Friday, August 19, 2011

Self defense as healing

Tai-chi was originally a combat form of martial arts. Today most if not all tai-chi practitioners do it for its health benefits, both body and mind. It is interesting to see that there are still some tai-chi teachers and practitioners trying to put combat as the ultimate or highest objective of doing tai-chi. Needless to say, they are going to be most frustrated. Because students who are interested to learn combat will most likely choose to take a Muay Thai course or one of those MMA courses offered in today's modern gyms: with air-conditioning, fun, sweating in a safe environment. Nowadays learning combat is no longer for the "street-fighters", but more for those, for whatever reason, like full-contact combat as a kind of sports. Muay Thai in Hong Kong is getting popular among office-ladies with a more active lifestyle!

On the other hand, there are tai-chi masters who teach tai-chi for its health benefits but quite apologetic when talking about its martial art origin. Some of them, and their students, would claim that tai-chi is a most sophisticated form of martial art that has to be perfected in decades (well, most these folks are middle-aged, how old will they be after decades of training?). Don't laugh, a prominent Yang-style tai-chi master (from Taiwan) in US who published a lot and had a lot of students wrote that tai-chi needs 30 years (!) of training to be perfect. And if one looks at his training schedule, real combat is being delayed to be the final hurdle. They should not be apologetic at all. What they need to do is to rethink the development of tai-chi and set new objectives based on the current situation.

What then should be the role of learning combative skills in doing Tai-chi nowadays? My thinking is that for "self defense". Self-defense has two levels of meaning. One is for street-fighting, and one is for healing, in the form of confidence building. When I talk about self-defense for tai-chi practitioners, I mean the latter type.

And what do you mean by confidence? If one can't do street fighting, how can you say one have confidence? Firstly, street fighting is a dangerous game, for the simple reason that bad guys don't fight fairly. It doesn't mean a heavy-weight bullying a lightweight, but more like three professional boxers bullying an elderly lady accountant. The best strategy for an average citizen is to try his or her best to avoid bad guys and to avoid places/situations that might lead to unsolicited street fights. And run away or call the police when one senses danger.

Confidence is more psychologically than physical (assuming not being overconfident to the level as to to initiate a fight). The theory is that if one is trained with basic self defense skills, one can better equip oneself psychologically to face life's challenges, being assertive,  as well as being able to stand up to one's rights in most conflict situations.

What kind of self-defense techniques will be required: firstly, the ability to throw strong punches, secondly, the ability to block strong punches, and thirdly, the ability to do simple throws in pull or push situations. All should be grounded with good foundation training in zhan zhuang and tai-chi nei-gong: good techniques won't work with a weak body structure. 

Criteria of successful self defense training for confidence building:
  1. Do you believe  you can block (or evade from) a sudden punch or a kick from an average guy?
  2. Do you believe you can punch an average guy with enough power to deter him?
  3. Do you believe you can unbalance an average guy and throw him to the ground when he pull/push you?


  1. As a teacher of the martial arts for 20 years, and practitioner of healing arts nearly 20 years, I say, yes! Other forms of exercise are great, and can help with a number of health issues. But there are aspects to tai chi that set it apart from all the others.

    Ilchi Lee


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...