Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Fighting Tai Chi: On Distance

I used to teach this self-defense class I called "Fighting Concepts." I'd been asked to teach martial arts in a one-hour a week format, and I'd wondered how could someone possibly teach martial arts in only an hour a week? What I did was throw out the traditional training and drilling that I had learned with, and came up with a series of games that would teach students to appreciate different aspects of the fight and think creatively. I reasoned that if I couldn't give them discipline and skill (not enough time) that I would give them cleverness and adaptability.

The first thing I taught my students (after I showed them the basics of punching and kicking) was how to appreciate range. Know the limit of your reach and the limit of your opponent. How far can you punch? How can you contort your body to extend that reach? How can you streamline your movements to reduce "tells" that will alert your opponent to the oncoming attack? How can you add footwork to increase your range?

In Tai Chi Sword, I've broken down the 13 techniques into multiple sub groups. Of these, I consider two moves, Pi and Dian to be long-range attacks, so let's start with those. Take your fighting stance across from your opposite and slowly play tag using gentle Pi and Dian attacks. I recommend using wooden swords and wearing heavy, protective gloves like lacrosse or street hockey gloves--a Dian to the front of the hand can be painful and destructive even at fairly low speeds. Go back and forth attacking each other. As an attacker, aim and anything you like. As a defender, do not parry but simply try to move out of the way.

What are desirable targets?
What is the appropriate distance between you and your opponent?

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