We know that practice of the Hand Form is good for health. Many ‘masters’ have a first-class knowledge of the Hand Form, but little if any knowledge of how to apply the techniques contained therein. It is as if they learn to recite a beautiful poem without being able to understand the words.
Practice of Pushing Hands is not sufficient either, as this is only an exercise to train our bodies and minds in the Strategy of the Five Step Path and the Principles of the Thirteen Tactics. It is a preparatory step to learning the Self-Defence Techniques. Furthermore, in a real fight our opponent will not engage in Pushing Hands with us, but will attack with fist and foot from all directions. If pushing Hands practice was sufficient in itself, what is the purpose of the different styles of the Tai Chi Chuan Hand Form?
What we must do is to learn the application of these styles. Some Tai Chi Chuan ‘masters’ try to interpret the styles themselves or blindly follow the way the styles are used in the Hand Form, as they lack both the experience and knowledge of how to apply them practically. Individual interpretations of the styles from the Hand Form, in the absence of any practical fighting experience, can lead to disastrous results. The same applies where the Hand Form movements are blindly followed, as the requirements and purposes of the Hand Form are quite different from those of combat. If we are to learn the Self-Defence Techniques properly we must follow a capable and experienced Tai Chi Chuan master. We also require a partner to take on the role of opponent. In the absence of another student the master himself will take on this role.
The next step is to learn the Self-Defence Techniques, one at a time. At first we must practice slowly, learning how to respond and then counter-attack when attacked by our opponent. With practice over time we will be able to use the techniques to respond to even the fastest and fiercest attacks of our opponent. Reaching this stage should make us confident of our ability to defend ourselves and we need not fear any attacker. Once we have become well-versed in one technique we can then move on to learn another in the same manner until we become well-versed in all the Self-Defence Techniques.
The final stage which we are aiming at is the ability to combine all the Self-Defence Techniques and make them as one. This ability will only come with constant practice. What it means is that, following the Strategy of the Five Step Path and the Principles of the Thirteen Tactics, we should reach the stage where we apply the styles as a natural reflex action. In other words, just as there is no definite limit to the way we can be attacked, just so there should be no definite limit to the ways in which we respond to such attacks. It is senseless to think only in terms of ‘in the event of attack X use response Y’. We must be able to mix and merge the techniques as the situation demands.
Tai Chi Chuan Self-Defence Techniques also include wrestling techniques which may be used when grappling with our opponent at close quarters or in response to an attempted punch or kick. We must apply these wrestling techniques speedily, with sensitivity and softness, so that we can detect our opponent’s force and use it against him while he is unable to detect ours.
We must learn to be soft and yielding where our opponent is strong, but to be strong where he is weak. In other words we must avoid his strong points and attack his weak points. If he is strong on the right side we must attack the left. If his upper body is strong, we must attack his lower body.
To sum up, we must let our opponent move first, so that we can detect his weak points and use his own force against him in a devastating counter-attack. If our opponent doesn’t move, we should use feints or draw out his attack and then deal with it in the same way as before. To apply this method properly we need to practice the Self-Defence Techniques frequently and under the watchful eye of an experienced master who can advise and guide us in the practical application of the theory.
This is only a brief introduction to Tai Chi Chuan Self-Defence Techniques. One cautionary note we should heed is that such techniques are only of value if we are in a fit state of health to apply them. This means that we must do the Internal Strength training to build up our health and strength because, even if our reactions are good, if we lack striking power we will be unable to counter-attack effectively. This is a particularly dangerous state of affairs if we are facing more than one opponent.