Other than the fact that it's name can be translated as The Supreme Ultimate Fist, Taijiquan has always been noted as a highly effective combat art. It first became widely noted as a combat art when the art was brought to the capital of China, Beijing, by Yang Lu Chan when he taught at the imperial court. Yang was challenged many times but no one ever came close to defeating him. So great was his skill that the martial artists bestowed on him the title Yang The Invincible.
More recently Yang Lu Chan's grandson, Yang Cheng Fu, promoted the art until it spread far and wide. Yang Cheng Fu taught his art as a combat art which can be used to strengthen the body, his three books attest to this fact. There is no substance to the commonly believed assumption that Yang Taijiquan is solely health oriented and not combat effective. By practicing Taijiquan as a martial art, one can gain the health benefits.
Yang Cheng Fu, in his book The Practical Application of Taijiquan wrote:
In Taijiquan, the ability to cultivate oneself physically and spiritually, but not to defend oneself, is civil accomplishment. The ability to defend oneself, but not to cultivate oneself, is martial accomplishment. The soft Taiji method is the true Taiji method. The ability to teach the art of self-cultivation and self-defense, both cultivation and application, is complete civil and martial Taiji.In these modern times, with the advent of modern weapons of both individual and mass destruction, the civil or health giving aspects have been emphasized more. The full art, however, as the above words explain, consists of both civil and martial portions. One without the other is incomplete. The civil aspects of Taijiquan have been much written about but the martial or combat aspects which are combat principles, applications, etc, are little known and in danger of being lost. As a martial art, Taijiquan is very different from the hard hitting external forms of martial arts.
-- (translation adapted from Douglas Wile's translation).
What is combat Taijiquan like then? It is certainly not about great power even though Taijiquan is capable of generating great power. The Classics state clearly that the art is not based on great power. Once, when Yang Pan Hou had bested an opponent and was proud of himself because of it, Yang Lu Chan, his illustrious father pointed to Pan Hou's torn sleeve and said that he was happy that Pan Hou had won but did he use Taijiquan to win? The implication is of course that a torn sleeve is a sign of inappropriately used great power. Yang Lu Chan's own boxing was so soft that it was nicknamed cotton fist or neutralising fist and was once berated as not being combat effective because of its softness, a point which Yang refuted by promptly defeating the antagoniser. More on this later on...
The following are some of the key elements used by Taijiquan exponents in combat.
A Word About Anatomical Weapons
The anatomical weapons in Taijiquan are not rigorously hardened like in external styles of martial arts. This is because it is not hardness of the weapon but the energy within it that is the effecting component. If the correct structure of the anatomical weapon is maintained, then structurally it will be substantial and able to deliver telling blows with much power without recourse to hardening. The appropriate efficient use of strength usually does not entail vast quantities of it to obtain the desired effect. The principles behind the adage of deflecting a thousand pounds with four ounces hold true in Taijiquan.
That is why instead of deflecting, resisting and absorbing an opponent's attacking force, Taijiquan exponents evade, redirect and blend with it. Evade means simply to move out of his way. In any attack, there are only limited points of attack, so simply removing yourself out of his attacking focus by a change of position negates it. Upon contact, it is not a hard block but a blending with the attacking part by yeilding, sticking and following his momentum, joining his energy and redirecting it to your advantage.
Through Nian Jing or sticking energy we can then develop Ting Jing or listening to energy which is the sensitivity to detect the opponent's strength, its origin, trajectory, magnitude and component vectors. Once we are able to detect his energy movement and his centre of mass, we can effectively know his intent and control it by affecting the energy flow and centre of mass efficiently.
Borrowing his strength is essentially utilising his own strength against himself, either by causing it to over extend or to channel it through your own body structure back to him. He is literally then hitting himself and there is little expenditure by way of energy for the Taijiquan exponent.
This following of the opponent's structure is first learnt from Push Hands, which is why it is important that it not degrade it to a choreographed exercise. Sensing the movements and responding to them is correct rather than just going through the motions and not sensing them. If he does not move, you should not move, but even static, there will be structural flaws that can be detected by the touch and one can attack them by moving first. But be always aware of a possible trap, even during an attack, sensing plays a very important role in avoiding traps by responding in mid-attack and countering the trap.
So is the appropriate use of great power then the key? No it isn't. Power in excess of what is required to achieve the neutralisation and control is inherently unstable. Refining the process till it becomes so efficient that minimum power can produce maximum effect. Then even an old man can best a young and strong one, not with more power but with the intelligent and efficient application of the body.
That is why masters like Zheng Man Qing can send a 200 pound man flying across the room but can find a bowling ball too heavy for him to carry on with the sport (example taken from Mr Lowenthal's book on Master Zheng). The seeming paradox is no paradox at all once one understands it.
The energy can be developed from the rear foot, the front foot or from one to the other. All the joints in the body work coordinatively and smoothly without tension to transfer, amplify and focus the generated energy to the point of attack. This type of energy is usually the first to be manifested by the exponent and though it can be spectacular, it does not cause very serious injury.
