Tam Tui or "spring leg" is a traditional Northern Kung Fu (Wushu) routine, divided into twelve sets. Tam Tui concentrates on leg work with complimentary fist techniques. It is not a complicated routine but when done properly it can increase co-ordination whilst strengthening muscles, increasing flexibility and establishing good posture. The student will develop strength and endurance of the leg muscles and the deep stances help open the hips for greater flexibility. Tam Tui is easy to learn but difficult to perfect. It takes time to learn and understand the form and if rushed you will never have the full benefit of the first form of Chin Woo . Through the practice of the applications the student will learn to anticipate an attack, along with self-control and timing and how to control an opponent.
Shaolin Kung Fu is generally divided into Northern and Southern styles. The Southern style places its emphasis on close range fighting, relying on the development of strong, short-hand techniques.
The Northern style relies on movement and evasion techniques and being able to function at all distances from your opponent. It is renowned for its long-hand and advanced kicking techniques which stem from the days when many opponents were on armed with spears and on horseback, so high jumping kicks and evasive techniques were vital for survival. Modern Wushu athletes derive many of their major moves in their routines from Northern styles like Chang Chuan ("Long Fist") , Eagle Claw and Drunken Fist among others. The more sophisticated, lethal Kung Fu kicks are also from the North. Among these are the butterfly kick, the flying front kick, lotus kick, butterfly 360 o and so on. These kicks belong to the advanced category of practice so before you can become proficient at them your foundation and basics must be good.
If it is good basics and a strong foundation you are looking for, then Tam Tui serves that very purpose. It is so popular that it has been integrated into the basic course for styles such as Praying Mantis, Eagle Claw and Chang Chuan. However, because it is classified as part of the basic course of Chin Woo, practitioners often disregard Tam Tui's importance and practicality. Students, more often than not, merely look upon Tam Tui as being just a requirement to pass before proceeding onto higher learning. But as in all Kung Fu styles, the basics are the key to the end result. As with everything else in life, Tam Tui will take time to learn and be good at so don't expect to be a lean mean fighting machine by the end of your first class; having said that, everything written below is achievable with hard work and time.
The Benefits of Tam Tui
Beginners in Kung Fu are often concerned with the burden of drilling in the horse stance, which may appear to them at times, arduous and boring. No matter which particular style of Kung Fu is practiced, the horse stance is a must; a basic requirement which makes the practitioner stable and rooted to the ground. In this aspect, Tam Tui plays a dual purpose; drilling in the horse stance while practicing leg techniques at the same time. In practicing the leg movements of the Tam Tui, the student is unconsciously drilling in the horse stance simultaneously. This is because the leg movements are practiced in the horse stance position with certain variations from the standard, upright position. A routine leg movement may require the supporting leg to bend 45 degrees at the knee and the other leg to kick low, with the knee straight and with all concentration on the pointed toes. This movement is actually drilling the horse stance and perfecting your rooting to the ground. In other movements, concentration is not on the toes but on the heels or the soles of the feet, but nonetheless, they all serve to drill in the leg movements and perfect the horse stance.
Before one concludes that Tam Tui is all legwork, we must delve deeper into its essence. Tam Tui has very abundant and diverse tactics. The essence of the art lies in its four 'works': handwork, legwork, bodywork and footwork. Each is combined tactically to deliver an explosive force. Though the style boasts rich legwork ranging from springing to treading, stamping, sweeping, kicking and hooking, it also contains a bounty of handwork like thrusting, grappling, chopping, squeezing, pushing and crooking to complement its legwork. Each legwork has its own rules, its own handwork and its own bodywork to complement the movement.
The techniques of Tam Tui also consist of various kicks found in the Northern Shaolin styles like the inch kick, sidekick, front thrust kick and shin kick among others. This makes practicing Tam Tui a good warm-up to the other more advanced leg techniques of the Shaolin fighting arts.
Tam Tui also includes techniques where the student is required to crouch low and twist the waist while blocking down, so it serves as a good flexibility exercise for the legs and waist. Flexibility and agility are of great importance in the more advanced Northern styles and so practicing Tam Tui, aside from acquiring a good foundation, helps prepare the student to go on to more advanced routines and techniques.
The Tam Tui routines also make full use of stretching and extending in their legwork and handwork like punching and kicking, resulting in a more agile practitioner. The movements of Tam Tui should be very brisk and nimble. Practice on these exercises should be consistent and regular to achieve the best results. Tam Tui is very good in improving strength and leaping abilities. Flexibility and tenacity are greatly required in the execution of the various movements. In Tam Tui a harmonious co-ordination between the hands, eyes, body, steps and breathing is a must, making the nerve centres active and alert at all times. Whilst practicing the exercises, the blood circulation speeds up and inner energy releases out, thereby providing the body with a good cardiovascular workout. In general, Tam Tui can be highly recommended, not only for its superb fighting and drilling qualities, but for it's health-encouraging effects on the student.
Combat Values of Tam Tui
One of the major reasons why masters of the Northern Shaolin styles strongly advocated Tam Tui as a basic for their respective styles is that, aside from giving the student a good foundation, it's basic techniques have been stripped of their "flowery" movements and reduced to the very essence of Northern Shaolin self-defence/combat techniques. To the untrained eye, the movements of Tam Tui seem simple, but behind this simplicity are all the necessary qualities needed for fighting. Students who drill in Tam Tui unconsciously develop the abilities to focus their techniques, strengthen their leg muscles for snap kicks and develop a rhythmical co-ordination of hand and leg movements.
In addition to this, the Tam Tui contains body shifting techniques, which can be used to evade attacks, hand and foot movements which can be utilised to close the gap between the fighter and the opponent and sweeping and trapping techniques which are useful in combat situations.