Tai Chi self defense By Erle Montaigue Thursday, November 27, 1997
Recently at an Australian sports accreditation intake for Gung-fu, comments like the following ere heard. "You don't need martial arts insurance if you only do t'ai chi", Or "Oh, you do t'ai chi as a fighting art?".
I just wonder where people who make such statements have been for the past 15 years or so. Perhaps they have been in gaol, away from the main-stream martial arts publications. Or perhaps these people are simply new to the martial arts and are not up on the fact that tai chi self defense is one of the most deadly fighting/self defence arts ever invented! I told my students who were being accredited at this intake, not to become angry as that is not the way of tai chi, LET ME BECOME ANGRY! But after some time, I began to feel sorry for these people, never knowing the immense power that is generated by practising tai chi self defense, from very short distances to the target. They will never know what it feels like to be totally confident that your martial art will never let you down in a real confrontation in the street. They will also never know the great healing benefits that t'ai chi will impart now and when they get too old to be high kicking and are full of arthritis from over-stretching and knuckle push ups! However, some, an honoured few, do find the path to t'ai chi before it's too late. The reason that tai chi self defense is, (after all this time of my trying to balance the scales) still regarded as an old person's art or a health dance, and that the sister and brother arts of Baguazhang and Xingyiquan are regarded as fighting arts, is because of the poor press that tai chi self defense has received by those who would do it as some 'new age' self awareness dance! It is of course that, but it is also a great self defence art. Articles in prestigious magazines such as Black Belt and Inside Kung-fu about tai chi self defense do not help either, only ever pushing a completely inane way of using tai chi self defense, one that most other so-called hard style martial artists would deride. I often think that such magazines have something against tai chi self defense, always only publishing those articles that cause this once great art to look stupid! I have been publishing articles about tai chi self defense for the past two decades and when I feel that the message is finally getting through, silly articles such as those mentioned above appear again. Or we will see some 'master' knocking his students down from a distance without touching them, causing every logical thinking martial artists to deride such actions because they cannot do it to anyone else other than their 'helpful' students! The following is just another article to try and stem the tide and balance the scales.
Real Tai Chi Self Defense
There is no 'soft' way to fight someone or to defend yourself. No possible way to defend yourself and not harm the opponent! However, how many times do you hear that Tai Chi self defense is the 'soft' martial art that can be used to 'gently' put someone down.
Part of the attraction to many people who take up Tai chi self defense is the fact that they do not wish to 'get their hands dirty' in defending themselves or their friends and loved ones. They are lured into a Tai Chi self defense school with the promise of being able to control an attacker without hurting him. In my opinion, and it is only my opinion as many disagree with me on this, that you should immediately walk out of a class where the instructor promises such ridiculous things. It is not only fraudulent but also dangerous to the student because he is being fooled into a false sense of security.
Taijiquan is called the "Supreme Ultimate Fist", and although I do not agree with calling any martial art by such a lofty name, the art of Taijiquan does in some ways deserve this title. However, it does not deserve this title based upon the way that most people sadly teach the art for tai chi self defense. Only this week I was reading yet another ludicrous article in one of the World's leading U.S. martial arts magazines where someone was advocating grabbing the arm of an attacker and using the posture known as 'Lu' to put him onto the ground! You know the old scenario, he attacks with a punch, you block using p'eng', (Photo No. 1), and then you use 'Roll-back', (Photo No. 2) to put him onto the ground face first! Using this method, the young woman who was featured in the article would have been severely damaged by the attacker! Even if one could get the attacker to this point, what do you do then? Walk away and allow him to get up and re-attack?
Tai Chi self defense is deadly, it is dirty and it is one of the best self defense systems known. Only when it is taught as it was originally intended though, as a hands-on, energetic fighting system where anything goes in order to survive in a realistic street attack.
In order to utilise the true nature of Tai Chi self defense, and get right away from the derisive techniques that many teach using only the basic forms, we must learn a little about the 'small frame' form and how it is used. For instance, the above method in a realistic attack would be used as follows. As he attacks, move forward (not back) using p'eng, (Photo No. 3). A very quick 'roll back' as you are still moving forward into his face, (Photo No. 4), then attack with palm or fists to his vital points around the head and neck. (Photo No. 5) & (Photo No. 6). Then, and only then, provided that he is alone, take his legs out, (Photo No. 7) using another of the small frame postures, and follow him to the ground with fingers to the eyes. (Photo No. 8). Then you can control the attacker! It is a rule of Internal Gung-Fu fighting that we never go to the ground when there is more than one against you.