The fastest application of such energy is called Leng Jing or Cold Energy. The reason it is called this is that the emission was so sudden that it catches the opponent by great surprise, so great it became fright, causing him to break out in cold sweat.
What this skill really means is that with an incoming object at speed, the body or contact point, by sticking and yeilding attains almost the same speed as the object. This means that since the acceleration of the object and the contact point is nearly the same, their relative speed to each other is small. By listening to the object's centre and vectors, an appropriate minimum vector can be applied to change the object's trajectory. If it is a balanced object, it can be easily pushed, if it is not it can be easily redirected. This is what Zheng Man Qing meant that in Jie Jing one must first attract the object first then throw it away.
This practice also ensures that the mind is concious of every part of the movement and every tiny movement of the body. Sensitivity is thus trained to a very fine degree as is the response to such minute stimulii. As the Classics state the goal quite clearly, to be so light and sensitive that a feather cannot be added nor a fly alight.
There are situations where the skills and principles above require some augmentation to make them even more effective. This is usually where the opponent's skill level is high enough so that an effective counter is not possible using less injurous means. With such situations stronger discouragement is required and to cater for such eventualities, Yang Taijiquan has four advanced combat skills. These four skills can only be learned and applied effectively after one is able to understand each individual portion of any technique. In other words, one must be able to comprehend and put into practice the feet, tenths, hundreth parts and thousandth parts in Taijiquan. These four skills are recorded in the handwritten manual handed down from Yang Lu Chan. It must be noted that the four skills are not used entirely on their own but are integrated to form a comprehensive system of attack and defence built upon the basics of stability, sensitivity, agility and efficient use of the body and energy.
Accupoints are divided into fatal and non-fatal accopoints. Fatal accupoints are only used in a life and death situation as they are cause death very quickly and should not be used indiscriminately. Non-fatal accupoints are used to simply disable or incapcitate the opponent without causing too much harm. There are also accupoints that are more effective at different times of the day depending on the qi flow in the body. These timed strikes are of a more insidious nature as they are used for delayed killing or assassinations.
A short list of some of the accupoints used in Taijiquan is provided but readers are advised against using them unless absolutely necessary and to refrain from experimentation as the recovery techniques should be properly understood before one should practice with accupoints. Even then it is advisible not to practice them with any sort of impact since any accupoint strike on the body is a severe disruption of the body's systems and will have an affect on health of the body, both in the long term and in the short term. In most cases, even after remedial massage and accupoint treatment is carried out, herbs are taken to strengthen and stablise the body in order to eliminate any after effects.
Grasp Sparrow's Tail:
The result of this is that his body is unstable, rendering him vulnerable to serious injury should the the Taijiquan exponent chooses to do so. The locks and holds also cause sprains, tears of the musculature and dislocations of bones at the joints which further disable the opponent.
Positional and structural advantage and use is essential to restrict and control his body. This is possible to a fine degree through the tactile sensitivity attained through dilligent practice in pushing hands and sparring hands.
A good knowledge of the body's qi meridians is necessary as is the results of their disruption and blockage. As with the above skills, the opponent own body and energy is used against himself through superior information via tactile sensitivity and appropriate efficient application to obtain the desired result.
Often, this healing function is learned first before the harming function is taught. This ensures a proper disposition and respect for the skill as well a firm grounding in the theoretical base and its practical application. It is because these skills are so destructive that they are seldom taught and a large proportion of exponents in the art are not aware of their existance. They are passed on only to the most trusted of disciples who will not abuse them but use them for the benefit of all mankind.
Above all, Taijiquan exponents are encouraged to be moral people. A sense of righteousness, chivelry, kindness, compassion, nobility and being a benefit to society should always be the code of conduct for a Taijiquan practitioner. A good example of a moral Taijiquan exponent will be the great master Sun Lu Tang who was not only a great martial artist but also a great man. A practitioner should embody the principles of his art and apply its strategems and philosophies in their dealings with all things.
The aim of Taijiquan as a martial art is to stop violence conclusively without recourse to more violence, most of the time the violence is redirected against itself or rendered ineffectual. Hence Taijiquan exponents usually just overpower their opponents by turning their own violence against themselves, educating them rather than hurting them. Violence begets violence but by making violence not an option by rendering it pointless, since in Taijiquan it acts against itself, the destructive cycle is broken and a more rational, less confrontational solution becomes the most effective.
Can Taijiquan be used as an attacking art? Yes, but violence should only be the last recourse, never the first. Ego has no place in Taijiquan as it gets in the way of efficient practice and usage of the art. Violence is seldom the solution to a problem and all life is precious and should be treasured. Taijiquan itself is an art to prolong life, in peace and in combat. In practicing Taijiquan as a combat art, peace is learnt and cherished. We learn the art that we may never have to use it. That with the knowledge of violence and its consequences, we choose to avoid it.
Peter Lim Tian Tek -- Singapore
It is wisdom to know others; it is enlightenment to know one's self
-- Lao Tzu (6th century BC)
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