The Deadly and Deceptive Hands of T'ai Chi Ch'uan

by Master Erle Montaigue

I guess deep down, we all of us are looking for some martial art that will bestow upon us some magical super powers, to make us into supermen women. More so in the internal arts, people like to make it all sound magical and mystical. We have more so called supernatural feats of strength
in T'ai chi for instance than in any other art. We have people sticking spears into throats and telling us that it is internal energy or Qi that is protecting them. A trick I perform for people to show that anyone can do it, mere physics. We have people supposedly putting out candles with their Qi! A trick, or others who manipulate their student's limbs with but a movement of one hand, here "students" is the operative word. By the same trickery we have people being flung many feet away with but a mere touch. We have others moving people without touching them, again, trickery. But Taiji does not need these laughable tricks to make it magical. It is magical by virtue of its real fighting nature, probably the most deadly hands of any martial art. In Taiji, every tiny movement means something, a slight flick of the wrist, or a one-inch movement of the fingers, all mean deadly dim-mak strikes. Strikes which have been documented and proven by western medical science and not some mumbo jumbo nonsense.

The Beginnings

Chang San-feng was an acupuncturist who also had a penchant for the Chinese fighting arts. He was well versed in the Shaolin arts but wished to find out the most deadly of all ways to protect one's self. Being an acupuncturist, he knew that certain points which when needled or struck a little more than for the healing art would have certain effects upon the body. So in experimenting, he and two others worked out through trial and error and many bodies later, which of these acupuncture points worked the best and which were the most deadly. He also worked out which points actually worked with other points to set up these deadly points and which were the best combinations of points to use. He worked out which direction of strikes worked the best, either with the flow of Qi or against it or twisted or straight in.
When Chang San-feng was finished, about ten years later, he knew that he had founded the most deadly fighting art of all and became a little paranoid that someone would see him practising and so learn this deadly art and use it back on him. So, had to have some way to teach his family and students and at the same time hide the meaning of the movements from those who would want to harm him. So he hid the movements in a dance of slow, sometimes fa-jing (explosive), movements. This he called "Loose Boxing" or Hao Ch'uan. This art was then handed down form generation to generation with only those in the inside circle ever learning the real meaning of these deadly moves. The name was later changed to T'ai Chi Ch'uan or supreme ultimate boxing, because it was simply that.
So nowadays we have this slow dance like form or kata, one that not many know the real meaning of. Many still insist upon each posture being used for a basic application, leaving aside the inner meaning or point striking meaning. We have people insisting that push hands is the crux of the fighting art and that if we are able to uproot someone, then we are able to defend ourselves. So what if we are able to uproot! He comes back with a blade and cuts us! The push hands was only ever meant as means of learning balance and timing and not for self-defence or tournament.
There is push hands and then there is advanced push hands. This is where we learn about the dim-mak strikes and how to use them at close range, this is the real reason for push hands, not for pushing but for striking. Here, we learn about the deadly strikes and how to use them at very close quarters over very small distances. We learn about fa-jing and how to put in the adverse Qi and how to knock someone out over one inch. We learn how to "shake" the body to bring out this explosive energy and then to put it into one of the hundreds of points on the body either to cause an energy drainage, an energy build up or a neurological shut down.


Ordinary applications? Not the ones that we are all told about. The ones that we are shown when we ask how T'ai chi is used for self defence, "you should take this posture and train in it for 3 years" or " he does this and so I should do this to counter" etc. But rather the whole unique way that T'ai chi treats self-defence and fighting. This unique way of fighting is so simple and so easy to use that people usually ask, "why weren't we told this before, its so simple". One very good reason for the old master's reticence in this area is because back in those days, we had to use our fighting system as an integrated self defence system and those who did not have such a system usually perished. But nowadays it is illegal to kill people or even maim and injure slightly so these deadly techniques become a curiosity and an interesting thing to learn.
My main teacher, Chang Yiu-chun (1899-1986) was a student of the "other side" of the Yang family, the Yang Shao-hou lineage or Old Yang style before it was changed by Yang Cheng-fu to the softer version we have come to know as T'ai chi. I once asked Chang, while learning the dim-mak of Taiji, what about edged weapons and the defence against such. He laughed and said, "you want to know about knife fighting, ask the older Chinese martial artists, we had to defend ourselves against such weapons as that was all there was then. Then the gun was invented and we somehow lost some of the real meaning. Now, these techniques are coming back because criminals are again using edged weapons in attack because the gun seems to be more criminal than a knife, these arts were invented to defend against edged weapons". Chang always carried a knife and could have it out and into your vital points in seconds. This is the real Taiji, a totally integrated fighting system.


The sword form that Chang taught was unlike any other that I had seen, and before Chang I was not at all interested in sword. Chang said that the "sword or knife fingers" we see people using today when they practise their sword was only ever taught to the beginners so that they would not cut of their fingers with the knife in the other hand! When one became proficient at this sword form without the knife, then the knife was concealed in the other hand and was only brought out at right moment to cut points. Chang would teach certain finger dexterity exercises for this purpose as one could easily cut the fingers during practise.

