Whether you are doing Taiji drills or practicing the bare-hand form, it is important to maintain what Grand Master Yang calls “a sense of enemy.” Remember that Taijiquan is a martial art and that many of its benefits for health derive from its ability to raise your spirit and boost the circulation of your internal energy, Qi. Maintaining a sense of enemy is essential in raising your spirit and in promoting circulation of your Qi. Thus it is essential to essential to both the main goals for practicing Taiji–attaining martial skill and improving health and longevity.
I tell people who are learning Taiji to imagine that they are interacting during form performance with an imaginary opponent. Your imaginary opponent does not cause you to become angry or frightened. Of course, creating tension from anger or fright would be contrary to Taiji principles, which dictate that you remain calm and unemotional. Your imaginary opponent does, however, cause you to become feisty. Feisty was what my friends and I became when we played “tackle the man with the ball” in our backyards many years ago.
Your imaginary opponent, coincidentally, is always the same size as you are, which permits you to do the movements without contorting yourself out of proper position. Your imaginary opponent has friends. In some parts of the form you know that you no sooner knock one down than another joins in. Sometimes, as in single whip, two attack you in quick succession from opposite sides. Don’t worry, you always prevail. When you are performing the form, your imaginary opponents always does when he, she (they?) are supposed to. So if you make a mistake in the sequence, don’t blame your imaginary opponent.
The idea that you are pushing, pulling, punching, or locking the joints of your imaginary opponent strengthens your Qi flow and your spirit. Without that sense of imaginary opponent, your Taiji practice will be empty and you will be missing a large part of the benefits of doing Taiji form.