The Real Method of Parry and Punch in Yang Taijiquan

parry and punch

Art by Xiao Yang Harkins

Basic Method of the Punch and Parry

Although the method seems rather straightforward there are many nuances involved.  The first mistake often made is to see the method as expressed in the drawing shown to the left.  Why a mistake?  Because the method of Taijiquan requires the understanding that the end of one technique is the beginning of the next and there is a lot of content following the resolution of the prior method.  Assuming you are familiar with the long-boxing set then you know that the method preceding this method is known as one of the methods of the “square” and that method is called “splitting”.


In Taijiquan there are methods of the circle and methods of the square.  The methods of the circles are reasonably well known and these are; ward-off, roll-back, press, and push, known together as the method of “grasping the Sparrow’s Tail” and is very famous as the foundation of the Taiji exercise known as Push Hands, in Chinese called “Tui Shou”.

The lesser known methods of the square are pluck, elbow, split, and lean; in Chinese these are known as Cai, Zhou, Lie, and Kao.  Few individuals even with many years of Taijiquan practice actually understand these to a very high level.  One particular method I wish to investigate and related to this article is made obscure by the fact that the Chinese character itself has undergone change and so the meaning becomes confused as the idea of splitting is no longer applied.

When studying the radicals involved in the Chinese “old” character set and that is at the root of the method I discovered that the new character leaves out a radical element that changes the meaning.  The old character has 3 radicals placed side by side and each, when taken together expand the meaning of the concept of Lie pronounced Lee-i-e, which is translated as “split”.  These 3 radicals from left to right have meaning of “hand”, “evil”, “cut”. In addition the method is made very obscure by the movement and the opaqueness of expression, as true to form, is meant to obscure the application somewhat or entirely for the vast majority of players.  I dare say, even among those who consider themselves advanced.

The problem however is that such opaqueness tends to obscure it from the practitioner who then lends a completely different interpretation; an interpretation that more times than not makes the method ineffective and almost useless.  If one is interested in the mistaken and unfortunate interpretations you can find countless variations of error on YouTube and other books and so forth.

You curious yet?

The Simple Truth of the method

It may be an overstatement to say it is a simple truth.  It becomes a simple truth once one achieves a grasp of the principle and the method.  Now for those who already know the form I will remind the reader that following the various positions in the long set which are variously white crane spreads it’s wings, fan through the back and so forth there is a sequence of movements inclusive of a downward parry with closed fist, a split, and extension, open hand parry with several wave-like motions designed to provide full protection from attacks on the upper gates and middle gates from various attacks along with the use of the tactile ability to interpret energy and control the opponent from both the inside and outside of the attack.

The Formless Form

In the classics there is a section of characters that were dictated by Yang Chen Fu mentioning the form that has no form.  In this section he says that the form that has no form means to use the Qi to do 4 things:

This portion of the Parry and Punch has to do with the here mentioned “formless form”.  A person will need to think about this broadly until wisdom can be arrived at for this to take full effect.  My hint to you is to ask this question, “Have you ever washed your automobile by hand and used a Shamus cloth to remove water?”  This will be a good start for you if you understand my words.

  1. Spread
  2. Cover
  3. Check
  4. Swallow…and then of course to “issue” meaning strike/hit/punch

Throughout the long boxing there are several expressions of the Parry and Punch thus lending an universal application based on whatever the circumstances wherein this method is appropriate.  The punch is generally expressed with the thumb side up and at your chin level, which we will call an upper gate punch, but in the form there is also a punch to the height of the mid-calf level which is of course hitting an opponent who is already prone or near prone position.  There is also a mid-level punch in the routine that for the vast majority this is obscured and lost in the dull sameness of the routine as it is commonly performed.  In turn, the open hand left-right brush knee palm strike (Zuo You Xi Ao Bu) also has a low, middle, and high expression which the vast majority perform without variation as an upper mid-level palm strike. Yawn…

To explain more deeply without direct tactile instruction might be a waste of effort except for those who are very close to this skill already.  In that case perhaps this article has been of great benefit and for others it has served to wet the appetite for more practice and study.  If so it has met the purpose of writing.

However, make no mistake, this article has only dipped the tip of the finger in a vast ocean of meaning and martial art wisdom.  With gratitude and appreciation I give respect and honor to the masters who have plowed this field before us and help make the ground more fertile for our sowing the seed of effort.