Combat (2)

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Historically, a martial art featured combat with swords or other bladed weapons. Getting cut, mauled, maimed or injured could mean death.
The martial artist sought to finish the battle as fast as possible without sustaining serious damage to themselves. Fighting was not the aim.
A fight can last for quite a while, cost a lot of physical effort and fatigue the body. The longer a fight lasts, the greater the likelihood of injury.
When weapons or multiple opponents are involved, a prolonged fight can be a real problem.

"In serving, serve. In fighting, kill." (Jinzu)

Traditionally, a martial artist seeks to stop the fight as soon as possible by putting the attacker out of action. Incapacitation literally involves rendering your opponent/aggressor incapable of combat.
The goal is to end a fight before blows are traded.

Banned from competition

It is important to remember that martial arts teach a person how to defend oneself. They are not sport. In real life combat there are no rules. Exponents use what is possible, not what is allowed.
If you look at what is banned from fighting competitions, this is usually the material that inflicts the greatest degree of injury.
When your aim is to incapacitate rather than fight, you use the skills that work best.

Reasonable force

No matter whether you train a martial art or a fighting art, it is usually possible for a skilled exponent to incapacitate an opponent.
However, in real life we must exercise restraint and employ 'reasonable force'. Do only what you need to do. Nobody wants to receive a broken arm or be put in hospital. Show compassion.
Even the most serious martial arts are seldom practiced with the traditional goals in mind. Nowadays, people can learn how to incapacitate without causing undue harm.


In tai chi a lot of the training that happens in a class is non-confrontational. It was designed to encourage confidence, depth of knowledge, skill and experience.
Good quality practice requires the student to train hard in order to produce a thorough and convincing outcome that will work against a non-cooperative opponent.
Students work together at first to improve their combat abilities. With realism in mind, people explore the material in a controlled manner, withholding the use of full power.
As the student gains competence, the training becomes more earnest and decidedly non-cooperative.


Tai chi practice examples:

  1. Drilling
    - repeating combat movements solo or with a partner
    - high repetition teaches muscle memory


  2. Form applications
    - applying form movements with a partner in order to incapacitate the attacker
    - understanding biomechanical advantage, physics, distance, range, timing etc
    - employing sensitivity and power effectively
    - gaining the ability to change in response to a counter-attack


  3. Shuai jiao applications
    - applying take down skills with a partner in order to incapacitate the attacker
    - learning a repertoire of proven techniques
    - flowing between applications in response to a counter-attack
    - learn how to use shuai jiao in actual combat


  4. Chin na applications
    - applying a multitude of seizing skills with a partner in order to incapacitate the attacker
    - dividing the muscle, sealing the breath, misplacing the bones, cavity press etc
    - learning a repertoire of proven techniques
    - flowing between applications in response to a counter-attack
    - learn how to use chin na in actual combat


  5. 2-person combat sets (san sau)
    - armed & unarmed
    - repeating combat movements solo or with a partner
    - learning positioning, targets, timing, sensitivity and footwork

    - gaining the ability to change in response to a counter-attack

  6. Combat skills
    - there are a vast range of skills that promote success in combat and these must be identified and trained individually in order to gain competence
    - multiple opponents
    - armed opponents
    - different situations, scenarios and terrain


  7. Strategies & tactics
    - using the mind rather than force
    - learning and understanding how to best approach the experience of combat
    - putting principles into practice: The Art of War, The Book of Five Rings, 36 strategies, Tao Te Ching, The Way of Chuang Tzu, The Tai Chi Classics et al


  8. Impact (bag work & hitting a body)
    - training impact against a bag in order to encourage whole-body use
    - depth-penetration
    - accuracy
    - gaining the ability to find effective targets instinctively
    - being hit/learning how to take a blow without being injured or fazed


  9. Sensitivity training
    - employing a wide range of partnered exercises that teach the student how to feel, respond, move, flow and stick to the attacker
    - train the nervous system and awareness
    - learn how to use sensitivity skills in actual combat

  10. San da (freeform combat)
    the assailant does not use predetermined attacks and is encouraged to be as awkward and challenging as possible
    - the aim for the attacker is to provide a realistic combat experience
    - non-cooperative


No tai chi student can reasonably expect their art to work against a genuine opponent unless they put in the practice time and address the issue of nerve.
Panic is inevitable but avoidable. Coping with fear, danger and the likelihood of being hurt must be trained. It is not an outcome of doing the form.

When asked how he overcame his opponents, Hadrat Ali explained, "I never met any man who did not help me against himself."

(Hadrat Ali)

Rough stuff

As a boy and a young man, Sifu Waller trained a lot of wing chun, judo and ju jitsu. He became very fond of the grappling arts.

Striking or grappling?

If you punch somebody it may hurt them or it may not. Grappling is different; the applications and techniques can be trained rigorously in class and then applied in real life, with simply an increase in power.
Our students are taught how to strike, but skill with grappling must come first. Simply because it is more reliable.

Recognisable style

If you watch wing chun used in combat, it looks distinctly like wing chun. The same could be said of judo, aikido, ju jitsu, pencat silat etc.
By the same reasoning, applied tai chi must look like tai chi.
What does tai chi look like?

Tai chi fighting method

Tai chi looks like tai chi. The form, pushing hands, you know... tai chi. If your martial expression of tai chi does not look like tai chi, it is probably not tai chi.


Page created 14 February 1996
Last updated 16 June 2023