(Note: This is the beginning of a series of my translation of Chapter 14 of Cheng Tin-Hung’s 1965 book "Tai Chi Chuan")
Before applying any practical technique in the moment of conflict, one must pay special attention to the on-guard position, in additon to preparing your mind psychologically. In this position, you will be able to watch every small detail of your opponent, and be able to both attack and defend with ease. Hence, one should not just stand unprepared while waiting for the fight to begin, as this will hinder both the ability to attack and retreat.
Before the fight, the distance between your opponent and yourself must exceed four feet as it would be difficult to counter a sudden attack if you are too close to your opponent.
Your mind must be focused without any stress, and you must treat it as if it is a normal practice. Pay attention to any small detail, so that your can understand both the direction of an attack and whether the attack is just a deception. You must be able to do this before you can deflect an attack and apply a counter attack.Although the goal of fighting is to let go, follow your opponent’s actions while avoiding the Yang and attacking his Yin, your mind must always remain alert and ready to change technique according to the situation. Use your brain, not your force.
Once you gain an advantage, you must follow your opponent and keep attacking to maintain this advantage until you win the conflict. If you cannot maintain your advantage, and let your opponent have a come back, you will then have to start the fight over again. This way, it’s hard to predict the victor.