Martial concepts

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who attend a tai chi class practice for about 2 hours in class. Then they go home and forget about tai chi until the next lesson.
Yet, somehow, the student imagines that martial skills will emerge when needed. Isn't this a little naive?

Habits of thought

Our thoughts reflect what we do, what we are exposed to, what is important to us... Football, politics, gossip, money, work, family, health and so forth.
If you watch the news, this is what you will think about.

Martial thoughts

If you want martial skills to emerge, you must think martially beyond class. Daily home training should involve both physical practice and reading.


Reading martial books will help to cultivate the required perception. A fictional story does not count.
The Art of War, The 36 Strategies and The Book of Five Rings represent a good place to start.

You will begin to feel that your tai chi practice goes beyond simple form training, and you will be able to perceive things as energetic combinations, rather than as static physical objects. Your training partners will appear to your senses as dynamic patterns of energy, rather than as clumsy physical bodies. When this happens, you can skilfully switch strategy and tactics in any situation.

(Yang Jwing-Ming)


A martial artist perceives situations in a certain way. They aim to avoid conflict, to refrain from backing themselves into a corner. They explore possibilities and embrace ambiguity.


Martial perception is no different to driving a car. It must be actively cultivated, trained and put into practice. Musashi said that martial arts is 'The Science of the Advantage'.


Once martial perception begins to develop, the student takes a keen interest in human biomechanics, positioning, alignment, structure, timing and momentum. They begin to see other people differently.
Physical imbalances seem glaringly obvious, prevailing emotional habits are easy to observe. The entire realm of physical usage becomes fascinating.

Tai chi chuan syllabus

Students in our school are introduced to some basic martial concepts quite early on in their training. These are simple concerns designed to encourage a more 'martial' way of thinking:

  1. Playing the attacker

  2. Escape from a hold

  3. Fear of falling

  4. Floor work (intro)

  5. Punching rehabilitation

  6. Countering (intro)

  7. Loose striking

  8. Hitting a focus mitt

  9. Ball game

Each of these considerations will enable the student to start changing their perception. When coupled with required reading, the student has the opportunity to become a martial artist.

One of my friends studied judo for years and years. She was waiting for a chance to use it, but for a long time nobody tried to attack her. Then one day somebody grabbed her in a parking lot - and she slugged him with her purse!

And then she thought, "Oh! What happened to my judo?"

She must have been practicing judo as if it were an isolated thing. We should always practice to let the immediacy of the moment come through. Then you always have a sense of what you are doing now.

(Chungliang Al Huang)


A concept is an idea, an insight, a framework for understanding. Tai chi is not like judo or karate - you cannot simply transfer an external martial arts attitude and expect tai chi to work.
The student needs to learn a fundamentally different way of viewing combat, and the use of the human body.

A direction

Concepts provide focus; a direction, a purpose. Without a deeper grasp of what is taking place, the student will flounder indefinitely. This is a why a highly detailed syllabus is essential.

Dig deeper

The further a student progresses, the more complex and subtle the insights involved.
It is necessary to employ fascinating approaches that deviate considerably from how mainstream martial arts regard the experience of combat.
The student must read, understand and apply the books of Taoism, martial principles and The Tai Chi Classics.

Understanding tai chi

The importance of developing martial thoughts cannot be overstated.
How can a student possibly hope to discuss or engage in realistic combat with an instructor when they do not even think like a martial artist?

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Page created 21 May 2006
Last updated 10 November 2023