Paper tiger

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Paper tiger

A paper tiger is a person who appears to have power but is in reality ineffectual.
Some martial artists are paper tigers.
They spend years training a system but cannot deliver effective strikes or use the art against a realistic opponent.
Tai chi is particularly prone to ineffectual students.

Tai chi

Tai chi is a Chinese martial art.
If an instructor claims to be teaching tai chi, then they should be capable of using the art in combat.
There is nothing macho about this.

The science of the essence

Were you to purchase a car, you would expect it to work.
You should be able to get in, turn the ignition and be capable of driving somewhere.
It is the nature of a car. It is what makes a car a 'car'...
Yet, so many tai chi students lack even the most basic sense of how to use tai chi in self defence. Why?

Do not stray

If you want to gain internal tai chi combat skills, you need only consider training tai chi.
Looking to other martial arts for input and ideas is utterly fruitless.
You will only get good at tai chi by training tai chi.
Read the classics, the Tao Te Ching, I Ching and Chuang Tzu. Study The Art of War and The Book of Five Rings.
Put the insights into practice.

A blustering, harmless fellow they (the Chinese) call 'a paper tiger'.

(John F. Davis)

Striking with ease

Not all internal strikes need to use fa jing.
It is possible to deliver a potent strike using body weight and very little physical effort.
Any master should be capable of demonstrating this on you.
There should be no pushing, aggression, speed or change in emotional state.


A tai chi punch should be easy, comfortable and natural-looking, yet potentially wind the recipient as it penetrates deep into the body.
Any sign of effort or force indicates inexperience.
The master should seem to be genuinely playful and friendly.
It should be unlike an external punch. Not remotely similar to karate, wing chun, boxing or ju jitsu.
There is no jarring. No banging. No adverse feedback. No sense of punching through the body.


If you try to grapple with a student, it should feel as though you are attempting to hold water.
There should be no purchase.
A student should be capable of very creative body use.
They can shift and move in a powerful, internal manner without using strength or applying force.
Slippery and cunning, a skilled tai chi exponent can employ a wide range of chin na skills without needing to plan or think about them.
Be advised - if you 'try it on', expect the student to respond accordingly.

Multiple opponents

Tai chi is ideally suited to multiple opponent scenarios.
It does not employ locks, holds or any kind of committed action. It is agile and changeable.
It is adaptive and responsive.
A skilled exponent should be capable of working with a number of simultaneous attackers, using timing, distance and positioning to produce on-going appropriate counters.


Jing is the science of touch and expression.
A master should be an expert with jing.
They should be capable of utilising the eight powers in a diverse manner of ways.
Sensitivity skills are just the beginning.
The range of jing at your disposal are considerable and their applications varied and surprising.


For jing to work effectively, the exponent must move naturally and freely.
No postures. No posing or preparing.
Every movement should be casual, yet decisive. Soft, yet deeply penetrating.

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Page created 18 April 1995
Last updated 16 June 2023