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TAI-CHI-CHUAN – THE “GRAND ULTIMATE MARTIAL ART”

Tai-chi-Chuan is a unique self defense system due to its basic principles. STICKING – You remain connected to your opponent, following every nuance of his movements with your own body.  To him, it seems that you are like wet clothes, clinging to him.  As he tries to move back, you move back with him.  As he moves forward to you, you move back to maintain the same relationship.  
He controls the movements and you follow the movements.  But you control the relationship. That relationship consists of mirroring his movements and then your strikes emane from the flow of movement. You do not block his strikes because that would mean that you are disconnected from him in the first place.  Rather, you remain connected even to his strikes, keeping a light connection between you.  He feels as if he were punching or kicking into the air.
REMAIN CENTERED – All your movements should revolve around your center. When you respond to your opponent, seek your own center first and then his.  This means that your response should emanate from your center (the tan-tien, an area about 1 ½ inches below the navel and in the center of the body). More generally, movements should originate from the hips and power originates from the legs and hips. You then direct your power to the opponent’s center of gravity to create the maximum effect.  By keeping the dynamics of power at the centers, you need the least strength and the least amount of movement for the maximum effect.
There is a tendency to expand your body and to bring your attention up to the top of the body. In this way you may feel more powerful but you are actually the least effective. Each of your strike’s power must pass through the center. There is a tendency, after the first strike, to keep striking without returning to the center. This is a mistake because a strike that does not come from the center is ineffective.
BOTTOM HEAVY, TOP LIGHT – This is called, “aligning heaven and earth”. The air is light. The ground is solid and heavy. We arrange our bodies in the same way. The legs are heavy and provide a solid support. The top of the body is light and fast. The hips are rubbery (in between light and heavy) to allow for the transfer of energy from bottom to top and vice versa. Yet, as shown in the Yin/Yang symbol, within Yang there is the “eye” of Yin. Within Yin there is the “eye” of Yang. Within the heavy legs there is a springy energy created by the compression of the body. This allows for fast leg movement. Within the light top of the body, the power of the legs and hips flows through, providing solid strikes. This is the meaning of the phrase that a Tai-chi fighter is like steel wrapped in cotton.
STRIKE THE INSIDE – We do not focus the strikes on the surface of the opponent’s body. Neither do we focus past the opponent’s body. If we are striking the torso, we focus on the inside surface of the opponent’s back. Thus our attention is already within the opponent’s body. When we strike, we are already past his defenses. Focusing our force on the inside of his back causes a reverberation of the force within his body cavity for maximum effect. The idea is to pass by his front muscle and bone layers and create the effect within his body. Many people have strong muscles and are used to taking strikes. Furthermore, they may have practiced types of chi-gung that toughen the surface of the torso. We penetrate that layer as cleanly as possible. When we do focus on the muscles themselves, we focus on the interior of the muscle.
THREAD THE STRIKES – We train to narrow the force as much as possible as it is being delivered. We are usually not trying to damage the surface but want to penetrate that surface. The more narrow the force can be made (while still maintaining the actual amount of force), the more easily it will penetrate the surface (either the surface of the torso or the surface of a muscle if you are trying to injure the muscle). It is like threading a needle. You can’t thread a needle if the thread is frayed.
YANG FORCE FLOWS THROUGH YIN PARTS OF THE BODY – The Yang parts of the body (back and the outside of the arms and legs) serve as the conduits of force, like a pipe serves as the conduit of water. The Yin parts of the body (front and the inside of legs and arms) should be kept “empty” (relaxed), so that force can flow through them. Force should never move through your back or the outside of your arms and legs. The Yin parts of the body are like the inside of the pipe, which is empty so the water can flow through it. The Yin parts of the body even stays empty at the moment of impact so that the force cleanly moves out of your body and into the opponent’s body. The force is thus contained so that it doesn’t dissipate. The result is that you (the striker) hardly feel the strike (but your opponent certainly does!).  All the force has left your body. If you tense up the whole body as you strike then much of your force goes into your own tension and you block your force from moving into the opponent.
STRIKE THE ORIGIN OF THE FORCE – If the opponent punches, we do not have to strike his arm but usually strike the origin of his force, which is usually the shoulder. The shoulder may be the origin of the force because many people bring their energy up to their shoulders and then strike using the strength of their arms. This is not effective, of course. But if the shoulder is the origin of the force, then we strike that shoulder, weaving our bodies away from the strike at the same time. If he kicks, we may gently re-direct his kick with our palm but at the same time, strike his hip. We look at the opponent in terms of how the force is being generated and directed. We strike to interfere with that force as much as possible, rendering the opponent’s actions ineffective.
In grappling, direct his force into your center. This brings the arena of action into your center where you have the most control. As he grabs you, notice each contact point and the direction of his force from each contact point. Re-arrange your body so that the force from each contact point goes to your tan-tien, and into your hips and legs. Direct the interaction from there. If he twists your arm to lock a joint, notice the direction of his forces. In this case, align his forces with both your own center and with his shoulder. Receive his force in a spiral manner towards your center and then back outward into his shoulder. This is an advanced training which is hard to contemplate without direct instruction from a teacher (as is the case, really, with all of Tai-chi-Chuan training).
MOVE AWAY FROM YANG AND INTO YIN – When the opponent strikes, we call that “Yang”. That is where he is concentrating his force. We move away from Yang and into the “Yin” areas of his body. We never move away from him (we stick with him), except in rare cases to create the element of surprise. We are always moving into his “Yin” and striking. If we were to move into his “Yang” (as in blocking his strike) then we would be placing our attention at the focal point of his power. This puts us into a vulnerable position. Blocking also wastes a move and if the opponent is big and strong, your arm may get hurt. Let him strike. It is your job not to be where he is striking, but not to move his arm or leg out of the way. Let him wear himself out.
STAY ROOTED – Each joint must sink into your root. The root is the weight of the body, sinking into the ground. Each joint individually connects with the ground so that every point in the body has an active connection to the ground. When you strike, your weighted leg presses into the ground as you strike. This creates a pressure within the body which then explodes into the punch or kick. The strength of a grappling opponent is drained through each of your joints into the root and provides you with even more compressed force. Furthermore, this draining of his force then provides you with a direct “route” back into the origins of his force.
These are some of the basic principles of Tai-chi-Chuan (and Phantom Kung-fu) sparring. There is an excellent movie showing Tai-chi sparring – “The Tai-chi Master”. While the plot and the editing of the film makes it a bit hard to follow, the sparring is genuine (though exaggerated) and is a rare opportunity to see how Tai-chi is truly the “Grand Ultimate Martial Art”.