The difference between Healthy Tai Chi & Fighting Tai Chi

Recently it has come to my attention that there is a distinction being made here in the USA regarding a so called difference between Tai Chi for health and Tai Chi for self defense.

Having studied for the last 30 years from over half a dozen senior Tai Chi masters and directly from 2 different original Tai Chi family lineages (Yang and Wu styles) including Wu style family members who are the world heads for Tai Chi I must admit that at first I found this very confusing. When you ask any senior Tai Chi master about the “difference” between Tai Chi for health and Tai Chi for self defense you either get a funny look or a fairly excited answer about the current sad state of affairs and that there is no difference between Tai Chi for health and Tai Chi for self defense.

Tai Chi is Tai Chi. There is No difference between the Tai Chi that is healthy and the Tai Chi that is for fighting / self defense. Of course there are a lot of “so called” Tai Chi teachers in America today who would like the public to think that these things are different. Why? The unfortunate and simple answer is that so many of the folks who are teaching Tai Chi only for health got their Tai Chi certification in a weekend workshop and the only way that they can try to compete in the market place with someone who actually knows Tai Chi is to try to say that those who have more knowledge and information are somehow teaching something different.

tai chi for fightingHopefully, this begs the question concerning what exactly is Tai Chi for health and what is Tai Chi for self defense?

For one, the moves themselves are the same. However, I have found that more often than not those who practice Tai Chi just for health do not understand the moves they are practicing.

Secondly, the specific types of jing expression practiced are the same also. Unfortunately, I have found that most who claim to practice just for health do not even know what jing is, how it is practiced and how it is healthy for you let alone understanding it in a martial sense. The real bad news here is that the jing expressions are truly what makes Tai Chi such an incredible health practice.

tai chi for health and fightingThe biggest problem I have found is that there is a gross ignorance and great misunderstanding about what Tai Chi is and how it works by the medical community in this country and unfortunately the weekend and two weeks or less certifications (in that order) are the common standard accepted in most Western medical settings.

Often, evidence based Tai Chi is used to determine if a type or form of Tai Chi should be accepted and used in a medical setting. But, at least one crucial factor is often overlooked. When a senior master’s specific Tai Chi method is used in a medical study and the master himself is the teacher then he or she brings their many years of knowledge into that setting with them. This almost always includes a deep knowledge of Tai Chi including the fighting self defense aspects of the art. Then, when they certify someone who in turn certifies others in one weekend workshops where the form is learned and the certification is given in the same weekend then the result is most often that most of the new teachers do not have the knowledge, ability or skill to actually achieve the result or anything resembling the result that the senior teacher achieved in the medical study that was performed.

There are specific structural and internal aspects to the moves and expressions in Tai Chi that are every bit as important to the Tai Chi for health benefits as they are for fighting / self defense.

How does someone who learned and (“knows?”) the Tai Chi only for health learn these structural and internal aspects?

From having had interaction and conversations with many folks who are currently certified in only these very short weekend Tai Chi for health type courses I can say that to date I have not met one who actually understands enough about Tai Chi to impart the benefits without having obtained a lot more education than most are willing to ever seek out and get.

tai chi is tai chi

The answer to the how to learn the specific structural and internal aspects of the Tai Chi is that the teacher must learn from someone who understands the structural and internal workings of the Tai Chi. Teachers who really understand the structure and internal workings of the Tai Chi also know the self defense aspects of the Tai Chi because without the structural and internal aspects of Tai Chi the Tai Chi does not work for self defense either.

When learning the self defense aspects from a qualified teacher the postures and internal aspects are tested and refined so that the proper application of Tai Chi power is present. This does not have to be learned or practiced in a hard, fast and fierce manner so those who do not want to practice fighting do not have to be put into uncomfortable situations or anything like that.

But, the structural training alone will make such a huge difference in the quality of the Tai Chi practice and the health benefits of that Tai Chi practice that it will change the art in its entirety compared to the expression taught by someone who is “teaching” Tai Chi without this knowledge.

This is part of the reason why our Basic Skills Tai Chi material takes several months to complete. A person can easily learn the moves of our 8 move set in a weekend. The rest of the study time required to actually test for our method is spent learning various Tai Chi structure, breathing, methods, jing expressions and applications of the 8 moves so that the student actually learns the Tai Chi for health as a result of understanding how the internal aspects of the moves are performed for health as well as for self defense.

tai chi for self defenseIn conclusion, Tai Chi for health is the same as the Tai Chi for self defense because the movement alignment, structure, breathing and jings are the same for health as they are for self defense even though these skills will often be applied specific to the task at hand which requires an educated understanding. Don’t just take my word for it. Ask any real Tai Chi teacher and they will tell you the same.

