Beaten to the punch

I’m sitting at my desk – mouth and stomach still tingling from the delicious Sichuan mala green beans I had for lunch with my dumplings – and pondering Tabbycat’s latest, No Taiji No Strike.

It probably goes without saying that I agree with his view of what taijiquan is and what it is not. I wasn’t aware that there is a wave of schools teaching “soft taiji striking”, but then I don’t live in the States, and don’t read any of the magazines that propagate these fads and cults (except from time to time, for good reasons, such as the one I’ll come to in a few paragraphs).

Two years ago I mentioned a clip I’d found on YouTube, showing Wu Tu Nan’s student, Professor Huang Zhen Huan, demonstrating some interesting techniques. I think – though it’s only an educated guess – that a lot of what is happening here is softness. The ‘attacker’ exerts force, expecting resistance – but encounters none whatsoever. With his force going into a void, the attacker is unbalanced and must compensate, with a jump, or a step. The taiji master senses this, redirects it, forcing the attacker to compensate again, and establishing a feedback loop that makes the attacker act more and more energetically until he is helpless, or all that energy is used to throw him – the “grab and ricochet” element (as Tabbycat puts it)… And all the time, he feels no energy, no strength coming back at him from the taiji master. He’s learned that the more strength, the more power or violence he introduces into the situation, the more decisive is his own defeat – yet the taiji master seems to have done nothing at all. I suppose that this is what I was trying to communicate when I was saying that taiji seemed to be the only martial art that enlightens the vanquished. This is the combat application of the way in which Yang Lu Chan prevented the bird from leaving his palm…

Incidentally, this is just one example of Tabbycat writing about something that was on my mind. I’m starting to lose count now of the number of blog posts I’ve been musing, but not written – because before I could, Tabby has written something on the same topic, and done so better than I would have… I begin to suspect that he’s the taiji Tyler Durden to my Narrator, sneaking out to publish a blog post while I’m sleeping…

Anyhow, I was going through one of the boxes of stuff that follow me on my peripatetic ways, and discovered an interview with Sim Pooh Ho that was spread across three issues of Tai Chi Magazine a couple of years ago (see, told you). It reminded me that his school of taiji says that if you’re able to reach the point where you can use taji in combat, then you’ve mastered the first 30% – beyond that, the remaining 70% of taiji is spiritual cultivation and development, moving towards enlightenment. Sounds like just what I’m looking for…

In a way, it’s ironic that I should spend years investigating styles, schools and teachers, only to decide to go back to almost the first school I trained with after arriving in Singapore! I need to remind myself of where I started, though – that in 2002, I had only heard rumours that taiji could actually be used to fight, and had never met anyone who knew anything about that… I’d barely heard of bagua and xingyi, and had no idea what they looked like…. You’ve come a long way, baby…


  1. It’s hard to tell for sure what that guy in the Video is doing without feeling it, but it looks like he IS attacking. He is striking with a ball! When you strike with a ball instead of a line or a point, the opponent has no place to go, and no way to stop your attack, thus they all jump out of the way. If he did this to a person who didn’t jump out of the way, that person would get hit. It’s not as complex as you describe it. There is no multi-step process. However, he must create a “I feel you, you don’t feel me” situation by being empty and full at the same time.

    I commented on Tabby Cat’s post too…thanks for point it out.


    1. Hi Scott, thanks for the info. This is the story of most of my martial arts training, though – because I rarely know what my teacher is saying, I have to learn by watching and trying to figure it out… which works only up to a point, and that point has been passed 😦 One reason why I’m looking forward to training taijiquan in more depth in Singapore.


    1. Thanks, Tom! Actually, I was a bit more cunning, and contacted the student who put the clip onto youtube 🙂 We’ve exchanged a few emails, and I do hope to meet Professor Huang – though it’s unlikely I’ll have time to actually train with him… Did you look at his web page?


  2. I contacted that student too . . . who happens to be here in Seattle. I haven ot yet heard back (it was just yesterday). Glad you’re following up. I think there is skill there worth investigating, but you simply have to have the chance to feel it first-hand.

    Thanks for the web-page link; I’ll check it out.


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