Unnatural naturalness

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Taijiquan forms are fluid combat movements. The strikes, throws and applications of taijiquan have been smoothed together into a flowing routine. Whilst the forms are not dance, they are also not quite fighting either.


Forms are all about flow. Form is 'body shaped into movement'. By removing the precision, specificity and predictability of techniques, taijiquan turned specific moves into abstract ones. The abstract can take many forms.

Here is natural instinct and here is control. You are to combine the two in harmony.
If you have one to the extreme, you'll be very unscientific. If you have another to the extreme, you become, all of a sudden, a mechanical man - no longer a human being. So it is a successful combination of both, so therefore, it's not pure naturalness, or unnaturalness. The ideal is unnatural naturalness, or natural unnaturalness.

(Bruce Lee)



When an untutored body responds to real danger, it adopts an instinctive posture of defence. Our school practices the form in a manner that encourages the body to stop being afraid, re-shape habit and respond more naturally. We pay particular attention to the biomechanics required to produce each desired movement.


If somebody were to attack a beginner unexpectedly, the response would not look like taijiquan. It would most likely involve flinching, bracing, blocking... There would be force against force, aggression, panic and muscular tension. These habits are not taijiquan.


Abstract training methods such as melee accustom students to responding whilst controlling and shaping the nature of their response. Good habits are combined with form.

Introductory form

The form pattern is initially learned by rote; a robotic sequence of linear moves. The square form.

Form development

As your skills grow, you learn how form movements can be generated using the spine, waist, joints and weight shift. When the biomechanics for each individual movement are physically differentiated, you find that the limbs can only move so far using the whole body and that the applications are defined by the range of the movement. The form no longer look quite so crisp and clear; they have become rounded and abstract in appearance.


If somebody were to attack you unexpectedly, your response would look like taijiquan. After years of training, it would look casual and easy. The line between exponent and art has blurred. Combat is not stylised. It is not dance, or form - it is the appropriate response to the requirement of the situation.


The more closely your form follows the natural inclination of your body, the more likely you are to use the lessons it teaches in actual combat. The accuracy of the form must pertain to the spatial parameters of groundpath, the
strength of good alignment and skilful body use.


You are attacked and you respond. Later, it may be possible to consider what you did and identify applications from the form. Maybe not. The dividing line between you and taijiquan is no longer clear. Your habitual response has been re-shaped by the taijiquan. Perhaps then you will have become naturally unnatural or unnaturally natural.

There are also tempo opportunities when the opponent makes conscious movement,
that is, he steps forward, makes an invitation, etc.
In such and similar cases,
the moment for attack is when he is executing the movement because until he finishes it, he cannot change to the reverse.

 (Bruce Lee)

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Page created 27 June 1994
Last updated 22 September 2019