There are no pulls or pushes in Tai Chi self defense! This often sounds strange to many who practice what I call 'silly Taiji'. The reason that most people advocate the use of push and pull in tai chi self defense is that there are many mistranslations in the classic Tai Chi translations. We only ever use 'pushes' in training. The reason for this is that if we were actually to strike our training partners, they would be hurt and the closest thing that we can get to realism to test our own power is to push. However, this is only in training! To do this in the street against someone who was out to get you, would invite defeat. What are you going to do, push him into the path of an on-coming car! Same with any pulls, he will just come back, even more pumped up and angry because his ego has been hurt. Pushes in fact are deadly dim-mak point strikes usually to those points around the chest area such as ST 15 and ST 16 (Stomach point No. 15 & 16), these points will send a person into knock out easily when performed correctly. By the same token, the pulls are only there in training and not for reality.
There are certain rules for Internal Gung-Fu self defense. These rules apply to all three major internal systems of Tai Chi, Baguazhang and Xingyiquan. I will include an excerpt from my next book, the follow up to my 1997 publication, "Internal Gung-Fu, The Complete System, Volume One, Qi." This volume, (Vol. 2) is called "Internal Gung-Fu The Complete System, Volume 2: Practical training, Fighting & Healing Methods" and will be published early in 1998.
The games (training methods) teach us certain rules for Tai Chi self defense. I will document many of them here, however, it is important that you do not just read about these rules and try to intellectualise them, but rather do the training methods in order to gain the necessary body mechanics.
Tai Chi Self Defense 1/. Never step backwards.
When you are attacked, do not do what most hard style martial arts teach you to do, to step backwards as you block! This will invite certain defeat. Any fighters or brawlers all work on 'switches'. We are born with switches that tell us to do certain things sub-consciously, like a male puppy that, at a certain age begins to lift his leg, why? He may not have seen any other dogs doing this but he does it anyway as if some programmer has programmed a computer program into his brain. This is not far from the truth. We are all born with switches, those that tell us to cry, to begin crawling etc. Then there are those switches that we learn from experience. It is the same with the qi that we are born with (pre-natal qi) and that which we gain as we grow (post-natal qi).
A fighter learns certain switches as he becomes increasingly experienced at fighting and aggression. However, it is also these learned switches that can bring him unstuck in a fighting situation against someone who knows about switches. The fighter learns these switches but also learns sub-consciously that his switches will also cause other switches in those who he is attacking, which will in turn switch on more switches in himself. A fighter works this way. He may not know this and indeed, it would be rare that any street fighter would know about such things. So, when the expected switch does not happen when he attacks someone, it throws his own switches out of whack, thus putting his timing and co-ordination off. This is where internal Gung-fu gains the upper hand. We know that the fighter expects us to react in a certain learned manner when attacked or when faced with aggression. He expects us to move away from him trying to lessen his attack. So he is ready for this and knows exactly what to do when we do this expected movement. But if we do not, then he is taken by surprise and before he has time to change his method, we have already finished it.
Someone who is attacking you expects you to be where you are when he attacks otherwise he would not have attacked you where you were. Someone throws a punch for instance, they do not throw the punch to where they think you might be, but to where you are at the time of the attack. Remember though, the attacker is expecting you to either be there or to move backwards. So even if you do move back, he is ready for this and will launch another attack to compensate for this movement. So, if you are not where he expects you to be, and more importantly, if you are in his face attacking him, then he is just not ready for this. He has to re-group and think about what he has to do next, giving you time to attack with devastating attacks from the internal Gung-fu system.
Often when we train in tai chi self defense techniques or training methods, we will be taught to stand still and not move. However, this is only in the beginning to get the movement correct. Once you have it, then you begin training in a more realistic manner by moving into the attacker as he attacks.
There is another important reason in tai chi self defense for not taking a step backward apart from the obvious physical advantages as I have indicated above. And it is an 'internal' reason. The 'primordial' instinct for survival is inside all animals including human beings. Although ours has been slowly lost over the years of depending upon others for our defence! It is still in there, but we just have to get at it in some way. Dogs for instance have all kinds of primordial instincts like, at a certain age when a male dog begins to lift its leg to pee. Why does it do this? Well, we know why I guess, some chemical changes happen inside causing the dog to have a need to mark its territory. But how it happens is a complete source of mystery and wonderment to me. Never having seen another male dog, the puppy will always begin to lift his leg at a certain age. He will also at this age, begin to attack, i.e., move forward into his 'opponent'. In order to understand this, we must also know a little about the 'triune brain', or the 'reptile brain'.
