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Redundancy is a major theme in tai chi combat. The term 'redundant' covers a variety of topics:
A brief outline of each will
provide some introduction.
Frame & circle
Old/classical Yang style is expansive yet compact. The frame in our school begins medium and becomes smaller as the student gains expertise. Circles follow the same progression.
A smaller movement is more efficient than a large one. Less energy is used. It is also harder to detect subtle movement.
A major fault is the excessive use of strength. You must apply no more than 4 ounces of pressure. Nor should any more than this be allowed to impinge upon your body.
Sun Tzu wrote: If I concentrate while he divides, I can use my entire strength to attack a fraction of his. Now consider how you plan to impose that strength.
A palm is large and will disperse the force but a finger is smaller, more focussed...
If you move a limb or place your hand without affecting the opponent - question the value of that action. What purpose did it serve? Why are you stepping?
Your action must be in accord with the requirements of the moment. This means that your opponent dictates what you do. Do not move unless they move.
If you touch another person, it should affect them. People often withdraw one limb and strike with another. Why? Strike again with the limb that is already there.
Your choice of action needs to be appropriate; it must be the correct response relative to the attack. If you do something impractical or unrealistic, this might mean defeat in the street.
Typically, an uncomplicated response is best. Take the shortest route. Allow for failure.
Common examples of disconnection:
Moving a limb independent of the centre
Rotating the shoulders
Twisting the pelvis rather than using the centre
Applying local muscular contraction instead of peng and groundpath
Failure to align according to the 6 balanced pairs
Disconnected movement in tai chi is an 'external' activity and renders the tai chi useless.
Neigong is about moving your entire body as one unit.
Severing even one limb from the rest of your body weakens the entire structure.
The size of the movement must be determined by the energy required to produce that action. Peng left (move 4) will only facilitate a short arc with the left arm.
The weight shift, spiralling body, arms and legs culminate in a short burst of kinetic energy.
If you move the left arm beyond the point where it is being fuelled by the body, the move is exaggerated and also disconnected.
In combat, exaggeration will leave huge gaps in you defences; leaving you vulnerable to a counter attack. Only do what is necessary and no more.
cannot be raided;
it is attained through surrender,
not through struggle.
It is conquered through total surrender.
The form teaches the body to move from one strike directly into the next one. It is designed to economise movement. Each situation has a variety of potential follow-up strikes.
Form encourages your body to feel what comes next and removes the need to make a conscious decision. This improves your reaction time.
The flowing nature of form also provides a means of recovering if your initial response fails. You simply perform the next pattern of movement.
Most movements have deliberate built-in redundancies so that if the first application fails you have a follow-up. San sau and the other training methods train your body to hone this skill.
Rather than simply move, your body prepares and then moves. These pauses are unacceptable in combat; just move.
To fully understand 'spontaneity' you need to see that it necessitates total presence and a completely relaxed body. You must be capable of instantaneous action without any precursor slowing you down.
This is harder to develop than it sounds.
Timing your response relative to the attacker is vital. You may be the strongest person on the planet but this is meaningless if you cannot apply that strength when and where it is needed.
In tai chi, you must avoid the attackers strength and apply your own. Unnecessary movement rids you of this possibility. Be a frog. Stand and wait. Then strike without warning.
Every escape or counter offers a variety of potential strikes. You should seek to employ as many as you can.
Why simply slip out of a hold - when you might well damage the arm, strike with shoulder, elbow, forearm, hand and leg - as you slip out?
Think of your body as a bladed weapon or ribbon - rip through your opponent. Every turn and twist should inflict damage. Do not waste a single movement.
Missed opportunities - playing the attacker
During partner work, there is an opportunity for both students to improve their tai chi. The attacker should be seeking to remain connected, loose, relaxed and sensitive.
Use intention not tension to make your arm firm. Pay particular attention to your balance, distance and timing when playing the attacker.
Do not allow the defender to get away with mistakes; exploit every chance that they offer you. Sparing them in class means crippling them in the street.
If your attack is crisp and tight, the defender will have to work harder and this will aid their tai chi.
Within every form and drill are movements-within-movements or 'latents'. These represent smaller circles that can produce energy - joggles inherent within the movements.
Other latents are application possibilities that discard the formal hand positions of form in favour of utilising the movement itself. Many of the drills are an illustration of this principle.
A latent strike offers the chance to hit repeatedly without withdrawing.
You can remove redundancy by addressing the source - your mind. In your everyday life countless moments are lost with wasted action.
By paying attention to the activity itself you can move more efficiently and save a lot of time. Every distraction, every sidetrack, every pause, every repetition is a waste.
Consider an activity such as preparing breakfast. Do you move smoothly from object to object, collecting the ingredients, crockery and cutlery? How often do you double-back or re-trace your steps?
Can you see any redundancy? Removing redundancy helps you to become calmer and organised. When the habit is ingrained, it is part of who you are.
I threw my cup away
when I saw a child
drinking from his hands at the trough.
18 April 1995
Last updated 10 November 2023