refers to the relationship of the feet, not to a position of rigidity or fixity. Think of stance as a flowing, moving condition rather than a static one.


Inflexible, sluggish feet will result in overall stagnancy. We seek agility and nimbleness, not fixity. The ability to step swiftly, decisively, and appropriately is the hallmark of a skilled practitioner.


Step with the flow of the incoming/outgoing force. By harmonising with the opponent you avoid alerting their nervous system. Anticipatory footwork will backfire. Sensitivity is paramount.

A feather cannot be placed, and a fly cannot alight on any part of the body.

(Wang Tsung-yueh)


Yielding serves to re-direct the incoming force of an attack. It neutralises the power. Instead of wasting the incoming energy, you can return it to the attacker by borrowing their force.
This is accomplished by the use of listening, peng, stickiness and reeling silk.


If you do not counter-act and incapacitate the opponent, they will simply continue to assault you. Flowing with the attack will enable you to respond using one of the three combat skills:

  1. Shuai jiao

  2. Chin na

  3. Jing

None of these fighting skills will work if you are bracing.

Force = Mass x Acceleration

Bracing prevents the effective release of stored energy. You cannot accelerate with the brake on.
The body must be free to move without impediment if you seek to generate and deliver kinetic energy powerfully and spontaneously.


As your fighting skills improve, it becomes evident that you can use the F = M x A equation quite easily:
- the more relaxed you are, the more effective your mass will be
- the more quickly you can move, the greater the acceleration

Combining these qualities will enhance the outcome of your movements.

In order to escape from danger, one need only take the line of least resistance, just as liquid spills from a vessel over the lowest point of its rim.
Concentrate only on escaping.

(I Ching)

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Page created 18 April 1995
Last updated 16 June 2023