After an energetic training session in our martial classes, we cool down by performing the Tai Chi hand form.
Taking 15-20 minutes to perform in total, the slow movements effectively perform the function of a therapeutic warm-down, encouraging the muscles and joints to move through their range of motion while operating at a reduced intensity. Meanwhile, one gains all the other benefits of practising the hand form – one works through an efficient template of the style’s martial movements while training balance, co-ordination and focus.
The tiredness experienced after expending energy in pushing hands practice and sparring also helps encourage relaxation and use of minimum muscular tension, which also benefits one’s practice of the form.
Below are some photos taken during a martial class (photography by Steve Musselwhite).
Tai Chi is well-known as a health system. However, it is also an effective martial art and was once taught to the Manchurian military which occupied China at the time of Tai Chi’s explosion into prominence.
Traditionally, martial artists in China tested their skills against other styles at “lei tai” events, where fighters would compete on a raised platform – similar to modern combat sports such as Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) contests. Originally these contests would have been no-holds-barred, however nowadays rulesets have been introduced to ensure the safety of competitors while still maintaining a realistic level of contact. Modern “san shou” / “kuo shu” competition rulesets can be broadly compared to kickboxing mixed with stand-up wrestling. Groundwork, although popular in modern MMA tournaments, was not in favour in traditional Chinese society, likely as a combination of traditional values (seeing it as “ungentlemanly”) and practical concerns (seeing it as inadvisable to be on the ground in situations with multiple attackers, weapons, etc).
The lineage of Oxford Wudang has preserved the Tai Chi fighting heritage, and our club has had many members who have competed in full-contact competitions, including national champions.
This level of training is not for everyone; those who are willing to put in the effort and commitment can participate in sparring sessions during our martial classes, beginning with light contact and moving up to full-contact training as skill and conditioning progresses. All other aspects of the training – forms, pushing hands (grappling) training, practical applications drills, padwork & conditioning training – feed into and inform this live training practice.
Below is a slideshow album of photographs taken during a recent sparring session (Photography by Steve Musselwhite). Due to the fast-paced nature of bouts it’s very difficult to capture moments perfectly on film, so we’re grateful that Steve has managed to take some very good photos here…!
One of the benefits of regular Tai Chi practice is the release of stress and unnecessary postural tension, allowing the breath to flow smoothly and unhindered.
Martially, this aids in the efficient transmission of force, without interference of postural muscle tension upon functional muscle use; it also allows the practitioner to move in a relaxed way and conserve stamina.
In the video below Dave discusses the concepts of tension, relaxation and breathing as they relate to the Tai Chi hand form postures and movements.
One of the fundamental principles is maintaining a structurally sound stance. The Tai Chi Discourse states:
The root is in the feet;
Discharging is done by the legs,
The controlling power is in the waist,
And the appearance is in the hand and fingers. 
In health-based Tai Chi practice, correct stances are integral for ensuring joint health of the lower legs and for supporting the functioning of the leg muscles. In martial Tai Chi practice, stances are vital for ensuring one can effectively absorb and redirect the force of an opponent.
In the video below, Dave provides instruction in some of the basic principles of stance-work.
 Translation by Dan Docherty, http://www.taichichuan.co.uk/information/classics_lun_text.html
This series of photographs shows Chris (red) initiating right and left pushes with the intent of unbalancing his opponent.
Dave (black), listening for changes in his opponent’s movement detects Chris’s intent, absorbing the right push with a solidly structured stance and redirecting the left push using softness and flexibility, guiding Chris’s force into “the void” (i.e. unbalancing the attacker).
Principles of Yin and Yang
In Taoist philosophy, the yin and yang symbol represents the two forces which pervades everything in the universe.
In the martial art tai chi chuan, the principles of yin and yang are used to attack and defend. Attacking is yang. A tai chi player aims to counteract an attackers yang by using yin to absorb and defuse it. The yang force is not met and blocked, yang is not used against yang. Instead the force of the attack is diverted away from the body with the minimum of force. Once an attackers yang has been nullified, he or she is unbalanced and yang can be used in a counter-attack.
Educated force, force with technique, stemming from an understanding of yin and yang, is essential to tai chi. The ability to switch between effective yin and yang quickly requires suppleness, agility and speed.
The Tai Chi Hand Form consists of a series of movements in which yin and yang interchange. It develops awareness of the way yin and yang can be used in self-defence and of the way your body works naturally, so you do not have to practise martial tai chi in order to benefit from the hand form. The motions give you the suppleness and fitness you require, increasing health and vitality.
Tai Chi is an internal martial art, it is the way your body works . You need to become aware of your body and the way it moves, and achieve balance of yin and yang yourself. This is good for body and mind, since they are relaxed and in harmony.
In our martial classes, we use Pushing Hands (Tui Shou) training in a live, free-style manner to train grappling skills, controlling the arms in close quarters, and setting up throwing and locking techniques. Throughout we train to employ Tai Chi principles of Yin and Yang, softness, following, adhering, continuity, and rejecting brute force in favour of skilled technique – tactics which are difficult to maintain when in a competitive situation.
The photo set below (photography by Steve Musselwhite) illustrates a session involving Pushing Hands training, capturing some moments where the class members are both searching for and exploiting weaknesses in their opponents’ defence.