Soft option

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Soft martial art

People hear that tai chi is a 'soft' martial art and imagine that this means easy. Or that they will not get roughed-up... This is a misconception.

Take pride in your achievement

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

Soft means relaxed

'Soft' refers to the condition of pliability and the necessity of using the least amount of muscular strength at all times.
Only by being extremely gentle in our physical contact with others can we sense their movements fully and flow like water.
Hardness in our own bodies will prevent
sensitivity and impede smooth movement.

Soft does not mean floppy

A tai chi exponent seeks to have the supple, soft body they once had as a child. The joints are mobile and flexible, and the muscles move smoothly and easily.
Poise is good and the body is used naturally and comfortably. The mind is quiet and we listen to what the body is telling us.

Cotton-covered iron

Whole-body strength is commonly referred to as being "cotton-covered iron". The metaphor suggests a firm centre, surrounded by something softer.
This is the essence of what we are developing in tai chi.

Pliable strength

Using gravity and connection, we build a substantial structure. That structure must also be fluid and adaptive like water. Nothing is softer than water.

No blocks in tai chi

There are no blocks in our tai chi. Rather than block, we affect the incoming force in other ways.

Soft meeting

Tai chi cannot work if you resist force with force. Yang (firm) must encounter yin (soft) in order for balance. This is not just philosophical, it has a basis in reality and can be illustrated in the class.
Soft meeting is sometimes called 'blending'.


In tai chi we cultivate an unusual quality of integrity by creating a loose network of body parts.
Should any part of the body be pushed, it will yield and move. However, the overall structural integrity remains intact and resilient. There is no resistance.
No pushing back or physical tension (contracted muscles).

The wisdom of using soft against the hard was originated from Lao Tzu. It is from this concept that tai chi was created.

(Yang Jwing-Ming)

Legendary skill

In a 2008 Stanford University experiment tai chi expert Chen Xiang generated a force 14 times his body weight when striking. 0-60 mph in less than 3 seconds.
This 'soft' striking method is accomplished by keeping the muscles soft, the intention clear and undulating the entire body in a split-second wave of power. The body is soft, the effect is hard.

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Page created 1 August 1995
Last updated 16 June 2023