Wednesday, after 4 hours of sword form and fencing, we had an prolonged discussion about applications in the form. A common question by new students in taiji is “what does this do?” Generally I can show several applications for any one posture, but prefer not to. Several other teachers I’ve met are the same way. Why is this? For me, it’s because I don’t believe that’s how taiji works.
When I took Taekwondo as a kid, we spend many an hour doing ‘what if’ drills. What if they did technique A? Well, you counter with technique B. What if they did technique C like ‘this’? Then you use technique D like ‘that’. Etc… This method programs the muscle memory so little to no thought is required to perform the technique. It can be handy if one is taken by surprise. That’s all fine and good for beginners. So long as they have some framework to keep from being totally lost, but it can get really complex. With a specific counter to each specific attack, one runs the risk of hesitation (waiting too long trying to figure out how they are coming in and consequently how to counter) or simply encountering an attack you’ve never seen before and therefore don’t know how to respond. It can also lead to knee-jerk reactions i.e. reflexively lop saoing your girlfriend when she sneaks up on you. I have also found that this approach can make practitioners of certain MAs rather predictable. If you know the common response to a particular attack you can set them up real easily and most likely get away with it repeatable, because their response is so ingrained and automatic.

Taiji, IMO, has a slightly different method of conditioning. Rather than training specific reactions to specific attacks, the form conditions our body to behave in a sunk, relaxed and balanced fashion. This leads to spontaneous, measured responses to outside stimuli. It’s less of a technique per se and more of a state of being that allows for free flowing application of any technique. When asked about a certain application in the form, my teacher had me throw a hook. He caught it, carried it up and threw me back. He asked me to do it again, so I did. Each time I threw the same punch and each time he responded with a different counter. When I pointed out that he was doing something different each time, he looked thoughtful for a minute and replied “So are you.”


~ by aedhcarrick on August 27, 2009.

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