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Close quarters combat

Tai chi combat is not about fighting. It is a response to assault. You do not instigate. You respond. If the assailant wants to get close enough to hit you, they need to move in.
Initially, they can strike with their feet and legs. If they come closer, the hands, knees and elbows can be used. Finally, if they come in very close, they can headbutt, shoulder or grapple with you.


Close quarters combat is not easy. Small movements are necessary. Composure is essential. Someone is right inside your personal space, and they are not there to cuddle you.

Grappling skills are vital

Escaping from locks, holds and grapples is a necessary skill. You must also be capable of making space and delivering a powerful strike at close range.
Neglecting grappling is stupid. It assumes that your opponent is going to assault you in a method that suits your requirements. How absurd. You must be ready for all kinds of attack, armed and unarmed. 

To rejoice even in a harmless game means that you delight in someone's defeat.

(John Lash) 


Judo, ju jitsu, aikido and wrestling are all grappling arts. They specialise in locks, throws, holds and floor work. Our tai chi class approaches grappling from a very different perspective.
We do not teach any locks and holds whatsoever. We do offer throws and 'falls' but these are very different to the external arts listed above.


External grappling arts involve extended confrontation. We have no interest in a prolonged engagement. The aim is swift incapacitation, not committed grappling.
Striking is preferable to grappling but not always appropriate. Grappling offers an opportunity to finish the attacker without striking. Evade. Incapacitate. Escape.

Three types of grappling

Grappling or wrestling is generally seen to constitute vigorous attempts to throw, lock or hold the other person. It is a form of fighting that is extremely tiring. The internal equivalent is somewhat different
Three avenues of skill are necessary:

  1. Sensitivity exercises

  2. Shuai jiao

  3. Chin na

Sensitivity exercises

Sensitivity exercises teach the student how to connect, follow and neutralise the attacker e.g. monkey paws. You must be fluid, mobile and adaptive.
The aim is to work in response to the ongoing actions of your partner.

Shuai jiao

Shuai jiao is concerned with floor work, throws, evading attacks and take downs. The applications are spontaneous and must emerge with the flow of events. There is an external version of shuai jiao.
It is often treated as a competition sport and the body is employed differently.

Floor work

An assault may take you to the floor. Your priority needs to be getting back on your feet quickly. Brawling on the ground makes you an easy target for people to 'stick the boot in'.
Aiming to apply a lock/hold yourself is naive. It assumes only one opponent. What about his mates? Immobilising your assailant also immobilises you.

Dying ground

The 'dying ground' is when you must act decisively and calmly in order to escape an unpleasant situation. Although the training in class will still be playful and fun, the pressure will be on.
With limited options and the need to act, what will you do? Your mettle is tested when you are backed into a corner, overwhelmed and in desperate need of inspiration.

Expand your repertoire

What happens when more than one person attacks you at the same time? Can you cope with multiple opponents? What will you do if two people restrain you whilst a third punches you?
What if there is a knife held to your throat? Can you escape when you are on your face, your back, your knees, in a confined space?

Combat needs to be honest and realistic. Modern urban violence will not be a gentlemanly affair. Assailants are cowards. They are opportunists.
They will aim to overwhelm you and then take advantage of your vulnerability.


It is important to become competent at escapes first of all. If all goes wrong you may be restrained. Can you get the attacker off? Do not use strength against strength. That is not tai chi.
You need to be smarter.

Technique based mentality

Do not use techniques. Techniques assume an unchanging condition. Combat is never constant, never fixed. You cannot predict what your attacker will do next. You cannot afford to make assumptions.
A step-by-step plan will not work against an earnest adversary. You must flow. Improvise, change, adapt. Be alert. Present. Sensitive. You must listen to what is happening.
There are countless options, choices, possibilities. Open your mind and employ them.

As in all good Zen stories, the only understanding that matters is your own.

(Robert Allen) 


If you can avoid being held, do so. There is no advantage in being restrained. Do not cooperate. There are two kinds of pre-emptive work in our grappling syllabus:

  1. Early

  2. Late


If you can employ 'interrupting jing' and catch the attacker during an early stage of their attack, then there may be no grappling at all.
The attack is treated like a punch, and dealt with in the same way. We call this 'countering'.


A last minute evasion takes far more nerve and skill. You must let the attacker commit. You must wait until the last possible moment before responding.
This makes it very difficult for the attacker to change their mind. We call this yielding/chin na, yielding/shuai jiao or yielding/countering relative to the type of skill being employed.
Catching the attacker before they can successfully apply their grapple means that you do not have to contend with their strength. You use timing and yielding to take the initiative.

Lengthy encounters

A lot of time can be wasted wrestling. Both parties may become tired and clumsy. Sifu Waller advocates an immediate response to a grapple. Do not mess around.
Do not 'play their game' or do it their way. Get out of the situation quickly.

Caught up?

If 'caught up', distraction is best. It divides the attention and will create an opening for you to exploit. This is part of 'see the left, see the right' from the 13 methods.
Ultimately, you can strike/seize/press almost anywhere and cause pain. Different angles offer different targets but the entire body is alarmingly vulnerable to pain. 
Tensing-up the muscles only serves to lock the joints and brings the nerves closer to the surface.


Having escaped/evaded the attacker, do not stand there waiting for applause. Incapacitate the assailant efficiently and leave. Messing about will only increase the likelihood of further confrontation.
Do only what is necessary and depart without fanfare.


Abrupt, jerky, fast movement alerts the nervous system and tenses your muscles. Seek to be smooth, soft, calm and comfortable. Do not rush or dither.
Take decisive action, but work at easy, normal-seeming movement. A hurried person has no control, no composure. Use your sensitivity. Be cunning.
4 ounces of pressure, root, yielding and calm are essential. Avoid aggression at all costs.

Chin na

Grappling can be countered using chin na, but chin na is a skill in its own right. Tai chi students learn how to 'misplace the bones' first of all.
Misplacing the bones enables greater incapacitation of the attacker's body. It causes pain and limits mobility. The time-commitment is also reduced.

Page created 18 April 1995
Last updated 16 June 2023