Are you a martial artist (2)?

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If you went to a dojo to study aikido then in all cases you should encounter a martial arts class.
Naturally, there may be significant differences in teaching and style, but all classes should be teaching combat. Now, consider this in reference to tai chi.
When you go to a tai chi class what exactly will you encounter?

What is tai chi?

Unlike other arts, the words 'tai chi' encompass a wide variety of approaches. To make matters even more confusing, some people teach slow-motion movement and call it 'tai chi'.

Explaining the art

Explaining the martial art of tai chi is problematic. A verbal description will not capture the nature of the art, its complexity, nuances, skills and subtlety. You will probably be faced with incredulity.
So, why bother to explain what you do? The menu is not the food.

You don't want to be fighting biceps against biceps, the best techniques are the ones that the opponent gives you.

(Geoff Thompson) 

Chinese curse

Peter Southwood lets students determine how they study. This is not as kind as it sounds. There is a Chinese curse: May your wishes be granted. Why is it a curse?
People seldom consider the consequences of getting what they want. And when they finally get their way, their desire may have shifted to something new. 
Getting what you want may also prove to be far more than you can handle.


Sifu Waller treats students according to how they behave. If you joined his class and told him that you wanted to learn tai chi, then he would not say anything at all.
Instead, he would let Rachel teach you qigong & tai chi and see whether or not you behaved remotely like a tai chi student. Your own conduct would determine what you were taught.

Tai chi student?

Calling yourself a tai chi student and behaving like one are two different things entirely. The difference can easily be seen in combat. A talker will be defeated immediately.
Tai chi behaviour can also be seen without resorting to combat...

One face for giving and one face for taking

This Chinese saying means that people often perform the right actions and say the right things when they want something. They are pleasant and polite.
Yet, when asked for something in return, they are aloof and distant. Such behaviour is common in modern society but is not a tai chi attitude.


The biggest obstacle facing a student is themselves.
The challenge of learning tai chi as a martial art means that you will inevitably come up against things that you do not like (or necessarily agree with). This is to be expected.
We are all different to one another. The question is: how do you behave in the face of this challenge?
Do you eat humble pie, accept where you are in the syllabus (relative to your instructor) and carry-on training in the hope that your perspective broadens? Or do your demons consume you?

Combat involves adversity

It is easy to be happy and enjoy class when things are going your way. But how do you handle adversity? Your instructor needs to find out.

Learning to box

The popular book Chinese Boxing by Robert Smith refers to kung fu as being 'Chinese boxing' which is what kung fu has historically being called. The word 'boxing' summons images of fists and punching.

Taiji is supreme ultimate (yin/yang) and signifies the process of dynamic balancing. Quan is fist (combat/martial art/boxing). Dynamic balancing boxing renders the art as a process.


Even if your teacher sought to imbue you with his tai chi skills, he could not. It simply doesn't work that way. You must gain the skills through hard work, time and patience. Your body and mind re-grow.
Now, consider the Confucian quote:

I do not enlighten those who are not eager to learn, nor arouse those who are not quick to give an explanation themselves.

If I have presented one corner of the square and they cannot come back to me with the other three, I should not go over the points again.



Confucius is saying that the student is responsible for the learning, the practice, the insights and the degree of progress.
Tai chi students should look at themselves and ask the question; are you a martial artist? The answer is very simple: You are only a martial artist if you behave like one.

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Page created 1 August 1998
Last updated 16 June 2023