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Tai Chi and Martial Art  
martial arts and the application of combat tai chi

(the Fall of) Tai Chi Chuan


Tai Chi Chuan developed simultaneously as a form of self-defence and all of those other things that folk imagine it to be. This is simply so - a fact. However, most people that do decide to take up what they call Tai Chi choose to ignore this and assume that they may pick and choose as they wish, or as they see fit.

This is not always their fault. The main cause of this is the fact that very few people teach Tai Chi Chuan. What most Tai Chi teachers teach is what students pay them to teach. Due to the fact that most prospective students have already decided what this is - and what this is everything that they imagined it to be, apart from the martial discipline of self-defence - this is what most teachers teach. The Tai Chi that is taught is a cut down version of Tai Chi - very few teach Tai Chi Chuan. In return, the most that certain teachers ask of these students is that they pay in advance. I would call this 'market forces', and I would personally stop short of even calling it Tai Chi.

Very few teachers offer to teach Tai Chi Chuan because very few students are interested in the Chuan part. This is as much for the fact that few know that Chuan exist and fewer know what it is. This is what I think is called 'the rule of supply and demand'. The consequence and vivid illustration of all of this are those little adverts that appear in local newspapers from adult education establishments that offer the likes of 12 week courses in Tai Chi ... with concessions for the unemployed.

Without further ado may I quote from the Preface of Advanced Yang Style Tai Chi Chuan, Volume One by the world renowned Dr. Yang Jwing-Ming:

". The art is gradually becoming incomplete. Because most Tai Chi practitioners are more interested in health than in self-defence, the deeper aspects of the art have been gradually ignored. Many people who have practised Tai Chi Chuan for a quite a few years still do not understand its theory and principles. They may not know how to co-ordinate breathing with the forms and many do not understand the relationship of Tai Chi and Chi Kung. Some even do not know what Chi is, or how to generate it through Tai Chi practice and still meditation. Because of this their art remains superficial. Furthermore, the original, major part of Tai Chi Chuan - the martial application - is dying out. The reader should understand that Tai Chi was created as a martial Chi Kung art. The self -defence applications remain a necessary part of the wholeness of Tai Chi Chuan. Its principles and techniques are unique in martial society".

The Tai Chi that is usually taught in the west nowadays is absolutely devoid of Chuan. By this stage we can't even blame the teachers anymore because nobody ever pointed out to them the importance of learning about it themselves in the first place! Tai Chi with the Chuan removed is Tai Chi with the Martial and the Art removed. That is simply so - and another fact. All that in fact remains is all those other things that folk imagine that Tai Chi should be.

Numbered amongst these things are 'relaxation' 'stress-relief' 'confidence' etc., along with a supple body and the prospect of a long and healthy old age. Sure, all of these things may be attainable - but all in about 12 hours is a big ask from any teacher, even the most honourable and best intentioned. Any student that believes any teacher could condense and impart thousands of years of collective study and refinement into any number of hours instruction should question and re-asses either their own expectations or the teachers claims.

In the next paragraph of his preface to volume one the venerable Dr. Yang goes on to state: "Because Tai Chi is so profound and covers so much, it is not possible for one book, or for that matter one person, to cover the art fully". I would not disagree with this and might go even further and state that the only course or period of training applicable for Tai Chi is the rest of a lifetime. We might also bear in mind that many people take up this study and practice in the hope of extending that lifetime to the natural maximum. This incorrect view is like going to a doctor with an illness, describing the symptoms to him/her and then refusing to take the prescription. It is like a person who has never driven a car taking the trouble of finding a driving instructor to then tell him/her that all they want to know about the car is where the ignition and the accelerator is. Should the instructor agree, would the result not be inevitable? Not only would the student never pass the test (or in the former find a cure) he/she would have no control and hurtle (in both metaphorical situations) headlong into a crash. This would continue to occur over and over and would only be 'cured' when the instructor insists that he teach the student about the benefit and use of the steering wheel and the brake!

In Tai Chi Chuan the steering wheel is the martial self defence aspect and the brake is the philosophy that is directly connected to this. In short, most of the people in the west that become interested in Tai Chi are attracted almost exclusively to relaxation benefits derived from the soft aspects of the practice. As a final word for now on this matter this author would observe that the habit of picking and choosing is now becoming more prevalent within this side of the original practice also. This is like going to a doctor just to tell him/her what prescription you demand or telling a driving instructor that you don't want him in the car with you.

The most general and unfortunate misunderstanding of prospective students of Tai Chi is that they have assumed that the martial/self defence aspect of Tai Chi is intended to teach a person how to fight. They could not be more wrong. It is precisely and specifically intended to teach how to not fight. Sticking to this original wrong conclusion, they will never find out just how wrong they are! The irony is that Tai Chi cannot really help these people very much in their quest for relaxation either. In the short term it may encourage a little more patience and tolerance of minor irritations, but this will never be more than short term and minor. Any number of Tai Chi classes may help a student to relax for a while also. This is also short term and might end as soon as the Tai Chi session ends.

hands upFor instance, a common reminder in Tai Chi training is "elbows". This instruction is given to remind students to protect their rib cage and all of the vital organs within. In effect the elbows and perhaps also the wrists and shoulders become relaxed and so this is I suppose a good thing. But how long will this last? A student of 'partial' Tai Chi may remember the instruction of "elbows down" whilst dealing with the minor irritation of say an itchy ear [Try it-scratch ear - elbows up/ scratch ear - elbows down. Compare. Martial Art?] A student of 'true' Tai Chi is more likely to remember the instruction amid the roar of the rush hour tube train or within the chaos of a road traffic accident. [Try it. Protect face (look down tunnel) - elbows down. Protect face - elbows up. Compare]. An advanced student of Tai Chi Chuan would also heed all of the other instructions of a good Tai Chi Chuan teacher in all situations and occurrences of everyday life. All of these instructions are based entirely upon the martial applications of the form. They are its control mechanism, its motivation and its direction. When this is removed the practice is hollow, empty and lacking direction. The most consistent and repeated instruction of a Tai Chi teacher should be "yield". This has similar effect to 'relax' though its full effect is far more long term and useful. More and more nowadays "yield" becomes the cry of the student. This could be why fewer and fewer people teach Tai Chi nowadays. Soon there may be no Tai Chi left to teach and kick boxers will occupy the dojos.

What a sad irony this would be.

Tai Chi with the Chuan removed is Tai Chi with the Martial and the Art removed. That is simply so - and another fact. All that in fact remains is all those other things that folk imagine that Tai Chi should be.
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