“Don't lean in any direction; suddenly appear, suddenly disappear. Empty the left wherever a pressure appears, and similarly the right. If the opponent rises up, I seem taller; if he sinks down, then I seem lower; advancing, he finds the distance seems incredibly long; retreating, the distance seems exasperatingly short. A feather cannot be placed, and a fly cannot alight on any part of the body. The opponent does not know me; I alone know him. To become a peerless boxer results from this.”
THE TREATISE ON T'AI CHI CH'UAN
Attributed to Wang Tsung-yueh [Wang Zongyue] (18th Century)
Most people when thinking about fighting and martial arts, think about strength and speed as the primary factors. Most people consider good fighters are those who can punch the hardest and are the biggest. Daoist and Buddhist monks in China had a different approach to combat. They didn’t consider strength, size, and gender as something necessary when it came to being a good fighter. They developed a martial art that the Daoist monks called Tai Chi Chuan (Grand Ultimate Fist). Tai Chi was based not on the principles of aggression and force but the principles of yielding and harmony. Tai Chi and styles like it became known as internal systems of Kung Fu or soft styles. These soft styles were in contrast to the harder Kung Fu systems that existed at the time.
Most people know Tai Chi from seeing it practiced by elderly people as a health exercise. When observed by an untrained eye it is hard to see how any of these movements will work in a combat situation. Don’t be fooled by this, every single movement in a Tai Chi form can be applied to an opponent in many different ways. Tai Chi is one of the hardest if not the hardest fighting system to get good at. It requires patience, perseverance and most of all a willingness to change. A person can only learn how to fight with it after ten years of diligent practice. It is not a system for those who have no discipline or staying power.
When a practitioner learns Tai Chi correctly, as a martial art. He or she reaps many other benefits from the training. While they are learning to fight in an entirely counterintuitive way, they are also developing core strength, improved circulation, increased focus, confidence and an increased sense of well-being.
Tai Chi doesn’t just change your body. Tai Chi changes your mind also. Monks who were on a journey of self-discovery and ultimately enlightenment developed Tai Chi as a vehicle for this personal growth. When a practitioner performs Tai Chi correctly, it is a form of moving meditation. It helps control breathing, thoughts, emotions and ultimately helps the practitioner see past the many illusions and harmful mental patterns created over their lifetime.
The system of Tai Chi that I teach is from Chan Buddhism. It is known as Suang Yang Bai He Rou Ruan Chun, Suang Yang for short. The system is based on the movements of the White Crane, and it originally came from the Southern Shaolin Temple. Suang Yang is a 66-movement form. Each movement leads on from the previous movement and leads to the next in a smooth flowing manner. Over time, the practitioner develops a body that is soft as wool externally and hard as steel internally. The practitioner learns to become completely sensitive to his or her body and through that their opponent's body. When the opponent attacks any point, the practitioner is not there and when the opponent tries to retreat the practitioner is there first. I will leave you with this quote from Cheng Man-Ch’ing, an early 20th Century Tai Chi Master.
“Tai Chi Chuan, the great ultimate, strengthens the weak, raises the sick, invigorates the debilitated, and encourages the timid.”
Shkar Sharif is the head instructor at Tiger Crane Kung Fu in London. Any other questions, ask!