The good news is that if you are actively reading this blog then you are most likely working to educate yourself and progressing in your Tai Chi which means you are a benefit to your students and community. If there is any way that I can help you please feel free to contact me and I will do what I can.

The so called Tai Chi teacher with less than 1 week total in Tai Chi training who is now the medical Tai Chi go to person in your community is an unfortunate reality in much of America today. I am committed to helping to change the public misunderstanding of this wonderful art that we practice before it disintegrates into a flowery looking set of choreography with no substance or benefit and no more real teachers can be found. Please join me in this fight before it is too late.

Comments

  1. Diddo! Diddo! Diddo!!!

    Unfortunately as I am sure you know, this degredation is rampent throughout ALL the martial arts. Easy bucks for the “teacher” and easy to learn for the non-committed student, who doesn’t want to apply the appropriate effort(s) to do it right!

    Bill Conley

  2. Jules Weinberg says:

    Great article. I am now finding suddenly a slew of individuals in the market place who are actually trying to promote fighting Tai Chi as a seperate Martial art form. In my own experience when I practice my Yang 24 form – I try to work on the structure and answer myself what is the application? The question that comes up is how do you differentiate between true masters and frauds?

    • Sigung Clear says:

      Hi Jules,
      I believe that the individuals promoting fighting Tai Chi as a separate martial art form may (unfortunately) just be trying to figure out a simple way to stand out from those who do not have much or any skill and are promoting fighting Tai Chi as the simplest way to do that in 3 or 4 words. I say unfortunately because it would usually be much more accurate to say Real Tai Chi but the buying public would not understand the difference or why they consider their Tai Chi to be more real than everyone else they are competing with which begs the question you asked which is how to differentiate between true masters and frauds.

      One of the best ways to distinguish a true master from a fraud is to educate yourself so that you know what to ask and what the answers are and can find out what someone really knows and what they can (or cannot teach you. Read our posts both on health (chi kung and cultivation methods etc) and self defense. Since you have studied a bit already and have a Yang 24 form look for someone who can really teach you about these things without having to add more moves. If a teacher only has forms and do not understand enough to keep you improving and gaining knowledge for years without having to teach you any more moves then they are not a master.

      When I get a new student who already has the 24 or more yang style moves then I do not teach them more form movements unless they absolutely beg me to do so. The reason why is that they have enough moves already and they do not need to learn any more moves from me. I can work with the moves they already have and can teach them for many years without having to add more forms or moves. Tai Chi is a very deep art this way. Unfortunately, the most common Tai Chi you find here in the US is forms work without substance. They will even tell you the Tai Chi is for arthritis or whatever it has been established to do by some far off teacher that they usually have never met. When you ask for a real explanation of how their Tai Chi works and applications and the rationale behind and involved in specific moves in their set they simply do not know because how can they when they learned all they were taught about the art in 5 days or less?

      I am sorry that I seem uptight about this but as a legitimate 30 year practitioner and avid student (I have received over 3500 hours of personal instruction in the higher aspects and applied health and fighting principles) of these arts it is very frustrating to have to contend with someone who has no real knowledge or ability but are a (fraud) Tai Chi teacher because they attended a few day workshop and now they are considered (by the American medical community) the certified practitioner on the block.

      It is a sad situation but fortunately one that can be rectified as more and more folks become adequately trained and educated about real Tai Chi.
      Best Regards.
      Sifu Clear

      • frank cruz says:

        To Sufi clear,all due respect,I am from NYC studying Yang 24 form from a Sufi with 40somewhat experience as a student and teacher he shows us the forms and self-defense,even though I have limted use of my left arm due to a dislocated shoulder he has patience to show me the self-defense part,he tells me, use what you got. He does for us. I think he is the real deal,I been around in my younger days studying karate,boxing,Tai Chi. Tai Chi works,study hard,be patients.

      • Ron Schick says:

        Lets be real about this.If you sell this as a fighting art or tai chi chuan then know your art.Know chee sau know deulau know applications balance points pressure points countrr balance etc etc.Unless you know these things tai chi is not chuan iltimate fist.Its a pertty dance but not real tai chi.

  3. Jules Weinberg says:

    Hi Sigung Clear – Jules Weinberg here. Thank you for your response regarding my comment on difference beween Tai Chi and Combat Tai Chi. Another question came up in my mind – I have been training with my Yang Style Instructor for over a year and I notice that when I ask about a combat application of
    a particular form she will sometimes show me and then go back to explaining how we are learning this for health – not martial art. This sometimes gets frustrating since I have been training for over 36 years in the combative martial arts. Its good because I analyze what the form is trying to acomplish and it helps me understand. Is this a standard way of teaching the system?

