Tai chi combat

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Recognisable style

If you watch wing chun applied in combat, it looks distinctly like wing chun. The same could be said of judo, aikido, ju jitsu, pencat silat etc.
By the same reasoning, applied tai chi must look like tai chi.

What does tai chi look like?

Tai chi looks like tai chi. The form, pushing hands, you know... tai chi. If your martial expression of tai chi does not look like tai chi, it is probably not tai chi (see above).


If somebody were to attack a beginner unexpectedly, the response would not look like tai chi.
It would most likely involve flinching, bracing, blocking... There would be force against force, aggression, panic and muscular tension. These habits are not tai chi.

The essence of tai chi

The student needs to really examine, contemplate and research the design elements that led to the creation of tai chi.
Understanding these factors enables the student to recognise the differences in tai chi styles, systems and approaches; why certain schools emphasise particular qualities which others discard.
This will aid you in making your tai chi combat look like tai chi rather than karate.

Dig deeper

By studying Taoism, The Tai Chi Classics,
biomechanics and combat applications (featuring a wide variety of scenarios) a more informed, in-depth, discerning eye is cultivated.
Opinions, expectations and hearsay are replaced by a growing insight into the nature of the art. Ultimately a student can learn what the essence of tai chi is.
Their training can be honed to accentuate these factors and draw them out. The tai chi can become something that Yang Lu-chan would not be embarrassed by.

The function of form

In some martial arts, the forms are practiced rigorously yet often discarded in application. This seems odd. Many tai chi classes adopt the same attitude.

Follow the form

Consider the words: 'form', 'perform' and 'formal' - they all have the connotation of doing things a particular way. Your martial application must follow the style of the form.
That way, your art will look, feel and work as tai chi.

Form is how you move

Our approach to tai chi treats the form as a functional sequence.
Tai chi form is stylised combat; the strikes, throws and applications of tai chi have been smoothed together into a flowing routine.
The sequence trains habit patterns in the body; unconscious movements deeply ingrained by repetition.
The fighting movements are being trained with every step you take. To use tai chi in combat you must take the form and give it function.
If the movements of the form cannot be used in realistic combat, there would seem little point in practicing it.


The essence of tai chi is the 13 methods. These movements are not fixed structures like yoga, but rather 'principles' or qualities.
They were designed to generate energy release. To use the tai chi  form in combat, you must find the unique physical signature for each movement.


Every movement has its own characteristic and this is not just the placement of the hands.
By moving the torso, shifting the weight, spiralling the body, flexing the spine and adjusting the limbs - you create a movement. What is the essence of 'single whip'?
To produce the movement, you must move the body in a certain way.
Once you can feel the essence of each movement, you can generate the jing and this is what you use in combat.


For every form movement you must consider what it can be used to counter. Imagine attacks: what angle of approach is your opponent using and which limb?
Employ the physics; see the arc of the attacking limb relative to your body. Match a viable form movement to the attack; using the pattern appropriately. Make no assumptions about the attacker.

Avoid fixity of mind

Do not distort the essence of a given movement to accommodate an attack. If the movement is unsuitable, use another rather than change its essence to fit the application.
You should feel comfortable applying the movement; it should be easy and natural, and adhere to the tai chi principles. The purpose of lessons is to move your responses closer and closer to tai chi.
Eventually, your responses must look like tai chi.

External ideas

Hard-style arts approach combat differently to tai chi, with the emphasis upon localised muscle strength, speed and aggression.
Many external systems use techniques and strategies that are discordant with tai chi.
Mixing hard-style ideas with tai chi is a waste of time; tai chi was designed with fundamentally different precepts in mind.
The external way of using the body is in complete contradiction with tai chi. The physics do not match up; tai chi and the external arts are in no way compatible.


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Page created 18 May 1997
Last updated 16 June 2023