by Ma Yueliang Translated by Ted W. Knecht
Using softness to defeat hardness
Hardness and softness are two types of energies within Taijiquan. One type carries with it a character of resistance and no matter if it is large or small it is called hard energy. The other type follows the incoming attack with no resistance and is called soft energy. Taijiquan nimbly uses both softness and hardness and changes according to the circumstance. This is an important attribute in the fighting principles of Taijiquan. When hardness resists hardness, the one with the greatest strength will win. There is no method of being agile with hardness against hardness. When using strength like two rams hitting head to head, this is called dead energy. When this type of dead energy encounters the live energy it most often will be controlled and lead into emptiness. This is called softness defeating hardness in the terminology of Taijiquan. The application of using softness to defeat hardness is to use softness to move or dissolve the hard energy of the opponent into emptiness during an attack. If the opponent uses force to attack and I also use force to attack who ever has more strength or speed will win. Taijiquan emphasizes using soft dissolving actions in order to stop the vigorous charge of the attack. However, if one only knows how to defense by retreat and cannot advance for a counter attack, then this does not conform to the principles of hardness and softness mutually working together and softness defeating hardness.
Using stillness to deal with motion
Emptiness and fullness in martial arts is hidden in its energies. It is not openly exposed or shown. If one cannot control the opponent’s balance or center then it will be difficult to advance for one’s own attack. Otherwise this could give the opponent an opening for a counter attack. One must respond to the opponent’s attack as he issues forward by using rotational movement to dissolve the attack into empty space and then one can issue one’s own internal force to defeat the opponent. In most circumstances Taijiquan does not initiate the attack, but in most cases it uses the principle of stillness to deal with motion. Taijiquan relies upon the listening energy of the body and hands to sense the energetic motion of the opponent. Upon knowing the intent of the opponent one can use the fighting principle of first arriving and then attacking. When an attack in very fierce one can first lead the opponent’s force into emptiness and then use either rollback or pluck to counter attack. If one does not want the opponent to get too close, then before he nears apply ward-off to check the attack. In summary, when an encounter is made with an opponent, one should use listening energy to sense out the changes or preparation that the opponent may make in order to turn his energy against himself. In the “Hitting Hands” classics it states that when the opponent does not move then I do not move; when he moves slightly then I have already moved. This illustrates the idea of using stillness to deal with motion. This principle and usage foremost is to wait until opportunity arises to move and then make an attack with ease.
The small defeating the large
All techniques within Taijiquan are found in the outer manifestation of the postures or movements. While the inner manifestation is the internal strength. The combination of the outer motion and the internal strength brings out the art of Taijiquan. The art of Taijiquan uses the idea of the small to defeat the large. The type of fighting strategy is completely in line with motor mechanics. By placing one’s own movement onto of the opponent’s movement and by either increasing or decreasing one’s strength the opponent will lose his center and lose control of his attack. One can then completely control the opponent for a counter attack. The reason for the opponent’s defeat is due to his lose of balance by controlling his center. It must be said again that this type of fighting strategy cannot use hardness to attack hardness but must rely upon one’s knowledge of softness and redirection to accomplish the feat. The methods of using energy in Taijiquan is by dissolving and sticking to the opponent. Dissolving is to redirect and open up the opponent and sticking is to stay in connect with the opponent’s every move. The application of these two types of energies can allow for endless changes in fighting. In every regard, the movements of Taijiquan follow the circular shape of the Taiji diagram. Within the circle there contains unlimited lessons for dissolving and sticking. This allows for constant change to occur based upon the changes the opponent makes. When encountering an opponent one should be at a heightened level of sensitivity in order to control the energy pathways of the opponent. The key principle behind this is to maintain a constant flow to deal with the opponent’s attack. This is not hardness dealing with hardness, but instead it is using softness when there is hardness. If both were to use hardness then there would be no flow between the two fighters. If there is no flow then there will be no way of dissolving and if there is no dissolving then there will be no sticking. Under these circumstances there will be no way to sense the attack the opponent plans. Dissolving must be soft to protect oneself; sticking is conducted directly after dissolving in order to maintain control of the opponent. Another characteristic of Taijiquan’s fighting strategies is that movement is conducted in arcs. The principle of moving in an arc is convenient for movement to change from softness to hardness or from hardness to softness. The interaction of hardness and softness and dissolving and sticking uses the bases of circular movement when applying energy. Moving in an arc is not necessarily slower than moving in a straight line. Since movement in an arc is continuous and can allow for change without pause it sometimes is even faster than moving in a straight line. The principle of first arriving and then issuing attack is derived from this concept. The more profound one’s Taijiquan is the more smaller the arcs become. In fact, at high levels the arc can be more of a notion without physically manifesting it in form or fight.