TAI CHI TRAINING, THE FOOTWORK An Article by Erle Montaigue October 8, 1989
As any martial artist knows, the feet are just as important as the hands and require just as much tai chi training. There are two areas that we must train in order to have an all round training method for the legs and feet.
Firstly, we must of course train to gain better footwork. This gives us the superior mobility for which T'ai chi is famous for. Then we must also train in feet techniques such as kicking, high and low, blocking and jamming with the feet and throwing with the feet.
Many people think upon T'ai chi as a totally hand orientated art, preferring to only train the legs to give us better grounding etc.. But within the framework of the foundation T'ai chi forms we have quite complicated feet and leg attacking and defensive techniques.
The mobility and footwork is gained during our pushing hands practice, this also includes da-lu. How? well, we are told that we must at all times maintain the single weighted stance so that we do not have to change to one leg or the other when we have to move. This of course gives us greater mobility and teaches us to move out of the way very quickly. Many people from other styles always say, "but what if you have to move in the other direction, causing you to have to change weight, surely you would have to move further to change weight when using the single weighted stance than if you were double weighted".
The answer is simple, we still move the yin leg regardless of where the attack is coming from. When someone attacks us, the force will always move in towards our centre, or where we are. So if the attack comes in slightly towards our left for instance and we are standing in a left forward bow stance, then we must move our right leg in a clockwise direction to our left to cause the centre to move. If the attack comes in slightly to our right side, we still move the left leg but this time it moves to our right in a clock wise direction thus again moving our centre our of the way.
To train in this type of foot work, we make use of our pushing hands. Once the basic movements from push hands have been mastered and we feel that we do not have to think about P'eng lu chi and an, we then are able to begin moving. Now, I do not believe in the old, you move forward in attack in push hands and I move back etc.. This is going against the basic principle of Tai chi training which states that; "If he goes up, I go up, if he goes down, I go down, if he goes slow, I go slow, if he goes fast, I go fast if he moves forward, I move forward (not back!) if he moves back, I move back (so he can't touch me). What I do train my students in is; If the attack comes when I am centred on my front foot (yang) I must immediately move my rear foot to either side to evade the attack and then come in with a push. It works this way. If we are both standing in a right bow stance, he attacks with a push while I have my weight on my front foot. I can now either move my rear (left) foot to the right crossing my legs in a scissors step to evade the attack, pick up my right foot and then come in with my own attack. My partner will now have to change direction to defend against that attack which has caused us both to now be facing 90 degrees from our original directions. If I choose to move my left foot to my left, I have again evaded his attack and changed my position to 90 degrees to the original position only I am now facing 180 degrees to the previous new position.
So you can see that by moving the rear leg in this way we are moving around facing new cardinal points at all times.
So what if he pushes while we are weighted on the rear leg. OK the rule still applies. We must move the yin leg. This time the yin leg is the front or right leg. I can either step across myself in a scissors step to my left and then take another step to straighten up or I can step to my right and then step again with my left leg to straighten up. This has the same effect of changing the direction only this time I have done it when I am weighted on my rear leg.
This is how single weightedness works and push hands is an excellent way of learning about T'ai chi footwork. From here we can go into full da-lu which is another story.
Tai Chi Training Techniques
In order to train the legs in T'ai chi foot and leg techniques we have a rather unique tai chi training method called pushing feet.
As with pushing hands where we are able to eventually throw in many different techniques etc., so too can we do this during pushing feet. In this exercise we are able to learn about every type of T'ai chi kick and block using the feet.
We stand opposite each other and begin the single push hands practice. Then we slowly move in closer and lift up our front feet, joining them at the Achilles tendon. Now the feet begin to make the same circular movements as the hands are making. At first you must just do the circular movements so that each partner is able to adjust to this difficult one legged stance. And here we are able to put into practice one of Yang Cheng-Fu's classic sayings, that of "don't hang your dead meat on me". How? We still have our wrists touching as for single push hands and that wrist and arm/ waist movement continues as we are circling our feet. If I feel a heaviness on my wrist from my partner meaning that he is using me to balance himself, I must immediately move out of the way so that he loses balance thus showing him that he is hanging his dead meat on me.
Then we begin the foot techniques. We begin with a simple attack to the opponent's shin area with our circling foot, kicking in ward with the heel of that foot and in keeping with the circular movement. He in turn must use his circular movement and his heel to push my foot past his shin so that I am unable to kick him. this is the equivalent to the single handed attack from single pushing hands.
From here we are able to use all of the regular kicking methods while circling the feet and the rule is; If he attacks with foot, I block and re-attack with foot or leg. If he attacks with hand, then I block and re-attack with hand.
This is quite a strenuous exercise especially for the standing leg so you must keep changing the stance often.
In this way we have an excellent way of tai chi training in the very quick footwork from T'ai chi. But beware. As with pushing hands, this must never become a competition. We are only training and competing with ourselves to try and keep balance while performing these foot techniques for tai chi training.