View Full Version : Tai Chi Applications

05-31-2005, 08:34 AM
jlm (John), an instructor writing into the forum, expressed an interest in the idea of understanding applications without really practicing them. rather than pass on my thoughts in a thread Dr. Lam has expressed his unhappiness with, I thought I'd answer separately.

I practice internal arts with several instructors, one of whom is completely oriented towards the fighting/self-defense applications of Tai Chi (and other arts). This is a highly skilled fighter who has more than convinced me that his approach is one clear ticket to real martial effectiveness.

We DO practice fixed applications repeatedly, a lot of them. However, he is most interested in conveying the "idea" behind the technique rather than the fixed technique. Sometimes, we run through a drill with partners of very dissimilar stature or skills, and we stop to examine what can be discarded from a technique and what must be kept. As I train, I find myself increasingly able to improvise in a useful way. Actual fights don't go like sparring drills, and it has been written that the more dissimilar the training of the two (or more) combatants, the more "sloppy" the techniques will become. Training for "ideas" rather than fixed methods is a partial solution. Bill

06-01-2005, 04:28 AM
Hi Bill, thank you for posting this. In my original post I actually began by asking a question about the recent history of tai chi, and somehow digressed to discussing some of the martial aspects of training. It's an entirely separate issue of course, but one that is very interesting in it's own right, certainly I think worthy of it's own thread....:-)

I've been aware of course (for a long time) that many people do actually practise the applications. I think that was part of the reason I had this nagging doubt about the idea that it was not necessary to repeatedly practise a technique. I was really interested to learn in the other thread, (where this discussion started), that other people do have the same idea about training. (That idea by the way, to anyone that has not read the other thread, is that it's actually counter-productive to practise applications. You must of course have an understanding of the applications, but it's more important to develop the "tai chi body" - in other words the rooting, relaxing, and sinking - and to develop the sensitivity of pushing hands). The theory is that together, it all leads to an automatic, and hopefully correct, reaction to a confrontation, rather than trying to use a preconceived technique that might not necessarily work. (I hope I'm explaining this correctly!).

It's intriguing Bill that in a way your training has been similar. Even though you've repeatedly practised applications, the emphasis has really been more on learning an idea, as you put it, rather than a "conditioned response".

I can't help but wonder how NOT practising would help when suddenly confronted with real hostility. It may be easier for someone from a martial art background, but if you have no martial training at all, and don't practise applications, how could you be sure you'd be able to relax and sink when it's needed? (There's that lack of faith again...)

I wonder if either attitude has really been tested in a combat situation. It's very difficult to compare and discuss because so much depends on the level of skill of a player, and of course the skill of his opponent. But, I guess, the fact that one idea works doesn't necessarily mean the other won't.

06-01-2005, 10:06 AM
Sorry John

Maybe I was not clear enough on the forum. I didn't say that you shouldn't practise applications at all. In fact I did practice a lot of sparring and applications in Wing Chun.

Also in Tai Chi we did practise applications but please note that one move in Tai Chi has several applications which can be varied according to given situation. This means that it might not be wise to practise just one application with the thought in the back of your mind that it is the only application which is right when something happens. Bill is right about the idea behind the application being more important than the move itself, training quick reactions in case of a fight is crucial and the relaxed Tai Chi body is far more able to respond quickly than a tense body directed by a tense mind. Again, the Tai Chi body, the healthy, relaxed and focused body driven by the mind is utmost important. Once CYJ pulled a flexible branch from a hanging tree and told me that a Tai Chi body was like that.

Last but not least, street fighting is different from sparring drills. A street fight is dirty and vicious which means that you need a somehow destructive agressive attitude when confronted with the enemy.

Chen YIng Jun told me a story that he was practicing in the park when suddenly an agressive Caucasian approached him and told him to **** off, Asian crap. CYJ didn't move from the spot, he looked at him intensely, at any time ready to deliver a kick and the guy ran away.

06-01-2005, 10:50 AM
although doing push hands and knowing applications will definitely help a TC practitioner, I don't feel it is absolutely necessary to know or practice this to develop good TC form, especailly if their goal is only to improve their health. I have practiced with several folks who have excellent form and don't know anything about its application or have never done push hands.