The theory goes, that when God, (or whoever) was making we animals, he began with his first creation, the 'reptile brain' which is that brain that all reptiles have. It is a survival brain, totally relying upon instinct and programming, no thought, only reflex reactions caused by its particular 'computer' programming. A snake does not 'think', it does not love, hate or feel resentment etc., it just lives and survives. This is the kind of brain that the snake has. We too have this brain! However, it is only 5% of our total brain size.
Then 'God' tried out a new brain for the more complex animals such as mammals and we call this brain the 'old mammalian' brain. This is that brain that dogs have for instance. A little more thinking for itself and some small amount of emotion even, but still much programming and relying upon instinct and reflexive actions to stimuli. The dog however is able to revert to its 'reptile brain' any time there is an emergency of survival. In addition, it makes certain body changes to enhance this effect to give it the greatest chance at surviving. Like arching its back as all animals do including sharks just before they attack. We in internal Gung-fu also make use of this when we are attacked. The animal also makes use of another area of helping it reflexively to go into the reptile brain. That of always rushing forward. You will only notice this phenomenon in those animals that are closer to the source of 'wild' than many domesticated animals who have also (as we humans) had this sense bred out! Like the Australian Blue Heeler dog that is part Dingo. He is one of the most courageous small dogs on earth. Not because he is courageous however, but because he is closer to the source than most dogs. There is in fact an old saying with regard to this breed of dog here in Australia; "the Blue Cattle Dog (the breed has several names and also comes in the red variety), will eat anything it meets unless it is eaten first".
The last and most sophisticated brain is of course the mammalian (human) brain. However, this brain did not replace the old mammalian or the reptile brain, it simply was placed over the other two. So we as humans still have the 'survival brain' and are able to access this animal brain through training. This training is part of the internal Gung-fu training.
One way that we have to access this reflexive survival brain is simply to move forward as we are attacked. It triggers a switch that causes us to attack and attack again! Just as an animal never stops its attack, so too should we do the same. In my classes when I am teaching the training methods, I have to begin by teaching them incorrectly! This is because if I were to teach the correct way, i.e., moving in as we are attacked in training, we would have many more injuries! Moving in seems to build up an attack energy that is often uncontrollable in the beginner. Even the blocking type movements have far greater impact when the reptile brain kicks in. In addition, it is only those who are trained as advanced instructors that I allow to train in this manner.
Tai Chi Self Defense 2/. Never fight the peripheral-attacking weapon, fight the whole body.
This is a big mistake made by many highly ranked martial artists; they block the attacking arm or leg standing still! They do not move into the attack as they block, they just stand there and block the attack. If you can touch his arm, then you can touch his body and if you can touch his body then you can strike him. Never wait for the attacking portion such as a fist to reach you before you do something about it. See his whole body using 'eagle vision'; react to what his body is doing rather than to what his arm is doing. In order to attack you, the attacker MUST firstly move his body. Try it now; try punching without moving any other part of your body other than your arm. If you are able to do this, you will have no power at all anyway! So we react to his total body movement not only his arm or leg etc. The very instant he moves any part of his body, attack. Do not worry about what he is going to attack with as his attack will be totally minimised by the fact that you have moved in on him and have closed him up before his attack has had time to even gain any power.
Tai Chi Self Defense 3/. Never meet force on force, always move at a slight angle to the attacker as you move in.
You must move in a 'V' shape to either side of the attacker. This will give you deflecting power as well as increased attack power using his power against him. Like a ricochet. If the projectile has nothing to bounce off, it will not have much power, but if it has something solid to bounce off, then its power will be great. The tenser the attacker is, the more power you will gain with which to revert on him. This movement will also put you in complete control because you have your 'distancing' correct by using this method. It will place you at exactly the correct place to be in control of the attacker. He will never expect you to do this.
Tai Chi Self Defense 4/. Never use two steps in fighting.
