Tai Chi for Combat

Discussion in 'Tai chi' started by TonyMc, Dec 16, 2018.

  1. TonyMc

    TonyMc Valued Member


    Just a quick one without prejudice.

    Is there a style of Tai Chi that is capable of being used as a combat art rather than just for well-being?

    The reason I am asking is because an old instructor of mine (in a different style) insisted that "Tai Chi is probably the most compete martial art, but unfortunately life is too short to try learning it to the acquired standard."
  2. Pretty In Pink

    Pretty In Pink Moved on MAP 2017 Gold Award

    That's a flawed perception of fighting systems I think. A good combat system should be as easy to learn as possible because when you fight you are only using your gross motor controls anyway.
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  3. Aegis

    Aegis River Guardian Admin Supporter

    The trouble with claims like that is that they are completely unfalsifiable, i.e. they can't be tested at all. The claim is essentially that if you have longer than the average human lifetime of training, you'll be unbeatable - how can that be known or put to the test at all? Have any sorts of trials been set up to even demonstrate that tai chi starts to catch up with other arts in terms of combativeness by certain waypoints? In other words, have there been tests done with diligent students of various arts after 1 year, 5 years, 10 years, 20 years and 40 years, with the tai chi students falling behind initially but catching up as the training time starts to work in their favour? If so, I've never heard of this.

    Tai chi is unlikely to ever be classed as the most complete martial art because the vast majority of its training is stand up solo work, which does not prepare someone for combat as well as multi-person drills with building levels of resistance. As such, unless the practitioner goes outside the norm to test and develop their skills beyond the norm, they're never going to suddenly reach a point where they can beat a kickboxer in a match, or survive better in a self defence fight than a jiu jitsu instructor.

    That said, this is no reason not to train in tai chi if you want. From what I've gathered, it's relaxing, fun and teaching good principles of balance and posture. Certainly the very little I've been exposed to gave me some insight into how to better some of my own style's techniques, so I would happily go and study it some more if I had time and energy to pick up yet another hobby!
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  4. Dan Bian

    Dan Bian Neither Dan, nor Brian

    Any style of tai chi should be applicable for fighting - whether it is or not depends on the knowledge of the teacher.

    A Yang style school could be martially focused, or health focused. The same as any Chen school, Wu school etc etc

    Like any martial school of standard, there should be varying levels of contact partner work involved from early on. In tai chi, this would likely start with soft pushing hands methods, gradually incorporating application drills, then moving forward into more vigorous push hands methods and eventually into free-sparring.
    This is in addition to the usual pad/mitt work, along with learning the particular form(s) of the school.
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  5. Botta Dritta

    Botta Dritta Valued Member

    I used to do Taijiquan (Chen), and while I have heard the claim of it as a complete martial art I have to disagree.

    I like it, I still do my beginners form from time to time, and I guess if you moved into competitive Sanda then most of the applications can have combat validity.

    The negatives are that it take I think far far far too long in classes at least in my experience for anything to have a immediate self defense effectiveness. After a boxing first class with a decent instructor you might be taught a Jab/Cross combination, or even just a jab, and while it wouldn't be great, at least you would have something in your arsenal. In Taijiquan you might learn an opening to a short form and depending on the instructor ie in Chen you might learn Relaxed standing position and Jin Gang comes out from the Temple, and you might be taught a lapel grab escape...or a ward off /grab punch (!) to arm bar/kneel to ...or some other nebulous application where your instructor says the movement could be used in a number of different ways. Or more frequently you wont be taught any martial applications until you learn the whole form and the instructor will gradually insert them as you progress.

    This isnt a negative in Taijiquan: you are learning body mechanics that rely on the waist movement, weight distribution and skeletal structure rather than explosive strength, the much vaunted internal power, rather than a focus on a martial applications. But where a Novice Boxer within 6 months would the basic arsenal 5-6 or so punches which might, have basic techniques that stand him in good stead and might already be sparring, after 6 months a Taijiquan practitioner might have not finished the 24 form and still not have any application never mind competitive push hands practice, with no guarantee that his practice partners are feeding him realistic attacks to work off.