06-01-2005, 11:03 AM
it's interesting to speculate whether a t'ai chi fighter can be produced from someone who has NOT learned applications;
i would say no simply because applications do two important things;
1) reenforce proper posture positioning (and can always be used to provide a reference later if you are unsure of a posture or transition.i've had students ask me if they're doing something wrong and i always refer them to the root martial application of whatever it is they're having problems with);If you do not have proper body positioning within a posture your movement will be ineffective,it's that simple.
2) showing how "body mechanics" really works and allowing you to understand through doing.
Having said that i have read more than a few books where teachers claim their students have been actually able to demonstrate SOME of the fighting skills of t'ai chi chuan after a year of practicing the form only.

Soraya,standing still is one of the most threatening postures to animals or humans

06-01-2005, 05:39 PM
Erwins, I can only respond from personal experience. I spent many years just learning forms, and I thought my tai chi was pretty good.....:-) Until recently I would have agreed wholeheartedly with you. In fact I could give you a link to another web site where I said exactly the same thing as you! But, when I started to work with applications and especially pushing, I was very quick to learn that some basic faults in my form were being revealed. I think you have to actually try it to understand. All the theorising won't give you the feeling of being uprooted because your stance is wrong. I'm not saying everyone MUST do pushing, I'm saying it adds another dimension and a deeper understanding to your practise.

I've just realised I probably should have been a bit clearer about what I mean by practising applications. What I really meant is actually free sparring with a partner. You have to "practise" to understand of course, but usually in my case that practise has been very controlled. We have also talked about how there are a number of interpretations for each form, but also that your reaction has to be in accordance with what's actually happening in the moment, rather than a preconceived technique. It's the principle of sticking and following your opponent.

Soraya, I've heard a similar story about my teacher's teacher. He was also confronted by someone who was extremely aggessive, but the attitude of relaxing and waiting somehow conveyed itself and the person thought better of attacking.

Shark, I've heard it said too, that just doing forms can convey some of the fighting skills. I've even heard of an incident when it was used quite effectively. But I think that was a very unusual exception, and without some "practise" of applications, whether it's controlled (like mine) or sparring, it must be almost impossible for someone to be able to use it effectively.

06-01-2005, 10:01 PM
Planning to attend an internal arts expo where one of the workshops will be on Cili-quti Jin - Magnetic Human Body Power. I've never heard of this but it sure sounds interesting. They say it is possible to lead another's qi and physical body with a light touch. or even no touch.

They state it is a method of tapping into another person's nervous system so they respond to your actions even in the middle of a confrontation--now that's the kind of application i really like! No need to worry about running, or fighting, just controlling without much effort. Sounds too good to be true, but we'll see. I know that many things in martial arts seem impossible, but have seen where some of these seemingly mysterys are indeed possible in the right hands.

Has anyone out there heard of this Wudang internal training? Your responses would be appreciated.


06-03-2005, 05:28 AM
I have not heard specifically of the type of training you mentioned. however, my Xingyi/Bagua instructor frequently speaks of something akin to this, although in physiological terms.

Everyone knows that the application of a technique can create discomfort, or sometimes trigger reflexes in the opponent's nervous system. The goal for many of our internal applications, however, is to trigger a different internal response, one which is less easily overidden than simple pain. For lack of a better term, a "fear response," is the goal. My teacher notes that the biology of it isn't fully understood, but that it is associated with great activity in the brain structure known as the amygdala.

What is this like in practical terms? Typically these are fa jing techniques that involve more than one sudden UNINTENDED changes in balance or direction on the part of the receiver. A tug in one direction leads to a resistence; you reverse your tug, pushing instead; feeling the reversal, your opponent counters, only to receive a sharp jolt as you pluck back in the original direction. With practice, you get a sense of what the opponent isn't expecting.

On the receiving end, you get a sense of losing control, that is only worsened by efforts to counter. If you have ever stubbed your toe, almost fallen, and felt a "shock" through your system immediately on regaining your balance, you know the feeling. Near misses in a car crash have lead me to feel that same shock.

Some VERY SKILLED practitioners can create this by the very softest push hands methods. I read a report of an amatuer, probably my own level, pushing with a real master, and having the sense of, "standing on the edge of a cliff, on the verge of falling." I've felt some of this on occasion, but haven't pushed with a real master. Soraya and some of the others on the board who have trained with the best practitioners could probably describe this sensation better. It takes great sensitivity on the part of the practitioner, however.

