Tai Chi fighting methodology

The first step is to develop deep familiarity with the Tai Chi fighting applications

Classical Wudang Tai Chi Chuan contains 48 techniques that contain practical ways of applying the ideas of the thirteen tactics whilst incorporating the fundamental yin yang principle.

Each of the drills can be viewed as a technique or drilling, training method, often containing several different techniques within the drill.

In contrast to sport focussed martial arts, Tai Chi Chuan concentrates on mixing different types of techniques in a direct and practical way. So striking and grappling, locking are learned and practiced seamlessly. We should learn to flow continuously through all possibilities, without seeing any distinctions in technique type such as ‘grappling’ ‘locking’ sweeping etc. 

By practicing a lot with the 48 drills you will achieve a level of familiarity and then skill in all types of unarmed combat, learning many different ways to defend, takedown, manipulate, trap and strike.

Train intelligently

As you start your training or continue your practice in Tai Chi Chuan, you have to understand that progress, development and improvements all come first from your mind. It is possible to ‘grind out’ practice week after week, year after year, which will certainly produce some development but eventually you will stagnate and plateau. 

One of the significant advantages Tai Chi Chuan has is a rich body of literature, that is full of ancient insight and wisdom on the topic of martial training.  Some of the writings describe the overriding philosophies upon which the art is based, other sections deal with combat strategy, physical fighting tactics or explain how best to approach the art in terms of movement skill, breathing methods and overall attitude or spirit.

But the number one thing you must always come back to is that first you must seek to understand what you are doing in your mind, and then you must train it so that your body also understands. With experience our understanding is shaped, asking the right questions of your teacher or classmates will help, reading books and watching footage are all good ways of researching the art and increasing your understanding of the various aspects of the art. Experience and reflective practice is probably the primary method.

Below is an example of a Tai chi self defence drill;

Tai Chi Impact training

As you learn the 48 methods, you should incorporate impact training into your practices. Tai Chi Chuan has many striking techniques using all parts of the body. You should practice each of them against heavy bags and against mitts with a partner, who introduces changes and spontaneity. The key principle for any level of ability is persistent practice of the skill. so the more you do it, the better you will get.

So for example if you notice your kicking skill with a certain movement is inadequate, start to perform dozens of even hundreds of the kick on pads or heavy bags as regularly as you can. Improvements will come.

Understanding the skill development process

Training or practicing techniques in a rote manner, with the continued execution of the movement without any external stimulous is good. However, it is limited. In order for the skill in question to translate to improved performance or fighting ability you need to introduce the skill of listening/reading. As you train your partner should introduce changes, so that your mind learns how and when to implement the skill or technique. So for example if you are drilling techniques with a partner you could start by practicing the same movement on the same side over and over. 

Once a level of familiarity has been achieved both sides then you should start to mix up left or right attacks. Changes of rhythm and speed of attack should then be introduced. Angle changes between repetitions should be added. then other various movements or attacks can also be introduced to help the defender properly contextualise the skill they are practicing as something within the realm of freighting, where anything can and will happen.

If you don’t practice more spontaneous drill and practice of your skills you won’t be able to adapt and use them under real pressure. Conversely if you dont do enough basic repletion work you may lose an opportunity for refinement of technique. So view practice as being on a spectrum from yin to yang. From simple and repetitive, through to highly unpredictable and free. 

Approach the following as techniques to be drilled till they become second nature through long and hard practice. Below is a little footage some of our Tai Chi ancestors training in Hong Kong and some of me using some basic Tai chi moves in an old school MMA event.

