Two-person Tai chi Sparring Routines
Two-person routines exist for a number of reasons, one of which is to give a more practical and realistic context for the practice and understanding of self-defence techniques.
Despite the plethora of techniques, tai chi chuan is considered more method based than technique based. That is to say, the techniques themselves are not as important as the fundamental principles that guide their execution.
A problem with practising martial techniques is that the training partner is either too cooperative or not cooperative enough. If they are too cooperative the defender will become deluded. If they are not cooperative enough, the defender will learn bad habits, especially that habit of employing inappropriate techniques in the wrong context.
When a technique is practised repeatedly, the partner tends to become too cooperative. He or she may then practically doing the technique to themselves. The defender can come to believe that they are doing the technique correctly even when they are not.
If the partner is not cooperative enough, he or she will effectively counter the defender’s technique and make it impossible for the defender to do the technique correctly. The defender will then need to do a different technique. Failure to change the technique under these conditions will result in bad habits that will make the technique itself useless at best and dangerous at worst.
An 88-movement two-person routine created by students of Yang Chengfu is now widely taught to advanced students as a way of presenting tai chi chuan strategy, techniques, and methods. This form is practised very slowly at first, and later is done quickly with varying degrees of power, intent, and completion.
Other two-person routines, such as the 5-section 2-person routine and the 5-section 2-person sword routine created by Sam Masich, are also widely practised.
2-person routines are initially practiced in a turn-based manner, with each person given the opportunity to complete or nearly complete a technique before the partner counters with a move of his or her own. With practice, however, each partner experiments with different timing, sometimes going so far as to to intercept the intent of the opponent’s attack.
The proper execution of a two-person tai chi routine requires a strong foundation in solo practice as well as previous cultivation of tuishou (pushing hands) skills.