Controlling range and distance in Tai Chi

Tim's Discussion Board: Tai Ji Quan : Controlling range and distance in Tai Chi
   By Jim Dixon on Friday, February 09, 2007 - 09:38 am: Edit Post

I've studied a little Tai Chi--under a guy who seemed to be able to use it and who didn't teach anything that seemed stupid or "chi energy powered" to me from the perspective of the kenpo and judo I had studied. Lately, when not training, I've been researching Tai Chi a bit and I seem to be noticing something and I want to run it by more experienced people to see if I'm right.

As a style (there are no styles just fighters and bodies moving and you should forget style when fighting--I know, I know, but bear with me), the strategy and tactics of Tai Chi seem to indicate that you would want control the distance to be in a range closer than kickboxing but not quite a true clench. In fixed pushing and Sanshou forms, as well as the applications I've seen, I've noticed that TC guys seem to close quickly but not all the way to a full clinch--more like what (god forgive me for this reference) JKD guys call "trapping range", but not to trap, to strike or throw.


1) is this my imagination or is the ideal range in Tai Chi somewhere little more open than what people usually think of as clench, and...

2) if so, what are the strategies and tactics--and techniques--that make this range desirable

   By robert on Friday, February 09, 2007 - 01:09 pm: Edit Post

personally i like this range because it is easier to slip punches, duck under, and use your opponents movement against them. i never really formally studied tai chi so i dont really have much to say about strategies, tactics and techniques.

if you studied judo, its actually quite similar to a tai chi strategy(from what ive read)

   By robert on Friday, February 09, 2007 - 01:11 pm: Edit Post

personally i like this range because it is easier to slip punches, duck under, and use your opponents movement against them. i never really formally studied tai chi so i dont really have much to say about strategies, tactics and techniques.

if you studied judo, its actually quite similar to a tai chi strategy(from what ive read)

also, just for kicks, i think that xing yi tactics for closing distance are just excellent.

   By Tim Ash on Friday, February 09, 2007 - 06:57 pm: Edit Post

Hi Jim,

Since so much of Tai Chi's advantage derives from touch sensitivity and connection to the opponent, there are two distinct ranges ("outside of touch distance", and "in touch distance").

My Tai Chi master Henry Cheng always advises us that for tactical purposes fighting distance should start about 4 feet apart (just outside of kicking range). The opponent then launches the first attack. This guarantees two things: 1) that they do the very hard work of bridging the distance between you, and 2) that you have their whole-body momentum available (because they must move their center of gravity to reach you).

As soon as possible, you should connect to their leading edge. This is done in Tai Chi by "outreaching" and expanding the frame of your body as far as comfortably possible to get a touch sensor and physical connection to the opponent (the so-called "Tai Chi sphere"). This usually involves your hand/wrist/forearm area. After that you merge with their motion and control their center of gravity through circular nudges to their momentum.

Within the "in-touch range" there are finer distinctions that operate primarily within the reach of the three joints of the arm. The applications that we have studied include the following (with a few leg techniques thrown in as well):

* full arm range (wrist/hand)

kicking leg, wrist, and whole-arm locks
ankle traps (back of heel, and shin)
shin scrapes and foot stomps

* middle arm range (elbow)

forearm & elbow deflections and strikes
elbow breaks
arm submission holds and throws
knee locks and breaks
trips and up-endings
neck/back breaks

* close range (shoulder or full body contact)

bumping with upper back and shoulder
bumping with hip
taking out the back of the knee w/ the hand or knee
pressure point strikes (neck, head area)
bearhug and rear choke escapes
vertical takedowns in confined spaces

Since the legs are used exclusively for compression into the ground, balance over the base of your feet, and mobility, kicks are de-emphasized in Wu style (similar to Bagua Zhang in that sense). Most are below the waist. I have only been taught ones that are essentially a parting shot - once you are controlling the opponents momentum and driving them backwards with both hands, you kick them in various places while using them for additional balance.

So I would say that Wu Style Tai Chi Chuan is primarily a middle to close distance fighting system. But I would disagree that the middle is preferred. The best practitioners are unbelievably effective at very close range with subtle pressure and locking techniques. But these high level skills are very hard for anyone to see - they are not so obvious or big. The teaching progression in Tai Chi is explicitly from large initially to small in the advanced stages. Since most of the smaller movements are generated by the powersul and trained muscles of your torso/core, they are not even really visible. So it is hard to judge or describe them by external martial arts arts applications standards. The basic idea this: the more surface area and points of contact you have with the opponent, the more creative options there are for Tai Chi counterattacks.

All of the above assumes that you are closing with the opponent face to face (this fact is unfortunately reinforced by the silly rules of most pushing hands competitions). But there is also the additional dimension of stepping. Tai Chi teaches the coordinated use of deflection and simultaneous evasion stepping. This sets up for some unexpected counterattacks from the sides and rear of the opponent powered by extreme waist turning.

At the highest level Tai Chi becomes a formless pressure-sensing and rebalancing organic kind of thing. One of the names for it is "shadow boxing" because you glue yourself so intimately to the opponents movements and intentions. One of the key ideas of Tai Chi is to "give up yourself and follow the other". So you can't have an intention of "doing" any application to the opponent, because by the time you can formulate that thought the opportunity has already changed or passed. This is the real key to Tai Chi. In effect, it is extreme touch and mental awareness training at heart. The applications are not something that you drill so they are available as muscle memory later (like Karate kata). Rather, you drill the more fundamental principles of balance, rooting, sensitivity, unified body motion, etc. The applications then emerge naturally, and continually adapt to the evolving interaction with the opponent.

Hope this helps,


   By The Iron Bastard on Saturday, February 10, 2007 - 01:27 pm: Edit Post

There are only three ranges in fighting, long, middle, and short.
All the drills in Taijiquan systems primarily concentrate on middle range work to a short-range conclusion. Few take into account that almost all fights begin at long range.

   By Jake Burroughs on Sunday, February 11, 2007 - 02:53 am: Edit Post

Does short include the clinch and grappling?

   By The Iron Bastard on Sunday, February 11, 2007 - 11:44 am: Edit Post

Clinch is middle working toward short range, throwing and grappling are short range.

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