Training for Sparring

by Master Chen Zhaokui

Train Hard, but not to Death; Train Cleverly, but not to Cheat

Fighting outcome is largely determined by courage.  However, couragealone doesn't work.  Top quality sparring skills are indispensable. A brave fighter with first-rate skills is a tiger with wings.

In training, we are supposed to be coordinated and flexible in everysingle move of the forms. we must be very familiar with the moves. We should be able to discharge energy like an automatic weapon.  Astrike should take the shortest path.  It must be fast, powerful,fierce, and accurate.  It takes such qualities to handle a strongopponent.  Training hard is the only way to acquire those qualities. Emphasis is placed on moving fast and slowly, striking like steel and maneuveringlike water, closing and opening, being relaxed and fluid and bouncing andshuddering.

Emphasis on slow moves only leads to slow strikes which an opponentcan counter easily.  But emphasis on fast moves alone makes it difficultto feel the path of your energy and makes it easy to strike along a longerpath than necessary.  Being fast refers to the speed which is builtup through familiarity of the energy path.  It is a speed withoutloss of quality.

Emphasis on water-like maneuvering alone results in weak strikes thatpresent no threat to an opponent.  Striking like steel means the steel-likequality reflected in your bouncing and shuddering which  comes fromtotal relaxation, which are also a sign of the water-like motions.

The above examples show that it is necessary to acquire a quality thatreadily shifts from top speed to slow speed, transforms from hardness tosoftness, from heaviness to lightness, and vice versa.  This qualityshould be at your disposal at will without any loss or restrictions.

This quality doesn't come easily.  It comes from years of hardtraining.  However, hard training means clever training, otherwiseyou will train yourself to death.  The goal of training must be clearlydefined.  We must not be like Beijing opera stars who present a speardance.  Flashy displays like that are for show, but are useless infunction.

Your Advantage Against Their Disadvantage

After a reasonable mastery of sparring techniques, you should specializein one or two techniques, the exact ones will be defined by your build,stamina, reflexes, and other factors.  For example, a tall personshould put emphasis on Tsai (Cai), or plucking, and Lieh(lie), which means splitting or perhaps "intercept and shudder." His strikes should be like cutting open a mountain, which means they mustbe very heavy.

A short person should mainly practice shoulder, elbow, and leg techniquesin order to attack the lower part of the opponent.  He must be fastand agile.  The energy of his strikes must be integrated, fluid, andelastic.  He should use the strategy of Shan Zhan (avoidingthe brunt).  In Taiji classics there is a saying, "Avoiding thebrunt renders useless a power that can pull up a mountain."  Thisstrategy is most applicable to short people.

For the powerful, emphasis should be on Tsai (Cai), Lieh(Lie), and Chou (Zhou).  Strikes should be so powerful thatthe first strike eliminates all possible attacks.

For the agile, emphasis should be on fake moves.  The opponentshould be tricked in any way possible.   Then the opponent shouldbe hit with fast moves.

For those with slow reflexes, emphasis should be on defense, i.e., whenthe opponent strikes, the strikes should be blocked and then countered.

Remember only specialization in one or two techniques ensuresovercoming the opponent's disadvantage with your advantage.

But specialization alone doesn't mean victory.  You must learnhow to use it.  You should be good at hiding your specialization andtaking the opponent by surprise.  It's a good idea to send a wrongmessage to the opponent by exposing your weak points through fake movesand then taking advantage of the opponent's miscalculation.

For example, let's assume that you are good at leg techniques and fastin your footwork.  Your opponent is shorter.  First make it easyfor your opponent to attack your lower part, which is most probably whathe has in mind.  But the instant he is in the trap, you can use aleg technique which momentarily makes it impossible for him to escape. The rule of thumb is that the genuine and fake moves should complementeach other so the opponent has no way to tell which blow is genuine andwhich kick is a fake.  Naturally, you yourself should know.

Attack at the Softest Point

In sparring, try to be observant and quickly detect the opponent's weakpoints.  Only by doing so can we boost our confidence and come upwith a good idea to use our advantage against his disadvantage (this isthe same as "getting to know your opponent").  But if you fail toachieve this, you will get nervous, lose confidence and attack withouta plan, exposing your own weak points, and eventually losing the fight. The key to detecting the opponent's weak points is to find them in hisbuild, stamina, and reflex at the first few contacts.  After thisyou can decide on the appropriate strategy.

Avoid Being Passive

In war, the priority is to wipe out the enemy, to preserve oneself isonly secondary.  Only by defeating the enemy can one effectively preservehimself.  For example, your opponent is taller and moves fast. To make things worse, you are not as good as he is.  Obviously, youare at a disadvantage.  If you decide to handle the opponent by puttingup a defense, you will give him more initiative, letting him take fulladvantage of his strong points.  The outcome cannot be anything butcertain defeat.  So from the very beginning you should attack firstwithout a warning and from all directions.  Every strike should befast and powerful, leaving him no chance to counterattack and making itimpossible for him to use his advantages.  Then  you may possiblyturn the situation around and win a victory from a very likely defeat.

Make Noise in the East; Attack in the West

To assure a victory in sparring  you must lure the opponent, confusehim by sending a wrong message and take him by surprise.  This is an important method of turning a disadvantage into an advantage.

It means a fake to make a noise in the East...the real strike is inthe west.  To make the trick work, you should hide the genuine attackwithin a fake one to make the opponent believe it is a real threat. If your fake attack doesn't look real, your genuine one will fail, also. For example if your left strike is a fake and the right one is real, thenyou should do everything possible to attract the opponent's attention withyour left strike, taking away his right defense, then delivering a faststrike from the right.

In order to mislead successfully, we have to practice fake attacks forcertain parts f the opponent's body, to practice all strikes so that theytravel along the shortest path and along the smallest circles.  Weare not supposed to give a telltale sign with our facial expression. These signs will warn the opponent and may result in a surprise attackby the opponent.  On the other hand, we can use the signs to confusethe opponent.  For example, the first time your look at the left butstrike from the right, then the second time you can look at the right ofthe opponent but strike from the right.  The opponent, after tastingthe first fake strike, will think the potential strike will come from theleft this time.  But he may get a punch from the right.  Thisis what we call, "attack where there is no defense."

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