By Sigung Clear
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.
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.
The 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.
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.
In 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.