Tai Chi Fighting
by Erle Montaigue, ©2010
NB: The photos mentioned hereunder will only appear in the WTBA's official Magazine, Combat & Healing next issue. Please see www.taijiworld.com for details.
Some people call me a "Tai Chi Renegade". I am happy to be this as by definition, a "renegade" is Someone who rebels and becomes an outlaw. I was expelled from school for being a rebel and often an outlaw and I remain as such to this day. My being a renegade in Tai Chi terms was brought about by my not being normal and following the common ideas about Tai Chi. And it's not simply that I regard Tai Chi as the most deadly fighting art ever invented as there are others who also believe that. It's the way that my lineage has taught me and my students to learn how to fight in a self defence situation that is for the most part totally different to what other instructors teach.
Tai chi fighting with my teacher!
My main teacher was a deadly human being! However, he was also a most gentle man and a gentleman. It's just that he has the ability to kill with his fingers only and never once did I see him use any Tai Chi postures for this purpose. I would try to ask him (as he didn't speak much English) what posture the move that he just did on me was. He would simply hit me again! So I soon learnt that what he was doing was something else other than just learning what each of the Tai Chi postures was used for, or what application they were designed for.
Many years later I learned from my own experience (which he told me would happen), that what he was doing was a very advanced method of Tai Chi ch'uan called No Tai Chi. He called it such because the movements looked nothing like any Tai Chi, they were so small that it looked like he was doing nothing at all!
The main thing that I did learn was that if you learn Tai Chi, or any martial art as it was and try to use the postures or katas for fighting, you would lose in a real street situation where your life was threatened. Our lineage teaches that we Fight Without Fighting. And we learn to fight without learning!
In Tai Chi Fighting (or Bagua), we have certain brilliant training methods designed by those genius of old that teach us how to fight at a reflexive level; like a dog fights. These training methods from tai chi fighting teach us sub-consciously to react instantly without thinking with the correct method using a huge amount of power from a very short distance. This is the ONLY way to defend yourself in the street as a good street fighter will literally be in your face in the time it takes you to blink! And you need to attack and keep attacking with devastating dim-mak and fa-jing attacks before he even knows what has hit him. So you need to be able to act instantly from a distance for instance, from his neck of only one inch. And you need to have a way of generating such power from that small distance that will have the power to kill the attacker.
Teaching Tai Chi Fighting.
When I first go to a new club to teach, I go to one of the large kick bags hanging on the wall and ask the attendees who are always highly ranked, to hit the back as hard as they can. They always pull their fist back to their hip. So I stop them and tell them to touch their finger tips onto the bag and without pulling back hit the bag. They usually look at me as if I am insane as how can anyone generate power from that distance? I then show them that it can be done and they begin to listen. I also tell them that in pulling their fist back to their hip, they are simply telling their opponent that they are gong to hit them! Sure, these methods work fine in the ring in a tournament, but tournament and sparring has nothing at all to do with real tai chi fighting! In fact sparring is the most damaging thing for real life self defence! You have two martial artists in a ring using kata oriented methods against each other in a "you hit me, then I hit you" manner. High kicks and one step sparring or block and attack methods will get you decked in the street or worse, killed!
How to Learn Tai Chi Fighting.
The greatest method for learning how to fight like an animal, reflexively and instantaneous, is the Tai Chi training method of "Push Hands". However, REAL push hands is not like what most people practice. Because of the name "Push Hands", most people think of pushing! There are NO pushes in Tai Chi Fighting! Worse still many have put this once brilliant training tool into a sort of competition and they go into a ring and try to push each other over! What kind of self defence is that? Why would you want to push someone? He just gets up and attacks again. Why would you wish to push someone who is attacking you with a knife? Try yielding to that mate bang, you're dead!
Push Hands in the real sense teaches us at a subconscious level, to strike from anywhere at any time with great power, enough to kill an attacker with one strike! With tai chi fighting we have the basic movements which are also unlike anything that others will teach, in that we never have low open stances, stances that you would never be in walking down the street. With tai chi fighting we take a normal standing position as if we are standing at a bus stop. Then we begin the basic movements of P'eng, Lu, Chee and Arn, with the corner movements also thrown in for good measure of Tsou, K'ao, Lit and choi. However, these also are unlike those movements from the Tai Chi form or kata, they are very small with no sitting back and moving forward, but rather changing the centre from side to side. This all happens in a blink with a potential deadly strike happening in the MIND of the practitioner at a sub-conscious level. There is never any big Yielding movement, that happens instantaneously with an almost instant attacking movement.
