Tai chi fighting method

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Speculation versus fact

There are many discussion threads on-line in which people compare/contrast tai chi's fighting method with that of other arts e.g. wing chun. Such conversations are spurious.
They reflect a limited understanding of tai chi and no grasp of the art.

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 probably isn't tai chi (see above).

When asked how he overcame his opponents, Hadrat Ali explained,
"I never met any man who did not help me against himself."

(Hadrat Ali)

Legendary skill?

Imagine for a moment that you are working for the Manchu Emperor... You've been taught tai chi by the martial arts legend Yang Lu-chan.
Do you expect to be fighting with your bare hands, performing pushing hands or form exhibitions? Really?

Armed combat

Soldiers carry weapons and the Manchu Emperor's Elite Palace Guards were equipped with swords and knives. It would be rare indeed for a soldier to set aside their weapon and engage in unarmed combat.
Many of the tai chi fighting skills hark back to armed combat. The qualities of nimbleness, agility, whole body movement and whole body power are essential for armed combat.

Whole body

Tai chi teaches students to do everything using their entire body. It reduces the risk of injury and significantly increases their physical strength and striking power.
But such skill is not easy. Considerable patience and long-term challenging practice are required.

Applying yin/yang

The tai chi fighting method is based on the yin/yang concept. Force is not blocked. There is no bracing. No aggression.
Instead of opposing strength, we draw it in and re-direct it. Rather than meet an opponent head-on, we work around the attack. A sharp, pliable, focused and expansive mind is necessary.

Combat skills

Broadly speaking, the tai chi fighting method can be split into 3 broad areas of skill:

  1. Striking

  2. Chin na

  3. Shuai jiao

Every training method in the syllabus serves to prepare the student for combat.

Rough stuff

As a boy and a young man, Sifu Waller trained a lot of wing chun, judo and ju jitsu. He became very fond of the grappling arts.

Striking or grappling?

If you punch somebody it may hurt them or it may not. Grappling is different; the applications and techniques can be trained rigorously in class and then applied in real life, with simply an increase in power.
Our students are taught how to strike, but skill with grappling must come first. Simply because it is more reliable.

Get real

Form trains the body to move in a strategic, powerful, balanced manner, capable of evading attacks and delivering punches, kicks and grapples.
Wallbag work, striking drills, jing, neigong and weapons training amplify the ability to strike. Chin na and shuai jiao are grappling skills; they are different ways to deal with a close quarters attack.
Pushing hands is also grappling - a bridging method - culminating in one of the 3 stated outcomes.


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.

Taiji is supreme ultimate (yin/yang) and signifies the process of dynamic balancing. Quan is fist (combat/martial art/boxing). Dynamic balancing boxing renders the art as a process.

Consider this: Most people live lives that are not particularly physically challenging. They sit at a desk, or if they move around, it's not a lot. They aren't performing manoeuvres that require tremendous balance and coordination. Thus they settle into a low level of physical capabilities - enough for day-to-day activities or maybe even hiking or biking or playing golf or tennis on the weekends, but far from the level of physical capabilities that a highly trained athlete possesses.

The reason that most people don't possess extraordinary physical capabilities isn't because they don't have the capacity for them, but rather because they're satisfied to live in the comfortable rut of homeostasis and never do the work that is required to get out of it.

The same thing is true for all the mental activities we engage in. We learn enough to get by but once we reach that point we seldom push to go beyond.

(Anders Ericsson)

Qi power?

If you are looking to develop mythical qi power, wake up... You cannot defeat your opponent using qi. Stop dreaming.

5 missing pieces

Many tai chi classes lack 5 important elements necessary in order for tai chi to function as a martial art:

  1. Neigong (whole-body strength)

  2. Martial concepts (what combat constitutes and how to do it effectively)

  3. Chin na (the art of seizing)

  4. Shuai jiao (take downs)

  5. Jing (whole-body power)

Without these 5 components, tai chi is lacking something and may not work in combat.


Tai chi doesn't get easier. You get stronger. But only if you practice.

Hard work

Hard work alone is not enough, though. Simply working hard will not necessarily lead to progress.
It needs to be deliberate, focused improvement designed to improve your practice by developing key skills outlined by your instructor.
The student must implement corrections, study the recommended books, undertake assignments and challenge their comfort zone.

Starting out

Tai chi students cannot begin lessons by immediately engaging in combat. They have no internal skill whatsoever. What would be the point? The fighting would not be 'tai chi'.
It would be a waste of time.


New students learn how to relax, to move, to coordinate, to be strong, to be sensitive, to connect their separate-seeming body parts together...
Very few students last long enough to even commence martial training.

You must get fit

All martial arts require the student to be fit for combat and tai chi is no exception. There are many lazy tai chi classes in the world. This is naive in the extreme.

Cross-training tai chi
Our 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.

Brain work

Working the brain is the real key to success. A strong, pliable, flexible, adaptive brain is required for learning this art.
Brain work includes: meditation, awareness, clarity, composure, metacognition, constructive reading, memory and rest.

Step by step

Once physical fitness has been gained, the student develops their technical skills. These are extremely important.
It is necessary to have a high degree of physical aptitude and no remnant of tension. When the mind and body move as one, the student can really begin to fight.  

Confronted by limitations of effectiveness, the martial arts of the West responded with a continuous crafting of superior equipment. Confronted with similar limitations, the Asian warrior responded by fashioning a better self. The warrior turned not to technology in making his sword a better tool for fighting. Influenced by contemplative aspects of Taoism and Buddhism and by the self-discipline of Confucianism, he turned inward. He fine-tuned his body and mind in order to better manipulate his sword.

(Dave Lowry)

Arcane books

The root of the fighting principles contained within tai chi can be examined further by reading translations/interpretations of ancient books:

  1. The Way and Its Power

  2. The Art of War

  3. The Book of Changes

  4. The Book of Five Rings

  5. The Way of Chuang Tzu

  6. The Tai Chi Classics

If the nuances are lost on your modern mind, try approaching the problem indirectly. Start by reading some books by Krishnamurti, Gladwell, Wiseman or Leslie. Then try the books listed above?

What relevance do tai chi fighting skills have in modern life?

Simple. Tai chi teaches you how to defend yourself from harm.
The world didn't suddenly become safe. People are assaulted the world over for the most ridiculous reasons, and confrontation isn't going anywhere soon.
Tai chi skills lead to less fear, greater confidence and the ability to identify (and avoid) dangerous situations.

Tai chi fighting method

If you want to find out what the tai chi fighting method constitutes, read this website. It does not offer shortcuts or techniques. It challenges you to have integrity and find things out for yourself.
Should you disagree with anything written in these pages, that is fine. Clearly the website was not written for you...

Worth reading


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Page created 7 July 1996
Last updated
18 April 2015