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A tool

If somebody pick
ed up a sword, could they expect to use it in bona fide combat?
Not without training. Not without a comprehensive understanding of the weapon, when, how and why to employ it. To seek to fight with a weapon you do not even understand is suicide.

A weapon

People fail to see that tai chi is just like a sword. You cannot just pick it up and use it in combat. First, you must understand the weapon. Then, you must become the weapon.

Advanced martial art

It is not enough to practice form and pushing hands. Real understanding is necessary. Tai chi is an advanced martial arts system.
A student must gain an in-depth grasp of the principles underpinning the art, and learn how to use them effectively.

What makes tai chi 'tai chi'?

Many different exercise systems and martial arts offer similar benefits to tai chi. Most exercise methods are arguably good for fitness, and most martial arts aim to teach combat.
So what makes tai chi unique?


Tai chi is concerned with the how. It is process-oriented; paying attention to the way in which you do things rather than just the result.


Tai chi requires the student to perform every movement in a comfortable, relaxed manner, whilst maintaining optimal structural alignment relative to the opponent.
At no time should your use of strength exceed 4 ounces of pressure, nor should you allow more than 4 ounces to be placed upon you.
Force is never used against force. Every action should be a whole-body movement rather than independent limb action.
There are no conventional punches or kicks; the body employs a whipping action to throw the limb out when striking.
Tai chi is circular in movement and application - it must follow the way of nature, the path of least resistance.


In addition to the basic elements, there are more detailed components that need to be incorporated into your training.
These allow a more extensive mechanism for expression and are essential for the pragmatic application of the art.


Some people try to employ karate or wing chun methodology in their tai chi. This simply does not work. At best, they create a hybrid - at worst, they ruin both systems.

Each to their own

Wing chun should be trained as wing chun, and karate as karate - each has its own unique quality.
Tai chi is the same; you cannot apply the movements as though it was karate. e.g. the form is a vessel for neigong. Karate is not.


Tai chi uses the body in a more complete fashion than other systems, requiring lesser strength to greater effect. The other arts are not renowned for health.


If you simply trained qigong, form, pushing hands and a few self defence 'techniques' the art will not work in actual combat.
Much is missing:

  1. Principles

  2. Taoism

  3. Brain work (meditation, awareness, metacognition)

  4. Neigong (whole-body strength)

  5. Jing (whole-body power)

  6. Martial skill

  7. Chin na (seizing)

  8. Shuai jiao (take downs)

  9. Weapons

These skills contain physical and mental components; and the latter are often neglected by the student.


It is not enough to practice the skills. You must understand the art. For example chin na applications can be trained with a cooperative practice partner and then with an uncooperative partner.
But will they work in actual combat? No.

Missing pieces

Practicing applications is not enough. This is why martial artists sometimes get beaten up in the street by untrained assailants. What is missing?

Using the sword

In tai chi the answer is quite straightforward: the ability to skilfully employ the principles. The principles serve to bridge the gap between application practice and actual usage.

Chin na application answer

In the chin na application example the answer is yielding, peng, stickiness, 4 ounces. Unless you can use these in a varied, combined, diverse fashion, you cannot apply chin na applications in combat.
You must know how to wield the sword; functionally, pragmatically and effectively.

Knowledge gaps

The gaps in a student's knowledge actively retard progress. They cannot apply tai chi in a tai chi manner. At best, it will look like karate or judo. The exponent may as well learn judo.

Don't ask...

A lazy student waits to be told the answers. The problem is this: what can they do with answers they don't even understand?
The knowledge may be in their hands but they don't know what to do with it. Therein lies the dilemma.

Find out

Individual study, practice and research will produce knowledge, understanding and answers. And further questions of course...
Trying to do tai chi without studying the classics is like trying to practice Law without reading any legal books.

Wielding a real sword

The amateur swordsman cuts himself. Tai chi employed by an amateur deserves all the laughter it receives. Conviction and integrity are paramount.
These are not easily attained.

Know how

The only way to gain the necessary 'know how' is to practice daily and study thoroughly. There are no shortcuts, no cheats, no quick fixes.
You must practice the movements, read the books, think deeply about the art and move continually towards realistic combat skill.
A student who lacks the initiative and motivation to do this should study qigong & tai chi instead.

The yin/yang symbol is the interlocking, melting together of the flow of movement within a circle.

(Chungliang Al Huang)

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Page created 18 June 2003
Last updated 16 June 2023