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There are five key elements which form the basis of this style of Tai Chi (that is the methods deriving from and evolving from the Master Cheng Tin Hung’.

The key self defence training exercises come under the category known as ‘San Shou’, which i believe translates accurately to scattering hands.

In this art there are 48 different base ‘applications’. These are simple and direct defences and counterattacks. The priority is always simplicity and a basis in reality, in accordance with Tai Chi’s Taoistic origins/influences.

Each of the 48 drills trains key skills. Some drills and exercises train much more than one key skill, others are very simple. When practicing them you have to infuse them with all the Tai Chi concepts outlined in the classics. These will help with technical details, make good strategy muscle memory and also help you attain more sublime flow states where the prized ‘Wu Wei or effortless action can take place. At this stage you are extremely still during the high intensity motion of the practice. ‘Stillness in Motion’ is one of the prizes sough after by proper Tai Chi practice, which means the mind is very still and reflective even in the heat of the most intense battle. ‘Flow’ is the western term for this and is measurable by considerably altered brain wave states.

When learning Tai Chi san Shou it is advisable to take your time, learn the most basic movements first and practice them thoroughly until they become muscle memory. From here it’s essential to add a degree of spontaneity to your training. Changes of rhythm, speed, angle, distance as well as mixing right or left sided attacks started to make the techniques and strategies become ’embodied’.

As you develop a decent level of skill in a few of the rock solid foundation kicks, punches, evasions and defences you can start to amp up the speed and spontaneity to the point where both partners can attack and defend each other in a smooth exchange. sometimes you will be providing attacks for your partner in a way which you believe he can easily deal with, other times you will practice more selfishly and seek to very gently land your attack, training your own timing and and counterattacking skill. In other words the practice should be somewhat competitive at times and also somewhat cooperative, so that you assist in your partners development.

At all times you should be doing your best to relax, enjoy the process and let your well trained techniques appear spontaneously. For this to happen regular practice for long durations is essential, regularly incorporating both ‘rote drilling’, especially for less familiar techniques and moving through the spectrum of spontaneity to free practice.

At a certain point it is also advisable to introduce elements of real aggression from the attackers viewpoint, so that your partner trains himself to be used to dealing with it in the required Tai Chi manner, that is with total relaxation and coolness. Aggressive full power, full speed attacks, complete with aggressive facial expressions and even shouts is the traditional method of helping students to remain calm and spontaneous when faced with real aggression in self defence.

Below is a video of some light but spontaneous San Shou training, with some focus on certain key techniques within the flow.

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