Classical Tai Chi free fighting drills

1 七星勢 – seven stars style

This is the basic ‘guard’ used in Tai Chi Chuan.  The paradox is that there isn’t actually really a technique’ but more of an understanding of the pros and cons of placing your hands in various places. If you hold your hands low, you will encourage attacks high and vice versa. If you open the  guard wide you may discourage hooks and round attacks and encourage attacks through the centre.  You need to move your guard in such a way as to continually adapts to your more and less vulnerable areas and also the threats  offered by an opponents position and angle. Reeling Silk pushing hands educates the need for a flexible guard well. Holding a long guard gives opportunities for intercepting the opponents attacks early, closing down their angles somewhat. However an extended limb doesn’t have much power generating potential so before you launch your strikes you may well need to recoil first, which is a disadvantage.  Therefore the seven stars guard should be viewed as a concept more than a set in stone technique.  A guard should be viewed as a physical and psychological barrier between you and the opponent, and ideally you want to keep your opponent at a distance of at least four feet if you do’t intend on attacking first (Tai Chi encourages countering). If the opponent is allowed too close before they launch their attack, there won’t be enough time to respond.

2 攬雀尾 – grasping bird’s tail

Grasping the birds tail is one of the important basic drills to master. This style combines a spiralling movement with one arm and a linear movement with the other. The spiralling movement intercepts an opponents circular hook punch early, then stick to and follows the force by turning the waist. Ideally you want to combine this with footwork moving in accordance with the five element movement theory (forward). On the same beat, with the same turn of the waist you use the other hand to apply Ji to strike the opponent. This can then be followed with other techniques to finish. Theres an alternative (more commonly used) method of using the ji aspect of the drill to jam and mobilise the opponents spare hand at the bicep/forearm. This is useful if you want to follow with a throw.

The spiralling arm can be adjusted to intercept and divert a lower hook/swing.

3 單鞭 – single whip

Single whip is the training of hitting whilst holding onto a limb. A normal method of practice is to have the attacker throw straight punches, back fists and spinning back fists at the the defender. Intercept early, with smoothness, following the force as best you can, leading it into a void whilst gripping onto the limb. Counter immediately using the entire power of your legs and body, landing with the hardest part of the palm, to the weakest part of the opponents head or face, such as jaw, temple, nose etc. 

This can then be followed by an elbow break and oblique footsweep, or by a duck under and lie throw with groin strike.

4 斜飛勢 – flying oblique high and low

There are many ways to practice flying oblique. The first is against grabs from the rear. Using the head to strike the opponents face and the proceeding to simultaneously strike their groin area with your hips and create space by extending your arms. Follow this up by stepping with one leg behind the opponent and then extend your arms explosively in two different directions. the opponent should be bent over your rear leg, then you can strike the exposed groin.

Another aspect of flying oblique is the twisting and torquing action whilst sinking. this can be applied to a caught/intercepted roundhouse or straight kick. Applying leverage at the knee and ankle in a downwards spiral you can take down and simultaneously injure the opponent.

5 提手上勢 – raise hands and step up

Divert the attackers lunging punch, so that you intercept the limb and end up in a good posture underneath them.your other arm should strike the groin as you both lift the opponent and pull them downwards over the top of you. Holding onto their arm creates a nastier fall for them.

The second major application is to intercept a kick and then apply a continuous force via their heel in a direction straight back towards them, resulting in them being thrown.

6 白鶴涼翅 – white crane flaps its wings

Intercept and divert an oncoming punch using grasping the birds tail, then step in front of the opponent controlling their waist with your diverting hand. Your stance should be a little squatted down in this position. Extend your legs, project your hips a little past their hips and bend forward taking them off the ground. Applying spiralling force downwards. The hand that isn’t around their waist can strike their groin or apply leverage under the knee.

7 摟膝拗步 – brush knee twist step

Sidestep and and smoothly divert an oncoming kick using a seven star step. Store power in the leg and body as you rotate your waist, uncoil your body and step in towards your opponent as you strike them to the face using your palm (or fist).

