The exponent shifts his front right leg backward into the momentary unicorn step and wards off the attack with a left vertical arm block, Photo 6. Without any break, he moves his back left leg forward into a bow-arrow stance, and strikes the opponent's side-ribs with a vertical fist, with his left arm still in contact with the opponent's attacking arm. This Taijiquan pattern is called "Looking at the Fist below the Sleeves", Photo 7. When executed skillfully, the exponent would hit the opponent at the moment when the latter's movement is just spent, implementing the Taijiquan tactic of "starting later but arriving earlier".
It is a common mis-conception amongst some student to think kicks are more formidable than punches because they are (apparently) more powerful and have longer reach. Actually among the four categories of attacks - hand strikes, kicks, felling and grips - kicks are technically the easiest to counter.
One simple and efficient way to counter almost any kicks is the Taijiquan pattern called "Low Single Whip". As the opponent kicks, just lower your stance in the Low Single Whip pattern, Photo 8. When you have become more skillful, instantly the moment the kick is spent, you move forward to counter strike the opponent, often before he could recover his kicking leg.
Some students seem to believe that the higher one can kick the better is his martial ability. Personally I find high kicks both unsightly to watch, as they expose vital parts that customarily need to be covered and protected, and technically inferior in combat as the kicking attacker offers so many advantages to his opponent without his opponent having to do anything.
One simple, effective counter against high kicks is the pattern "Fan through the Back", Photo 9. If someone gives you a high kick, shift your body backward without moving your legs, and continuing the smooth movement move forward, floating his kicking leg with one hand, and striking his groin (if you want to be nasty) or his thigh (if compassionate) with the other hand.
As soon as the opponent places his leg on the ground in front, or brings it back behind his other leg, you move in swiftly to strike him with one hand while covering yourself with the other hand. "Jade Girl Threads the Shuttle" or "Fan through the Back" (which are actually quite similar) would be an appropriate follow-up pattern.
Even a brief study of its combat application as expounded here demonstrates not only the efficiency but also the elegance and profundity of Taijiquan as a martial art. Its combative movements are graceful and poetic, without the staccato action, muscular exertion and emotional tension characteristic of some other martial systems. Its combative principles are profound, exploiting the opponent's weakness to the full without giving away any advantages.
It is significant to remember that combat application of techniques and tactics is only one aspect of its martial function. The Taijiquan exponent must also develop internal force to back up the effective techniques and tactics in combat. Moreover, combat efficiency is only one of the many benefits of Taijiquan training. Masters have generalized the attainment in Taijiquan into three major levels. At the first level Taijiquan promotes good health; at the intermediate level it is very effective for self defence, and at the highest level it leads to spiritual fulfilment.
This column is contributed by Grandmaster Wong Kiew Kit, a living legend of Shaolin kung fu that has graciously allowed us to include his materials. He can be contacted firstname.lastname@example.org. His website can be found at http://shaolin.org