Tai Chi Fighting Strategy

One of the most important points in the Tai Chi classics about fighting strategy is the idea that the enemy attacks first and that the Tai Chi practitioner actually makes contact first.

The key to actually doing this is…

…timing, distance, movement and placement of techniques.

Understanding this aspect of Tai Chi is essential to the use Tai Chi as a fighting art and specifically refers to the economy of motion that is central to how Tai Chi is used and practiced.

The essential physical strategy of Tai Chi.

Tai Chi is a walking art. The use of distance and space is essential.

Understanding critical distances from just beyond reach with a kick to up close body contact is the essence of the physical strategy of Tai Chi. Walking out of range or into range when an attacker is unprepared for it can really tilt the outcome of a fight in your favor.

One scenario that can be used to understand this concept is as follows.

  1. My enemy attacks from 9 feet away.
  2. They have to cover most of the 9 feet just to reach me.
  3. I am ready to strike and counter attack.
  4. While they try to cover the distance to reach me…
  5. I hit them as they are still approaching.

They were attacking first but I landed the first hit.

Another way to look at this from a physical standpoint is that the Tai Chi practitioner is soft and flowing evading the strikes of the attacker until the attacker is in a bad position.

Then, the Tai Chi practitioner strikes the attacker hitting them at their weakest point with the best hit for the position, direction and speed at the time. Once again, the attacker was striking first but the Tai Chi practitioner actually hit first (and ideally last).

End the fight with as little force as possible.

The idea is to end the confrontation by blending with the attacker such that the attacker has nowhere to strike.

Float like a mosquito…

Think of a hanging towel or shower curtain. If you strike a hanging towel or shower curtain hard and fast it normally just moves and bends.

Try to put a hole in it and learn a lesson in frustration. It does not break because it simply gives way.

If you look at the flowing aspect of Tai Chi movement in comparison to the towel or shower curtain then it will make more sense why and how you want your Tai Chi movement to really flow.

Can you be soft and flowing enough that a hit cannot easily penetrate you? The answer is yes but it may take quite a bit of practice to think and move this way.

Sting like a brick wall.

Now add the idea of suddenly being connected as one solid piece so that your entire body weight can be transmitted through any contact point.

Then you will be working the other side of the coin.

Put some yin and yang in your fighting art.

If you can go from soft and flowing like a towel or shower curtain to one solid and connected piece at will (like a 150 – 200 pound steel wrapped in cotton statue) then you can really display the yin and yang in your fighting art.

Soft and relaxed until the moment you want to strike and then all of your body weight is transferred the instant you choose to.

I like to say float like a butterfly and then sting like a brick wall.

This is a proper application of real Tai Chi Chuan Strategy in motion.


  1. Dan Eidson, DCH, LMT says

    Does hitting while advancing require any fancy footwork? Sometimes you strike while advancing linear or side stepping to right angles.
    Are you walking some kind of circle similar to Ba Qua?
    In Shaolin Kung Fu you use whole body weight but never lean. This leaves you open for body throws from the opponent.
    Striking then retreating would be a favorable way to do it I suppose.

    • Sigung Clear says

      Hi Dan,
      Thank you for the question.

      Because of the different arts I study and practice several answers immediately come to mind. However, I will keep my answer appropriate to higher level Tai Chi principles and application.

      Tai Chi tends to use sophisticated positioning prior to engagement that makes it difficult for an opponent to reach the Tai Chi player and then when the opponent tries to reach the Tai Chi player they are stepping into the trap that allows the Tai Chi practitioner to shift and strike without additional stepping. The Tai Chi player IS still advancing but the advancement tends to be a shift in body position and applied body weight into the area where the opponent has moved in order to be close enough to strike.

      The timing is the critical issue as the Tai Chi player wants the contact to happen while the opponent is moving into position and / or preparing to strike but has not yet struck.

      Keep up the good training.
      Best Regards.

  2. Gurinder says

    Sifu could you please tell me how to use hip as a strike and how to develop a shoulder strike in a sideways…not in the straight direction as a punch is thrown.

    Thank you 🙂

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