Nowadays, I teach people right from the beginning, the advanced techniques. My belief is that if someone is able to grasp this stuff, then it is his or hers to own. The others who aren't ready will never get it and so it is not a danger to them or others. People often ask me if I think that I am doing the right thing in exposing people to these deadly and easy techniques. My answer is that if some maniac is going to kill people, then there are much easier ways to do it that to come to me and learn T'ai chi dim-mak! A gun is far easier to obtain than the techniques of killing from T'ai chi! There is also the other side of the coin however, and a very good reason for learning the dim-mak of T'ai chi and that is the healing area of dim-mak.
T'ai Chi really is a paradox in that, on the one hand you are learning how to use this art for the ultimate self defence, whereby you are able to kill with one finger jab. On the other side you are able to use this information to heal people of a myriad of different ailments using the same points. For instance, if someone is struck just above the eyebrow in an upward way on a point called "gallbladder 14", this causes a rush of Qi to the head causing the head to "explode". If this happened, you would also know the antidote point for this kind of strike would be "gallbladder 21" in a downward strike and away from the shoulders. However, I also know that the "gallbladder 14" upward strike is also the same as a good dose of sunstroke and so in knowing the antidote point for the strike, I also know how to heal sunstroke!
Taiji is an extremely complicated martial art, but when one has learnt all of the physical movements, the art becomes very simple to execute at the highest level. When I say, "all of the movements" I don't mean fact that someone learns a set of movements and some simple push hands and then knows it all as many nowadays do. We have people putting out videos on their Taiji when they have learnt one form and some push hands! Others learn this and then they begin teaching. It only takes six months if that, to learn a form well and many think that because they know this form they know it all. Think again, that is only the first door. Firstly, there are five levels at which one must learn his or her form and only after they have learnt these levels will they be able to begin teaching at most basic level.

Deadly hands

T'ai chi is dim-mak and to teach it at any other level is to deride this great martial art. I was once asked if T'ai chi was good for fighting. I told the inquirer that I thought not! And that idea has not changed much due to the fact that what most people are teaching as being representative of T'ai chi is just a very poor excuse for a fighting art. And so many are teaching at this level that most of T'ai chi nowadays is not good for self-defence. How can someone teach what he ore she calls a martial art when they have no idea of how to defend themselves!
T'ai chi dim-mak works at two levels. Firstly we have the level that can be equated to the very basic acupuncturist, the person who simply puts a needle into someone and walks away, returning some minutes later to remove needles. Then we have the higher level acupuncturist who is able to use the needles as a conductor for their own energy, to put healing energy into the point to heal at the highest level. It is the same for T'ai chi self defence instructors. At the very basic level we have the dim-mak person who has learnt a few points that work and proceeds to strike at those points causing some damage. Then we have the person who is at the higher level able to put adverse energy into those points by using some simple body movements or "dim-mak shakes". You will notice that I have not even mentioned the level where we take each of the postures and use them in a self-defence way. This way is to invite disaster and is the most basic of all levels.
Most people only ever take T'ai chi to this level and never learn about highest levels where we take only a "way of doing things" and use that as our self defence system. The minute you take "techniques" and expect them to hold you in all situations, you lose. If you don't have "the way" of fighting then you will never be able to use T'ai chi at the highest level.

The "techniques" that we use at this highest level are those that can be taken into the subconscious mind and used at any time in any situation without thinking. For instance, we take the opening posture from the Yang Style T'ai Chi, the simple lifting of the palms and lowering them. This movement is one very deadly self-defence application, but only if one knows the T'ai chi form at its highest level. If for instance you simply take your palms up and then lower them, then you are not performing this posture at the highest level. The classics tell us that there must be continuous movement, that the whole body must move as a total unit, that there must be yin and yang in the whole body at al times. So at the highest level, we must adhere to these principles. So as the arms come upward, there must be a slight weight change onto the front of the foot. This is the weight change. Then, in order that there is yin and yang in every movement, there must be a slight turning of the waist. Firstly to the right as the arms come up and then to the left as arms go down, so we now have a sort of circle with a weight change. But it doesn't finish there; we must also have yin and yang or non-double weightedness in every part of the body.
So the palms must also not be yin or yang together, they must follow each other. Then we can talk about the deadly technique derived from this posture. As he attacks with a right straight, I move the weight to evade as my left fingers come straight upward and into a point called Governor Vessel 26
just under the nose. This is the basic principle of T'ai chi fighting, avoid the strike as we simultaneously attack. Now, if he were to avoid that defence and attack again with his left hand, my right palm would come up and attack the inside of his forearm to a point known as Neigwan in a towards you way. This makes one feel very ill. Now my weight shifts again back o the left foot as my left palm slams down onto points called Stomach 15, which when used correctly is capable of stopping the heart. Now as the left palm has done its work, the right palm now slams downward onto a point known as Stomach 16, which also can stop the heart.