Tai Chi Fighting and The Movements.
The movements from Push Hands as mentioned above, we call, Walking Down The Street. These are those movements that are our everyday movements and do not require any retaliation or re-attack from us. They just happen in sequence like a flowing river. However, at a sub-conscious level, the very instant that something different happens away from walking down the street, we strike! Others from other schools who come and want to do push hands with any of our students usually get a shock when they try to push as they find a fist in their temple or neck! They then say that that's not push hands! So we just walk away.
Photo No.1 shows most people's idea of push hands, showing the method of Lu or Roll Back. Photo No. 2 shows our way of doing Lu.
How Important is Push Hands to Tai Chi Fighting.
Push Hands is probably the most balanced self defence training method ever invented as it not only gives us all of the above, but also gives us a huge whole body physical workout. For self defence, you MUST use methods that build the body using a changing state of weight and power, in fact pumping iron in a gym will take you backward as the weights are dead. A good push hands session will see your whole body sore afterward as every muscle is used in self defence and attack. We DO attack hard and fast and every so-called push is regarded as a striking attack which can come from anywhere at any time. Any grab of the wrist or arm is regarded as an attack and we attack relentlessly to such grabs. Always using the Tai Chi principle of never use force on force. Many will see us doing our push hands and not see this and will remark that we seem to be using force! Well of course we are! You HAVE to use force in a real life situation, however, that force always come from an angle, never head on and always after a split second movement that is designed to take the opponent's mind away from what is really happening to him. For instance, if we are to very quickly squeeze his wrist at Neigwan, and this takes less than a split second, his mind will go directly to that point as that is where the main energy systems of the body meet, so in that split second when his mind is wondering what the F is happening, we are hammering him. And this is what we learn through doing push hands, not how to push someone or how to avoid being pushed! After all, only kids in a school ground use pushes. In the real street, we are attacked with powerful punches and other attacks or grappling methods so we HAVE to be able to deal with those attacks instantly and it is push hands that gives us that ability.
Tai Chi Fighting and the Forms.
So why then do we even DO the forms? There is of course a huge reason to do forms, i.e. a set of movements designed to cause the body to do something different. Firstly, we do martial arts movements in our Tai Chi or Bagua because China's history is steeped in the martial. The body needs to be strong and healthy in order for us to defend ourselves and family and it is the formwork that gives us this. Each movement we make causes the energy or QI to become activated in a particular meridian or channel in the body. Each channel is associated to a particular major organ in the body. So this in turn heals each organ as we perform our Tai Chi or Bagua form. The other reason is that as we perform each movement to do each biut of work that it was designed for, i.e. a certain martial application, the Qi is directed through a certain meridian in order to do that work.
The other main reason is that the form teaches us how to move the body in a different manner in order to gain great power and speed without thinking. It does not teach us to use the hands in a certain way every time we are attacked! To do it this way would be to THINK about it and so, lose. It teaches us to place the feet NOT in the place that we are physically taught to place them, but rather that we place the feet sub-consciously in order to be in the optimum position at all times. The Slow form or the Pauchui/San Sau forms all teach us how to move the body for tai chi fighting. The two person sets of San-Sau teach us how to deal with an attacker. However, it was never meant to be used exactly as it is! It CAN become quite heavy and fast, but it should never turn into a melee or fighting method! It causes us to gain lightness of foot and exact placement of foot when an attack is being put upon us. We learn to feel the opponent's weight instantly and how to deal with it sub-consciously.
Tai Chi teaches us how to fight in the real world against life or death situations without teaching us how to fight! If we learn how to fight, we will lose in the real world as we must become like a wild animal who doesn't even think about it, it just goes for it and automatically, it uses the correct weapons and methods to get the job done. Once it is over, it becomes little Bluey again, your pet dog. Learn what to take from your kata or form, know that it was never meant as a fighting system, it was meant to teach you about body movement and placement.
The Photos: 1/. Shows what most people's idea of push hands is, showing the posture of "Lu" 2/. Shows our idea of Push Hands showing the same posture at small frame level. 3/. Shows the posture called Brush Knee & Twist Step. 4/. Shows the basic physical application of Brush Knee & Twist Step which causes the sub-conscious mind to activate the Qi in the correct meridian and organ but without thinking about it. All we have to do, is to perform the whole form once, THINKING about the basic application and from then onward, we never have to think about it again. 5/. Shows a posture from the Pauchui form or Canon Fist form. 6/. Shows the application from that posture.