Tai Chi "basics"

Tim's Discussion Board: Tai Ji Quan : Tai Chi "basics"

   By Ozzy Dave on Thursday, October 26, 2006 - 06:24 pm: Edit Post

Cheers for the info Tim and the tip Jake - will grab a copy when it gets down under.

   By Tim Ash on Thursday, October 26, 2006 - 07:54 pm: Edit Post

Jim Dixon,

Re: Your Post of 10/24:

I agree with what some others have said in subsequent posts with regard to common techniques. I have included an excerpt from the extended article that I mentioned earlier. I think this will address the "technique" and fighting strategy questions better. The perspective is from Wu Style and may differ a bit from other styles (e.g. Chen has some side-kicks, etc.)

w.r.t. your comment about lack of applications and basics: this is probably true of 99% of people studying Tai Chi. I happen to be lucky enough to train with a real 5th generation master (Henry Cheng in San Diego), and have been exposed to the full curriculum: stake standing, form, pushing hands (single/double/moving step), applications, weapons forms, weapons applications, weapons "pushing hands" sets, and chi-kung. But times are changing, even my master will not teach the Nei Gung skills that he acquired through full contact punch training with his master (too many ambulance-chasing lawyers in this world...).


Fighting techniques

Tai Chi is a “soft” martial art that uses yielding and neutralization of incoming force to initially respond to the opponent. From this, people mistakenly assume that it does not have any offensive techniques. In fact, like most Chinese external martial arts Wu Style Tai Chi Chuan has a full range of attacking techniques: punches, chops, open hand slaps, joint locks, grappling, throws, elbow strikes, shoulder strikes (bumps with the leaning torso and back), pressure point strikes, trips, leg sweeps, foot and shin stomps, and kicks.

Although there are defensive counters to high kicks (chest-level or head-level), offensive kicks are usually aimed at waist level or below in keeping with the emphasis on having a solid base and properly “rooting”. Because of this reliance on generating power from the legs and staying balanced and upright Tai Chi is does not have any specific ground-fighting techniques, although much of its arsenal can be applied in very close quarters.

Tai Chi’s specialty derives from the touch sensitivity and the relaxed looseness of the fighter’s body. The opponent is expected to close to fighting distance, and then launch their initial attack – creating forward momentum (although it is not uncommon for the Tai Chi fighter to feign an attack or present an obvious opening in order to entice the opponent into committing to movement and action first). The Tai Chi fighter then “attaches” lightly to any of the opponent’s incoming body parts while they are trying to create the “bridge” to deliver force. It is most effective in leading the opponent’s incoming momentum (the motion of their center of gravity) into a position where their attacking power is dissipated or diverted away from it’s intended target, and then counter-attacking from an unexpected angle by unbalancing the opponent through grappling, throws, and joint locks. Since Tai Chi never launches the initial attack from long range, it can be considered primarily a middle and close distance fighting system.

Most of the martial applications are contained in the Wu Style long form itself, while others are only trained in “pushing hands” or freestyle sparring practice. The difference from most other martial arts is not in the presence or absence of particular offensive techniques; it is in the ability of the Tai Chi fighter to seamlessly transition between them and appropriate defenses. The techniques are not willed, intended, or “thought of” beforehand by the mind and then executed by the body, but rather unfold spontaneously as feedback to the sensory (primarily touch, visual, and subtle energetic) information reaching the Tai Chi fighter.

   By Ozzy Dave on Friday, October 27, 2006 - 01:52 am: Edit Post

Hey Tim Ash, is your teacher Henry Cheng from the Cheng Tin Hung line of Wu Style out of HK?

So does the "overall strategy of Taijiquan fighting" of Wu style in your opinion vary from Tim Cartmell's definition above?

   By Tim on Friday, October 27, 2006 - 03:23 am: Edit Post

Hi Tim Ash,

One of my students asked me about visiting your school in a couple of weeks.

He is interested in doing some free sparring (he competes in MMA and grappling competitions), and is interested in visiting any other teachers that teach the Internal MA for realistic fighting.

He will be in San Diego on Nov. 8, and would like to know if it is allright for him to visit your school for some sparring.

If you or your students are ever up our way, please feel free to come by and visit my academy.



   By Bob #2 on Tuesday, October 31, 2006 - 08:46 pm: Edit Post

I'm not sure if Tim Ash ever responded?

