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HomeTai ChiCounter-Level Neutralizing In T’ai Chi Sparring

Counter-Level Neutralizing In T’ai Chi Sparring

Counter-Level Neutralizing in T’ai Chi Sparring
by David X. Swenson & David Longsdorf


T’ai chi sparring typically depends on the usage of pushes, pulls, and joint twisting (chin na) strategies. There are a number of factors on the physique that may be touched, pressed, or hooked to briefly neutralize the ability and leverage of such an assault. Counterpoints are uncommon as a result of they contain a lot much less effort than the forces they neutralize. This text describes six counterpoints and explores how they might work.


T’ai chi sparring, whether or not sluggish movement choreography or quick free-fighting, is usually described as a fluid dance between companions, through which they assault, neutralize, and counter-attack. Assaults are usually redirected by deflecting the blow or transferring with the drive, however in some cases a talented assault prevents such response and steadiness is upset. The usage of counterpoints offers a speedy response to pushes, pulls, and joint twisting strategies, that briefly neutralizes the drive. Counterpoints are factors on the physique of the attacker that, when touched or frivolously gripped by the defender, successfully neutralize the drive or leverage of the attacker’s approach. This text describes how counterpoints had been found, describes six of 18 functions which have been developed, and explores a number of explanations of how they might work.

After working towards solo kinds for a number of years, many t’ai chi practitioners turn into proficient on the kinds, and more and more interested by how the kinds work. They construct sensitivity and start to discover functions by way of push-hands (tui shou) after which extra spontaneous functions in free sparring (san shou). Some masters have made vital contributions to understanding the mechanics, significantly William Chen, who has exhaustively studied the biomechanics of postures, TT. Liang who emphasised the subtlety of functions, and Stuart Olson, Bruce Kumar Frantzis, Pete Starr, and Don Ethan Miller who emphasize number of functions. It was on this spirit of curiosity that the Duluth T’ai Chi Examine Group started exploring the mechanics of kinds in a specific model of sluggish sparring we’ve been growing over the previous 20 years.

To many individuals, their expertise of t’ai chi is restricted to seeing the slow-motion collection of postures studied within the early phases of coaching which are used to meditate, be taught correct type, loosen up deeply, develop steadiness, and coordinate all elements of the physique. In later phases of follow, particularly companion follow and weapons coaching, velocity is elevated whereas the identical ideas of excellent type, rest, steadiness and coordination are maintained. Studying to spar often progresses from easy push-hand workout routines between companions, to reasonably paced and exactly choreographed attack-defend exchanges, to very quick and spontaneous free combating. When the primary writer (Swenson) suffered a again damage and was unable to proceed vigorous sparring however was unwilling to forego sparring altogether, he compromised the quick and sluggish features and commenced experimenting with sluggish however spontaneous sparring.

In sluggish sparring, the companions transfer at a constant tempo, both sluggish or average tempo, and keep away from rushing up or altering tempo. That is tough at first as a result of most gamers wish to velocity as much as deflect the assault; they wish to keep away from being hit and wish to win. Nevertheless, in t’ai chi, to “put money into shedding” helps college students higher perceive the place they’ve been open for assault and methods to right it. For the reason that sluggish strikes don’t harm (they frivolously contact the opponent), one can spend time in specializing in the ideas of motion and understanding the opponent’s motion, not simply on constantly defending oneself.

Sparring at a sluggish however constant tempo reduces the necessity for companions to hurry up, and subsequently reduces aggressive and aggressive perspective. It additionally enhances cooperation and mutual studying amongst college students. That is additionally a useful expertise for instructors who should mannequin humility by being open to being struck or pushed and studying from it. The sparring proceeds slowly, considerably quicker than the solo type, and as functions emerge, the companions can cease, repeat, and analyze the applying. This was how we found the counterpoints. Teacher Swenson was sparring with senior pupil Richard Townsend who started to push his chest. Starting to lose steadiness, Swenson responsively hooked his thumb on Townsend’s pushing elbow, and the push was instantly and surprisingly neutralized. The strategy of neutralizing the push was so efficient that Swenson and t’ai chi companion David Longsdorf started looking for extra counterpoints. Though we’re persevering with to discover extra functions, we’ve at present discovered 18 counterpoints that successfully neutralize the strategies of push, pull, press, and chin na (wrist strategies and locks).


