Is Tai Chi Enough as a Form of Combat?


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I am always surprised when people don’t believe that Tai Chi is enough as a combat art. So many people try to add things like striking techniques, finishing strategi and throws from outside to cover the holes where their Tai Chi lacks. They spar in a common sparring formats and use strikes from Sanda, Boxing, Kick-Boxing, MMA and others. Why? Isn’t Tai Chi enough? Is Tai Chi really enough as a form of combat?

My answer on this questions would rather be an annoyed head shake or a loudly “duh.” Does your lack of skill depend on Tai Chi? If you are not convinced I will tell you this:

– If you can fight or not doesn’t depend on tai chi.

– If you can fight with tai chi or not doesn’t depend on tai chi.

– But if you understand fighting and at the same time understand tai chi, you should be able to use your tai chi to fight with.

Understanding fighting is easy. To understand tai chi is hard. If you try to add other things to the pot to compensate your lack of understanding, you’ll just make it even harder to understand Tai Chi, and it will take even more time. If you think that you need to add other things to make your tai chi work, or to change it to something else that it is not, then …well, this means that you are confused. If you confuse things even more, you’ll become even more confused, not less. It’s the understanding of tai chi that most often is lacking. You need to get to know Tai Chi in a clear pure form, without changes, without distortion. If your knowledge lacks, you need to learn and practice tai chi more, not to search somewhere else. It might be your teacher that lacks tai chi or tai chi teaching skills. Then go on to find another teacher or try to teach yourself what you yet don’t understand.

Tai Chi has its own mechanics for generating destructive punching power, it has its own fighting strategies, entering strategies and finishing strategies. Tai Chi fighting depends on Tai Chi fighting rules. You need to let Tai Chi rules dictate the procedure and outcome of the fight, not general sparring rules, boxing or MMA rules. Tai Chi is complete, it has everything that is needed. But still there is often a lack of confidence due to little or no sparring and fighting experience. So to be able to fight with Tai Chi, often some basic understanding of real fighting and real violence is needed. Then how do you get to a point where you can really use your Tai chi to fight with? First you need a really good understanding of Tai Chi as self-defense and as a combat system. Then you need practice.

Again, fighting is easy. But understanding Tai Chi is not. You can start from any of the two ends, with fighting or with Tai Chi. But you must walk the Tai Chi road until you have reached a certain understanding. Then you need to practice that knowledge and understanding in a as realistic way as possible. And still without even slightly compromising your Tai Chi. Throwing other things into the bin won’t help to see your Tai Chi more clearly and definitely it won’t help you use it. Understanding Tai Chi is to keep the integrity of Tai Chi. Understanding fighting is to keep your body and mind intact where they are in danger. Breathing will help you to keep your mind intact. Breathing and thinking clearly will help you survive a combat situation. Keeping the integrity of Tai Chi intact while fighting will help you to breath and see things clearer. But fighting with Tai Chi is still not just to fight. It’s not to think or act like a common person do in a fighting situation. And you learn this from understanding fighting alone, but to look at violence and fighting solely from a Tai Chi point of view.

So what is a Tai Chi point of view on fighting? This is maybe the toughest question to answer. Tai Chi is a practical art, it’s learned and understood by practical practice alone. So most of this answer you need to find yourself by understanding T’ai Chi Ch’uan, by practice this art and walk the road until that point so the answer can reveal itself. So again, the best answer to give anyone who ask a question about Tai Chi and fighting is still the somewhat discouraging answer that the eager intellect desperately wants a quick and simple answer: “just keep on practicing.” So is Tai Chi alone enough as a form of combat? Why don’t you practice and test it until you can answer the question by yourself?


Tai Chi Resources

Just a notice that I’ve added some links to resource pages to the blog. You find them in the side-bar to the right, below the comments and links to other blogs. I’ve been thinking about doing this for a long time, but it just hasen’t happened yet.

Amongst my favorite links you’ll find Brennan Translation. In a time span of just a few years, Mr Brennan has translated the vast majority of Tai Chi and Tai Chi related classics. This is a page everyone who has a serious interest in this art should know.

Another top favorite is The Rum Soaked Fist Forum. This place developed from the old Empty Flower Forum, originally on the late David DeVere’s own homepage, has some very special members. Some of them are really, really, good long-time practitioners who deserves a whole lot of respect and yet they make very little fuzz about themselves or about their skills. Amongst the other ones, who are less skilled and not seniors yet, you’ll find yours truly under the name “Bao”. It’s an honor to be a part of this community. If you do a little bit of search, you’ll find much said about every possible aspect of this art.

I can also recommend another page that few seem to visit nowadays, The Qi-Journal. Here if you deep into the page you’ll find interviews, translations and many other interesting things about Tai Chi and Qigong.

There a few more links in the side-bar and I’ll try to add a few more later. Don’t forget to check the blogs as well. If you know pages you believe should be highlighted or you think I have missed, please feel free to add them to the comments below. You can also suggest more blogs and other related pages.

Thanks, David

Monkey See, Monkey Do


If you really want to test your stuff, as in going against boxers or use it in sparring, you need to keep your art clean and not mix it up, right? Don’t you agree? If you mix up your Tai Chi with boxing, kick-boxing etc, and test it against something else in sparring, then what you do test is not really your Tai Chi, or is it? What you test is something else, something where your Tai Chi lacks and your other “skills”, your knowledge about more general sparring and boxing, are probably vast worse than your opponent’s. If you do like this, you will only end up with a bad confidence in your art and your enthusiasm for really testing and develop your own art in a pure form for a fighting or sparring situation will probably be much less than before.

