Youtube is now full of clips showing a teacher demonstrating a light touch and even no touch fajing skills. Fajing refers to a quick release of force. It has the characteristics of a shock or whip type energy. What one sees is the teacher touching a partner or pushing hands with a student. With very little movement or show of force from the teacher, the student then bounces back several steps. The extreme of this shows teachers just waving their hand before a student reaches them and the student is knocked backward or downward by some force. Now that enough of these teachers are demoing their art, there is a stronger and stronger push back from some in the Tai Chi community saying that this is embarrassing them and is giving the wrong impression of Tai Chi. I think it is a valid subject to address.
Some take the position that if this skill is for real why doesn’t one person with this skill (and the number is growing) enter one of the most popular venues such as MMA or Jujitsu competition and show their stuff. Some of the reasons that have come back is that these competitions have rules which would be unfair to their art. Seems to me this skill just needs to touch lightly and that is all that is needed (I’m discounting the no touch for now). Some have answered that it is not ethical to desire to hurt someone through the use of martial art only for personal fame or glory. Sounds nice but you know there is always at least one rogue warrior in any group. One teacher even honestly suggested that it would take away the mystery of the skill and would hurt the selling of tickets to their seminars. Sounds honest but doesn’t seem to score high on the ethical side.
My take on this is that there are actually things to learn from the teaching of this skill. But realistic thoughts and critical thinking should rule. Any time in combat, especially at close range if one becomes stiff, the Tai Chi expert can apply projection to the stiffness of the opponent which can certainly knock the person away. The study of this projection on a target of opportunity is good training. If the dynamic of momentum is included and the opponent is over extended etc. a more dynamic outcome or result is possible. But what if the opponent is loose when the touch of projection is applied and they yield or give to the sudden projection? How is the yin controlled. This would indicate that the partner or opponent needs to be in a certain state of tension and maybe motion in order for this technique to work. Whether this state is come by naturally or whether the partner is a student that has been brainwashed or trained to react as we see on film is a good question. It is true that the type of projection thrown can indicate how a person is affected. Being one who has received these things from a teacher and learned how to ride it out with the bounce jump, I can say that it can be faked in the sense that the helping student can be stiff enough so the teacher’s projection will knock them back. Now when the touch is extremely small or nothing it causes one to wonder if this is something a little more magical and beyond physics. I believe in some things that are transcendent, but I have to have good reasons and facts to do so. That I think is what the believers in this method have failed to explain if that is what they want to do. The ability to bounce takes effort as well. Those I think acquainted with athletic movement can see the effort of the student in the hops that occur. If these things were powerful and real you would probably see people go out of control more and fall awkwardly more than is exhibited by the sometimes very athletic students.
The deception is that some of these people who do this do have skills of energy control that can be understood. So when some people who are skillful go this direction it does make it harder for the average person to give a fair judgment.
Another point that I would like to make that is often discussed on this topic is the need for the Tai Chi practitioner to enter the MMA etc in order to prove the value of martial Tai Chi. I have problems with this on several levels. Tai Chi is primarily an art at close range. While the instructor can make the difference in teaching an art, most of the Tai Chi theory works when one is at close range in touch. I have heard well known Tai Chi teachers say that Tai Chi begins at touch. One must only protect with coverage but once the attacker’s arms touch you the Tai Chi will take over. I see problems with this approach as there is a whole world of skills in the area pre-touch. The footwork and upper body explosion coming form deceptive footwork and upper body deception can account for a head start and big advantage on the defender. Of course Tai Chi starts working at touch but there is a difference in starting neutral and at a considerable disadvantage. Depending on the quality of the attackers non-telegraph and deceptive skills one can get a disadvantage that is difficult to overcome. Is Tai Chi willing to give that pre entry area up. I don’t think so but Tai Chi is not known for teaching much in that area publicly. The reasons that one wins a fight can depend on many factors. We know that size, strength, speed, non telegraphic speed, timing, will, endurance, toughness and technique all play a role.
I use to be irritated when the original UFC would indicate that we would be learning what the best style was from these matches. In the end it is not the style that wins but the fighter. When you limit the fight with rules then you may favor certain styles having advantages over other styles but still the fighter himself or herself is the bottom line. Much of martial art development was based on the weak overcoming the strong. This meant that one had to take advantage of the no rules aspect in real lethal fighting. For every rule in a competition the fight potentially changes for one of the participants. Advantages and disadvantages exist anyway, but the rules will always lean toward a certain way of fighting. It only takes one mistake to lose a fight and when weapons and targets are taken away especially from the lesser athlete what we are seeing is fighting that may give us a skewed view of what is best. The study of realistic fighting is a difficult journey since it takes great effort to train in a way that will contribute to realism while maintaining safety.
I heard one person say that they were glad there were some mma fighters who listed Tai Chi among the many arts they are credited with training. Ok, many of these arts have opposite theories to Tai Chi so if he wins is it because of Tai Chi or because of one of the other arts? Actually we can see the defining moments of the fight when there is a winner and can often really see the reason for the outcome. Sometime it is very simple. Could be simply speed or timing. Could be any number or combination of things but when a fighter list 8 styles with Tai Chi one of them, what are we suppose to think unless we see a clear example of something in Tai Chi that caused the outcome?
All this is not to belittle the great shape, athleticism and skills that some fighters in the MMA possess. They are young, they are professionals and they do their job. They would win many fights against other people based on these attributes alone. It also should be said that if one is to bring Tai Chi to a high level of fighting there has to be training of high intensity and there would have to be competition of high level. Tai Chi people would need to master the entire Encounter and not just the part standing and at touch distance. But a realistic art will never be fully tested without injury if you remove all the restrictions. So we can say that we would have to settle for a restrictive sport that will give the advantages to certain ways of fighting based on the environment, the rules etc. It means that at best we would be left again with speculation as to the question about the effectiveness of the arts.
Some of this problem of Tai Chi teachers focusing on this bouncing exercise could be averted if people who demonstrate would just be honest about the demonstration. I had a great teacher of Tai Chi named Master Tao Ping Siang. He was very knowledgeable about all phases of Chinese Martial Arts but using Water Style principle he loved to teach out of the Cheng Man Ching Push Hands and teach his technique in that venue. Most of his teaching was on the reading and yielding side of things but when he would teach something about pushing the opponent out with projection he used the ground and gave a fairly light swift unitary push/strike to bounce a person back. Some of his students did the bouncing but the demonstration was explained and why you can get results by pushing at such and such a time and when the opponent is tight and overextended and out of balance etc. He taught that somethings can look like magic but it was all physics and know how. He did not mislead and I appreciated his honesty. What we are seeing many times now are people that do these things on their students and allow the viewer to think it is some kind of magic and the explanations are not meant to really teach or explain. Some will say you have touch or you don’t or maybe you will get it after 20 years or so.
I don’t think ridiculing these people is the answer to the problem either. I think they should be questioned as far as they are willing and we can always ask for more proof. But why ridicule. We don’t need to force others to operate as we believe they should operate. The person who seeks for the truth sincerely and is skeptical enough to always question, test and verify will come to an understanding if they keep open to research. I think the pressure remains on these teachers to show some evidence this will work against someone who is not cooperating and in some sort of “blind test” environment.