    Now you can argue that after 10 years a Taijiquan practitioner with some sparring experience will have more in his arsenal that a boxer: various kicks, palm strikes, standing joint locks, throws, punches and sensitivity/trapping techniques, as well as perhaps weapons practice, a greater range of techniques.But I still don't believe that its complete, for two reasons

    1) No frequent Pressure testing through competition and/or sparring
    2) A taoist predispostion to certain tactics/Engagement

    1) The first one is curious - the practice of pushing/scraping hands, which can be done competitively is meant to complement the martial applications by giving the practitioner an outlet to practice the feel of the essential body mechanics in Taijiquan that allow you to perceive the shift in the opponents weight structure which clues you in to the application, or rather the force direction you should use. Its complicated but what looks to outsiders like a gentle pushing match is actually a key part in the martial training. Some instructors claim that without the sensitivity of push hands practice you will never develop martial the martial applications needed. I Personally was never very good at it, but what little I did against Good practitioners was an interesting and valuable experience. Its like 'Sentiment Du Fer' in Fencing, sensitivity training that gives you a split second reaction time before your opponent. However Traditionally that is is it. The only outlet. There is not nearly enough Push hands competitions and inter club sparring to produce viable results, at least here in the UK. Might be different in china, where I gather many modern more martially orientated Taijiquan practitioners practice and compete in organised Sanda to showcase their Taijiquan skills...Though you have to wonder if it is indeed a Internal marital art at that point any more...but that is another question we will not go into here. The push hands is related to point number 2

    2) I find that Taijiquan is tactically incomplete or to be more exact limited. Its Taoist Roots tend to stress the idea of attaching to the whole and melding with the energies of the opponent. The idea however is fairly reactive "If he does not move I do not move. If he is moving I am already moving" goes the saying. Push hand practice lends itself a lot to developping this mindset and skill, but it does mean that Taijiquan practitioners tend to wait to discern/seek attachment for sensory stimuli to react to. Now before people jump down my throat and say thats not true there are avenues in Taijiquan to initiate and attack, yes I get the arguments and I was shown by various practitioners how in would work (give it to then yield and ridirect) in theory but I've never seen it in practice. In my other disciplines Boxing and Fencing I am not mentally an agressor. In fencing I tend to rely on my Parry-Riposte or Counters in opposition, and in Boxing sparring I'm a counter fighter with a tight guard who works himself into distance to infight. In both I am not an attacker, but I have had to learn to initiate attacks either to beat my opponents to the initiative or to take away the heat. I have never seen it in Taijiquan. I can't conceive in either combat sports having to always seek union or to relate with an opponent. In taiji its always wait to feel opponents energy and redirect. And that to me is incomplete. There has to be the ability to shift energy with enough guile and skill that prevents union with the opponent. A One way street.

    Ok last bit is really lazy bloated writing, but I don't know how to better describe my thoughts.

    I don't mean to dump on Taiji: It was my first traditional martial art. I value the bio mechanical skills and its positive health and meditative benefits, and unlike many I still think it can add to a persons martial knowledge. particularly in sensitivity training and weight sense distribution. But for me its an Auxiliary art and its particular worldview make it limited rather than complete.

    I might be wrong but thats my take.
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  6. robertmap

    robertmap Valued Member

    Yes Tai Chi can be used for fighting - the problem is that not many people want to learn it as such. I teach the basics of self defence via Tai Chi partner work (NOT push hands which generally has little to do with self defence) but almost always explain that it's more about teaching coordination and whole body movement - that's because almost all my students (1 or 2 exceptions) don't want to learn Tai Chi for fighting - I just throw it in because I like it and think that teaching the 'complete' art (it's not completely complete but more complete than some) is the right thing to do.