8 手揮琵琶 – stroke the lute

Stroking the lute is all about using the age of your hand to strike vulnerable targets. Additionally you can concentrate on using the forearm to divert the opponents strikes. The first primary version has you evade opponents strike and then get behind them using seven star step, and then using the knife edge of your hand to strike the back of the opponents neck. This is extremely dangerous and why striking the back of the head is banned in all combat sports. the second version uses the two parries to divert the opponents one-two straight punch combination, before fluidly countering with chops aimed at the arteries on the side of the neck.The third version has you evade to the side and strike across yourself to the face or neck of the opponent.

9 搬攔捶 – parry, deflect and punch

Parry an oncoming straight punch or kick with the palm or forearm as you step offline. Continue sticking to the opponents limb in the case of punch defence and strike using the full force gf your body towards the weak part of the opponents torso or face. Its best to parry from the outside but in the case of an error it will still work from the inside position (a favourite tactic of the incredible boxer Roy Jones). Ideally you will combine your slip offline with forwards momentum to create a ‘collision’ with the opponent, doubling the impact of your counter strike.

The second aspect of parry and punch is the lower parry which is used against low punches and kick. In the case of low punches you can deliver your counter blow simultaneously.

10 如封似閉 – as if shutting a door

As if shutting a door is primarily a trapping movement, where the initial punch of an opponents one-two attack is parried with the back of our lead forearmed raised upwards. As the second strike comes anew immediately press downwards to smother the blow – lead hand moving to an elbow control position whilst our rear hand controls the near side elbow.  Its a high skill manoeuvre the requires some bravery as we actually move into the opponent whilst moving the head offline. There will be a pressure build up which is encouraged by the final posture of the shutting the door technique. This pressure must be felt and then diverted to the side , from where we can launch extremely effective counters.

The second version involves diverting an initial strike with the outer lead arm. The second strike is diverted with the other arm on the outside position. The arms are then pushed back toward the opponent and then twisted against the vulnerable elbow joint. This will break it. This version can also be used against wrist grabs.

11 抱虎歸山 – embrace tiger, return to mountain

The is used against an opponent who is trying to score and advantageous ‘underhook’ position in a clinch. Follow their intended arm motion but divert it and achieve your own undertook position. This requires smooth movement and sensitivity. At the same time move your stance to the rear of the opponent and place your other hand under their leg. Left immediately using the legs and hips primarily, throwing the opponent onto the head or upper back. The embrace tiger position is also easily achieved by slipping punches and immediately moving to the throwing position. As you lift it is very useful to have the idea of separating the hands.

12 十字手 – cross hands

Cross hands is used to reposition yourself and to confuse the opponent. For example a round kick is diverted using the outer arm, use cross hands to help raise up the limb and pass it to the other side of your body. Combined with lateral footwork you will be at an unexpected angle and be on a good position to counter the opponent. Can be used against punches also. To be effective cross hands needs to be done with a very smooth motion and expert timing.

13 肘底看捶 – fist under elbow

Fist under elbow has two main ideas behind it. This primary one is the use of a lifting motion to raise up the opponents limb to stretch out and make vulnerable their lower ribs, which are struck with explosive force. The second concept is to slip the upcoming punch and then use an uppercut to strike the oncoming punch at the elbow joint. This is introducing the idea of limb destruction, which systematically takes the opponents limbs out of the equation by injuring them.

14 倒攆猴 – step back repulse monkey

Repulse monkey is a back sweep/throw that can be used against punches or caught kicks. The important thing is that the opponent is put off balance before a throw is attempted. The first version shown slips a straight punch and immediately strike the face of the opponent, whilst applying leverage at the elbow. This will put the opponent off balance. The opponents leg is then swept, whilst their head is pushed powerfully downwards towards the floor.

The second version diverts a hooking punch and overlooks the limb at the elbow, whilst simultaneously applying pressure at the face. The opponent can now be swept.

15 海底針 – needle at sea bottom

It is often said if someone is strong on top they will expose vulnerabilities below.  Needle at sea bottom exposes the opponents groin by slipping and diverting a high attack. The power of the whole body is used to strike the groin, expressing the force with just the ridge of the hand for extra impact.

