Taiji Quan’s Bridging Skills 接手

This questions comes up a lot:  how to deal with someone who is fast and using a lot of feints, for example the box with his jabs.

The advantages of the jab are that it’s very quick, changeable, relatively long range, and very hard for the opponent to tell whether an attack is real or fake. The disadvantage is that power-wise it’s relatively light. For internal martial arts, the main advantage of internal skills (we also use external skills, but as finishing moves) is that we can use them to control the opponent. The disadvantage is that those has to be used at very close range – everything starts with making contact first. So you’re raising one of the key questions for internal martial art fighting: how do we close that distance?

Here we have a two part problem:

  1. dealing with a longer weapon: in theory, the only way to survive against a longer weapon is to get inside, past its minimum effective range. So we have stay just outside its maximum effective range until we spot an opportunity, then we come in fast, inside of its minimum effective range.
  2. dealing with trickery: against someone using a lot of tricky/fake skills, you do something solid, real, forcing him to respond with the same. To paraphrase Sunzi, present the enemy with a target so inviting that he has to strike with real commitment. And when they do that, it’s much simpler (not necessarily easier) to deal with.

There are two types of skills we need to be good at to make this work:
Footwork: amongst many Taiji practitioners today, one common problem is that their steps are too big. This is the result of doing mostly stationary push hand and fixed routine moving push hands where only one or two pre-designed steps are required. If we are unable to stick to our partner in random moving push hand practice, then our footwork is not good enough for real fighting.

This is one reason sticking staff is emphasized so much in traditional practice. Footwork is even more import in weapons fighting, where everything is faster. There being out of position even a little bit means not being able to withdraw the weapon back in time to deal with the next attack. And the type that is needed there are mostly small, quick and therefore more stable and agile footwork. So sticking staff (spear basics) drills offers us the most challenging and realistic footwork training.

Hand skill: In push hands we normally start the practice with two people touching each other’s hands already. So how to achieve that touch in the first place? In Taiji Quan, there is actually a set of skills called bridge hands in its sparring practice. It’s one of the last skills to learn for people who are good enough to reach that stage in training. It’s similar to the ones used in Bagua – how to make contact with the opponent’s arms using the arm on the same side, opposite side; from inside of his arm, from outside; one hand, both hands; what to do immediately after making contact to get even closer, control his center, etc.

There are of course a lot of details: even when it’s a hard, real attack, the hands is still very fast and changeable, so don’t try to catch the wrist directly, watch the elbow, try to make contact with the elbow or the area below (toward the forearm), etc.


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July 2009
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