    As to how long it takes to be adequate at the self defence aspects of Tai Chi - well a lot will depend on the risks that you face and how much practice you are willing to put in and also if you can find a good instructor.
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  7. cloudz

    cloudz Valued Member

    There would be a lot of depends to my answer.
    One would be depends where you are and who you have access to.
    Second would be depends what level of combat are you looking for..

    As far as 'complete' goes, that's probably another bunch of 'depends...' to work on.
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  8. dbl0

    dbl0 Member

    I have to agree with most of the comments already here that every style of Tai Chi should have the ability to be used as a combat art as well as the well being and other aspects of its practice.

    I have been learning the Lee Style and more recently the Yang Style and I do look at each movement as I am learning and performing them as a technique. Learning this alongside my Kung Fu training I guess makes me look at the forms in this way and my teacher is always showing me the practical applications of each movement, and for me this helps to learn the forms.

    As to whether it is a complete martial arts system from my relatively small exposure to it I don't think I could back that statement as there are so many different styles of martial arts available with people training with varying degrees of commitment. Regardless of this I do enjoy learning it and with my injuries it works well to keep me training.
    cloudz likes this.
  9. El Medico

    El Medico Valued Member

    A punch in the nose is a punch in the nose. As to a "complete" system I have no idea what that means. All I know is I've used TC against practitioners of other systems.Ain't dead yet.

    Depend what one is taught and how one trains.It should go w/out saying that just doing ph,forms and gungs ain't gonna turn out a capable practitioner. Like,duuuuh.

    Traditionally,as in pre-popularization,people sparred and did all the usual things everybody does to become martially proficient.

    Wish I could really partake in this discussion and not leave DB and G-dog alone.

    Hey kids,Happy New Year!
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  10. Dan Bian

    Dan Bian Neither Dan, nor Brian

    Well, take part then!! :p
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  11. cloudz

    cloudz Valued Member

    His dial up connection only comes on every once a month for about 10 minutes; when the moon is at 8 o'clock and the wolves are getting thirsty.
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  12. Taoquan

    Taoquan Valued Member

    To me it seems there is this huge misnomer that Tai Chi is not a Martial Art, it was developed as such and up until the last 20-30 years was practiced as such. It is really only this current generation of Tai chi that has drifted so far towards the "health" aspects, which is also a misnomer. How is it that I see "Tai Chi" teachers that are fat and out of shape if it is for health? The same is said for Tai Chi practitioners that say it is for Martial purpose, but cannot fight.

    All we see is the two extremes on either end.

    Tai Chi used to be pressure tested, one of my Teachers trained in Chen Village in the 80s. He recounted several stories of what they used to call the "Bull Pen." It was where Chen Village accepted ALL challenges from other fighters. There were only 2 rules; No breaking, No killing. He said he saw some of the ugliest fights he ever saw in those days. Now, that is not in Chen Village at all anymore.

    Old Chen Push hands you would frequently go "all out", not the lazy two people standing in place today. You would get flipped, flung, joint locked, punched at, etc. These arts used to be heavily pressure tested. The training also used to be such that you would take one movement and do it under all sorts of fighting conditions. Now you get the two extremes of the above. The

    To me I teach my students (I have some in their 60s) that the Form trains you to fight, but now HOW to fight. There is a big difference, what I mean by this is that the form trains you to fight via conditioning, it teaches you proper alignment (ideally), endurance through calisthenics, stretching, proper breathing, timing, etc. Boxing and every other Martial Art in a way has a "Form" or "Type" of Solo work and "Shadow boxing." But they eventually too get pressure tested.

    However, this does not teach you the How to fight, this is the pressure testing, old style push hands and fighting. Most people this day and age don't want to do this kind of training. Although, you can still find it if you look hard enough.