It can be seen from the above that such a simple movement as "preparation" is used in a most devastating way. In same way, the next seemingly innocuous movement of "arn left" is an even more devastating technique.
Most people will simple stand there and let the arms move out to the right and over to the left by themselves with no body movement. This breaks the rules again. There must be a shift of weight firstly to the right and then to the left with a twist of the hips.
Here we have the first of the "dim-mak shakes". Now it is impossible to show this way of moving with still photos but basically, it involves the whole body literally shaking in a fa-jing "open shake". This is the only way that T'ai chi practitioners are able to gain great power over small distances, the whole body is used to send out attacking portion at great speed and power. So we now have our opponent attacking with for instance a left straight. The body shakes as left palm takes the block and strikes his left forearm in a towards him way, i.e.; back up his arm, this upsets the energy flow in his own body causing the next attack to be much more deadly. A split second after this, the fingers of the right palm attack to a deadly point called "Gallbladder 1" just at the corner of the eye. The fingers must attack from rear to front to cause the most devastating effect.

The Twelve Deadly Palms

Here we have probably the most deadly of all the palm techniques as each "technique" attacks to very deadly points, the premise being that if you are able to touch your opponent then make it stick! And if so, then keep on striking until it is over. In days of old, these palms were given one per year and the advanced student had to train in that one palm method for the whole year, so it took 12 years to learn the whole system.
No.1 Here we must learn a dinky little punch that is only (as far as I know) inherent in the T'ai chi system. To train in this punch we use the hard mitts as follows. You move your right palm in a flowing manner past mitt, turning the waist to your left bringing your palm to your left. Now, you should shake your waist, which has the effect of whipping your right fist out at great speed and power to make contact as using only the last three knuckles as the contact point. Now for the next punch inherent in the T'ai chi system and used by Bruce lee to great effect. Here we hold a loose palm, and only close the fist upon impact. We again shake the waist with the fist beginning only a short distance from the mitt. The palm must whip right over onto its back so that upon impact the fist is turned over, striking with the last three knuckles. This should not be a push but rather a wack giving of that sound, a bit like a tennis ball rebounding off a wall.
Now to put this first palm technique together. You firstly combine the second strike with the first strike onto two mitts, striking the first mitt held in your partner's right hand with the upward turning fist and then rebound straight back into the left mitt with the first punch. This should only take a split second to execute as we are using the rebound from the first strike for the second strike and then we will also use the rebound from the second strike for the third. To train with a partner, your partner throws a left straight. You should know when this is coming by the movement of your partner's body. You don't bother to block this attack but rather use your body movement to avoid it as you attack to his jaw at a point called "the mind point" with your first punch. This doesn't even have to strike this point as the punch alone will take his chin and put it onto his shoulder! Immediately, your same fist will come back and rebound onto his neck to a point called "stomach 9" this is the classic knock out point and is very dangerous. The last attack is performed with the palm of the right hand. Using the rebound from the last attack, your right palm now attacks to a point called "small intestine 16" using the knife edge as you step in with your right foot. This series is one of the most economical movements as you have simply done an "S" shape with your right palm. You practise this on both sides of course.
other eleven techniques become deadlier and more complicated. Just like the great fighting systems of old, T'ai chi is also one of the greatest, but only when we look at it at its highest level, that of T'ai chi dim-mak.

Erle Montaigue has been practising the martial/healing art of T'ai Chi Ch'uan since 1968. His teachers include Master Wong Eog (1968), Master Chu King Hung (1973) London, Grand-master Chang Yiu-Chun one of only two disciples of Yang Shou-hou. Erle became the first student of Master Chu in London in 1973. Chu was one of three disciples of Yang Sau-chung, (1909-1985) the eldest son of the great master Yang Cheng-Fu. Erle was formally introduced to Yang Sau-chung in 1981 when he visited him at his home in Hong-Kong to have his form corrected.

In 1985, Erle and eight of his students became the first Westerners to be asked to perform at the all China National Wushu Tournament in Yinchuan China. There, Erle was tested by four of the world's greatest Chinese masters and was awarded the degree of "MASTER", the only Westerner to be given this honour. Erle now regards Chang Yiu-Chun as his main teacher from whom he learnt the "Old Yang Style" & The Dim-Mak. Erle's books, videos and articles have helped to change the way that people look at the internal martial arts. His videos are viewed all around the world and his books are sold in China. He is the Chairman of WORLD TAIJI BOXING ASSOCIATION, Chairman of the WORLD THERAPEUTIC MOVEMENT ASSOCIATION, Vice Chairman of the FEDERATION OF AUSTRALASIAN WUSHU AND KUNG-FU ORGANIZATIONS, Editor of COMBAT AND HEALING MAGAZINE and has his own column in "Australasian Fighting Arts Magazine." He is also the Australasian Correspondent for Fighting Arts International, prestigious British International Martial Arts Magazine and writes his own column for this magazine.

In 1995 May, Erle Montaigue became the first westerner to go to China to learn from the Original Wudang Shan group, namely one Liang Shiah-kan, the keeper of the original Dim-Mak Qi Disruptive Forms


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