Monday, August 22, 2005

Search and Destroy

Last month my long time Tai-Chi teacher Nigel Sutton was over in England on one periodic visits from Malaysia, where he's been living for twenty odd years now studying marital arts full time.

Nigel's main art is Tai-Chi, but he has trained in various Chinese Kung-Fu systems (internal and external) as well as holding teaching qualifications in several indigenous Malaysian Silat styles. So yeah he's pretty good and his visits always leave my brain (and body) hurting.

This visit we spent a lot of time going over Tai-Chi's fighting aspects. Tai-Chi can be an enigma to a lot of westerners, when it first appeared in the west it was touted as an alternative health method and it's martial origin's were often either downplayed or ignored. The most common reaction to Tai-Chi when first encountered is 'it's just moving slowly and poncy arm waving isn't it?' (amusingly this confusion is non-existent outside of Europe and the United States).

It's true that taken at face value the slow movements of The Form (which are the core movements of Tai-Chi and what most equate with the whole art) do not seem martial in the slightest, but by actually practicing the moves and understanding the underlying mechanisms one can see what is actually happening.

Tai-Chi is
primarily a principle based art, there is a great saying (which I can't for the life of me remember where it's from) 'Teach a man a technique and he has one technique, teach a man a principle and he has a thousand techniques'. The Form first and foremost teaches correct posture and efficient movement, these are the cornerstones of Tai-Chi and everything else is built on them.

This brings me back nicely to the stuff that Nigel was playing with this time around. Tai-Chi is a close range art, it's strengths come from short range attacks, relaxed strength and heightened sensitivity to an opponents movements. Combined these are ideally used to over-power the attacker by gaining control of the their centre of balance and turning any energy used against them. With this in mind Nigel has come up with 5 points that break down how Tai-Chi works in a combat situation.

  1. Cover the distance - the most dangerous point, the practitioner has move in past the opponents weapon's (fists, feet, whatever) into a comfortable fighting range.
  2. Control - once you're within range you then have to close down the opponent's options using ting-jing to take control of the their centre of gravity. Ting-jing can be roughly translated as listening energy, it's a skill trained within Tai-Chi where you become fine tuned to a persons balance and movement so you can 'stick' and follow them.
  3. Unbalance - once you have control of their centre you can then take them off balance, both physically and mentally (often just the act of getting into someone's space is enough to unbalance them mentally). This can be in the form of a lock, a throw or a strike.
  4. pressurize - now you have them at a disadvantage, you keep them there. Using your control of their centre and strikes/locks/throws you prevent them being able to gather their wits and re-gain control of the situation.
  5. Destroy - the obvious, once you have them off balance and confused, you end the situation decisively and generally nastliy. Yes this isn't very pleasent but then again violence of any kind seldom is.
The important thing to remember here is that once you get into range and gain control, you keep it. Not allowing your opponent to regain their composure or balance.

Another thing that Nigel brought up that is worth expanding on here is the that 'the best arts are reactive and not active'. This is one of those sayings that seems quite basic on the surface but holds a lot of meaning.

If you instigate an attack then there is a conscious decision to make that attack, even if this is just a flicker on across the brain, there is still a lag between thinking of making a move and actually making it. However if you react, simply by instinct, then there is no conscious process so therefore no lag time, this method is summed up in the Tai-Chi classics as 'he moves first, I arrive first'.

Obviously you want to make sure that whatever your action is it's one relevant to the situation, this is where endless hours of repetitive training comes in. By ingraining certain ways of moving into your synapses through training the Form and other exercises, then testing that movement under pressure in push-hands and sparring, you train your body to react instantaneously to an attack without the interruption of conscious thought.


Anonymous paul said...

Hmm, the quote about techniques sounds like one Dave would come out with so it's probably from either:

a. an old man he met while training at a park many moons ago;

b. a very dodgy 80's martial arts movie;

c. Kung-Fu, young glasshopper;

d. from the depths of his vivid & fertile imagination;

e. all of the above!


1:21 am, September 12, 2005  
Blogger Adam said...

Let's face it, it's mostly b. and I've got a long way to go before I can come out with some of his classic metaphors


10:43 pm, September 12, 2005  

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