Developing Range Awareness

There’s one thing I like to mention to students who come from a different Tai Chi background. Their liking for rushing in can be useful in competition emphasizing the use of wrestling but can be limiting outside of competition particularly when weapons are involved or when they are faced with the wrong opponent.

The point is this – if I have a short dagger or a pocket knife then I want to come close to you to stab and slash you. On the other hand if I have a long pole then I don’t want you to be too close otherwise I cannot take advantage of the pole’s length.

In application this means if I have a pocket knife and you like to charge in real close like the way you normally do in push hands then you just made it easy for me to stab you. But if I have a long pole then your ability to rush in can nullify my pole’s advantage.

Similarly, if I like to grapple then I want to be real close to you. But if I prefer to strike then I will need a certain distance to make my strikes effective.

The moral of the lesson here is that we should learn to control the distance between us and the opponent because the type of techniques or weapon we can use depends on a suitable working distance.

In Tai Chi we are first introduced to the idea of controlling the distance in Grasp Sparrow’s Tail. We use the movement to train our mind to focus on the opponent, being aware of the change in distance as the opponent is closing in, knowing when to react, or how to react depending on the distance we get. This depends in turn on when we respond and our speed of reaction is a function of our ability to get to the position we want quickly.

When we train the solo form students frequently do not quite grasp the importance of this point and fall short of being more rigorous in their execution of the movement. When this point is revisited subsequently in weapons training they grasp it better because if they make a mistake in controlling the range then they get their wrist tapped by the opponent’s weapon.

So do yourself a favor and pay attention to this point from Day One. In this way you have less areas to correct as you progress in your training.

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