But I just found out that "Doctor Evil" is back and posing as a Tai Ji Chuan Master.


protecting you

   By Ahdoga on Wednesday, November 01, 2006 - 07:44 pm: Edit Post


   By Tim Ash on Thursday, November 02, 2006 - 12:01 am: Edit Post


Yes I study with Master Henry Cheng. He is originally from Hong Kong. However, your lineage is not quite correct. His part of the Wu "family tree" can be seen here:


This shows all of the contemporary people who officially got "Master" honors in the lineage leading up to him. The direct lineage is highlighted in yellow. As you can see, the lineage descended from the same 2nd-generation Master Cheng Wing Kwong. Cheng Tin Hung was his nephew. My Master's line comes down through 3rd-generation Master Wong Tak Ying (a contemporary of Cheng Tin Hung), then onto 4th-generation Master Kong Pak Yu (who is 90 years old and living in San Francisco but no longer teaching). Master Kong actually studied directly with Cheng Wing Kwong, as well as Wong Tak Ying. But because of seniority stuff he was put into the lineage under Wong Tak Ying, and thus is considered 4th-generation. I hope this is not too much detail, but I always appreciate it when accurate lineage is presented. I know this stuff directly from Master Henry Cheng - so it is accurate.

w.r.t. Tim's analysis of the strategy - I must admit that I am far from an expert at actual fighting. Having said that, everything that Tim says above is solid as far as I can tell. I would like to amplify on a few things:

Wu kicks are never above waist level. The applications that we have been taught from the form often involve diverting the opponent's upper body attack and holding onto their arm/body for additional stability as you kick them (kind of a parting shot after you are already controlling their momentum and driving them away). There is a variety of foot positions and targets for the low kicks: toes to the groin, heel kicks to the inside of the knee, instep shin scrapes, and foot stomps. At close range there are a lot of trips and leg immobilizations (e.g. hook behind opponent's heel with your foot, and then lean on his shin with your whole body weight through your knee).

Another important concept is that there is a full range of responses that can escalate as appropriate. The "nicest" ones use diverting and throwing someone away without an intent to damage. They escalate to maiming applications that dislocate or destroy joints (especially elbows, knees, and shoulders). At the most aggressive level there are several techniques involving back breaks, neck breaks, or driving the nose into the brain that will result in immediate death.


I am afraid that we do not do any sparring or full contact stuff in the class. So your friend would probably be dissapointed. Henry Cheng does teach applications, pushing hands (fixed and moving steps), and applications out of pushing hands. But none of us have progressed to more freeform sparring. He is very strict about getting the basics right before teaching more complex stuff.

Also, I once asked him about Nei-gung and he told me that in his training they used to take full power punches from his master in order to learn internal neutralization. But he said that he will not teach these practices because of the risk of injury and lawsuits in this country.

Please get in touch with me through my website and I will be glad to give you some additional background info.

I really appreciate your invitation, and I do want to take you up on your offer to come up sometime.


Tim Ash

   By Bob #2 on Thursday, November 02, 2006 - 01:30 am: Edit Post

what does "w.r.t." mean?

   By Robert on Thursday, November 02, 2006 - 10:34 am: Edit Post


"With Regard To"

Sigh, when will Bob #2 catch up with the text messaging generation?

You're forgiven though since you brought us the gift of Dr. Evil Tai Chi.

   By Tim on Thursday, November 02, 2006 - 12:22 pm: Edit Post

Tim Ash,


   By Bob #2 on Thursday, November 02, 2006 - 03:42 pm: Edit Post

w.t.f.s. i.m.r. f.s.

now, I'm caught up.

   By Krisno on Friday, November 03, 2006 - 01:43 am: Edit Post

Tim Ash said "At the most aggressive level there are several techniques involving back breaks, neck breaks, or driving the nose into the brain that will result in immediate death."

The nose is cartiledge (sp?) ... I don't think it possible to drive it into the brain.

Otherwise, I find the information on Wu style taiji to be illuminating! Thank you very much.


   By Ted on Friday, November 03, 2006 - 03:05 pm: Edit Post

That driving the nose to the brain to cause instant death... I've seen it in movies and such. Is this an urban legend?

There is a bony part at the top of your nose that is not cartilage. I have had this bone broken before playing basketball. Check out the Rich Franklin/Anderson Silva fight and look at Franklin's nose after the fight...not pretty.

   By Jake Burroughs on Friday, November 03, 2006 - 03:21 pm: Edit Post

Not pretty, but he was far from dead!

   By Ozzy Dave on Friday, November 03, 2006 - 05:17 pm: Edit Post

Cheers for the Info Tim Ash.

As I understand it the nose thing can happen but it is such a low percentile outcome that its not something you expect - possible but very, very unlikely.

   By Tim Ash on Friday, November 03, 2006 - 10:43 pm: Edit Post

Hi all,

I did not mean to start some debate about the nose into the brain thing. There are in fact bones behind the cartilage and if they get shoved upward there is nothing preventing them from puncturing the brain membrane (since you are already inside of the skull at that point).

Obviously this requires a degree of precision and skill, and I am not sure it would be my first choice of technique. But it is not some mysterious "death touch" or something.

My main point was that there is definitely an escalation of Tai Chi responses depending on the immediacy and degree of the threat. This is inherent in its Taoist roots, which require that a natural and appropriate response to every situation is always manifested.

