Saturday 1 September 2012

Tai chi and the road to self defence

I recently got an enquiry from a prospective student which I would like to share with you along with of my response (both suitably edited / annoymised).
Hi, I am wondering if you can answer a question for me please. I have been interested in Tai Chi for a very long time, but one thing has made me hesitate. Can Tai Chi be used as an effective martial art and defence art for the world we live in today?
Great question - I could talk about this for hours! I think there are basically two questions here: Can it be effective? And is it likely to be effective for you?

First of all can it be effective? Simple answer: yes. Internal arts are extremely effective once mastered.  I have seen Masters drop people to the ground and nearly break limbs almost without thinking about it (these were not set pieces either). In a real fight, I dread to think... I have seen others too who I seriously respect - essentially seeing is believing. I have seen and I believe.

The second question is, is it likely to be effective for you (in the "one" i.e. general sense)? The issue here is that tai chi is like the tortoise in the fabled hare and tortoise race. Ultimately tai chi will be one of the best things you can learn, but in the short to medium term you will essentially have nothing. There are no shortcuts, no tricks, the only way to get any level of martial arts ability is to practice. And practice A LOT. Traditionally, people could obtain some decent level of skill in say 3 to 4 years. But that's the traditional model, where the student would practice five hours a day, every day, during those years! Tai chi was their full time job.

The point is that (in my opinion) there is a fundamental minimum level of training required before any real martial arts / self defence skill can be claimed. 99% of tai chi people never get anywhere near this level, simply because we do not train hard enough or long enough. This problem is not unique to tai chi, but because external martial arts give you some techniques and sparring upfront and from the outset, the difficulty is not so pronounced. "Applications" in tai chi come much further down the line, in some senses after they have already been learned subconsciously.

In practice therefore, it is likely that you would need to study for decades to have any real martial arts skill (I would not yet consider myself to be over this threshold yet, but I am training hard and believe I will get there). It simply depends on how much you want it. Train like a demon every day, and within a year say, you could become a direct student of a skilled Master, who will open the door for you if you continue to train. Alternatively, you could go to a class or two a week and occasionally remember to do a bit on your own. In this scenario, you would get the health benefits but in practice never attain an "effective martial art for self defence".

Tai chi is a long road. If you want a life long learning challenge it's perfect. If you want instant results it's not.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for this wisdom and information on the (clearly) wonderful martial art, of Tai Chi.

    In another life, I would devote my life to such a pursuit. But I've chosen to do and master other things, which I find equally fulfilling and worthwhile.

    I wish you all the best in your own path to mastering taijiquan.

    Are you still on this path, in 2014, or gone to another now?