Hi Gene, David, Steve, and others,
David, I read the same article about Chen Fa Ke, but forgot about it. For some reason, I still recall a similar story about Yang Lu Chan. I have a similar confusion about a mad-dog story, where one source talks about Yang Lu Chan and another about Chen Fa Ke dispatching a rabid dog with one kick or blow. Thanks for the correction. I apologize if I did not get the source right in this case.
Another inspiration for my question was reading about a U.S. martial arts school that draws inspiration form Jeet Kun Do and takes a very dim view of the "current state of Asian martial arts" and concepts like qi. They focus on three aspects of fighting: Western boxing techniques for long distance punching, American wrestling for fighting from a clinch, and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu for grappling on the ground.
As a thought exercise, I have viewed their claims from my T'ai Chi perspective. I have to say that I agree that T'ai Chi is somewhat lacking in not addressing ground fighting, but attribute this to its possible origin or development as a battlefield martial art, where fighting on the ground is likely suicide.
To avoid having to fight on the ground, many view avoiding being tackled or having one's legs seized as a critical skill. Many of those who like grappling claim that most street fights end up involving grappling.
As for the effectiveness of a grappling attack, I have looked both to my Karate and wrestling experience for guidance. My Karate had no hand-to-leg techniques I can recall, but frequently during sparring, one partner would grab the other's kicking leg. Although we did not drill this, I found the position devasting for the kicker, since his or her root was gone and completely under the control of the other person.
The only technique I found that occasionally worked well in this position was to place the leg under control on my opponent's abdomen, "hop forward" to thrust the toes of my formerly standing leg behind the Achilles tendon of my opponent's lead leg, and then scissor my legs to topple the opponent over backwards. I do not pretend that this sounds much like T'ai Chi.
Gene, although dodging is a time-honered martial technique, I have always wondered whether it is consistent with T'ai Chi's connecting, adhering, and sticking philosophy. I have also wondered whether this is a point on which T'ai Chi and Aikido, for instance, differ. I can cite no authority, but it seems to me that dodging is completely yin, does not engage the opponent's force, does not really transform the opponent's energy into anything, and does not lead to continuity or control of movement. Do you have an opinion from this perspective?
At least in wrestling, I also recall that dodging seemed to present two defects. First, the attacker usually would spread his arms wide so that "escaping" purely by dodging was usually not possible. Moreover, a good shooter would usually retain an ability to pump his legs. While doing this, covering a 12-foot distance in two or three steps to seize one or both legs of the defender was really not a problem.
Secondly, dodging forced you to leave your initially weighted foot behind and vulnerable. Although the shooter and the dodger appeared to be doing mirror image things, in many ways it was not really so. The shooter needed to sink only slightly to store up power for a shoot, whose speed was limited only by leg power. To be safe, the dodger had to spring upward, vertically pivot the legs out of harms way, and fall back to earth no faster than the speed of gravity.
Since this was rarely a successful defense, I recall dispensing with any sense of dodging, but simply trying to maintain the correct contact with my opponent's hands or shoulders and "kicking" my legs backward out of the way into a sprawl. That way, I did not have to wait for my legs to land to have leverage. Again, what I propose is, of course, not consistent with T'ai Chi.
On another thread, Steve James mentions grabbing to defend against a striker and striking to defend against a grabber. This sounds interesting, but seems to reflect different thinking from the Chen Fa-Ke story and perhaps involves using "force against force." It also sounds quite demanding of precision, since you may get only one strike to stop what might feel like an oncoming freight train. Also, the penalty for failure may be complete loss over one's control over contact with the ground.
I suppose a defense may have something to do with maintaining enough upward ward off energy on the opponent's hands and arms. This might make the attacker feel incapable of sinking or at least vulnerable to a following strike if he or she tried too hard to disconnect from the sticking.
I have no answers, but was curious what others might come up with. Thank you all for the responses.