Tai Chi Chuan's Strategy and Lao Tzu's Tao Te Ching

Tai Chi Chuan is one of the Chinese martial art systems. It has multiple functions such as being efficient in self-defense, benefiting health maintenance and improved moral character and temperament disciplines. Tai Chi Chuan created by Taoist Zhang San Feng was based on the teaching from the book "Tao Teh Ching", which was written by Lao Tzu. The most translated book in the world today. Following are some of the concepts in Tai Chi Chuan that one can easily trace them back to Tao Teh Ching.

A. Soft overcome hard
Tai Chi Chuan as a system of Chinese martial art. It has distinguished combat characteristics, one of which is soft overcome hard. What is this meaning of soft overcome hard? It is a condition of static overcome dynamic, weak overcome strong and slow overcome fast. In the Tai Chi Chuan Classics, "Four ounces overcomes 1000lb" does not solely rely on power. We see many senior practitioners of this art can easily overcome younger practitioners throughout history. The concept of "soft overcome hard" originated from Tao Teh Ching. Lao Tzu pointed out in his book in Chapter 76 "Strong is death, weak is alive. Therefore, a strong army is death, a strong wood is breakable." Generally, things that are weak have potential. Things that are strong have reached their maturation and no more growth potential. Therefore, things that are weak have potential, and room for more. Things that are strong expose everything. They showed all the negatives. Things that are weak will last longer. Things that are strong only last for a short time.

Tai Chi Chuan application is similar to practice the solo form. It guides by the concepts of relaxation, soft, circular and even. It is only when a posture is natural, relaxed and soft, the qi can circulate profoundly and the power supporting the posture. Tai Chi Chuan applies the concept of "softness" distinguished from many Chinese martial art systems which emphasis on "hardness". This "softness" can be interpreted into four areas in Tai Chi Chuan practice and combat strategies.

  1. Tai Chi Chuan does not use physical power. All emphasis is on the intent.
  2. Apply the concept of "static overcome dynamic". When confronted by an opponent, one maintains soft, relaxed and tranquil at all time.
  3. Apply the concept of soft overcome hard. One does not used physical power to control the opponent.
  4. Apply the concept of weak overcome strong.
B. Leading
What is the concept of leading? It is the act of actively disrupting the opponent's balance so that one has a better chance to win in confrontation. The concept of leading is based on the concept of "weakness". When confronting the opponent, it projects a misconception and perception. This results in the opponent's improper reaction and exposes the weakness. This is an active role to lead the opponent to destroy oneself. One can find this concept in Chapter 69, "I am afraid to be a subjective but objective. I am afraid to make one inches forward but retreated one foot." "To be a visitor is not for a visitor alone. Retreat a foot is not for retreat alone." To be a visitor and retreated a foot are tactics and strategy. The objective is to create illusion, misconception and perception so that one can end up at an advantageous position. Although the words visitor and retreat spoken by Lao Tzu in his book appear to be secondary and hospitality, it is actually an active method to master the confrontation initiation. The "softness" and "weakness" concepts deployed in Tai Chi Chuan served a similar function.

In order to be able to apply the concept of "leading" properly and correctly, one must have a sharp sensitivity. For this, formed practitioners had developed Push Hand Exercises for future practitioners to train and develop this sensitivity. In order to be in an advantageous position in confrontation, one must constantly change positions and maintain balance. Therefore, one must move before the opponent and be careful. The emphasis on the opponent's reactions can be found in "Observe small daily will clear" spoken in Chapter 52. "Clear" is referring to understand and "observe small" is referring to pay attention to all details.

The second requirement in "leading' is tranquil and storage. In Chapter 61, "Ordinary calmness to overcome strongness. The softness in female with calm mind can overcome the strong in male." The soft and flexible characteristics of "leading" without a calm mind, it is difficult to function. When a practitioner is not calm, one cannot concentrate, very easy agitate, make mistakes and executed incorrect response. When one is calm, one paid attention when observing and analyze the opponent's movements, body language and find out the weakness. Therefore, calm is a very important component of one's skill. The nature of calm is storage and hidden. It can neutralize the opponent's power with patience so that one can apply the technique of "leading". In Chapter 28, "Know the male, concentrate the female. It is the universal behavior". Lao Tzu wanted people to understand that the strong characteristics of male, original came from the soft characteristics of female. One should have the patience and tolerance to stand up to all obstacles for this happened only in a short time. They are based on Lao Tzu's teaching of initialization of weak and soft which can be found in "Weak is the application of Tao" in Chapter 46.

C. Following
The concept of following is one of the critical criteria to win in combat confrontation. It is a response based on information gathering and analysis then, apply difficult methods to confused, manipulated without the opponent's awareness and end up in a threating and disadvantageous position. Generally, in order to be in an advantageous position and completely control the opponent, one has to given up on oneself and follow the opponent's every movement.

Given up on oneself, it is an act of unselfishness. It is also based on the concept of "soft". Although it appears passive, it is active all the time, in every movement and ready to respond and manipulate the opponent's movement.

The concept of given up on oneself and following the opponent have two meanings according to Lao Tzu:
a. Following: "Apply strategy unexpected" in Chapter 57
b. Given up oneself: "Transport in unity" in Chapter 10

Following is referring to the condition of manipulation deployed and given up on oneself is referring to the actuality.

When two parties are engaging in confrontation, if one party has a lot of fire power, the second party has to avoid the strike and seize the opportunity to counter strike. This is similar to when one confronts with thunderstorm and rain and get wet, one's immediate reaction would be to look for shelter to shield from the rain until it stops.

When the opponent's strike is fast and powerful, this generally cannot last long. One should look for the weakness and imbalance. However, if the opponent is patient, conservative, one should initialize the strike and apply tactic and strategy to pretend to expose the weakness to invite the opponent to strike.

Given up on oneself required a skill of forget oneself and be unselfish. This philosophy is not only benefit in martial art discipline; it is also a philosophy recommended in one's daily life practice. This is the philosophy of the martial art promotes into tao as explained by Lao Tzu in "Tao is daily given" in Chapter 48. A true condition of given up on oneself is to choose and live a simple life free from a materialistic plentiful society and temptation. To pick up the simplest rule among wide ranges of rules in life. It is the rule of nature. The objective of given up on oneself is so that one can be in an advantageous position. In life, it is the condition of intention and body movement into one united. In combat confrontation, all movements based on the opponent's action. The result of this condition according to Lao Tzu as "nothing enter into nothingness" in Chapter 43.

Given up on oneself and to follow the opponent is the essence in Tai Chi Chuan teaching. The obvious of this teaching is demonstrated and interpreted in the concept of "Four ounce overcome 1000 pound".

Tai Chi Chuan and Tao Teh Ching's teachings are inseparable. To improve the Tai Chi Chuan skill, a practitioner must pay attention to the information presented in the book "Tao Te Ching".

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