Cross-training martial arts

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Mixed martial arts

The mixed martial art approach is very popular these days... It may work with the external arts, but not the internal arts.

Tai chi as an add-on?

Karate, aikido and wing chun students sometimes take up 'tai chi' as a means of supplementing their existing practice. Tai chi, qigong and neigong are used to cultivate whole-body strength.
The problem is... it doesn't work.

What is the problem?

Conventional martial arts people sometimes seek to bolster their art by training tai chi. Whilst this may sound reasonable as a proposition, it is fundamentally unsound in practice.
The body usage habits of their arts are external.

In a nutshell

The tai chi instructor tells you to relax your muscles at all times. Your external martial arts instructor tells you to tense-up.
The tai chi instructor tells you to stay calm and composed. Your external martial arts instructor tells you to use your aggression.
The tai chi instructor tells you to circumvent force. Your external martial arts instructor tells you to meet force with force.

Tai chi is an art where all the principles of other martial arts have been turned upside down.
They practice fast, we practice slow.
They practice hard, we practice soft.

(Cheng Man Ching)

Conventional martial art habits

These habits inhibit your ability to use tai chi:

• Military-style warm-up exercise
Existing body habits
Typically focuses on striking or grappling, seldom both
Blocking/resistant, force versus force
Favours the younger, stronger student
• Aggression/emotion
• Forcing
• Speed
• Isolated limb use
• Extended
• Linear
• Struggling
• Being in your head thinking about what to do next
• Denying your vulnerability
• Contracted, locked musculature


The person creates a vicious circle: the existing habits of body use prevent the individual from performing tai chi correctly, thus diminishing any desired improvement in their existing art.
See the issue?

A lot of martial arts will basically destroy your body.

(Bruce Frantzis)

Internal is advanced

Internal martial arts skills cannot be learned quickly and then mixed in with others arts.
Tai chi involves a whole approach to the experience of combat, and every action is an integral part of the system.
A student may spend a decade learning just one style and still miss much of the meaning.

Made to order

Whole-body strength can only flourish in the internal martial arts. The systems were made for neigong. The very nature of whole-body strength precludes its existence in the conventional martial arts.
The moment you tense your muscles or move your limb independently of the body, there is no neigong.

Context & meaning

Meaning requires context, otherwise the information does not make sense. Hoping to learn the complete set of neigong in order to incorporate it into a conventional martial art is fruitless.
Why? Context.

Internal arts train internally

Fish do not just live in water. They are part of the water. They cannot survive without water. It is simply the nature of what they are. Context is everything.

Tai chi fighting method

How can whole-body strength exist in a conventional martial system that does not use whole-body strength? That was not even designed with whole-body strength in mind?
Conventional martial arts approach kinaesthetic awareness and the entire experience of combat from a fundamentally different perspective to tai chi

Where’s the elegance, where’s the grace, where’s the art, where’s the expression of what it means to be a human being in movement?

(Paul Gale)

Kidding yourself

A martial arts dilettante might well attend a tai chi class alongside their existing martial art without telling the instructor that they are doing this. Unfortunately, this will backfire.
There will be no real progress and the instructor will spend the whole time telling the individual to 'relax' and stop using 'external' bad habits.

3 methods

Our students study 3 kung fu methods:

  1. Chin na (seizing)

  2. Shuai jiao (take downs)

  3. Tai chi chuan (dynamic balancing boxing)

They all use the body in an internal way. Chin na and shuai jiao are fighting methods rather than a separate system.

Bogus tai chi

If an external martial artist studies sport tai chi and learns competition forms, then the extended stances and exaggerated performance aesthetics may not jar with their existing training.
However, this is not tai chi. Sport tai chi is not even remotely martial.

Find another external martial art

If you want to cross-train a martial art, find compatible systems that can be practiced independently of one another; systems that do not contain conflicting principles of body usage.


A conventional martial artist might be better off training yoga rather than tai chi.

Tai chi for health & qigong

Tai chi for health and qigong may seem like viable alternatives to tai chi but they still require a deep level of muscular relaxation.
If you continue to train a tension-based martial art then no real progress can be made with qigong or tai chi.


Meditation can help any martial artist. Tranquillity, peace and harmony can be cultivated.


You will see karate students who are learning tai chi, for instance, coming from a long background in karate. Unable to see the new art through anything but the filter of their karate experience, they come up with a weird hybrid. They have not learned how to see beyond their past experience and open up to a new one.

(Dave Lowry)

Page created 23 September 1995
Last updated
3 October 2012