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Tai chi was invented as an efficient means of defeating real life attackers. It combines natural science, Taoism, acupuncture, combat skills and qigong. It is not a dance routine or a health exercise.
Health is a necessary side effect of strengthening your body for combat.
You may be working on a particular drill or skill and the other person seems absurdly awkward... They may remain extremely stiff and even be dangerously clumsy.
Your partner may start applying unnecessary strikes or holds during yielding rather than focus on the purpose of the exercise. This type of behaviour is rare but does occur.
Bullying may work against a beginner. Against a skilled student, it will only cause injury to the macho person.
Tai chi is about using the other person to fuel your application; so if the opponent is stiff and difficult, this is to your advantage. Be patient, their machismo is soon to be your weapon.
A basic premise of training to fight as an 'art' must be that the methods employed should make it possible for the smaller and weaker to defeat the larger and stronger.
Tao Te Ching counsels you to understand yourself before understand others. This means that your own fitness, poise and body usage must be addressed before you consider applying the practice.
In combat, you must learn softness, sensitivity and control.
Some people use muscle tension to simulate whole-body strength and feel proud of their ability to apply force.
This clumsy application of the system is a poor reflection of their tai chi and demonstrates no real skill at all. It is force on force; the worst mistake of all.
You must successfully apply the tai chi with grace, relaxation and ease at all times.
Only when you have lost the need to compete will true tai chi skill emerge. Partner work is designed to develop specific fighting skills. It is a mutually beneficial exercise not a competition.
People often tense-up or behave awkwardly during partner work, deliberately making things difficult for the other person. This is macho and pointless - you are just wasting time.
The partner exercise is not a combat situation, it is a training exercise. You must learn to work with others.
This is preparation for a real attacker when you must work with your opponents energy and use it to your advantage rather than his. Tai chi requires you to join bodies and move as one.
Sensitivity requires you to become one with the opponent, moving as they move, feeling for gaps and deficiencies. How can this happen if you tense-up?
Tensing-up is a sure sign that you have yet to let-go and follow the attacker.
Combat skills are dangerous abilities to experiment with. We need to feel safe to explore these fighting skills in an environment of friendly cooperation. This requires trust and good humour.
Go easy on one another and put the safety of your training partner first.
Tai chi is definitely no place for a man with a 'macho' outlook on life.
18 April 1995
Last updated 16 June 2023