Tai Chi Chuan (Glasgow)

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A Reality Check by Ian Cameron



The practical applications of Tai Chi Chuan are many and varied. The hand form shows them very specifically, and sometimes not. What are not shown are the many variations that are inherent within the techniques. However, there has always been the distinction between, form and fighting. The techniques would invariably have to change to be effective. It is one thing to practice in an environment where there is mutual cooperation, quite another when someone is trying to take your head off. If you think because you practice Tai Chi that guarantees anything you are in for a rude awakening.

Let me say at this point I have no interest whether my Tai Chi works in the “street” or not. This is not the reason that I practice. I practice purely to train the mind and body. It does concern me however, that without a realistic approach that you can be led into a false sense of what is practical. The reason I believe, that the applications have to be practiced, explored, tested is to absorb the principle to a degree where there are no specific techniques. The classics say “
I know you, but you don’t know me”. There should not even be the thought of fighting or defending oneself. This is dualistic and separates the action and the person, and it also takes a long time training to reach this point (not there yet). Only the principle remains, which has to adapt to any situation. What is there is a response which is reflective of the moment and immediate.

A good friend of mine started to practice, out of a genuine interest, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. This is after many years of Tai Chi. There was a shock in store. A whole new experience awaited him. It took time and a lot of aching bones to learn to cope with this new system. It took him out of his comfort zone and had to adapt his Tai Chi to suit. Coming up against various martial arts in the process, including MMA fighters gave him a great opportunity to widen his practical experience. Eventually he made progress and could cope a great deal better, but it took time. I tell this to warn against complacency or any fancy idea’s that might be floating around in the minds of the deluded. I am also not saying that Tai Chi does not work, of course it does. I am saying that you must have the ability to adapt and change for it to work in any situation.

In a photograph anything is possible, a seven stone woman can knock over a twenty stone man, or any unlikely technique is made to look plausible. It is helpful for the understanding of the forms to show the applications. Seldom though will you be able to use a totally specific technique. Each situation is fluid and no one is going to leave their hand or foot out to let you do what you want. Beware of taking the postures as an end in themselves. There has to be continuation or folding and unfolding from one technique to the other. 
I once read an account of a duel between at the time one of the greatest swordsman of his era, Aldo Nadi, and a journalist. When it came down to the reality where there were live blades, everything went out of the window. It was hit or be hit. Aldo Nadi prevailed when his opponent could not continue, but was shocked at how much things had to change when there was real danger.

Only once in forty years have I had to use Tai Chi for real. It happened one evening when we were travelling by bus to visit friends. On the bus was an idiot who thought we all wanted to hear him and his foul language. When I asked him to quieten down he came up to where I was sitting. Leaning over he began to threaten me, getting closer all the time. Just when I felt he was close enough, I pulled his head down. He reacted by pulling back, I followed up by pushing under his chin with my right hand and standing up put my left hand at the bottom of his back and downed him with High Pat the Horse. This was one instance where a specific technique did come in handy. It is also an example of a pre- emptive strike. Throwing techniques are all very practical.

I hesitate to tell this story about Cheng Tin Hung, but here it is. He told me that he was once attacked by around ten men wielding various bladed weapons. What he did was pick up a folding stool and fought like a tiger. He had the scars to prove it. What he didn’t do was classical TCC. No, he responded to the situation as it was. Reality is a great awakening. The phrase “do your forms like a lady, and fight like a tiger” is quite apt.

Ian Cameron July 2010

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