Monday Morning Tai Chi Training Tip – #308
Understanding Principles.
I want to remind you, as I do so often, that Tai Chi is not just a qigong exercise, or simple exercise program. It is a martial qigong exercise. It evolved from a combination of kung fu and qigong, and as foreign as the martial arts are to most people nowadays, we must be real and stick to the organizing principles. Almost all the students who I work with are not interested in self defense, but in order to get the form correct, and create the shape that allows the most energy to flow with the least resistance, you must know applications and principles. You don’t have to work with a partner in order to understand, but it sure helps.
This week in the Park, we started to work on the Partner Cane Form. Not only is it fun to play, useful as a skill, but very instructive in explaining principles.
The first principle is that speed is the most important element (the others being power and technique). The person who gets to the goal first usually wins. That is easily seen in cane play. The cane is lightweight, usually sort of whippy. It can be moved very quickly and easily directed to a small target, like the opponent’s hand, wrist, knee, or head. The cane is not a killing weapon, but one meant to keep unwanted people or animals at a distance. There is a saying in China – “Beware of old man with a cane”.
Speaking of distance, let’s say the average cane is about three and a half feet in length. Add to that the distance from shoulder to hand (about three feet) and we end up with around six feet from the opponent (coincidentally, around the distance we are supposed to, in this time of covid, maintain from others).
So the second principle we become aware of is either keeping a safe distance or closing the distance and flanking the partner. If a student has never worked on a partner form, it is difficult to understand distance. Too close (moving into the opponent’s area of strength), and it is easy to get attacked. Too far and I can’t join with the opponent’s energy to understand direction and force. Working with a weapon, like a cane, sword, saber, staff, one learns to send the sense of touch a distance away.
Weapons also teach lightness and solidness of movement. We learn how to move when the opponent moves, how to fake body movement to gain an advantaged position. Say the opponent is coming in with his right side (bare handed or with a weapon). I have several options. The first is to run (move) away. That usually leads to the opponent continuing to chase me.
The second is to move in and flank him. If partner has his left foot forward, I move towards his left side (my right), he will be in an awkward position to deal with me. His left forward foot blocks his right hand and right leg from a clear pathway to me.
In the Yang form, if my opponent has his right foot forward and strikes at me with his right arm, I move left, join his right striking arm with my right arm, and as I lead him into emptiness to my right, I step in with my left foot and follow with a push or strike with my left forearm, (Ward Off Left). If he attacks with his left arm, I join with my left arm, step in or behind with my right foot, and return the energy with my right arm (Ward Off Right).
Something you will see in the weapons forms and the solo forms is the change of level and distance of attack. As the cane illustrates, there are three levels of attack and defense – lower (below the waist), middle (torso), and upper (head). These levels are always mixed up when playing the form. Lots of fakes to one level and attacks to a different one.
With a cane, the distance is pretty well established due to the length of the cane, but in solo form it keeps changing. If I strike out at an opponent with my fist and it is neutralized, I fold and attack with the elbow, and if that is neutralized, I fold and come in with the shoulder.
The same with the feet and lower body. Kicks are followed by stomps, followed by knees, followed by hips. It is so interesting, I think, to figure all this out. Once you get the idea, it will be fun to put it all together. Weapons forms study helps.
Cane Form can easily be learned by studying my video series up on YouTube:
The lessons (photos and words) are also up at my site. Just click on, then Online Classes, then Partner Cane Form.