A second powerful version of the technique is to control the wrist of an opponent diverted strike, placing your other hand at the elbow. We then apply leverage in a downwards/upwards manner using the waist. This results in a break at the elbow. 

16 扇通背 – fan through the back

Fan through the back uses the lead limb to divert and oncoming limb upwards, exposing  vulnerable targets in the case of kick defences. Which are immediately struck using the other hand. If the oncoming limb is a punch, it is diverted upwards at the elbow joint (after using head evasion) and the ribs are made vulnerable by raising the opponents arm upwards. Strike the ribs using an explosive palm strike, impacting with the heel of the palm. 

17 撇身捶 – swing fist

Swing fist contains several elements. The first is the use of the forearm, usually of the lead arm, to divert and oncoming low strike or kick. The limb can the be held with the other hand and followed by an arcing back fist and then palm strike. After diverting the blow and controlling the wrist you can use your forearm to apply pressure to the opponents elbow and break it. You can also apply a smooth pivot of the forearm to move into another strong control position/possible break position.

18 雲手 – cloud hands

Cloud hands is all about getting to the outside of a straight line attack and smoothly diverting it whilst also applying pressure to the opponents head or body, in the direction of their intended attack. This can then be reversed with sweeps or throws, which will double their effect via confusion and additional momentum.

19 高探馬 – pat the horse high

Pat the horse is a devastating finishing technique that requires you to slip a straight or divert a circular attack, getting yourself into a balanced and stable position at the front of the opponent. Placing a hand under their chin and at the base of their spine. you then use your two hands to create leverage and applying force in a spiral, firs up and then downwards. This can be done explosively for maximal damage in an emergency, though is likely to result in serious damage, so in practice you need to go gently. 

20 左右披身 – drape body to left and right

Drape the body is rotational attack on the elbow and shoulder joint, done from a clinch or after neutralising a strike. The fist version shows a lower version where the wrist is controlled from the inside and your other armpits in on the opponents elbow bending their limb to a ninety degree angle, from there your hands join to provide strength and then pressure is applied explosively in a spiral downwards.

The second way is to apply the same type of leverage from an outside position. 

21 左右分腳 – separate legs left and right

Separate the legs is a push kick applied with the balls of the feet on the inside position or on the outside position. Targets can be any vulnerable area inlacing the ribs, groin, solar plexus or even jaw/face. I

22 轉身蹬腳 – turn body and kick

Pivoting into an a grab from the rear, use both hands to intercept and grapple and opponents attempt at control, thrusting a push kick into their groin.

23 進步栽捶 – step forward punch down

This technique is used as a limb destruction technique of a caught kick, punching the knee join on the inside, causing damage and throwing the opponent to the ground. 

24 翻身撇身捶 – turn body and swing fist

Swing fist also contains uppercut punches, which can be applied on the inside, such as against and opponents hook, or on the outside where you have slipped a straight attack.

25 卸步七星 – step back seven stars

Step back seven stars uses a diversion combined with evasion to apply a simultaneous strike to the opponents jaw. this can be used as a set up for finishing techniques. A second version is to use a slip to the inside, control the wrist of the opponent and simultaneously apply short explosive power to their extended elbow. If your timing is good you can break the limb.

26 打虎勢 – to beat the tiger

As an opponent attacks using a straight lunging punch, sidestep and intercept the limb applying downwards pressure via dragging the wrist and elbow towards whilst sinking. 

Keep elbow control and use your whole body to simultaneously open and stretch your other arm upwards. Then you will have the strength of your whole body to strike downwards.

27 披身踢腳 – twist the body and kick

Turn Body and kick uses wrist and elbow control and then twisting to lower and opponents head, which is then kicked.

28 雙峰貫耳 – box the ears

Box the ears introduces the idea of simultaneous striking to the temple. This can be done at close quarters for example after a diverted push or neck grab. the other idea to take is the use of the inverted fist to strike the temple. This can be used as an individual strike, rather than the double handed version that appears in the form.

