Years ago, Master Singh, the author, noticed several modern warriors that demonstrated this ability, especially in the Mixed Martial Arts arena. Examples include Lyota Machita, Anderson Silva, and Jason Miller. While it is known that these fighters studied boxing, kickboxing, and grappling, it is unknown whether their training actively encompassed the art of Tai Chi Ch’uan.
From studying these fighters, Master Singh developed a system for teaching fighters he called "Illusive Pugilism." In Illusive Pugilism, Master Singh integrated the 13 postures of Tai Chi Ch’uan into the competitive, combative disciplines of Western boxing, kickboxing, and grappling, all of which he had taught since 2006.
Tai Chi Ch’uan’s Emitting energy (Fa Chin), Interception energy (Jie Chin), Sticky energy (Nian Chin), Long and Short (Chang Chin and Duan Chin) energy, and Attraction into Emptiness energy (Hua Chin) began to have meaning when applied to competitive, combat situations. Using the pedagogy of the systems approach to training, the process of systematizing a curriculum of understanding, comprehension, application, analysis, synthesizing and evaluation was realized.
Between March 2007 to the present, this system has helped produce more than 20 amateur champions for the USA Amateur Boxing Association, the International Kickboxing Association, the North American Grappling Association, and several MMA event victors. Few of these champions had more than a year of competitive experience before becoming a champion in their respective, competitive disciplines.
The Yang Style forms that Singh was taught did not reflect his style of fighting but he found that the strategies behind their use were invaluable. He then realized the reason masters created forms and situational sparring drills:
- To reinforce what they had learned from their teacher and to transfer knowledge into application
- To realistically fight the way of their master
- To evolve mentally, physically, and spiritually
When the 13 postures (later referred to as Strategies or Forms) are studied, it becomes clear that, except for three postures, Tai Chi Ch’uan is mostly a standing-upright, grappling system. The health and religious aspects of the system cannot be overlooked or relegated in importance; however, they must be put into perspective based upon the practitioner’s goals. In the latter sense, according to Li I-yu author of The Essential Practice of Form and Push-hands Training, form teaches one to know one’s self and fighting (sparring) teaches one to know others. This is the essential training philosophy that built the curriculum of Western Tai Chi Ch’uan for the illusive pugilist.
In Angel’s Gym the goal is to produce amateur fighting champions that are physically, mentally, and spiritually skilled enough to win bouts. When this system of Yin and Yang (or hard and soft) grappling is integrated into the previously-mentioned striking disciplines, a paradigm of illusive pugilism is realized. The conceptual merging of Eastern and Western concepts of martial arts begins with relating the 13 postures with the Western patterns of combative movement. Movement in this sense should be regarded as potential offensive and defensive energy disposed to allow the pugilist to yield and submit—without being vanquished—in order to neutralize an opponent.
Western associations of movement must be paired with these Eastern concepts of posture, which carry tangible energies. These associations hold a tactile meaning for the illusive pugilist when studying Lee N. Scheele’s research of Tai Chi Ch’uan Ching by Chang San-Feng, The Five Character Secret by Li I-yu, and The Song of the Eight Postures by T’an Meng-hsien.
- From Chang San-Feng, we discover the mental understanding of Tai Chi
- From Li I-yu, we get the physical application of Tai Chi
- From T’an Meng-hsien, we get the spirit of Tai Chi
After study of these three author’s work, you will find that the 13 postures are indeed strategies leaving the student with many options of tactical offensive striking and defensive grappling. The last five postures of Tai Chi are called the Five Steps. This ancient knowledge holds great wisdom for the illusive pugilist: If one knows the nature of a thing, one will comprehend what that thing is capable and not capable of doing.
The Elemental Natures of Western Tai Chi Ch’uan
In Western terms of combat this would be the method of how you hold your ground to learn the intent of the opponent: Is your opponent Metal (aggressive) so you must swarm him from all sides as he approaches, Wood (evasive) so corner him and explosively pound him out, Fire (countering) so you must feign weakness to entice him to come forward so he will give me an opening, Water (elusive) so you must gently surround him in a grappling manner until he can no longer gather enough energy to be felt, or Earth (rooted) so you must rip through defenses and cut through the appendages that give life to the posture?
Metal holds weight and can pound things, Wood grows about and rips around things, Fire moves fast and consumes things, Water flows through and surrounds things, Earth nurtures life and can ground things.
Below are some strategies for combatting opponents based on their elemental nature.
Metal: Aggressive, forward-moving power puncher
Engulf your opponent like fire, hitting him fast and continuously while making him miss his target, slowing his momentum and inertia enough to make his offense and defense seem to melt away.
Wood: Evasive withdraw or sink backward, outside fighter
Act like sharpened metal and cut off your opponent’s means of escape, restricting movement and chopping the appendages (arms and legs) first and then slicing up the body (torso) and cutting off the head (root).
Fire: Offensive-countering, rolling back, or pivoting to strong side with power strikes, powerful in-fighter
Feign weakness to entice him to come forward so he will give you an opening. Then be Water (elusive) with a defense that makes your opponent just miss the target. Then when your opponent pauses, deluge him with a torrent of continuous strikes from different directions until all his motion ceases and the heat is gone.
Water: Defensive-countering, rolling back, or pivoting to the opponent's weak side with strike flurries, swarming the opponent as an in-fighter
Act like the earth and keep your center and balance while unbalancing your opponent with strikes. Then engulf him when his back is to you during an evasive maneuver and bring him to the ground face down and spent.
Earth: The grappler or clinch specialist, inside fighter, and take-down specialist
Be wood and rip through his engulfing defense with the roots of your preferred striking style (boxing, Muay Thai, etc.). Make him continually need to reset his feet to be effective, thus taking away his ability to be continuously rooted. Do this until he cannot find his base and must fall down or reverse due to lack of balance.
Using Tai Chi Ch’uan and knowledge of the elements, you too can become an illusive pugilist.
For the illusive pugilist who studies Western Tai Chi Ch’uan to enhance their boxing, kickboxing, or grappling skills, knowledge of the Elemental Taijitu (Ying/Yang) is crucial. In the next article we will add this knowledge to the first two postures of Tai Chi: Peng (ward-off) and Lu (rollback). We will also discuss the Taijitu of strategy and tactics, which is the philosophical core of Western Tai Chi Ch’uan.