Martial expectations

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Advanced martial art

Having read a few books, beginners expect to acquire fighting skills that exceed those of wing chun, karate, aikido or ju jitsu.
This sounds like a reasonable ambition. But the individual is seldom prepared to put in the time or effort necessary.

Learning a martial art

When learning a martial art there are essentially 3 stages:

  1. Physical fitness

  2. Technical skill

  3. Combat

Most students want to do stage 3 but flounder before they even reach stage 1. The white belt is an introductory grade. It is not stage 1. It is simply health training.

Tai chi for health

Faced with a major health crisis in the 1950's, the People's Republic of China turned to the old/classical Yang style tai chi for a solution.
They wanted a form of exercise that could be performed by students of all ages. The simplest way to achieve this was to remove the more demanding fitness component and the combat.
Most modern tai chi classes are teaching an art that an old person could cope with... By definition this cannot conceivably be a martial art.

A martial athlete?

Combat is not easy and there is a risk of injury if the student is unfit. This is true of any martial art. To reach a high level of skill, the student needs to take a lesson from sport.
They must become a lot fitter, but not necessarily a martial athlete.


A student of judo may train 2-3 times a week in class. How many tai chi people are prepared to do the same?


Every martial art requires dedication and commitment. There are no shortcuts or exceptions. If you expect to use a martial art, be prepared to put in the time and effort.
You want the fighting skills? Do the work.


My interest was in growing and being effective, not in projecting an emotional investment in the superiority of any martial art system. After all, it is the person who fights, not the martial art system.

(Bruce Frantzis)


As you move through the syllabus, the fighting skills are more challenging and the volume of material increases. It is necessary to practice what you have learned, hence the need for more classes.
Your progress is contingent upon your level of commitment.

Home training

The majority of your training should take place at home. A beginner might only train sporadically or maybe 30 minutes a day. An lower grade student should be putting in about an hour.
This does not need to be in one stint, but it should be daily. If you are not making this commitment, that is OK. Re-evaluate your ambitions and accept that the journey will take a lot longer.

Martial art

Partner work, combat practice and corrections are vital in tai chi, so you need to attend as many lessons as you can.
Remember: if you want the credibility of a judo student, then you must train like a judo student.


You may not be able to persuade the general public to believe that tai chi is a credible martial art. But you can show them. To do this you must train the art properly yourself.


The popular book Chinese Boxing by Robert Smith refers to kung fu as being 'Chinese boxing' which is what kung fu has historically being called. The word 'boxing' summons images of fists and punching.

Taiji is supreme ultimate (yin/yang) and signifies the process of dynamic balancing. Quan is fist (combat/martial art/boxing). Dynamic balancing boxing renders the art as a process.

Guiding principles

The main thing is to adhere absolutely to the guiding principles of the art. These were outlined in The Tai Chi Classics. If your art deviates from these, then you have gone astray.
Seek tuition from a teacher who is committed to training an art that applies martial skills in a thorough and convincing manner.

What is martial?

Spend some time researching the nature of combat. See what other martial arts classes and styles are doing. Gain an understanding of what combat entails.
Is your class exploring a realistic range of martial scenarios? How do you address fear?


The more closely your training follows the natural inclination of your body, the more likely you are to use the lessons it teaches in actual combat.
The accuracy of the art must pertain to the spatial parameters of groundpath, the strength of good alignment and skilful body use.


Sport tai chi, 1960's hippy approaches and Age Concern classes still predominate the public perception of 'tai chi'. It may never be possible to change this public image.
But you can still train the art with integrity.


People who are new to martial arts training begin with an enthusiastic attitude. They dream of attaining a high-level skill. Then the reality sets in.
Hard work, their own level of commitment, patience, the volume of material to learn, the time it takes to become skilled... these are all key factors.
Only the keenest student gets through even 1% of the overall syllabus.

Too early in the morning? Get up and train. Cold and wet outside? Go train. Weary of the whole journey and longing for a moment to stop and rest? Train.

Continue on in the spirit of perseverance.

(Dave Lowry)

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Page created 2 March 1995
Last updated 30 November 2023