29 野馬分鬃 – parting wild horse’s mane

The first method contain for this technique uses the ridge hand to strike the opponents neck, after slipping and evading to the inside or outside of an attack. The second method is to throw the opponent using wrist control and positioning your body behind the opponent to block their hips, whilst you apply leverage with your other arm under the neck, manipulating the spine.

30 玉女穿梭 – fair lady works shuttle

Evading a straight punch, intercepting at the wrist and just being the elbow, seek to follow the force of the blow and then return it to the opponent.  The arm has to be move into a position where you can apply a simultaneous spiralling force and downwards ‘An’ force into the opponents void.

The second methods is to use the framed shape of the posture to apply pressure to the opponent’s upper boy or face, whilst stepping outside their stance. This creates a wedge over which the opponent will be thrown.

31 蛇身下勢 – snake creeps down (low style)

Follow the force of the opposents overcommitted attack, controlling the wrists and elbow and sinking with gravity to drag the opponent. From here, change the grip to attack the opponents shoulder joint. This is accomplished applying opposing splitting force at the wrist and elbow of the opponent’s bent arm.

32 金雞獨立 – golden cockerel stands on 1 leg

Evading or intercepting an opponents attack and then countering with a forwards directed forearm strike. The other arm can also be controlled. This will break the opponents root and posture, making a knee strike to the groin very difficult to defend for the opponent.

33 撲面掌 – slap the face

This is a circular movement, where the defence and counter are part of the same action. The defensive part of the movement diverts and opponents attack into the void. The counter attacks the opponents jaw, nose or temple using the hard part of the palm. The whole waist must be used or there will be little power. As you divert the attack your other hand can either check the opponents arm at the elbow joint or can simultaneously strike the opponent.

34 擺蓮腿 – single hand sweep lotus leg

Divert an oncoming straight punch, using a cross step to evade, controlling the wrist. From here its easy to apply a strike and sweep combo, with the arm and leg. The strike can attack the face or throat, whilst the sweep should follow the direction of the toes. The technique can be done on the inside or outside.

The same movement can be used against an opponents kick.

35 指擋捶 – punch the groin

Evade and intercept an opponents kick, hooking with the crook of your elbow. your other hand is brought up to strike the opponents jaw first and then groin in a circular ‘Bolo’ style movement. Similar movements can be modified to attack the jaw.

36 退步跨虎 – step back to ride the tiger

Using an evasive seven star step ou completely avoid the opponents front kick, which is intercepted. You then follow the force of the kick and return it to the opponent, which results in a throw.

The second method is to simultaneously defend their kicking attack and counter kick either their groin or the supporting leg with a kick of your own.

37 雙擺蓮腿 – double hand sweep lotus leg

Divert the rear handed attack of the opponent, smothering his attack at the wrist and elbow. At the same time move towards the opponents lead leg with a cross step (nine palace). Sweep their foot as you apply pressure with your arms into the opponents void.

38 彎弓射虎 – draw the bow to shoot the tiger

Drag and opponents arm using a sharp pull, immediately counter using inverted fists to the face and ribs of the opponent.

39 雙抽腿 – double seizing legs

Duck a swinging attack of an opponent, seizing both legs of the opponent. the shoulder applies force to the opponents body as you simultaneously pull the legs out from under him.

The second variation uses the same entry strategy but the legs are pulled in a spiralling motion upwards.

40 折臂式 – break arm style

Intercept a low body punch, and then follow the force and spiral the arm into the break arm position. From here its very easy to break the elbow joint using a sharp movement initiated by the waist.

An opponent clinches and you make space. Ensure their arm is trapped on your body and extended. from here apply the break arm leverage force at the elbow joint.

41 迴旋手 – gyrating arms

Method one: Responding to an opponents parry of a straight line punch by turning it into a spiralling hook. You can also respond to the opponents intent to parry a straight attack and follow with the hook. Going low to high adds additional layers of confusion for the opponent. 

