Tai Chi Fighting 

In ancient times, the two-person Tai Chi Fighting matching set was taught by some masters to only a handful of trusted students as a part of the final training of Taijiquan as a sophisticated and extremely effective fighting art. 

Deflect a thousand pounds with four ounces...” 

The Yang style fighting set which I learned from my master is a combination of 88 techniques from pushing hands and the solo Taijiquan sequence, and it serves as a bridge connecting pushing hands with real fighting. Like pushing hands, it teaches you how to sense your opponent’s actions and intentions, and it also teaches footwork and how to set up your strategy, making your fighting skill more realistic and alive. Anyone who is proficient at the solo sequence and pushing hands should be able to learn this form easily, and make it part of their practice routine. 

Many Taiji practitioners misunderstand the Taiji fighting set, and treat it as something that should not be attempted until their skill is at a very high level. As a matter of fact, it may be profitably practiced by mid-level students, as long as they take extra care not to build up bad habits. When doing the fighting set you must still follow all the basic principles that were emphasized in pushing hands, such as differentiating substantial and insubstantial, not meeting force with force, and always adhering to the opponent. Once you have learned the fighting set you must learn how to analyze it so that you understand not just how to do a particular technique, but also why. You must understand the set well enough so that it becomes alive - then you can be creative and vary the way you practice. 

A fighting set can only offer you guidelines for Taiji fighting. In a real fight, you will generally need more techniques and skills than what you have practiced in pushing hands and the fighting set. Most external Chinese styles have more than one fighting set so that students can prepare for a greater number of the situations which occur in real fights. Also, most masters of external styles encourage qualified students to create fighting sets for practice. This forces them to really analyze their art, and improves their free fighting. It is also desirable to do this in Taijiquan once you have achieved a high level of ability and thoroughly understand the theory and techniques. If you are not qualified and you start to create, you will tend to create routines that build up bad habits, and this may get you hurt in a fight. You usually need twenty years of learning and practice before you are qualified to create a new sequence. 

Every martial style has rules and characteristics that are followed in the training. If you disobey these rules, you are doing something different, and not the original style. For example, Tiger style specializes in using the muscles with the support of Qi (Hard Jin) . If you start following the principle of using soft against hard in your training, you are changing a basic characteristic of the style, and can no longer call what you are doing Tiger style. In Chinese martial arts, the rules and special training of each style are usually hidden in secret key words, called Kou Jue (Oral Secrets). They are also commonly hidden in poetry and songs, which are secretly passed down from generation and generation. When you practice, if you do not follow the rules and principles originally stated in these songs, you are doing something else, which cannot be called Taijiquan.

Taijiquan has many rules and principles of its own. As you train, you may tend to emphasize particular aspects of the art, or devise training methods that develop particular skills. This is how the various styles of Taiji originated. Over the years, each style has developed its own secret songs and poems which express and define its character. However, all Taiji styles must still follow the basic classical poetry, or else they will stray from the true nature of Taiji. 

We will now list the general rules and principles of Taijiquan. If you follow them conscientiously you will learn Taiji with a minimum of error, and may someday be able to create your own sequence.

1. Soft Against Hard:

The first and most important principle of Taijiquan is soft against hard. If you disobey this principle, you are in conflict with the original idea of Taijiquan. In order to train using weakness against strength you must thoroughly understand yielding, neutralizing, and leading. Soft against hard means sticking and following, and not resisting. If you resist, then what you are doing is more like an external style. Of course, there are times when you are obliged to resist, but your resistance should be of a very short duration. You use it only when you must borrow some time to escape from a very disadvantageous situation.

2. Slow Follows Slow and Fast Follows Fast:

This is probably the second most important principle in Taijiquan. Slow follows slow and fast follows fast means adhere-stick. When you adhere-stick skillfully, your opponent feels that you are like a piece of flypaper sticking to him, and he cannot get rid of you. This is the technique of "Not losing your opponent." If you can use adhere-stick well, together with yielding, neutralizing, and leading, you will be able to put your enemy in a passive and disadvantageous situation. In order to adhere-stick, you must be good at listening and understanding. All of these are the root of Taijiquan. Without this root, your Taiji will be dead.

