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Martial artist?

A fully-trained martial artist is kind of like an athlete - whether amateur or professional. They have committed a lot of time to their art and they train frequently and earnestly.
Most people aren't anywhere near that committed. Nor do they want to be. Often, an individual wants to get fit, socialise, have fun and be capable of defending themselves.

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

(Geoff Thompson) 


In order to successfully incapacitate someone you need to have a firm grasp of your chosen art. It must be at your fingertips: you can punch, kick, grapple etc without any hesitation or doubt.
Reaching this level of skill is possible for all exponents, but not everyone makes it that far.


In lieu of incapacitation...

Whilst incapacitation is a worthwhile target for all tai chi exponents, it isn't strictly necessary if your aim is just to be able to defend yourself from harm.
Rather than put your attacker out of action, you might simply deter them from attacking you.


Lets say that you have a car. The car has an alarm and you also have a steering lock. Does this mean that nobody can steal your car? Of course not.
The same principle applies to being a home owner. Window locks, door locks, and an alarm may all dissuade a burglar, but it doesn't mean that you are thief-proof.
There's nothing you can do that offers a guarantee of safety.


The best defence against a thief is to make life hard for them. In fact, the more hassle they encounter, the less likely they are to steal from you.
A well-protected house with no valuables on show is not an ideal crime of opportunity. A burglar doesn't want to be mauled by a dog or greeted by the police when exiting the crime scene.
Deterrents work by making the endeavor more trouble than it is worth.

Every encounter is unique, and the appropriate response should emerge naturally. Today’s techniques will be different tomorrow. Do not get caught up with the form and appearance of a challenge.


Why bother?

If we now apply the idea of deterrent to self defence, we find that an individual can learn how to deter an assailant far more easily and quickly than they can learn how to incapacitate one.
The learning curve is much shorter.
Yes, deterring an attacker won't necessarily mean that you are safe, but it will make the attacker reluctant to engage you in combat.

Animal kingdom

Despite living in a civilised society, your local post office depot will no doubt have a poster telling you just how many people were bitten by household pets this year. The statistics are disturbing.
The friendly, sociable dog that everyone loves reverts back to atavistic behaviour when faced with the mailman.
A large dog is a formidable foe - it has horizontally-oriented body mass, the ability to outrun a human, large claws, and a huge mouth. The dog doesn't know anything about compassion, consideration or decency.
So, how does a postal worker avoid being bit? By deterring the animal, and hoping that it loses interest. In Malaysia this is accomplished by crouching down as if to pick up a stone.


Martial arts are offensive. Self defence is defensive. Traditionally, the aim of a martial art was to cause injury, to maim and/or kill. The aim of self defence is to avoid being harmed.
Tai chi self defence is about seeing what we can actually pull off in unrehearsed combat. To facilitate this, the training must be 'natural' seeming and draw upon our developing physical strengths.
For an inexperienced student, technical skill is lacking, so self defence needs to be functional and practical, not elegant.

Exuberant play

In tai chi training we explore many 'games' which train people to get used to the idea of keeping a cool head when faced with wildly uncertain situations.
Instead of freaking out, students have fun. They become 'slippery', agile, adaptive and strong. They are not easy to move around or manipulate, and they become resistant to locks/holds.
Many studies have proven that 'exuberant play' is the most effective learning medium. With the stigma of violence, pain and injury removed, students are free to relax and explore at their leisure.
The paradoxical physics associated with tai chi emphasises the importance of relaxing and letting-go. Play encourages this.

More trouble than it's worth

The goal in tai chi self defence is to be a nuisance. To be annoying. To cause inconvenience and hassle. To create chaos. Unpredictability is vital.
Our students acquire the necessary skills without trying too hard. They feel to come naturally.

When you inflict pain on part of his body each time an opponent makes an aggressive move, his body will weaken by degrees until he is ready to collapse
and it is easy to beat him.

 (Miyamoto Musashi)

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Page created 18 April 2005
Last updated
4 September 2009