Tai chi is not sport

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Taoism sees no purpose in competition.
It is regarded as being hostile, conflictive and ultimately without purpose.
Competitions serve to demonstrate something that has no meaning in terms of tai chi.

Who are you fighting against?

The notion of a 'tai chi competition' is a contradiction in terms.
How can you employ tai chi in competition when the art is predicated upon the principle of yielding?
What purpose does a competition serve?
What really is being proved?
Does a short-term gratification actually have any positive long-term benefit?


There is no concept of an enemy or opponent in tai chi.
Likewise, the emotions associated with either - anger, hatred, friendship - also have no use and therefore play no role in this art.

(Scott Rodell)

Egotism has no place

Arrogance, ignorance and pride are vanities that a tai chi student should not indulge in.
Tai chi is about what is happening inside your body, not how it looks.
Then there is the mind...
What is taking place in there?


A lot of people learn tai chi and never realise that they are actually learning a competition form.
24 step, 48 step, Peking, Beijing and the other numbered forms were devised for the express purpose of demonstration.
A competition form is about the accuracy of the execution, the fluidity and crispness of the appearance.
It is not about substance.
The true forms of tai chi are all about substance. Aesthetics is a minor off-shoot.


Competition forms are a fairly modern invention.
They have little to do with the martial art of tai chi.
The training was were never intended to be a viable vehicle for the practice of combat skills.
To perform a competition form well, a student needs to be exceptionally supple, good at choreography and keen to practice 'moving yoga'.

Dead forms

There is no neigong in a competition form.
You cannot reasonably learn any credible fighting skills from such a form.

Martial art

Complete tai chi is more than a form; it is a system.
The training methods associated with the art are extensive and diverse; they teach you how to move, how to strike, take a strike, evade and counter.
Sifu Waller seeks to embody the principles of tai chi as expressed by The Tai Chi Classics.
No competition form syllabus offers this.

Students of the martial arts in the West feel that they must use their art to fight, or at least to compete, to show people how good they are. In tai chi, this is unacceptable, because that is against the principle of tai chi.

(Gabriel Chin)

Pushing hands

Pushing hands competitions are an amazing spectacle.
They embody all the absurdity and misguided intentions that arise when people stray from Tao and The Tai Chi Classics.
Ungrounded, people drift into bizarre endeavours.
It is difficult to discern the point of such enterprises; competitors often behave more like sumo than tai chi players.
There is a lot of aggression, force and grunting.
And no evidence that the participants have even heard of 4 ounces of pressure, let alone understood it.

Fighting competitions

Self defence, martial combat and fighting are all different.
In self defence, your aim is to escape unharmed, whereas fighting is about winning.
Martial combat includes the practice of weaponry and the ability to inflict serious harm.


A fighter must follow certain rules.
They are concerned about beating somebody and gaining praise or recognition.
A person who practices self defence has different values in mind.
They have no desire to hurt anyone and only employ their skills if they have no other choice.
Given the risk of prosecution, they would rather avoid conflict than seek it out.
Such a person does not want publicity or a 'name'; they want to remain anonymous and unnoticed.

Who are you fighting against?

Martial arts are ultimately more than combat.
They are a means by which the individual can identify and work to overcome their own shortcomings, their own demons.
This is a very challenging process which asks a lot of the exponent.

 Tai chi is now evolving into a sport of tawdry tournaments and trophies in which an internal form of moving meditation is judged by the criteria of external dance.

(Robert Smith)

Self defeating

One of the aims of tai chi is to allow the aggressor to essentially defeat themselves.
This is why exercises such as pushing hands are not competitive.
Sensitivity drills serve to identify and work on your own weaknesses, not those of somebody else.
There is no one to compete against and nothing to win except freedom from tension.

Your idea of what training constitutes

If you see tai chi training as being akin to the gym, you are still a novice.
There is no strain, no forcing involved in tai chi.
The exercises are not strenuous or painful.
Weight training, cycling, swimming or any other sport - they drain your energy.

Tear & repair mentality

The drawback of sport is that the emphasis is not always upon good body use, optimal alignment, emotional, physical and psychological wellbeing.
The onus is upon the outcome rather than the process involved.
There is the pressure to win, to succeed, to perform, to be the best. Or to look good; muscular, trim or sexy.
People push themselves and the body can suffer.
Seeking to repair the body afterwards is not as smart as avoiding injury in the first place.


A sports coach offers learning guidance and support; gearing the practice towards the acquisition of defined competences.
This is quite different from being a tai chi
In tai chi, you cannot retire from active practice and share your knowledge as a coach.

A master of tai chi or qigong does not enjoy the luxury of many coaches in modern sports like football and athletics who often cannot dribble a ball or run a race half as well as the students they teach. As mediocre instructors are so common nowadays - some even start to teach after having attended only a few weekend seminars - finding a great master is like finding a gem in a hay stack.

(Wong Kiew Kit)

Tai chi for health

Faced with a major health crisis in the 1950's, the People's Republic of China turned to the old Yang style tai chi for a solution.
They wanted a workout 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.

Learn from sport

Many people who undertake sporting activities invest a lot of time in thorough training designed to promote good body use, muscle growth and recovery.
These same concerns apply to martial arts training, including tai chi. All martial arts require the student to be fit for combat.
Tai chi students train: massage, leg stretches, qigong, neigong, form, partnered work, martial sets & drills, combat and weapons.
The training is done carefully, gently - in a controlled manner - without exertion or strain.

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.

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Page created 3 June 1998
Last updated 14 August 2023