Self defence
Tai chi syllabus

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What relevance do tai chi fighting skills have in modern life?

Simple. Tai chi teaches you how to defend yourself from harm.
Tai chi self defence skills lead to less fear, greater confidence and the ability to identify (and avoid) dangerous situations.


What is self defence?

Self defence is the ability to protect yourself: physically, mentally and emotionally. The aim of self defence is to incapacitate the attacker and walk away; ideally unharmed.

When it comes to self-defence, flashy moves may look cool, but they often don't work in high-stress situations. Your fine motor skills can go out the window, leaving you with only the simple reactions you've trained for. It's all about building simple reactions through training and relying on them when you need them the most. So, forget about the flashy moves and focus on the basics to defend yourself effectively.

(Brad Dotten)

Common definitions

There is no consensus on what 'self defence' actually means:

  1. Some people think self defence refers to tips & pointers that will enable you to handle any manner of assault

  2. Martial artists often regard self defence as a weak, limited aspect of combat

  3. The Police see self defence as being a reasonable, considered, appropriate response to an assault

The law

Self defence is legal. Fighting is not.

What is the difference?

Fighting has the connotation of reciprocity: two people trading blows. Unlike fighting, self defence involves one person being assaulted by another.

Reasonable force

It is necessary to avoid prosecution when using self defence. Employ restraint (reasonable force) and only apply your skills only when you have no other choice. You should never use your art in anger.
Laws exist to ensure the safety and wellbeing of society, and a martial artist should respect this.

Everyday conflict

Life presents us with many situations that can be unpleasant:

  1. Hostile/dangerous motorists

  2. Macho behaviour

  3. Gangs

  4. Intimidation

  5. Bullies

  6. Problems at work

  7. Assault

  8. Threats

  9. Personal relationships

  10. Verbal abuse

Sometimes you may feel vulnerable and alone. You may feel helpless, afraid, angry and frustrated.

Dealing with confrontation

Confrontation occurs in many forms and can be very stressful. It is important to handle yourself in a constructive, calm manner.
Discover how to keep a cool head, avoid conflict and cope with hostility.
You can be switched-on without being macho, defensive or paranoid.


When faced with hostility or violence, most people panic. Panic is an adverse reaction to unexpected events. It is the failure to acknowledge your fear, understand the cause of fear and recognise the options you have available.

Im aware of how much violence there is at work these days. I met up with friends I used to work with in housing and violence is very common at their work. NHS staff are increasingly under physical attack (Ive noticed warnings in my local GP surgery). School teachers too, and transport staff.


Freeze, flight or fight...

The human brain responds to danger by making us do one of the following:

Run away
Become aggressive

Tai chi offers an alternative to option 3. Instead of becoming aggressive or panicking, we seek to neutralise the threat whilst remaining calm.


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Page created 25 August 1994
Last updated 16 June 2023