Method two:Slice into an opponents straight attack, then extend your rear arm applying elbow force to dominate their position and balance. From here you can strike or throw to follow up.

42 虎抱頭 – tiger embraces head

Evade or divert an incoming attack, then strike the back of the opponents head, using a palm strike, which is them used to bring the opponents head onto your elbow strikes or fist strike. You should really get good control of the opponents head by ‘crooking’ the wrist.

43 白蛇吐信 – white snake spits out tongue

A simple technique designed to attack the throat in an upwards motion. This can be done after you have neutralised an opponents strike. Additionally a groin kick with the instep of the foot can be added.

44 先鋒臂 – vanguard arms

This powerful movement uses the arms to wrap an opponents back. Pressure is then cranked onto the spine using the shoulder to the sternum in version one. Or you can use the chin or head in version two. 

This technique is also very useful in defending leg grabs by using the shoulder against the head of the opponent whilst applying a spiralling average force to the spine by using the arms.

45 飛花掌 – flying flower palm

This is conceptual technique using either one hand or both hand to apply forces or strikes in alternating directions. The concept isn’t strictly limited to palm techniques and it is said that ‘everything is something’. Each movement you do can have an opposite and possibly effective application to the opponent. 

Version one defends a strike one way then counters with the back of the hand in a more or less opposite direction. Version two directs an attack using a rising defence, followed immediately by a smashing down counter.

The third example shows a pushing hands position where the opponent is pushed one way with the left hand to create resistance, which is immediately added to by pushing in the other direction with the other hand, uprooting the opponent.

The fourth version follows a missed forwards punch with a reversed movement back elbow (something the UFC fighter Anderson Silva was widely admired for doing once).

46 五行肘 – 5 element arm

Five element arm is a very useful drill for building up the reflexes and forming a solid defence. Each of the five positions shown can be used to defend attacks from the left or right from fist or foot. The trick is to practice fluidly and coming it with good footwork and balance. Speed should be increases and the other hand held in a well guarded position. As the attacker you should throw all types of strikes at your partner  spontaneously but without trying to necessarily trick them. Just build up the speed and get into a good flow.

47 奔雷手 – running thunder hand

This is a straight line punching technique with the hands travelling in a chain like motion over the centreline of the body. straight punches are more efficient and when delivered with conditioned bare fists are devastating. The key is to learn to power the strikes from the leg and waist, with a rock solid structure at the moment of impact. Mobility as you move around using the technique should also become well trained.

The technique can be trained on the horizontal axis, where the circular motion can be used to defend strikes whilst the fists attacks are now a chopping hammer fist and a ‘half hook’ punch. 

48 單抽腿 – single seizing leg

This is a leg throw where as well as hooking the leg with your arm you also apply leverage with your other arm across the face or neck of the opponent. The technique can be used on a caught leg, or as a throw after you’ve evaded an opponents punches.

To get good at it you need some experience in it – Fighting

A friend of mine who is in his early sixties once told me that he had enjoyed his holiday but that he was glad to be back in London because he had missed his kendo training and needed a good fight.

As a favour to his kendo group a year or so previously I had video’d one of their practice sessions. What I noticed at the end of the training was that they were all in extremely high spirits after the sparring training. What I noticed about the kendo sparring was that it gave each of them the opportunity to tap into and enjoy their competitive and fighting spirits without any serious physical injury. The net effect was overwhelmingly positive, to the point that this club had practiced together for several decades because of the sheer enjoyment of the training and the exhilaration of fighting without real injury.

Over the years i’ve taken part in all manner of sparring and wrestling training. From full contact sessions where you are actively trying to knock each other out, through to playful sessions where you barely touch the opponent. their are definitely pros and cons to each type of sparring.

