Tai Chi Chuan has a very rich body of theory, which touches on various aspects of the art and is frequently recorded in poetic language. This embodiment of theoretical knowledge not only summarises effective techniques of fighting and force training, many of its principles can be applied to daily living. One good example is the following four-fold principle in force training: differentiate the real and the apparent, regulate breathing, use mind rather than brute strength, be calm and relaxed in your action.
Even a brief explanation of this principle can reveal the depth of Tai Chi Chuan theory. In most other martial arts, force training is simplistic and mechanical. If a practitioner of these arts wishes to increase his or her punching power or stamina, for example, it usually requires nothing much more than punching sandbags and skipping over a rope. In Tai Chi Chuan force training, however, punching sandbags, skipping and running are discouraged because not only are these methods crude, they actually diminish the fighting ability of the Tai Chi Chuan exponent. These crude methods give an apparent, not a real, improvement in punching power and stamina.
Punching sandbags hardens the fist, which is quite different from increasing power. A hardened fist covered with calluses may lessen the pain you feel when you smash your fist against a brick, but it does not necessarily increase your power. Any increase in power is not the result of your fist’s repeated contact with the sandbags, but of the action of your repeated punching. Hence, if you just punch into the air repeatedly, instead of into a sandbag (which actually discourages you from punching hard, as it causes you pain), the increase in your punching power will be greater and faster.
The failure of many martial artists to appreciate this is an example of not differentiating the real from the apparent. The power you gain from such punching practice is mechanical, and depends upon how fast your momentum is – and how well your knuckles escape from cracking. A better alternative is to use internal force, which resembles a form of electricity; your punch is therefore not a bony hammer but a connecting bridge channelling the internal force from you into the opponent. If you co-ordinate your breathing, use your mind, and remain calm and relaxed, you will not only increase the internal force in your punch, but also enhance other aspects of your fighting.
Similarly, Tai Chi Chuan masters consider skipping over a rope or running on a machine is a crude method of increasing stamina. Like punching a sandbag, it shows an inability to differentiate the real from the apparent. The increase in stamina is apparent, not real, because you will end up panting for breath if you allow the increase in your need for air which results from your increased activity to regulate your rate of breathing, instead of your trained mind. Your heart will also be working harder, and your blood rushing unnaturally, which is not only stressful and impairs your ability to think clearly and react spontaneously in combat, but may in the long run unfavourably affect your health in ways you may not be able to envisage. Tai Chi Chuan methods of force training overcome all these setbacks, and they will be explained in Chapter 6.
From The Complete Book of Tai Chi Chuan
by Grandmaster Wong Kiew Kit