3. Access Open Doors and Windows:

Martial artists in every style need to know how to access the opponent's open doors and how to open his windows. You must know your opponent's open doors, whatever stance he uses, and you must also know where your own open doors are so that you can prepare for your opponent's attack. A fighting set must train both sides to access and defend the open doors, which helps both sides to develop a sense of enemy. You must also know how to open the windows whenever the opponent's doors are closed or when he is prepared. The techniques which Taiji uses are very different from most external styles. Taijiquan specializes in using coiling, silk reeling, wrapping, and controlling to open the opponent's window for an attack. In accessing the open door and in opening the windows, footwork is extremely important. If you do not understand the trick of using your footwork to set up fighting strategy, your opponent will not have to worry too much about his doors and windows and will be able to seal them tightly, rendering your techniques ineffective.

4. Jin has Root:

Sometimes people create fighting sets with techniques which, if they were used in a real fight, would not be able to hurt the enemy. This is because their fighting set does not follow the principle of rooting the Jin. Every Jin needs a root in order to generate power, just like an arrow needs a bow to accumulate and emit energy. The root of Jin can be in the legs, waist, shoulder, chest, or even the elbow. If you create a fighting set with techniques which have no power, then even if you can access the enemy's vital areas, you will not be able to attack them effectively. Furthermore, such techniques will only create opportunities for your opponent to attack you. Therefore, in every technique you should be able to generate Jin quickly and effectively, so that you will be able to use it in a real fight. In addition to having a root to the Jin, each technique must also be able to direct the Jin to the target easily. If this cannot be done, the Jin is useless. Therefore, you must consider the root of Jin as well as the places which coordinate and direct it - the waist and elbows.

5. Connected and not Broken:

The techniques in a fighting set must be connected and not broken. This helps the practitioner develop a sense of realism in his give and take with his partner, and builds the habit of connecting offense and defense. For example, when you block down, you must sense that your upper body is exposed to attack. In the same way, when your opponent blocks your attack down, you should realize that his upper body is exposed and attack him immediately. This practice will help you to build up a natural sense for the connection between offense and defense. You should also understand that many techniques which are effective in a real fight are not suitable for a fighting set. An effective technique will usually put the opponent in a position where he has no defense. However, techniques like these stop the motion or disturb the continuity of a two-person set. For this reason fighting sets tend to emphasize strategic techniques which allow both sides to practice accessing open doors and opening windows, as well as closing open doors and windows.

6. Techniques must be Alive and Fluid:

This is related to rule 5 above. The techniques for both sides of a fighting set must be fluid and alive, or you will not be able to practice it without stopping. For example, muscular grabbing techniques should not be included, because if one side is grabbed tightly, the other side must resist and use force to escape, which would tend to stop the practice. However, it would be all right to include a grabbing technique that the other side could neutralize before complete control was gained, because it would not break the flow of the action. The set should train you to exchange substantial and insubstantial as you move smoothly from offense to defense and back.

7. Techniques must be Practical:

When you combine techniques into a fighting set, you must understand how different situations can be advantageous or disadvantageous in a fight. If there is an awkward position, stance, or posture in the set, you will build up bad habits which will allow your opponent to attack you. For example, when your right leg is forward, your right hand will naturally become the master attacking and defending tool, and the left hand will become the assistant. This is because, when your right leg is forward, your right hand is closer to your opponent than your left hand, and can therefore attack and defend sooner.

In conclusion, a fighting set must obey the original rules and principles, and above all must make sense. The closer a set is to a real fight, the better it is. Imagination is important, but you should not lose the sense of realism. Remember that you should only create new sequences when you thoroughly understand the theory and principles of your system.

Remember, the most important thing you can do is to start analyzing the techniques. Until you understand why a technique is done, and why it works, you will remain at the lowest level of achievement. You should understand that there are so many ways to use each technique. It is up to you to research and analyze the movements, and discover the many possible applications. 

 Fighting and the Taiji Classics are discussed in greater detail in the book Tai Chi Chuan Martial Applications, and in the Taiji Fighting Set VHS from YMAA.com.