One thing you must understand as a martial artist or ‘fighter’ is that experience is where what you think you know becomes what you actually know, deeper internal knowledge. Understanding things on a superficial or intellectual level doesn’t work in the split second reality of combat. Your whole being has to know and be able to execute your skills. 

This means that your training needs to factor this in and include plenty of unrehearsed sparring activities.  The more experience you have at actual fighting, the more comfortable you can become and the more you can implement your training. Specificity is a real thing. So for example if you only spar very lightly and then one day fight in a full contact format, you will be somewhat surprised by the differences in aggression, pain, momentum, speed and so on. You may well be overwhelmed.

The problem is that extremely hard sparring is for most sane people not that smart to do on a regular basis. You will get physically injured, and possibly sustain head trauma, which can be life altering. For anyone who doesn’t intend on becoming a professional fighter you need to weigh up the benefits vs the risks.

I think for the average student who is in a good state of health, the very occasional hard spar is ok, with adequate protective equipment, backed up with plenty of light sparring, where minimal head contact is made. This will keep people honest and realistic, whilst keeping their reflexes and movements sharp.

Without sparring at some level it’s impossible for students to contextualise the skills they are learning, within a real combat environment.

The Ba Jin – 8 fundamental ways of using force

The eight methods of using force, which we call the Ba Jin are essential to understand physically. They are often related to triagrams of the bagua, though i see little benefit of doing so for the practically minded practitioner. Learn to analyse all techniques through the lens of the 8 forces.

Peng jin: Upwards directed forces. 

The use of peng is associated with expansive body mechanics. This upwards directed force can manifest in offensive striking techniques such as uppercuts and palms strikes under the jaw, lifting throws and rising leg sweeps as well as more commonly demonstrated defensive movements where and oncoming force is deflected in an upwards direction. The following are examples of peng jin, though as is mostly the case in fighting techniques there will always be some additional force/s included also.

Lu Jin: Sideways directed forces

Lu is used to attack and divert to the side. Again like peng jin it is a very fundamental force idea that can be applied with all parts of the body in offence and in defence. Often people refer to Lu as ‘rollback’ and consider it a softer energetic. In the Cheng Tin Hung system its simply analysed as sideways forces.

Ji Jin: Forward directed forces

Ji jin is manifested any time you move your power in a forwards direction. straight line punches, pushes and traps, push and stamp kicks all contain elements of ji.

An Jin: Downwards directed forces

Hammerfist blows and smashes, downward directed pulls and pushes as well as stomping kicks are all examples of An jin.

Cai Jin: Uprooting

Cai is the used to uproot an opponent, destroying their balance. It is often used when two forces are going in opposite directions, such as downwards and upwards.

Lie jin: The use of spirals

Lie is the use of spiralling movements, either within a limb or body part or as part of a larger movement involving the entire body. 

Kao Jin – The use of the shoulder, back and hip

Tai Chi uses the whole body for attack and defence. Kao represents the use of the core therefore to strike or neutralise strikes, or to apply force in throws or grappling scenarios.

Zhou jin: The use of the forearm and elbow, knee joint and shin bone

Using the forearm and elbow to deliver striking or throwing techniques as well as defending from attacks. It also refers to the use of the knee joint and shin.

Important takeaway points ;

  1. Tai Chi uses the entire body for attack and defence.
  2. Be creative and open minded in analysing the use and combination of these forces.
  3. The forces are almost always used in combinations together
  4. Find ways to maximally potentiate your body mechanics in applying these forces.

The eight powers are great ways to help you identify the use of effective forces and analyse your techniques. Also when you train your mind to think more simply in terms of simply identifying energies you will become more creative during live sparring or wrestling practices, helping you to move away from rigid technique focussed thought.

The Tui shou exercises of the Wutan system have been designed to enable practitioners to train one or more of the specific powers in a systematic and cooperative way with partner, to the point it becomes a highly conditioned response.

