Martial principles
The science behind the art

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Balancing art and science

If your tai chi practice is to be balanced you need a very thorough understanding of the science behind the art.
Martial principles (science of combat) and the precepts of the Tao (way of nature) must be fully understood. Tai chi without the science is empty and hollow.
Form without substance may look pleasing but has no real purpose.

Learn the science

The science of warfare and combat is ancient. Understanding the science behind the art is essential. Without the science, the art is usually doomed to ineffectualness.
Science is about the substance, the skills and the principles behind the art.

What is science?

Science is the attempt to understand the nature of reality.
In martial terms it refers to the techniques and strategies used in real combat, as well as the physical requirements that make the system operate effectively.
In tai chi we must ask: how can natural law be used in combat?


Talk is cheap in the modern world, so we encourage direct experience instead. Nobody in the class is expected to take the instructor's word for it. Find out for yourself through practical exercises.
Belief is not a requirement, nor is faith. You are not a 'disciple'. We adopt a scientific approach. The evidence is to be found in the doing and the proof in the effect.
This is called 'empiricism'. Discover the facts for yourself. Feel it for yourself. This is the heart of Zen.

Martial classics

There are a number of martial classics, including:

  1. 36 Strategies

  2. The Art of War

  3. The Book of Five Rings

  4. The Methods of the Ssu-ma

  5. Questions and Replies Between Tíang Tíai-tsung and Li Wei-kung

  6. Tíai Kungís Six Secret Teachings

  7. Three Strategies of Huang Shih-kung

  8. Wei Liao-tzu

  9. Wu-tzu

Tai chi classics

Across the years, various tai chi masters have expressed their martial expertise in writing. These works are referred to as ĎThe Tai Chi Classicsí. They represent the essence of the art.

Lao Tzu & Sun Tzu

Tai chi owes as much to Sun Tzuís Art of War as it does to Taoism. Whilst Lao Tzu advocated finding harmony and balance with existence, Sun Tzu sought to gain victory in combat.
These apparent opposites are contained within tai chi.

Art of War

Sun Tzuís book uses Taoist principles in combat scenarios.
The entire system is designed to teach a student how to move in relation to others; compromising the opponent but remaining integrated yourself.
Whereas Tao Te Ching speaks of honesty and openness, The Art of War suggests deceit. A tai chi exponent must balance the opposites within their character.
In everyday life, honesty is usually appropriate but in combat it is suicide.

Put the principles into practice

Tai chi serves as a means of understanding the principles and insights taught by Taoism and the martial classics. The art is a functional, practical way of discovering the ancient wisdom for yourself.
Talking and theorising is worthless if you cannot put the fighting skills into use against a genuine opponent who seeks to cause you harm.

Science rather than opinion

Instead of being asked to believe in something, or subscribe to a philosophy, you are simply invited to do the martial art for yourself.
By working in relationship with other people you can determine new ways of using your body, your emotions and your mind. Students quickly find that opinions, habits and misconceptions are set aside.


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.
Ultimately, tai chi chuan (dynamic balancing boxing) is about fighting, not about talking.

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Page created 2 March 1995
Last updated 16 June 2023