Visualizing an Opponent

by Mat Beausoleil on 2013/08/26

Once the student is more advanced and the process of opening up the body is well under way, the body will naturally start adopting many of the fundamental principles of Taijiquan. When the practitioner is able to demonstrate that his mind and body both have a good grasp of such things as connectivity, separation, differential in movement and spiraling, the body will be able to move in such a way that the limbs will be powered by rotations occurring in different parts of the body, much like a gearbox. Once this has been achieved, the next step is for the student to meticulously go through each move in the form and learn its applications. In this step of the systematic process, the student will be required to experiment with and refine all of his knowledge and understanding and start applying it to real situations. This will help consolidate and solidify the practitioner’s overall understanding of the different movements of the form as their function and purpose will progressively become clearer. This is the point where everything starts to finally make sense.

I strongly believe that if a student has not gone through the initial steps of the systematic process of learning Taijiquan and transforming the body, the student’s ability to move according to the principles of the art will be lacking. If one does not posses the foundations, the detailed explanations of each applications will most likely be misunderstood and more importantly, will not be able to be replicated by the student’s body.

One of the claims the Taijiquan Practical Method system makes is that the applications do not have to be practiced on actual people in order to be trained and developed. It is said that by visualizing the movements being performed on an imaginary opponent, the applications can be drilled and speedy progress can be made. I totally agree with this statement and feel that this type of visualization is also a very important skill to develop. Before being able to visualize an opponent however, the practitioner will have to go through each individual move and learn the basic intent of every application. This will also help correct any discrepencies there might be in the form’s choreography as the specific function of the limbs will become more evident. Only once a basic understanding of each application has been studied, will the student be able to start visualizing an opponent during the practice of the forms.

One of the biggest differences one notices when starting to do the form while visualizing an opponent is the function of the hands. Most people don’t realize that the accurate positioning of the hands is crucial at this stage. Because the hands are the primary tools that initiate the connection to the opponent’s body, they are an important factors in correctly executing any application. Depending on the movement or application, the hands can do several things such as wrap around the opponent’s wrists, catch or redirect an oncoming blow, direct a push or a pull, strike, etc. Whatever the function, the hands and their correct positioning should always be given serious attention and trained accordingly. In Taijiquan, most of the applications require the practitioner’s hand to cross and attach itself to the opponent’s same hand. This means that when your left hand reaches out to grab the opponent’s hand in the form, you should be imagining grabbing the opponent’s left wrist. This is extremely important as the spiraling of the body and its intended effects on the opponent greatly depend on this “crossing” of the hands.

Another important factor that comes into play during visualizing an opponent is the positioning of both the practitioner and the opponent’s bodies before, during and after different applications. Because every push, pull, twist or turn will affect both bodies in different ways, depending on which application is being performed, it is important to understand the result of all these slight variations and the effects they will have on you and an opponent. I have found that it is beneficial to not only visualize yourself performing the applications on somebody else, but also visualizing the applications being performed on you. This will give you a greater understanding of what happens in both bodies and what should be expected in every situation.

In my opinion, one of the most difficult aspects of this type of visualization is the function and purpose of the spiraling which should occur in both bodies. Once the hands latch onto an opponent, the direction of the spiraling in the arms must be analyzed very closely as different directions of spiraling produce different results. Every application has a unique goal in mind and its proper execution depends on very specific spiraling of the arms. Once attached to the opponent, correct spiraling is what helps control and maneuver the opponent’s body. Rotating or spiraling the opponent’s wrist outward, away from the body exposes his rear ribcage and elbow and forces him to bend over at the waist. This type of spiraling is normally used when the intention is to break the joint or simply disrupt his balance. Rotating the opponent’s wrist inward, toward the body, causes the opponent’s chest to pop out and be exposed. This type of spiral is normally used in conjunction with strikes as it helps expose the targeted body parts; usually the neck, armpit or ribcage. Eventually, the practitioner will have to realize that the rear hand, the way it connects to the opponent’s wrist and the direction it spirals the opponent is crucial in all applications.

The positioning of the practitioner’s legs in relation to the opponent’s should also be taken into serious consideration. Each application has specific leg positions which either place the practitioner’s leading leg on the inside or the outside of the opponent’s leg. When the practitioner’s legs is placed on the inside of the opponent’s leg, the rotation of the kua will normally cause the back part of the knee of the leading leg to push out slightly and deroot the opponent. When the leg is placed on the outside, the rotation of the kua makes the leading leg push in and up against the the arm, cutting the opponent at the waist like a pair of scissors. Each individual move in the form should be looked at in this respect to see what the function of the legs are as well as the effects they have on an opponent’s lower body configuration. This can further be understood by imagining that the applications are being performed on your own body and where you would naturally be forced to step when they were applied.

Although most people might regard the actual ‘hands on’ training of the applications to be more beneficial to the student, I strongly believe the visualization of an opponent to be a very important step in the systematic approach to learning Taijiquan and its applications. I feel that this stage of imagining what the body must do to produce certain results on an opponent to be very helpful in creating important automatic thought patterns relating to the mechanics to the art. Even though this type of visualization might initially seem to be difficult and confusing, it proves to be an extremely interesting and entertaining way to train and progress, especially when a training partner is not present. I also believe that it is at this stage in one’s training where speed and power should be applied to each application. As these devastating moves cannot be actually practiced on an opponent for obvious reasons, it is a perfect opportunity to develop speed while stretching the moves all the way through to full extension.

When the student is quite comfortable with the applications and can easily visualize all of the factors discussed above, the actual hands on practice should be learned and drilled. Because the student should now have a clear understanding of the goal of every application and has trained their detailed movement patterns in practice, progress at this stage should be quick and efficient. It is at this point in training where the body will become accustomed to manipulating other people’s energy and the body alignment of each move will be strengthened and developed more precisely.

Indonesia – Chen Style TaiJi Quan Practical Method

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Andre August 27, 2013 at 9:16 pm

Great post, thanks Mat. 🙂


Paddy Hanratty August 28, 2013 at 10:40 am

Thanks for this great article, Mat.


Martin August 29, 2013 at 6:37 am

It is similar to Master Chen Xin saying, “In solo practice, imagine you are fighting an opponent;
in fighting an opponent, imagine you are practicing a solo form.” I never know this till you teach us about that statement in our group sessions. This really helpful for my taiji improvement. Thank you for great article and patiently teaching us this precious knowledge, Mat 🙂 You are good teacher, Mat!


bruce.schaub August 30, 2013 at 10:46 am

I’ve missed your articles Mat. I always learn a lot from them. You raise many important points. I believe training in this way as you suggest, brings about an extremely heightened focus necessary to developing real ability, and achieving true ‘understanding’ of the Taijiquan.


taibarb7 February 9, 2014 at 8:55 am

Plus, it also saves a lot of partner time! It’s just frustrating having to go over and over again of one move to figure out what drives what and what the effect is (on the other and on oneself). I am not sure you can do it all with only visualization but it sure helps. Good article!


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