The Wu Bu : Five element movement strategy

Advance (Chin), Withdraw (T’ui), 

Look Left (Tso Ku), Look Right (Yu Pan), and 

Central Equilibrium (Chung Ting) 

are equated to the five elements: 




Fire, and 


All together these are termed the Thirteen Postures – Tai Chi classic ‘ching’

The five element movement theory of Tai Chi Chuan gives you an excellent opportunity to learn and practice positioning yourself for maximal effect and advantage.

Each of the five elements is assigned a direction of movement. 

Earth is central equilibrium, so there is no movement but a balanced posture or stance is maintained. It must be emphasised that the element of earth is used to emphasise solidity and balance, so when still you should seek to achieve the same.

Metal is the use of forward movement with Wood being the opposing backwards movement.

Water and Fire correspond to moving to the left or right respectively.

Things become particularly useful however when we start to understand what is called the destructive cycle, where each of the elements is stronger than two of the other elements and weaker than the remaining two. If the elements opposing each other are of the same strength or size then the result is neither victory nor defeat.

What you really need to learn is this;

•Metal gives birth to Water

•Water gives birth to Wood

•Wood gives birth to Fire

•Fire gives birth to Earth

•Earth gives birth to Metal

•Metal destroys Wood

•Wood destroys Earth

•Earth destroys Water

•Water destroys Fire

•Fire destroys Metal

Metal is defeated by water and fire: Forward motion is best defeated by lateral movement,  so if a punch is coming straight for your head a slight shift to the left or right can render the attack completely useless. Going straight back can work but if there is more forward ‘strength’ than there is backward ‘strength’ you will be struck.

Water and fire are both defeated by metal and wood: Attacks that come from the sides are best defeated by moving either forward or backward. An example is a tight hooking punch. If you stay where you are or moving along the line of force of the strike you will be struck. If you move inside the line of attack using forward motion the strike will miss, the same is true if you move backwards.

In essence from a defensive perspective movement perpendicular to the attack (90% to the line of the attack) is highly effective in neutralising an attack.

In terms of attack the opposite is true. If you can find your opponent moving forward and move in the exact line of their movement toward them with a strike, your attacks power will be amplified. An example given below is parry and punch where we use lateral head movement to evade their forward attack but combine this with forward motion of our own to deliver a doubly powerful counter strike.

In the next example of the same idea, an opponent is circling out of a tight corner moving laterally away from us. The Five element movement theory tells us that the best attacks in such a situation are the ones that work along the opponents intended line of movement – in this example a circular ‘embrace tigers head’ punch is used – but a circular kick such as a roundhouse or hooking kick would also fit the requirement.

When learning the Wu Bu, try to incorporate it into all of the drills, all of the time. This way it becomes second nature and your skill level will increase efficiently. 

Also think of the directional theory for both smaller aspects techniques such as head movement beating a punch, but also in terms of larger vision, such as a forward rushing and aggressive opponent being outmanoeuvred by skilful lateral footwork.

Also remember that an opponents movements and limb attacks may contain a variety of directional movements, so our response may also contain different movement elements such as a sideways slip and a simultaneous straight thrusting counter. Therefore do your best to understand and try to implement the ideas to your advantage but don’t get frustrated or overly bogged down in analysis.

The other thing to bear in mind is that these five directions of movements are to be combined with the use of the eight forces discussed previously. Combined they are called the thirteen tactics, which when their ideas are blended together produce a limitless amount of techniques.

Tai Chi Chuan seeks to get to the point of no technique, but just as freedom is sometimes said to be achieved through discipline and work, Tai Chi contains 48 free fighting techniques designed to help us train these fundamental force and footwork ideas so that they become ingrained and instinctive to use. The level beyond is to reach the point of pure understanding, spontaneity and creativity.  

In summary

  • The five element theory helps you to defend or attack more efficiently
  • Understand the importance of moving with skill in all directions
  • The ideas can be used on a small scale and large scale
  • You must incorporate your directional movement during all your drilling and practice
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