I keep hearing this idea from martial arts instructors of fighting somebody by “not using force”. Sadly that’s impossible, but that doesn’t seem to stop people saying it.
Every martial art seems to come with a bit of nonsense as part of the furniture. One of these that’s attached itself to Tai Chi is that you must learn to fight without using force. However, and to a man (because they are usually men) the people who say this seldom go beyond pushing the opponent away as the final solution to dealing with an attacker.
I think this misconception arrises because, with a little skill, you can get somebody off balance and push them quite a distance away, so long when they are unsteady, using minimal force.
But guess what – if you push somebody away… they come back! (Unless you push them off a cliff of course, but then, there’s never a cliff around when you need one, is there?) A determined attacker is not going to be impressed by how effortlessly you pushed him away. He’s going to come back and probably be even angrier than before!
I’d suggest the best thing to do with somebody you are trying to incapacitate is drop them at your feet, where you can control and restrain them until help arrives. Maybe the best thing to do is run away. But before you have that as your go-to option, consider the situation where you are with a family member and you are both under attack – what are you going to do, run away and leave them? Or maybe there are multiple attackers, in which case getting tied up with one of them on the ground is not a good idea.
Either way, the idea that you shouldn’t use force crumbles in the face of reality.
So where does this idea come from in Tai Chi? (I should note, I’ve heard the idea expressed in Aikido as well). When you’re doing Tai Chi push hands you also get a lot of comments like “too much force!”, “don’t use strength!”, which is all well and good (what they really mean is ‘don’t use brute strength’), but I think it tends to get translated into “never, ever, use force!”
Do no harm
There’s another variation on the theme which involves the notion that you should be able to subdue somebody without hurting them. Again, I’d say this was impossible. The closest I’ve seen to this idea is the sort of skill you get from BJJ where you can take a person down and mount them (sit on them) so that they can’t get up without having to punch them. You can then wait for help to arrive. Alternatively you can put them to sleep with a choke. But while they may not be getting injured, I don’t think the attacker would call it a pleasant experience!
I’m reminded of this video of BJJ noteable Ryan Hall, where he subdued an aggressive male who was trying to start a fight without throwing a single punch:
He might not have injured the guy, but he ended up putting him to sleep so he was not a threat to anybody.
So much for not using force!