The major stages of this progression in my mind are:
1) to neutralize without a counterattacking response
2) divert/unbalance/throw
3) punch/slap/push/joint-lock/takedown
4) break bone or joint
5) destroy a portion of the central nervous system directly (brain & spinal column)

I think that we can all agree that while the last would not necessisarily kill you immediately, it would sure be an "argument ender".

   By Richard Shepard on Saturday, November 04, 2006 - 01:36 pm: Edit Post

Here is a follow-up question to the one about the basics of taiji.

Is it possible to practice Taiji without doing a "form"? If you only perform repititions of basics, pushups, sparring, etc without any practice devoted to a long (or short) form are you still doing real taiji?

   By Ozzy Dave on Saturday, November 04, 2006 - 05:36 pm: Edit Post

Depends on what you're getting from the form.

For styles that place a large amount of "Gung" training in their forms like Chen and Yang, it would be counter productive not to practice the form.

Much of these styles multilateral athletic base is expected to be developed that way which is why they emphasise numerous consecutive repetitions.

   By Mark Hatfield on Saturday, November 04, 2006 - 05:58 pm: Edit Post

Have seen some sources stating that some of the 'old timey' masters never did a form. Did a great deal of linking/transitioning from one move to another. Some simply linked the four primary moves and did those hour after hour.

   By robert on Saturday, November 04, 2006 - 08:57 pm: Edit Post

b.s. alert, you cant send peices of shattered bone into the brain via the bridge of the nose.

people who say this are either trying to b.s and allure you, or attempting to sound cool.


   By Tim Ash on Wednesday, November 08, 2006 - 09:43 am: Edit Post

Hi Robert,

Like I said earlier, I am no expert. Based on the article below, it looks like I was incorrect about the nose into the brain thing:


Sorry about the "b.s.".

I might have misunderstood the alternative points of contact for some upward/forward palm strikes (could be throat, under the chin, or middle of the face). In any case, hopefully people will focus on the main idea of my posts - that there is a hierarchy of progressive responses in Tai Chi.

w.r.t. the form, we asked my Master's Master once about what are the key practices of Tai Chi, and his answer (translated from the Chinese) was "If you only could do one thing, do the form every day." He still practices it at 90 years old.

The benefits of the form are:

1) teaches correct structural alignments & movement principles
2) catalog of martial arts applications
3) A form of Nei gung that builds up your constitution and power

There is also a supplemental set of 24 Nei Gung exercizes practiced in Wu Style. Dan Docherty in one of his books says that he personally would rather spend the time doing these than the form if he has limited time (the Nei Gung can be very time-consuming). However, he is talking about the best use of his time after many decades of practice. But I don't think he (or anyone else) is seriously saying "don't do the form".

I have heard that in other styles people hold each posture in the form as a static pose for extended (simliar to "stake standing") and only then link them together. Holding a pose for a long time will certainly build leg strength and gradually allow the posture to get into the best shape (since you will notice and correct any unnecessary muscular effort required to hold it). Does anyone train this way?

It is certainly o.k. to focus on different practices during different phases of your training (e.g. energy work, pushing hands, sparring, techniques). In my case, I currently do the form and standing exercizes daily, but spend most of my time developing the 8 energies in pushing hands partner drills. But I feel that the form is a critical foundation for studying Tai Chi, and one of its important teaching innovations.

   By Bob #2 on Wednesday, November 08, 2006 - 07:07 pm: Edit Post

When you're reached 8th Omega level in Julong Tai Chi, you can drive an uncooked spagetti noodle into someone's nose and kill them.

Lower Omega levels are only able to hamper the person's ability to pronounce the letter 'c'

   By Jim Dixon on Thursday, November 09, 2006 - 03:36 pm: Edit Post

My thread! My beautiful thread! It's been hijacked!!!


   By robert on Saturday, November 11, 2006 - 01:04 pm: Edit Post

hey at least you can admit it.

   By Jerry on Wednesday, December 13, 2006 - 02:51 am: Edit Post

Nose into brain--- well, after all, the letter c is very hard to master anyway. It's pronounced several different ways in English, Italian is completely different and so on.

But the thing about "driving the nose bone into the brain"-- so what if you did? It's only the frontal lobe. You don't want a brain injury of any sort, but a frontal lobe injury will not cause death or paralysis. Personality changes, yes. And it could get infected, and you could die. But if you want to kill someone by attacking the brain, you should go for the brainstem.

   By Bob #2 on Friday, May 04, 2007 - 02:10 am: Edit Post

The first few seconds of this clip lifted my spirits.


   By robert on Wednesday, May 09, 2007 - 06:52 pm: Edit Post

nice mini series, i enjoyed that. thanks bob numerodos.

feel free to unintentionally enlighten me anytime.

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