    So basically, Forms=conditioning that ultimately leads to being able to fight.
  13. cloudz

    cloudz Valued Member

    Good first paragraph but I think you're off on the 20-30 years mark. TCC and CMA as a whole had become pretty defunct by the early 20th century I think. The Chinese felt great shame at the state of their TCMA after the Boxers rebellion to the extent that they undertook a large campaign of restoration and reformation. Attempting an out with the old and in with the new. Schools were set up, Western methods and idealogy where studied in an effort to rid the traditional arts of what came to be seen as superstition, for want of a better term.

    But moving on:

    I don't think that's a particularly satisfactory statement in your conclusion. I think form can be considered a kind of conditioning but that's quite a broad categorisation, moreso the way you use it; including allignment for instance. It doesn't lead (you) to anything in of itself by itself, it has to be led there with the right additional tools (specific training methods).

    It's really no different in this sense to me saying something like various bodyweight exercises and yoga poses leads to being able to swim better or insert basically whatever you like; box, play soccer, throw javelin. Unless I specifically train to a specific end they simply lead to the results of the various conditioning.

    Even the fact that you are performing martial techniques do not lead anywhere beyond their solo demonstrative performance; it doesn't lead to being able to use them under pressure. Only training methods that lead to, up to and including, using them under pressure, do that.

    Conditioning I would classify as supplimentary and indirect training; it feeds, it nourishes (activity), it improves attributes that in turn improve activities. If the activity itself is not directly trained in appropriate ways the conditioning leads to general gains like improved leg strength, so on and so forth.

    You already talked about some specifics of getting there under the category of 'how to fight', that's the kind of thing that leads you to the proficiency in the activity, the conditioning activities simply don't, in of themselves.

    Coming back to the form; there are 3 broad categories that any training adresses and whatever activity we do mixes these 3 elements: motor control, strength, flexibility/range of motion (mobility). Formal Chinese martial forms are a bit like a code book you get to take away for reference points and conditioning. They can contain a lot of martial information, but that information needs to be in the head of the practitioner. The less it's used for 'the point' the less and less martial knowledge is passed on and retained within any form.

    One of the things that the tai chi form has going for it is that it can train and help all 3 areas whilst also relating and being fashioned for a specific activity: tai chi style fighting. But you have to lead it there, in of itself, the form leads to the form.. and all the great and wonderful things it may contain, mental, physical, spiritual and or combinations therof :D

    In some ways the form in of itself is an end unto itself; a jumping off point, if you will. Where do you want to go, it asks ?
    In terms of leading; the best it does is point you towards martial arts by virtue of running through solo martial techniques and postures.

    This almost encapsulates one of the troubles of TCC; it's produced a very multi useful conditioning tool that has the capacity to replace the thing itself as an end product. Where once it would be a part of a bigger whole that included the following and ongoing steps that DO lead you to the 'point' of it. The form has become the point for so many practitioners and enthusiasts. The point was meant to be about producing enthusiasts about forms of martial combat, rather than a form of conditioning!

  14. Taoquan

    Taoquan Valued Member

    We can discuss history of CMA for hours and probably never really know, though I agree with you much did change during the Boxer Rebellion. Of which many highly skilled boxers took part in and others took part in just to make names for themselves. Other Highly skilled practitioners had no part in it, but none-the-less it brought about drastic change.

    To the point of the post, I think we are saying the same thing. Though when I was taught the form and still practice it was always drilled into me to follow the 10 Principles of TCC. So to me the conditioning is more of by product of what is being trained, so long as one follows the TCC principles, the conditioning comes in itself. It is not really necessary to specifically state that I am training to Condition 'X'.

    When I make the statement Conditioning, I just don't mean it in term of Stretching, Endurance, etc. But a amalgamation of all aspects, including TCC principles to be conditioned within the individual during the practice. While we could inevitably take out various areas of the form to focus on specific conditioning, for example doing repetitive "All Cannons Fire" in Chen Pao Chui for cardiovascular exercise, that to me is not the purpose. Why not just simply run a mile?