The precept behind counterpoints is that they contain making use of a comparatively gentle stress on some extent on the physique (often a joint) that has the impact of neutralizing a really sturdy stress (e.g., push, pull, twist, and many others.) on one other a part of the physique. To exhibit this idea, have a companion push in your chest with their proper hand (see Fig. 1). On the similar time, frivolously hook the criminal of your proper thumb and wrist to their proper elbow. Though you don’t apply stress in opposition to their elbow, their effort to push you tends to extend the stress in opposition to that elbow level. This gentle stress counteracts their push, thereby neutralizing it. The fascinating side of this method is that the defender doesn’t want to use an equal quantity of stress to the elbow that the attacker is making use of to the chest. A minor stress will neutralize a a lot stronger push.

Determine 1. Elbow counter-point to neutralize single-hand push

We reasoned that if a counterpoint labored successfully to neutralize a push then it would work on a pull as properly (see Fig 2.). Have a companion grasp your wrist and pull downward and again with a view to break your posture and imbalance you. First attempt resisting utilizing energy and with out utilizing the counterpoint. Normally you can see that you’re utilizing a large amount of effort in addition to changing into fairly stiff, which might allow your opponent to reap the benefits of this to unbalance you. Subsequent, whereas your wrist is being pulled again and down, preserve good upright posture however loosen up, let your arm go slack, and frivolously contact the shoulder of the companion along with your free hand. This can successfully neutralize the pull.

Determine 2. Shoulder counter-point to neutralize rearward pull

The approach appears to work as properly in opposition to double-hand push. As your companion pushes in opposition to your chest with each palms (see Fig. 3), both place your fingers or palm in opposition to the again of the elbows and frivolously pull towards your self as they push, or place the palms in opposition to the entrance of the elbows and frivolously push ahead and upward as your companion pushes ahead.

Determine 3. Elbow counter-point to neutralize push

Press is a way distinctive to the mushy arts, and particularly relevant to sparring when closing with an opponent. It may be successfully used when one folds the arm from a punch or push into nearer proximity to the companion. When your companion begins to press in opposition to your forearm and shoulder, frivolously contact his shoulder, reverse the pushing hand of the press (see Fig. 4). If the attacker pursues the press whereas being neutralized by this counterpoint, he loses steadiness and the press is considerably diminished.

Determine 4. Shoulder counter-point to neutralize a press

The splitting strategy of diagonal flying can be utilized to dam a strike or single hand push after which upset the opponent over your leg right into a throw. The defender can counter this by touching the attacker’s higher shoulder (see Fig. 5).

Determine 5. Shoulder counter-point to neutralize diagonal flying

Even chin na strategies seem to have some counterpoint functions. In response to the wrist turning approach (see Fig 6.), the defender is often turned to the aspect, breaking posture, and being thrown to the bottom. Resisting the flip solely ends in vital wrist ache and finally transferring with the throw. Utilizing counterpoints we’ve discovered that the stress and leverage of the throw may be largely neutralized. Within the determine, discover how the defender’s arm rises into ward-off posture. The ward-off frivolously presses in opposition to each wrists of the attacker.

Determine 6. Ward-off to neutralize lateral wrist chin-na

Mechanics of Counterpoints

There have been a number of makes an attempt to elucidate how counter-points work, particularly because the quantity of effort utilized by the defender seems a lot lower than that utilized by the attacker. Many t’ai chi practitioners are snug merely saying that it’s completed through the use of “neutralizing vitality.” Whereas which will or might not be true, we’ve been fascinated with understanding the biomechanics of this fascinating approach. We now have thought of misdirection, suggestion, counterforce, and motor circuits as attainable explanations, and we’ve explored these with different martial artists, bodily therapists, and train physiologists.

