After spending some time in the American martial arts community, Master Pai eventually re-worked the karate he had brought with him from Korea. Most importantly, he did so in terms of Yang style T'ai Chi Ch'uan, eventually jettisoning the older emphasis on hard power, which characterizes most karate styles, in favor of the T'ai Chi principle of softness – giving way, through sensitivity, to an opponent in order to neutralize his power and return it.
Instead of meeting force with force as more traditional karate systems tend to do, T'ai Chi teaches practitioners to feel an assailant’s force as soon as contact is made (and even before through the movements that precede combat) in order to handle that force through deflection and neutralization rather than trying to out-muscle an assailant who may have advantages in size, strength, weight or reach. Master Pai came to believe that the secret of all successful martial arts lay with the principles of t'ai chi and, in time, the fighting system he evolved came to look like no other karate style because of its emphasis on natural motion and sensitivity.
The fighting method that arose from this is simple on its face, without elaborate or fancy moves.There are no pre-planned techniques because everything you do is the technique, animated by the deep-seated physical sensitivity the training produces in the practitioner. The forms (practice routines or sets) differ from those of other karate systems, as well, because they do away with the staccato-like motion, snapping and jerking techniques of traditional karate. Instead, the movements are done smoothly in a continuously flowing manner, each flowing into and becoming the next.
In the course of his journey, Master Pai evolved a unique set of forms to express the principles he came to believe most important to a martial art. The forms are designed to capture the natural movements of the body while facilitating the development of sensitivity through synchronized, natural breathing. There are ten core forms in total:
Shim Quan (Mind Fist) – Performed slowly, this fairly short form trains the student in the basic architecture of the moves, fostering integration of one's breathing with the natural techniques the style teaches.
Hua Quan (Flower Fist) – The first “fighting form,” this is performed with speed and grace; it introduces the core movements of combat in a way that allows the moves to blend together. Its rapid, circular hand techniques are flowery, as Master Pai used to explain, giving this form its name.
Loong Quan (Dragon Fist) – This second “fighting form” is performed with speed, like all the other fighting forms, to teach the student to put the various individual movements together in a variety of ways applicable to actual combat. Dragon is characterized by long, low penetrating attacks (simulating the sinuous motion of a giant serpent), the characteristic dragon hand formations of kung fu and the use of sweeping and spinning kicks (emulating the sweep of a great reptile's tail). Dragon introduces a range of sophisticated movements to build on the more basic moves found in Flower.
Hok Quan (Crane Fist) – The third of the “fighting forms,” Crane continues to build the student's arsenal of more sophisticated techniques, making use of both arms and legs in various flailing and striking combinations that simulate the beating wings and pecking attacks of a large bird in combat. This form relies on the crane beak hand formation for blocks and strikes, the phoenix eye single knuckle punch, and other sharply pointed techniques applied against an enemy’s soft spots.
Seh Quan (Snake Fist) – The fourth “fighting form” is characterized by long low movements evoking the quick twists and turns of a snake. It utilizes various sharp, pointed finger strikes (simulating a serpent’s bite) and sharp, quick kicks. Rapid stance shifts suggest the coiling of an attacking serpent underfoot.
Fu Zhaou (Tiger Claw) – The fifth “fighting form” emulates the tiger, a large cat which relies on powerful frontal movements with sweeping, claw-like strikes. Its jumping kicks simulate the powerful frontal assault of these large animals.
Pao Quan (Leopard Fist) – The sixth and last “fighting form”consists of a series of oblique advances and retreats, relying heavily on the leopard fist hand formation (a flattened fist for striking narrow areas to stun an enemy) and quick, distance-covering leaps to close the space with an opponent, after the manner of these smaller, highly agile cats. Snapping side kicks express the sideways movements of the canny leopard and are especially important in this form.
Xiao Shou (Small Hand) – Like the earlier Shim Quan, this one is performed slowly and evenly to more thoroughly integrate the breathing with the movement architecture of the system. Its focus is on small, in-close hand strikes, emphasizing the inside quality of the movements which are directed at an opponent’s weak spots including eyes, bridge of the nose, side of the neck and throat, the heart and certain weak points along the ribcage.
Yang T'ai Chi Ch'uan (Taiji Quan – Grand Ultimate Fist) – This is Master Pai’s version of the Cheng Man-Ching Tai Chi short form which he learned directly from Master Cheng in the 1970s. Cheng Man-Ching, the most renowned T'ai Chi practitioner in the West in his day, learned directly from Yang Chen-Fu, grandson of the founder of Yang style T'ai Chi, Yang Lu-Chan. Yang Chen-Fu was renowned as the premier master of T'ai Chi in his time and the most skilled inheritor of Yang Lu-Chan’s teachings. Master Pai used the T'ai Chi system to re-work and restore his martial art to what he believed was its original, classical form -- the art of overcoming the greater strength, reach, weight and other bodily advantages an opponent may have. The T'ai Chi form is taught to all black belts and becomes the standard which informs and guides all the training that has gone before. Focusing on it, at black belt level, enables students to uncover the elements Master Pai built into the core forms of his system which make that system as unique and effective as it is.
Nabi Su (Butterfly Hand) – This is Master Pai’s signature form, developed by him in 1987 to capture and represent the fullest expression of the system he built up over his lifetime. Only mastered by a few of his students, it teaches hand movements through which a practitioner may literally create an all but impenetrable shield about himself, a defense that is exceedingly hard to breach.