My teacher claims, and I believe him, that antagonists don't leave you alone because you cause them pain; rather, the FEAR of pain or further disruption of their equilibrium is what makes them end a conflict. Bill

06-06-2005, 10:28 AM

Thank you for a very informed reply--you seem to have much knowledge with the internal arts. Take care, best wishes and please continue your fine posts.


06-06-2005, 02:30 PM

I haven't heard of "Cili-quti Jin - Magnetic Human Body Power", but I've seen a video (in fact, I might even have it in my basement somewhere) where a Bagua master used his chi on an attacker by barely touching the attacker and throwing him to the ground. Now I'm not sure if it was a staged act, but apparently this master could perform something similar to what you described. I would really like to experience this myself, then I can really say if it really is possible.

Where and when is this internal expo? If it's near enough, I might like to attend.


06-06-2005, 08:56 PM
I rummaged through my basement and found the vhs tape. If interested it is called, "Fighting Techniques of Pa Kua Chang - Vol 6, by Sifu Jerry Alan Johnson".
If I remember, the demo of him throwing the attacker to the ground is towards the end. Like I said, I don't know if the throw is staged, but from what I can see, it looks authentic. Plus, his stylel and knowledge seem to correspond with his skill level.

06-07-2005, 07:01 PM
man,you guys are so into special effects;there are all kinds of stories about masters snuffing out candles from great distances with their chi and pushing groups of people from accross the room but it's all b.s.
the "electric shock" as bill descibes it is real;i felt it when my teacher was using me for an applicaton of raised hands; i felt the shock coming off his arms as he took me to the ground and came just short of dislocating my shoulder,(i started to feel it separate)..it's, as bill describes,a bit like hitting your funny bone

06-07-2005, 08:28 PM
Hi Erwin:

Could you tell me what part of the country you are from so i can respond to you about the expo? Thanks to you and all the others with your replies. Take care and best wishes.


06-08-2005, 08:12 AM
If you've ever practiced with a high-level practitioner of Aikido, you may have experienced throws which depend essentially on tricking or luring the receiver (Uke) into expecting resistance that then disappears when you lean into it. When I've been thrown by the best of these fighters, I've had a sense of being disoriented and going down almost without knowing how it happened. As a Tori (thrower), I never developed the skill to do this reliably.

HOWEVER, there seems to be a certain degree of cooperation between the Tori and Uki for this to work properly, and it is a HIGHLY skilled method. Even against 10-15 year practitioners, I was dubious that the throws would be reliable if I plowed straight in with Karate or my Western wrestling techniques. It is definitely not possible to learn to execute these effortless throws without exhaustive training. Robert Smith, who trained briefly at Ueshiba Morihei's original school of Aikido was dubious, and was unable to get the top people there to demonstrate on him. He does report once seeing a renowned Aikido master make hash of 5 definitely uncooperative Judo players, but that was a great master with a lifetime of training with Ueshiba himself. Bill

06-12-2005, 01:23 AM
This is a fascinating discussion, with lots of knowledgeable participants...When my concentration is good enough, I try to visualize the applications as I practice. The better I can do this, ths stronger-feeling the qi...

Richard Livingston, MD

06-12-2005, 02:44 AM
I was hanging the washing out yesterday, and I noticrd the similarity with a slight variation to WAVE HANDS LIKE CLOUDS!

06-12-2005, 09:22 AM
OUr teacher said that you should practice the form while constantly visualizing an imaginery opponent.

My mother used to teach her TCA group using"washing windows" as a guidance to"cloud hands". She also said when doing the move"embrace the tiger, pushing the mountain" to really imagine embracing a wild tiger and pushing Mt. Everest. One of the very frail students suddenly said:"I feel so strong"

06-19-2005, 03:57 PM
Hi Bob,

I'm in Colorado.


06-19-2005, 04:10 PM
Hey BillT,

Althogh this is a bit off topic, I agree with your points on Aikido throws. I practiced Aikido for a number of years and decided to quit because the throws didn't seem to work well if the attacker didn't attack with 100% committment. I tested this with the black belts at my school, and if I didn't give full commitment, they couldn't or had difficulty throwing me. Maybe their skill level wasn't good enough either, but I never got to "test" the master at my school and didn't really feel it was appropriate. If all his black belts couldn't throw me easily, then from my point of view, the art seemed too difficult to master for a real life situation.

Aside from that negative point, Aikido's joint locking technique are very effective, even at the lower levels, and it was a wonderful aerobic workout, and beautiful to watch.