Is tai chi a martial art or not? Some say it was originally taught to help people find balance in their lives and tai chi is now mostly taught for its health and longevity benefits. It is also, however, a self-defense system so powerful that it can stop a man’s heart without breaking the ribs or bruising the flesh.
Centuries ago, when China was overcome by feuds and consisted largely of isolated villages, one family in each village would hold the currency for all the other families. Much like with today’s banks, this led to large sums of money being kept at one place at any given point in time. To safeguard this money, these families hired tai chi masters, who ultimately developed a self-defense style called protection tai chi.
Tai chi today, unfortunately, is largely misunderstood, and has deteriorated in many cases to a dance to be performed in one’s twilight years. But true tai chi is and always was a martial art. If you are practicing it properly, you are practicing a martial art.
The art of tai chi is only a small part of the much broader field of ancient Chinese breath and body energy exercises called qigong (pronounced chee-gung). Tai chi specifically consists of those moves from qigong that have proven martial value. While it is good to practice tai chi for its health benefits and longevity benefits, you should at least be aware that the proper body mechanics of tai chi and the way you generate qi flow are considered a martial art.
While many of the more popular martial arts are what is called external martial arts, involving forceful blows and hard blocking (as in kung fu and karate), tai chi belongs to the internal martial arts (as in aikido and bagua). An internal martial art uses energy more so than force, which allows the practitioner to not have to rely on strength. In addition, unlike the external fighting arts, internal martial artists get better the more they practice, even as they grow into old age.
It is important to know that although tai chi is a martial art, you will never see a tai chi master attacking. Tai chi is used only in self-defense. If attacked, a tai chi master would normally redirect an opponent’s incoming energy to fling them away. However, if pressed, the master could deliver what is known as an internal strike, which can cause internal organ damage without external signs of injury. Tai chi is still known today, somewhat simplistically, as “grand ultimate fist” (or taiji chuan).
In today’s modern jungle, I believe everyone can benefit from knowing a little bit of self-defense. If you are studying tai chi anyway, why not take advantage of all it has to offer?