You must always make your defence your attack. Never block, then attack, make your block your attack. His sub-conscious switches tell him that you will attack next after you have blocked. However, if your block becomes your attack, he has not had time to think about it. You have attacked him during the time that he is supposed to attack you! If you block first, then it is his turn to attack because you have asked him to attack now. This is the logical way of the fight, he does something, then you do something, and then he does something. You must change the logical fight into a totally illogical fight, so that his switches are all broken down. Make it a fight of; he attacks, then you attack, then you attack, then you attack! Never give him that slight break when his brain tells him that it is his turn to do something, take his time away from him and use it for yourself. In (Photo No. 1), who is in control of this situation? This is where I have used a so-called hard style type of method of two steps. I have blocked his attack and in (Photo No. 2), I have re-attacked. The attacker is still in control of this situation. However, in (Photo No. 3), I have simultaneously blocked and attacked. Now who is in control? I am. See how the distancing has placed me right in the attacker's face in total control of his body. I am now able to attack at will.
Tai Chi Self Defense 5/. Never look at the attacking portion.
Eagle vision is a marvellous way of using the eyes. Human beings are so used to focusing on things that we see, that when we do this in fighting we always lose! Why, because you can see much more by not looking than you can by focusing. Eagle vision is that vision that birds have. Humans have a completely different system of vision than birds and it has to do with the way that we get blood to the eye. But we can make use of the way that birds see. An eagle for instance when catching a moving mouse, simply flies down and catches it. It does not focus on the mouse; it uses a kind of peripheral vision to lock onto the mouse's space. Rather like locking its qi onto that of the mouse. So if the mouse moves, so too does the eagle, the mouse cannot escape unless it goes into a hole. You must see the whole body of the attacker, and not just look at the peripheral that is attacking you. In this way it does not matter what portion he is attacking with, your body will reflexively adjust to the attack and always come back with the correct answer. This is particularly important when we are using dim-mak (death point striking) in a fighting situation. If we were to look for the points, we would always miss them, as we just do not have time enough to look. However, if we use eagle vision, we see the 'shadows' of the body, the little hollows where all dim-mak points reside. We see shadows reflexively and are then able to hone in on these shadows to pinpoint the dim-mak point automatically without thinking.
Tai Chi Self Defense 6/. Never use a lock or hold as your main fighting method.
Locks and holds do not work in a realistic fighting situation. I have discovered this aspect of fighting through my own experiences and from that of others who have survived street attacks. It is all right to use a lock to control an attacker once he has been disabled by using a point strike or some other striking disabling method. However, if you try to use a lock or hold against someone who is trying to harm you, then you will lose the confrontation. This is especially important in the street when it is not usual for only one attacker to be attacking you! In these cases, you would never even attempt to use a lock or hold, as his friends would have a chance to attack you at this time. Stun the attacker with a strike to the temple (GB 3) or another vital point, then you are able to take a lock or hold. This is greatly important when fighting against an armed attacker. Most schools will teach that you should grab the hand that is holding the knife or other edged weapon for instance. These methods work fine in the dojo but in reality, you are inviting defeat and or even death to use such methods. You must remember that an attacker, especially one who is holding a knife, must be pumped up in order to have the aggression necessary for such a deadly attack. So grabbing his arm is not going to stop him. In the dojo, you might be able to use a technique like a lunge. But if the attacker is serious about doing you harm, and he knows what he is doing, he will probably make use of his yang energy to rip your hands and arms to shreds before bringing the knife back to kill you.
In the case of an edged weapon remember the three words; evade, bump and attack. Without writing a whole book on knife defence, it goes something like this.
Evade: He perhaps attacks using a lunge. (The same methods work for any type of weapon attack from anywhere). Using a 'hinge' type of weapon, you move your body out of the way by slightly turning to the side as you slam his arm so hard that it damages his arm bumping his weapon arm out of the way for that split second. My right palm is already up ready to strike to deadly vital points. In doing this you have done the first two of the words, 'evade' and 'bump'. You have also stuck to the above rules of never backing of and never using a one/two type of method. Your defence has become your attack. Now I am able to strike using deadly methods to points that will either kill or drop him. Then, and only then, when he is down and out should you take the knife. The 'hinge' type of attack is also one of those that will bring up the reptile brain causing your energy to build up to a high level for the final attacks.
Using the reptile brain in tai chi self defense; every time you touch the attacker, your own energy will grow causing you to want to continue. Your own energy system will be enhanced by the fact that you are borrowing his energy and sending it back to him. You are using only one bit of energy and recycling it. In this way you do not feel tired having to block, then build up more energy for the next attack etc. Your first lot of energy (qi) is re-used through the attacker's body draining him of energy and building yours up.