A standard demonstration of ch’i at tournaments and conferences is to have three to 5 folks in a line push in opposition to a single t’ai chi participant. The demonstration appears spectacular and even comical in that the road of individuals make no progress in pushing the participant again; one would anticipate 5 folks to simply overpower one particular person. On cautious examination nevertheless, it could often be seen that the t’ai chi participant makes use of misdirection by having the road of pushers barely redirect the push into his leg to root extra strongly, whereas on the similar time he barely uproots the primary pusher who’s likewise being pushed from the rear by others. The impact of this uproot is to make the primary pusher try to regain steadiness, and does so by resisting these pushing from behind. Thus, the t’ai chi participant solely must imbalance the primary pusher who then resists these behind him. In precept, a well-placed counter-balance reduces by magnitudes the energy of the push.

It might be argued that expectation and suggestion tends to bias the result in an illustration. There are tales of Cheng Man-Ching who received a brand new pupil to leap up and down by tapping on his head, however which elder college students knowingly smiled at, saying that it was the scholar’s exaggeration. Sifu Swenson typically makes use of an illustration involving a collection of delicate recommendations to allow straightforward knocking down of an outstretched arm– that even labored efficiently with Arnold Schwartzenegger a few years in the past. Naive college students, wishing to please a instructor, consciously or unconsciously are inclined to cooperate, not wishing to embarrass the instructor, or as a result of they too consider within the “energy” of the approach. To rule this out, we’ve examined the approach on quite a lot of individuals who neither knew our ability stage within the martial arts nor had been knowledgeable of the result anticipated. The results of the counterpoints doesn’t appear to be affected by their expectation.

Counterpoints could also be defined by the straightforward thought of a counterforce: that’s, a direct drive (e.g., push) is countered by an opposing drive that is the same as the attacking drive. Nevertheless, the lesser drive of the counterpoints counsel that it isn’t only a direct counterforce. Bodily therapists and train physiologists who’ve skilled the approach have urged that the counterpoint stimulates a motor circuit outdoors the extent of consciousness. It might be that the road of drive utilized within the counterpoint doesn’t block the drive head-on, however disrupts the steadiness of the particular person in order that effort is reapplied to sustaining attacker’s steadiness and is subsequently taken away from the assault. A associated clarification is that the counterpoint doesn’t have an effect on the attacker, however merely helps preserve the steadiness of the defender.

Whereas these numerous explanations sadly go away us and not using a decisive clarification of how counterpoints work, the true worth is within the asking and exploring of such questions. What is required is additional testing with biometric gear through which precise drive and steadiness measurements may be assessed whereas the strategies are being utilized.


As a lot as we’ve discovered counter-points to be fascinating and efficient, there are counters to counter-points as properly. This shouldn’t be shocking to most t’ai chi gamers because the interactive and dynamic nature of t’ai chi is extra like an ongoing sport of rock-paper-scissors. In sparring, every of the gamers is delicate to the maneuver of the companion and strikes to regulate to and reap the benefits of the companion’s assault and posture. Taking the road of considering that any approach ought to seemingly have a counter to it, we explored how counterpoints might be overcome. It didn’t take lengthy to search out that when the attacker discovered the push neutralized, a circle or spiral might be utilized by the attacker to push once more and overcome the neutralization. This spiral is very similar to the silk reeling vitality approach (chan suu jin) of Chen model t’ai chi.

Lastly, we thought of that the chan suu jin counter may also be countered. After way more experimenting, we found that by the defender following the identical spiralling utilized by the attacker, the attacker’s counter is also neutralized. The essential thought all through all this dialogue of counterpoints is that such neutralization, although short-term, provides the defender a second to counter with an alternate approach. By studying the counterpoints, t’ai chi gamers come to a deeper understanding of this advanced and delicate artwork, in addition to be taught sensible expertise for utility in self protection.

A lot of that is harking back to the story of the little boy who requested his father how the world is held up– what’s the mechanism? The daddy decisively replied that “an elephant holds up the world.” The curious youngster thought in regards to the reply awhile, then requested once more, “so what holds up the elephant?” The mum or dad, seeing the place this was going, rapidly stated, “it’s elephants all the way in which down.” In t’ai chi, each approach has a counter, each counter has a counter, and it’s counters all the way in which down.

Keep in mind to take a look at our different articles on Tai Chi Coaching!


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