    To me the conditioning is all of this combined, i.e. conditioning one in a multitude of ways to eventually get to combat. I like your statement that "the form in and of itself is an end unto itself"
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  15. Botta Dritta

    Botta Dritta Valued Member

    This for me was the more puzzling but also the more interesting aspect of Tai Chi. How various movements could have a multiplicity of applications encoded in them without any particular one being 'true'. Initially I was skeptical: after all a physical contest as brutal as hand to hand combat its usually better to ingrain the most efficient, high percentage techniques alone, even if using internal force rather than gross muscular skill.

    But with time I grew to appreciate the 'jumping off' as you put it: the idea that applications develop out of your own nature and physical predispositions rather than a 'system toolbox'.

    I finally understood this when I saw an instructor doing the 38 Chen form in a way which looked very different to someone who was his Senior. When I asked why this was so, I was told that after a fashion both styles were correct and suited to the individuals in question. It was then that it dawned on me : If this were true of the merely the form then might it not be true of applications? That there was no contradiction in the concept that a movement could developed/interpreted a strike for one person, but a joint lock for a different...

    Sometimes though I wished it was less nebulous..but maybe thats my western dialectic mind thinking.
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  16. cloudz

    cloudz Valued Member

    Totally, I think it came down to my quibbling over how you used the word lead; I'm also fine with a broad use of "conditioning", as long as we can be clear what we're talking about. We could include the 'esoteric stuff' certainly, but we'd confuse some people by doing that and not explaining ourselves. For example. Great to hear from you btw.

    I agree about the running a mile thing too; but I would just add that that particular practice - unpacking the solo moves is an important step. I would tend to lump it under motor control/ technical work.

    I'm of the mind, like some others that that would have been the proto type method of learning the martial art. "The form" is after all a bunch of little solo forms strung together.

    Last edited: Jan 9, 2019
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  17. cloudz

    cloudz Valued Member

    What a great post, seriously.

    The important content martially are ultimately the combinations of force vectors (line of force/ lines of intent). If and when you understand that, binded in the principles; tai chi can become everything and everything becomes tai chi.. so to speak. But yea, I have in mind any and all martial techniques really.

    Come on, isn't that just lovely :D
    Last edited: Jan 9, 2019
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  18. Taoquan

    Taoquan Valued Member

    Yes, this is very difficult initially for many to comprehend. I tell my students all the time Practice the Form the way I taught you but make it your own....this infuriates them all the time and gives me endless joy!

    But I am not doing it to be cryptic or esoteric or anything like that. I then describe it to them like this;

    How many of you drive X brand of Car? Now how many cars are out there that is X brand of Car? Now, what makes X brand of Car YOUR Car? It is all the miles, the dirtiness (or cleanliness), how you did/did not take care of the Car, etc. All these are what make this X brand Car yours, but it is still this X brand of Car. So it is "your" car, but it is still just X brand of Car.

    I tell them this is the idea behind Taiji, follow the principles, follow what you were taught, but make the "mileage" you get out of the form your own. How you apply the principles will be your own.

    "Rules are taught by Teachers, but the essence is comprehended by the Boxer himself." Li Kuei Yuan
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  19. Taoquan

    Taoquan Valued Member

    Thank you Cloudz for pointing out to me to be more clear. And thank you for the welcome back, I will forum lurk from time to time. Time for me is rather limited, but it is great to see you all here!
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  20. cloudz

    cloudz Valued Member

    I added some extra to the above but was timed out.. I'll give it another shot though.

    Re. The first paragraph I was going to add the categories I gave in reply earlier are, or can certainly be rather broad also. Cardio would come under "strength" for example. Quick reasoning for that would be you are strengthening a system that is toward the physical end of the spectrum. I was going to add I agree that running a mile is better for cardio focus certainly.

    Re. the second paragraph I wanted to add that somewhere along the line that progression got flipped around. "The form" is almost like the cherry on top, the confluence and fruition of all the strands combined..

    I suspect there may also be other factors, like theatrical and esoteric ones, that fed that change. Martial forms would have ultimately, in turn, served different needs to different groups of users within the culture and framework from which they emerged.

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