By Erle Montaigue
24 December 1999
Da-Lu is one of the great training methods from the internal fighting arts of China. It is a kind of push hands method that has been hidden in the shadows of push hands since it was invented. However, this training method is one of the best at teaching footwork and the use of the four corner directions ever invented.
Again, however, many have either been mis-informed or they have been taught incorrectly in just the same way that push hands has also been transmitted incorrectly. Most people, as with most of Taijiquan unfortunately, perform Da-Lu as a kind of dance. This could not be further from the truth. In fact Da-Lu is performed with great power and speed utilizing many attacking and defensive methods.
Da-Lu sticks to the basic principles of Taijiquan in that we never step backwards, always coming in from an angle in attack and our defence is also our attack. And this is where most people teaching Da-Lu go wrong in that they teach a backwards step within the routine. I do not know where this has come from but assume that is has come from the age-old reason of people wanting what they train in to be easy and not difficult. It is much easier to do the step back rather that keep moving forward so someone along the way changed the whole meaning of Da-Lu.
The action of Da-Lu when two people who are advanced at this routine actually throws each player into the air as they attack and defend around the Da-Lu square.
The rule is that there are three steps in attack and only two in defence. And this applies to everything we do in Da-Lu.
In push hands we get to practice the four cardinal directions while in Da-Lu we practice the four corner applications of Chou, (elbow) Tsai, (inch energy) Lieh (split) and Kou. (Shoulder press). It is said that Da-Lu was invented to make up for any short-falls in one's training. So that if your reflex actions aren't up to scratch, you can always save yourself using one of the Da-Lu methods. However, it is also said that if you have to use a Da-Lu method then your training has not come up to an advanced stage as yet! However, Da-Lu is one of the methods that actually brings one up to a high standard of training and must be included in every student's training in order for he or she to advance correctly.
During Da-Lu we learn about 'Jing' and how to use it correctly. If for instance we find that we are using brute strength all the time in order not to be struck, then this is incorrect movement as Da-Lu teaches us to move the body out of the way of an attack, then re-direct that Qi back onto the opponent. We use mainly centrifugal and centripetal force which can be very quickly changed from defence to attack without wasting any physical energy. In other words we use internal energy rather than the force solely derived from our muscles.
Da-Lu teaches us the most economical way of moving the body in order to gain the most power from our attacks while at the same time using the least possible amount of energy. But this is not easy. And as I always say, "Taiji is not meant to be easy,.. Ever"! Most people find the movements of Da-Lu difficult as they feel cumbersome at first and this simply comes from having to learn it firstly incorrectly! I say incorrectly because in the beginning we must learn it step by step and slowly. So that by the time I, for instance, have performed 'K'ao', my opponent has not even moved but is still thinking about his next movement. However, once both partners get up to speed, none of the attacking movements would ever make contact or even reach their target mildly as the attackee has already moved out of the way and has begun his re-attack and so-on.
We begin by drawing a square on the floor. Best to use bright red paint on your shag-pile carpets in your living room for this purpose. The square should have side of about 1.5 metres (4 feet?). And you should also draw the diagonal lines onto the square so that you now have a diamond shape in the centre of the square. (See the diagrams). Also mark the centre. The size of this square will vary depending up on your relative size and how large or small your step is.
Partner B stands in the centre and slightly to the left of centre while partner A will stand on the Northern side of the square. (Photo No. 1)
A will now take a right step forward and attack B using a right palm. At the same time, B will take left step backwards and diagonally onto the S/W diagonal of the square as he defends using p'eng with his right forearm. (Photo No. 2). Note that although B has actually stepped backwards, this in only the beginning movement in order to get the whole routine moving.
Now it is B's turn to attack. B now takes a further step with his right foot onto the SW side of the Square and turns his right palm over to grab A's wrist as his left palm turns upward and pressures down onto the elbow to jerk A violently past him. A is forced to take a step with his left foot into the centre of the square. (Photo No. 3). This step is only a half time step and should not be forced. You should simply go to where B's attacking force places you. This caused B to think that he has defeated you when all the time you are using his attacking force against him.
