The Taijiquan Punch (Techniques From The Tao Chuan)

Sifu Andrew Harris
An article looking at the misconception that Tai Chi Chuan has no closed fist punches.

Over the last ten years or so of teaching Tai Chi Chuan, I have met several students who were surprised to discover that Tai Chi combat happened to involve striking the opponent with a clenched fist from time to time. This belief that Tai Chi self defence consists of open handed techniques is quite common I have found. Once a youngish student decided to quit a course of instruction due to my inclusion of punching as a method of practical self defence.

I personally consider striking with the fist or any other part to be essential and unless gifted with incredible grappling ability should be considered a valuable solution to dealing with a violent attacker. Chuan means fist or boxing so the use of strikes are essential for any system of boxing to be effective.

Perhaps the way Tai Chi Chuan is advertised and promoted as an only system of relaxation and callisthenics is partly to blame for the lack of knowledge of the martial aspects of the art. Many only know of the Tao Chuan (Hand Form) and have seen it as a slow moving meditation popular with the elderly. However simply watching the hand form one can see there are many times where an open hand becomes a clenched fist.

For this article I shall discuss a few of the punches or fist strikes within the pattern of the Tao Chuan. The techniques I shall talk of are contained in the Wu Cheng tin-hung/Dan Docherty lineage, often referred to as Wudang Tai Chi Chuan or Practical Tai Chi Chuan. I won't be discussing techniques from auxiliary training or those contained in the 24 Tai Chi Nei kung exercises as these are known as "inside the door" methods.


Tai Chi Chuan Punch"Step Up Parry Divert And Punch";

Here we have an application suitable to deal with a high or low attack or even against two punches consisting of one high and one low if the correct footwork is applied. It consists of a diversion and a counter punch to the ribs. The top two knuckles are used for a Tai Chi punch and the aggressor tends to walk into the strike with his own force behind it.


"Fist Under Elbow";

There are variations for this one and one is to strike upwards at the opponents joint as he launches his attacking strike. First the wrist joint, then the elbow joint followed by a straight punch to the ribs.


"Turn Body And Swing Fist";

One use for this is to step and duck under a punch, seize/take control of the attacking arm and in the same circular movement issue an upper-cut to the opponents chin or lower to the ribs whichever is the better opportunity.


"Tiger Embraces Head";

This can be used on the inside or outside of an incoming punch whether it be a hook or a straight attack. The strike is diverted and with the same motion a counter is released to each side of the attackers head/chin/temples.


"Step Forward And Plant Punch";

This can be used against a straight or a roundhouse kick, the defender steps/evades and catches the kick releasing a downward punch around or to the side of the knee joint itself. This punch can be used at the end of any technique where an opponent has been thrown, swept, pulled or pushed to the floor and you follow up with a downwards punch to the nearest available effective target.


"Box The Ears";

This involves a double punch to the temples using the top two knuckles of each striking fist.


"Swing The Fist";

The defender diverts a low punch to the abdomen and then counter strikes with a back fist to the face followed instantly with an open palm strike.


"Beat The Tiger";

An opponents force is diverted and he/she is pulled to the floor for a counter strike. This consists of a hammer fist to the back of neck/head.


Tai Chi Chuan contains many more punching techniques other than those mentioned above and my brief article is simply to shed a little light on an internal art that some believe to be an open handed wrestling/grappling system or indeed simply a method of callisthenics and moving meditation.

Do you like this article?


ashley's picture

Very good article, thanks for posting. It is a common misconception that Tai Chi Chuan has no closed fist techniques, agreed. I can understand your student questioning you but to leave the class because he does not feel it's part of Tai Chi Chuan is suprising. If the student at least did some research first before leaving! Good description of all the fist strikes too, really interesting to learn about these alternatives. Thanks again!
Medway Tai Chi Society's picture

Very good article :)
clouddragon's picture

Thanks glad you liked it. The student who left the course wanted a system of self defence where you didn't have to punch. They didn't tell me this before they started and had made up their own mind up what Tai Chi was. They actually told me they were unable to punch anyone and Tai Chi didn't include strikes. It's amusing how they tend to know so much more about the art than the teachers ha ha. Anyway I hope you are both well and enjoying your training. Cheers speak soon.
Cactus25's picture

Great article, I love learning new things about martial arts
Ogriv83's picture

clouddragon, This is a great article highlighting a major misconception regarding Taijiquan. I have little knowledge of Taijiquan other than the simplified 24 short form but even then people comment on how its for health benefits. Its very hard to explain with my limited knowledge that for someone well trained in its application Taiji is extremely proficient.
Tim-Bo's picture

props, HSING tech is some of my faves
sepa's picture

interesting blog thanks for share
clouddragon's picture

Thanks glad you like
Karate Kitty's picture

I always like reading and learning about other styles of Martial Arts. When I reach Black Belt in Shotokan, I would like to start another style. The more information I gather the easier the choice will be. Thanks for posting, this ia a great article. Learnt alot.
clouddragon's picture

Thanks you kitty, I'm pleased it was useful :)