    • Unfortunately it is all to common for students to spend years learning very little beyond forms and choreography even from highly skilled and respected teachers. This is a standard or traditional way for many people to learn the public version of the art, but it is certainly not the best way to impart skill and knowledge.

      The moves are nothing more than a tool. They can be useful, but in most cases there is way to much emphasis and importance placed on them.

      This is why instead of using a lot of moves to teach very little about Tai Chi we use only a few moves to teach a lot about Tai Chi.

    • Sigung Clear says:

      Is this a standard way of teaching the system?

      Not in my school or in my videos.

  4. In the last 30 yrs I have heard reasons for not teaching the martial aspect of TCC that would bring tears of laughter to the writers of Saturdy Night Live.

    One group consists of those who walk through life with their heads in the ozone. They will state” my chances of being attacked are very slight” – and while that may be – that should not deter an individual from learning how to protect himself and his loved ones. Violent crimes are part of everyday living.
    I have been in more altercations than I care to recall. These were not the you punch – I punch – these boys were out to tear my head off. I have had many real Tai Chi teachers and I thank them for sharing. (Sharing learnings is a topic for about 400 pages on this blog)
    Tai Chi Chuan may be the most lethal martial art on the planet -AND IT SHOULD BE TAUGHT AS SUCH. If an individual chooses not to fight so be it. He or she must deal with the possible consequences in their own way.

    A needed ingredient for a healthy life is – BREATHING – STAYING ALIVE – Learning how to defend yourself may keep you healthy.

    In closing – to Sifu Clears Students and consistent followers here the following may not be necessary. To the others –
    Sifu Clear does a great service to the Tai Chi community and those that have a serious interest in the art. To the perceptive his tips and clips can help one reach his goals quicker. To the beginner- read- reread and practice

  5. Kaneala says:

    After practicing Tai Chi Chuan (on and off) since 1989 I will

    continue to reiterate the Confucious and Daoist philosophy

    about the art.

    It is everlasting and seamless. It contracts and expands during

    the learning process.

    Most of all I will continue to study it as if I were never

    to master it; as if in fear of losing it.

    I know just enough of Tai Chi to lose the way,

    then find the path. Surrender and redirect the force

    to life’s challenges. Tai Chi Chuan is everything,

    with nothing in it.

    Thanks for sharing the REAL Tai Chi Chuan Sifu Clear
    and Ben….

    About Amituofo: it means a multitude of things, depending on how it is used.
    (Ah-mee-twoh-fo) (don’t know the tonal intonations.)
    (It can be a greeting, a salutation, a blessing, or it can mean “please” or “I’m sorry.”) Literally it is the name
    of a Buddha, the “Amita” Buddha. (Fo) being the Chinese
    word for Buddha.

  6. Gary Brewster says:

    I have been learning Tai Chi now for over 10 years and have always been taught the applications to the forms, it surely makes no sense not to know them . I also teach Taekwondo and Iaido (a strange mix i know) and would never dream of showing poomse or kata without a full fighting application.
    Brilliant web site by the way.
    Gary Brewster

  7. Richard Clear says:

    Thanks.
    Let me know if there are any topics you would like us to write on that you do not currently see on our site.
    Best Regards.
    Sifu

  8. orang tjong hwa says:

    Tai chi chuan is about getting strong and healthy in every way, as the name tai chi chuan allready says; its a martial art (chuan), no doubt about it.
    Because the general public only can see a kind of relaxed movement in slow motion, they think its a very easy way to maintain health and also to get mysterious super powers from the life force called ‘chi’.
    Therefoe its also very easy to fool people with these so called supernatural powers and mystic slow movements.
    They don’t know that in reality the slow moving form is only a very small part of the whole concept.
    They don’t know that the slow moving form is all about internal structure and an extremely centered mind guiding all movements by internal pressure change.
    B-Good….

    • Obviously there are some people who have it. Clear’s Tai Chi has it and is dedicated to increasing the public’s exposure to quality Tai Chi.

  9. When one has learned and practiced the basics daily, and 50% of that was with partner training, for several years, tai chi training becomes clear. You fix some of the stances and movements and you also practice them explosively. And of course continue partner training with movements that make sense.

  10. Hi Richard,
    In ’97 I was fortunate to have a Tai Chi Wu style Master co-worker teach us at lunch twice a week. I really enjoyed the practice and over the course of 10 months learned a full set of moves. But he moved on to another job and my practice waned to nothing after I moved back to Texas. I recall though having felt more healthy and balanced than since my Army days.
    Recently a studio opened to teach “healthy” Tai Chi within walking distance of my home. I signed up but was curious about the self defense aspects of Tai Chi and found you while researching this aspect. Is there a way to augment practice of the health Tai Chi to also learn self defense? I really look forward to practicing Tai Chi again, even if it is only “health Tai Chi” and hope online studies and private practice can find the path to applying the form for self defense learning. (Might I suggest this may be a lucrative business sideline for an acknowledged Tai Chi Self Defense Master?)

