One to Many

Which comes first – the chicken or the egg?

Learning Tai Chi is an issue that is similar to this in that should you learn the form first before you learn push hands or should you learn push hands as you are learning form?

We can analyse this issue in the following manner :-

i) If you do form and you do not know how the movement is used then you will not be doing the movement correctly because doing a movement is not quite so straightforward due to the nuances involved

ii) If you do push hands without learning form properly then you will never be able to apply the movements you learned in the form


When we learn the form we are developing a baseline that is based on the requirements of the principles of the Tai Chi Classics. This baseline will define the way you postulate your body and how you move. When this is successfully attained then you can be said to have the DNA of the style and have inherited the teachings. This is not the same as saying that you are an inheritor of a style just because you have gone through a discipleship ceremony or have learned many years under a master.

With a good baseline we have the basis to master the application of the techniques of Tai Chi. The first thing to master is the obvious application. When this is understood we can then work on other ways the same technique can be applied. At a later stage we can work on the variations that can blossom from the technique.

Consider the application of Shoulder Stroke (Kao). The obvious application for Kao would be as a shoulder bumping / striking technique. However, within Kao there are other ways of using it either as a standalone technique or as a precursor to other changes, for example from Kao to Push or Kao to White Crane Spreads Wings.

In a lesson this week I used Kao to illustrate the use of strategy in push hands. The first question to ask is what we are trying to achieve and why this makes sense. From the what and why we can move on to the how which is how to gain the position that allows for the application of the strategy. The tool for this is the entry technique. How to move in, how to make contact, how to open the door, how to control the space, how to get the opponent to give you the response – get these factors right and you are in the position to apply the technique which in this case is Kao.

Your opponent is not stupid so you can expect that he or she will resist or not stand still for you to apply the technique with a grand flourish. So getting into the position to apply Kao is not a guarantee that you can apply the technique successfully. You still need to secure the position first. Once you got the position locked down then you can be said to be controlling the center. You can now decide how to apply the Kao position.

All this while your opponent will be trying to overcome you or at least prevent you from applying your technique before countering with another attack. However, if you are controlling the center then you are in a good position to void any attempts to counter your technique.

The first Kao variation is a technique I learned from Master Leong back in the late 90s. Its a simple, straightforward technique but one that can give rise to many changes should your opponent try to counter it. One student wanted to try to see if it is possible to prevent my application of Kao. She tried different ways only to find that I have a response to whatever she thought would be the solution.

In the end I showed her the counter I would use, something straight out of the form which fits the criteria of using the art in accordance to the principles of the Tai Chi Classics. First thing to do is you have to allow yourself to be attacked, nay, love to be attacked. Secondly, when under attack you have to relax, yes let go of your resisting strength. That’s a tall order right? Most of us would freeze and resist like mad but don’t because it would prevent you from feeling more sensitively what is happening. When you can feel what is happening you can harmonize with the attacking motion, go with the flow of power and lead it to emptiness. When you get to this point then you can neutralize the attack. The description here sounds like a lot to read but when you actually apply the principles it will be over in a split second. As Winston Churchill said “Out of intense complexities, intense simplicities emerge.

Hence, when my student tried a counter the moment she moved I had already countered it in accordance to the principle of you moved first, I arrived first. A secondary point here is the importance of developing one’s Tai Chi skill to attain the ability to use Small Frame because this is the original structural frame of all Tai Chi styles. Thirdly, the attainment of Small Frame would minimize external movements to allow you to use internal movements more, hence meeting the requirements of using intention over brute strength.

Conclusion, Master Tai Chi Today is not by accident but a deliberate study and practice of the procedures for realizing the principles of the Tai Chi Classics.



Want to learn Tai Chi in Singapore? At Singapore Tai Chi Yang Style (TaijiKinesis) lessons covering forms, weaponry, push hands, fajing and applications are offered. Lessons are conducted in English. Send enquiry today

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