When you do like this, mixing it up with something else in order to test it, all your skills will be non-present. Most people completely forget how to use their art and start to mimic the other person’s body movements. Monkey see, monkey do. You will probably go into the typical caveman mind-set men usually use to fight with. Watch the movie Bridget Jones’s Diary if you haven’t, towards the end you have one of the funniest, but in fact, one of the best and most realistic fighting scenes ever depicted on the screen. If one man shoves, the other does the same, if one kicks, the other will almost automatically kicks in the same manner.

If you want to learn how to really use your art in a fighting situation, you must understand that practicing tai chi won’t automatically make you good in boxing or sparring. In fact, any martial art style won’t help you to become a fighter or help you to learn how to defend yourself if you don’t test it until you have built a certain amount of confidence in your fighting skills. But then again, if you test it, you need to keep the art pure. Personally, I enjoy very much sparring and practicing against stylists from other arts, people who really know how to fight. I learn a lot about fighting this way, about their strategies and methods. But I never try to mimic their style or methods. I only do it to practicing on using my Tai Chi. You can do like this, seek out different people and test your stuff. But again, you need to keep the integrity of your art intact. Don’t go in and fight with a sparring mind-set, something that will only lead you into a chasing punches game. That is not what Tai Chi strategy is about. Don’t try to learn fighting by mimicking someone else. Use a Tai Chi mind-set, a Tai Chi attitude, Tai Chi strategies. When you practice sparring don’t do sparring, instead do your Tai Chi. When people who cannot fight goes into a fight, it usually becomes nothing else than a matter of Monkey See, Monkey Do. Don’t become that monkey.



“Use Yi instead of Li.” – 用意不用力


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Often when I read something on forums or in discussion groups, I think a long time before answering on a topic. Of course If I answer on it… Sometimes my answer becomes all too long because I think about it too much. Sometimes I still publish the answer on a board or in a group, but sometimes when I write I choose to cancel the reply and go to my blog instead and write about it there. Or I mean here. Recently I saw a discussion about the Tai Chi Expression 用意不用力 or “Use Yi, don’t use Li.” Or “use Yi instead of Li.” I wrote about Yi in a more general sense earlier in this blog. But I think that the topic is worth to address again because the expression above is very much a Tai Chi specific expression. As I wrote earlier, using Yi in Tai Chi is more a kind of anti-yi, or Yi used in a negative manner to force the mind to focus on something else than using Li.

“Li” means common muscular force, and “Yi” means mind, intent or idea. In Tai Chi, Yi is not a way to “think”, and it’s not a way to focus strongly on something. If you focus too much or use a strong intentional idea, the mind becomes tense and your body as well. Yi is something else. Now, what is important to realize about the opposite concept of Li, which is something you don’t want, or something you want to get rid of, is that using clumsy force or Li is not about thinking, it’s doing. From a Tai CHi POV, Li is a clumsy, forced way to do something, but at the same time it’s something direct, something you do without thinking. Yes, using Li is a way to actually “do”. This might seem very obvious, but think about how people consider yi, they consider it to be a way to think or having a strong idea. But thinking or using any kind of thought as “wanting something” before actually doing something is too slow. We are talking about Tai Chi as a martial art here. If you think before punching, you are the one that will be getting punched. So Yi, just like using force, must also be something direct without thinking. Yi is also a way to do something. It’s not thinking, it’s not a stage before doing. That is too slow. Instead, “using yi” is a way to DO something. It’s to do something similar to how using force is about doing something.

So how about actually using Yi? Well, when you see an opponent offering an opening to strike, then your fist should just be there instantaneously without thinking. When you get rid of Li, your fist can land on your opponent without thinking. Now it can just land there on the target as a spontaneous reaction. This is your Yi that “do” the attack for you. The idea doesn’t come first, but instead the idea/intent and the action are one. There is no gap between them. The “idea” of watching an opening and attack it, is much faster then thinking and coming to a conclusion. It’s something direct and instantaneous. And there, just as this instantaneous idea pops up in your mind, your fist reach out and hits your target without thinking. This is “using yi”. This is the meaning of “Yi leads the Qi. The Qi leads the movement.” It’s not something similar a chain reaction or the movement of a whip. It’s rather similar to particle teleportation, where one end reacts together with the other end regardless the space between them. There is a direct connection. The instant thought or idea and the physical reaction moves together. They are both part of the same reaction.

But the expression “Yong Yi, Bu Yong Li” or “Use Yi and not force”, is not only an advice to not use clumsy force, it also express the method, or rather a collection of methods, that Tai Chi teachers use to teach their students to not use Li in order to learn how use Yi. There are methods on how to think and on how to move your eyes when you do something to use your mind to force your body to not use strength.  “Use Yi instead of Li” is a re-learning process. But when you have fully understood to “not use Li”, the concept of “use Yi” will lose it’s meaning. When you have got rid of Li, then “using yi” just becomes a matter of doing. Or like Hao Weizhen expressed it: ”If you are able to use intention to attack the opponent, then after long experience, even intention does not need to be applied, for the body standards will always be conformed to.“

The more clear and relaxed your mind is and the less you interfere with intentional thoughts, the better your Yi will work just by itself. The aim on developing a certain mind-set should, in my personal experience, rather be on emptiness and not on Yi. So “Use Yi” is just a stage, a transitional stage between using Li and another way of doing. Or rather, what you develop with this practice of “use Yi instead of Li“, is a way of “being” where the way to do becomes something perfectly natural and unrehearsed.