    I hope you’re still answering such an old thread!

    John G
    Cedar Park, Texas

    • Hi John,
      Thank you for your question. Yes, you can study with us for learning how to use your Tai Chi for self defense.
      Here is a link:
      http://www.clearstaichi.com/combat-tai-chi

      and here is a link for Combat Tai Chi DVD’s:
      http://www.clearstaichi.com/tai-chi-dvd/combat-tai-chi-dvd

      • Hi Sifu I have study Aikido, but now my back is not so good but i love the Arts i have been looking around no one can give me a good answer can i still do Tai Chi for self defense without doing more damage to my back?

        • Matt Holker says:

          Hello Matthew,

          That depends entirely on how “not so good” your back is. Ruptured discs, for instance, are no joke. If for any reason it hurts to sit up or walk, you might be able to use Tai Chi therapeutically to help the situation (depending on what the problems are), but it should be left at that. In that case you would want the healthy side of Tai Chi but not the martial.

          Too often people come to Tai Chi only after they get injured doing some other martial art. Sometimes Tai Chi can help, but the real benefit of Tai Chi is that you can practice a martial art while also promoting health and longevity. If you want martial skill, it is best to take up the practice of Tai Chi before you get injured, not after. It is far easier to prevent injury than it is to heal it, and some injuries are permanently debilitating.

          In your case, Matthew, you should consult your doctor first before taking up the martial side of Tai Chi, as you should before beginning any new exercise regimen. We are not medical professionals, and we do not know the specifics of your situation. That said, I hope your doctor gives you good news on the subject!

  11. Pardon my ignorance Sigung but I was hoping I could ask some questions.

    I am interested in learning a holistic version of Tai Chi that you discuss here. I would like to use that knowledge to both improve my health and learn how it is used in a self defense.

    In 2014 I was diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes and a hip impingement. This was something of a blow to me as the hip makes vigorous exercise painful but I need to get exercise for my health even more. I am 45 and probably looking at a hip replacement in the nearish future but I would like to avoid it as long as possible.

    My Dr said that something like Tai Chi would be good for the hip. I looked for a Tai Chi instructor but in every case I was turned of either by their inexperience or there insistence in strict adherence to the forms.

    A friend recommended an Aikido dojo that works with a person’s physical limitations and I spent 2 years there very happily learning Aikido. My type 2 diabetes is now pre-diabetes and I have lost a significant amount of weight. Unfortunately the Aikido, requires some movements that are pretty hard for me and I’ve had to stop for the last year.

    Would Tai Chi be a good fit? It seems like the slower gentler movements might be more compatible. I have tried a few online videos but I work much better with an in-person instructor.

    If Tai Chi could possibly be a good fit, can you give me some questions that would help me find a Tai Chi instructor who understands the relationships between the exercise and martial aspects of the art and how they tie together? I would really like to focus on the exercise but also gain a useful skill such as self defense as well.

    I really miss Aikido and the improvements to my health it brought.

    Thank you for your time reading this.

    Sincerely, Jerry.

    • Matt Holker says:

      Hello Jerry,

      I think Tai Chi would be a great fit for what you are describing. It has often been said that Tai Chi makes the sick well, and makes the well strong. The movements of Tai Chi can be used to improve your health dramatically, and we teach a method specifically for rehabilitating old injuries in the first level of our program. We do have students with joint replacements, and they get as much or more value from the Tai Chi as any of our other students. In fact the senior most Tai Chi student in the school right now has had multiple joints replaced in his legs.

      Fortunately the very fact that you know you want the self defense aspects of the art will help you to find a good teacher. Ask questions about the teacher’s background and focus on the training he/she did to get the fighting method. Another thing to do is to look at the students. Are they showing real progress as you would expect, or do they seem to stagnate over time? How many of the combat Tai Chi students could really fight with it?

      Any teacher really teaching the martial side will be able to help on the health side, but the same is not true in reverse. If you aren’t able to find the right candidate, or if you want to supplement your local training, we offer an excellent online program that will help you build your skills every step of the way from beginner to fighter.

      http://www.clearmartialarts.com/clears-tai-chi-online/

      You can easily get started with the material in the Level 1 section immediately, while you are still looking for a good teacher. In fact a knowledge of this material will give you the foundation in Tai Chi you need if you plan on vetting local teachers.

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