Range & reach

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Reach is the act of stretching out your arm or leg in order to touch or grasp something. It is the limit of your potential stretch.


Range is different to reach. It represents a scale of extension; between what is close and what is far. Reach is the extreme, the limit of range.


In tai chi we follow the 70% rule. If you were to perform every action to 100% of your physical limit - in terms of stretch and endurance - you would be working at maximum capacity.
The 100% capacity approach is the 'no pain, no gain' attitude to exercise. It opens you up for strain and injury because you are fully committed at all times.
The 70% rule reduces the risk of injury and enables you to operate within your optimal range.

Optimal range

Optimal range is a necessary consideration in terms of fitness and combat. It is the degree of range that enables you to use your extension most effectively. Considerations:

  1. Ease

  2. Root

  3. Comfort

  4. Strength

  5. Stability

  6. Movement

  7. No leaning

  8. Relaxation

  9. Avoid over-stretching

  10. Maintain balance

When operating within your optimal range, your body is far stronger and more resilient. It can adapt, change and move with ease and comfort.

Formlessness and fluidity are not merely means of defence and surprise, but means of preserving dynamic potential, energy that could easily be lost by trying to hold on to a specific position or formation.

(Thomas Cleary)


Stretching the body is good when the purpose is exercise. When lifting a heavy object or when engaged in combat, strong stretching in not a good idea.
The problem with strong stretching at the wrong time is that it puts stress on the body, reduces stability and prevents freedom of movement. An over-stretched joint cannot rotate and turn comfortably.
It is not relaxed. It is prone to injury. The internal martial arts advocate safe stretching in everyday life or combat. The joints remain heavy and dropped.

Combat range

There are a few common combat ranges:

  1. Out of reach

  2. Kicking

  3. Punching

  4. Grappling

Each of these ranges offers certain dangers and opportunities, both for the attacker and the defender. Recognising what an assailant can do at each range is important.
An attacker may be within reach, but their capacity to affect you may be limited by their understanding of what works at which range.
Tai chi in our school involves close quarters combat; which is extreme close range...


The internal martial arts teach the student to move the entire body towards the opponent, rather than stretch out the limbs. Stretching out is foolish:

  1. It exposes the ribcage, armpit and torso

  2. It makes the joints less resilient

  3. It makes it easier for your balance to be taken

  4. An opponent can avoid a strike more easily

  5. The further out from the centre you reach, the less power you have

Rather than stretch, you step. If you cannot employ optimal power at your current range, do something else.

Central equilibrium

Maintaining central equilibrium at all times is a given. Any form of leaning or over-commitment weakens your entire
structure and diminishes power.
Central equilibrium ensures stability, root and strength. If you sacrifice this in order to reach the target, you may find the strike or leverage to be lacking.
If your feet are too far away from your centre, you lose your vertical stability.


Long, narrow stances are not combat stances. They were designed for performance. The deep, horse stance is not for combat either. It is intended to build strength in the legs.


A realistic combat stance enables you to be pushed firmly from all sides without any loss of root. It allows freedom of movement. It keeps the joints and spine mobile and loose.
Find the stance that allows you to use your body in a smooth, natural, spontaneous fashion. A stance that easily facilitates walking.


Partner work, form and other drills can teach students about reach and range. Three useful solo training methods are easy to practice at home:

  1. 3 tier wallbag

  2. Striking post

  3. Pushing peng (against a wall)

The wallbag ensures that your strikes are powerful and have no adverse feedback into your body. Use a tree, column or doorframe as a striking post and practice stepping and striking.
With practice, you learn how much power you possess at what range, and begin to find the different ranges instinctively.
Pushing peng is about finding optimal alignment, relaxing and cultivating groundpath. Virtually any movement from the form can be trained this way.


Ask your training partner to:

  1. Tug sharply on your wrist

  2. Kick your thighs and calves vigorously

  3. Push your torso from all sides

  4. Be awkward against your applications

Did you lose balance? Did you need to tense-up or perform an action in order to compensate? If your stability is lost or you lacked power, explore your stance, reach and range.

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Page created 18 April 1995
Last updated 16 June 2023