You must note however, that in reality it would never get to this point as B will have already moved out of the way as in the next section. I only give it to you this way so that you can understand the movement.B has performed Tsai while A will now perform K'ao. Using his left leg as the powering source, A will now bounce diagonally into B's chest using K'ao (shoulder press) with his right shoulder while his right arm protects his groin from A's knee. (Photo No. 4). A's left palm is placed on the inside of his right elbow to protect it from being broken should B think to do that later in the more advanced techniques. A has now taken three steps in attack while B has taken two steps in defence.
In order to evade A's K'ao, B now changes his weight onto his left leg, thus moving his centre out of the way. At the same time he takes a small step with his right foot up to near A's right foot. This is B's first step of this next section in attack. Be is now able to control what A's right foot does easily because of the placement of his right foot and he would be able to use a leg lock onto A's right lower leg if necessary.
As B takes this first step, he also throws a right palm to A's face to further cause him to stop his shoulder attack. (Photo No. 5). Notice also that B's left palm is controlling A's right elbow.
In defence, A now raises his right P'eng to stop B's palm attack. At the same time, he takes a step FORWARD with his left foot onto the S/E diagonal. This is his first step in defence. (Photo No. 6). A has now successfully defeated B's attack.
Now A will attack. A now takes his 2nd step onto that same diagonal and as he does this, uses T'sai onto B's right forearm and elbow which causes B to take a 2nd step into the centre of the square. (Photo No. 7). Using that step as his power source, B will now use K'ao into A's chest in exactly the same way that A did it to him previously. (Photo No. 8).
So now, A and B have performed exactly the same set of movements in attack and defence. You now continue in this manner around the 4 diagonals indefinitely.A now changed weight on to his left foot and attacks B's face with a right palm in exactly the same was as before with B defending in the same manner as previously A did! The movement now continues onto the next diagonal etc.
This is basic Da-Lu. It also has to be performed on the other side.
You don't just stop and begin again using the left hand to attack to begin with. There is a way of changing the direction in keeping with the Taijiquan saying, "every move you make must have some meaning".
OK, so we have come to the first attack and defence where B is pulling down on the S/W diagonal and A is attacking his chest using right shoulder. If for instance after having completed a few rounds of this exercise on this side, B decides to change the direction so that for instance the left should will be used etc., instead of now using the right palm attack, he lifts his left foot and places it in between A's two feet. This will also get his centre out of the way and remember that this movement must be preformed before A's should comes close! Otherwise this movement will not work and also goes against the Taijiquan principle of "if he attacks you, attack him first"! B also places both of his palms onto A's left forearm and attacks violently with two palm strikes. (Photo No. 9). This is B's first step of three. In defence, A will now be forced to take a step with his right foot back onto the first diagonal N/W, with his right foot. As he does this, he uses P'eng in defence onto B's left forearm and takes a further left step back onto that same diagonal and uses T'sai onto B's left forearm thus forcing him to take a right step into the centre of the square. (Photo No. 10). Now, B is able to attack A using his left shoulder (K'ao) exactly the same as before only he is using the left shoulder instead of his right and the whole routine has now reversed. (Photo No. 11).
So you will notice that when we use the Palm Attack, we continue to the next diagonal while when we use the Double Palm attack and step through, we go back to the previous diagonal.A will now attack using his left palm and the circling will continue on the LEFT side until either of the partners wishes to again use the above method to change the direction.
Once you become used to this exercise you could try using two slaps and one double palm attack. Then when you become even more advanced, either partner can put in the slap or double palm attack at any time thus toning your reflexes no end!
There are other more advanced techniques that can be used while performing Da-Lu, like "Arm Twist: and "Bend Backwards" which I will hopefully cover in another article of Da-Lu.
Many other attacking methods can be incorporated into this training method just as long as you stick to the idea that there are 3 steps in attack and only two in defence.
My two tape series on Da-Lu is the most comprehensive tape series ever done on Da-Lu. MTG165 & MTG183