Taijiquan for some…

…miniature American flags for others!

It’s funny, if you try to compare how difficult to learn the various martial arts are, there’s no clear winner. I have my own views (Taiji is the best ever! A delicious martial art!) but they’re all pretty hard in their own right. If they weren’t, they wouldn’t be worth much nor require discipline. The thing is, the uninformed public tends to gauge difficulty by how impressive something appears on the surface. For this reason I think Taijiquan has gotten a misleading reputation.

Taijiquan and other similar “internal” arts are difficult not just physically, but also in the aspect of listening and using mental awareness. They demand one get rid of muscular strength and learn a certain kind of coordination and intuition. One cannot become lazy and just put blatant physical force into the movements. The concepts are a little more subtle than just getting strong and pounding people.

Lots of people I’ve known will accept that Yoga or Tae Kwon Do or Shaolin kung fu is tough to do, just ‘coz it looks all acrobatic or elastic and spiffy. Taiji is rarely practiced fast, except when you get down to the sparring or weapons stuff. WHICH WE DO ALL THE TIME, geez. Even so, we don’t hop around all that much either. Which isn’t to say we can’t, particularly since a lot of people who practice this stuff with a serious teacher end up with a really serious rooting ability. It’s good for running around mountains or whatevas.

Another interesting thing about Taiji, is there are no visible results in your physique! Yeah yeah, we’ve all said it’s cause of taiji when we get a beer belly. But seriously, the more I do Taiji, although I get in better shape, it is absolutely not visibly noticeable to anyone — not even to me. Although my body becomes lighter and springier, and my movements more balanced and “full”, my muscle mass actually just melts away! See why you can’t attract the babes doing Taiji? You end up looking like an old Chinese man.

Based upon this, I suppose no one is surprised then that Taiji doesn’t attract the largest amount of MMA types. On top of that, to really kick ass with Taiji (having had no prior experience), it would take like 5-10 years with a good teacher. I feel like time with any typical Muay Thai teacher or whatevers, would yield “tougher” results or result in fighting ability more quickly (assuming you were already a young male in good physical shape, not the prerequisite for Taiji, if ya ask me). I just seriously doubt if those positive results from studying Muay Thai could last through one’s middle-aged career, or through illness or debilitating injury. Same with Tae Kwon Do, actually. I’ve met a couple of middle-aged guys who needed hip replacements from all their flying spinning jumps.

In fact, Deshimaru, a dude I’m always talking so big about, proves his ignorance on the subject in his otherwise pretty rockin’ Zen Way to the Martial Arts. See, Deshimaru fell into the same trap most people in popular culture have, in assuming the Taiji sponsored by the Communist Chinese government in the ’60s was a serious source of the art. The Chinese government did have some member of the Yang lineage create a watered down public Yang form for the people as a kind of nationalistic exercise, which has been spread under the guise of the 24-posture Yang form. But Taijiquan is an old-school lineage of gongfu and martial skill which goes back several centuries.

When people used to ask what kind of gongfu I study, I initially wouldn’t even say Taijiquan because it’s so annoying that everyone thinks it isn’t a deadly, soul-crushing dance with the devil. These days I usually just suck it up and tell people I do Taiji, ‘coz I don’t want the only people saying they do Taiji to be some pony-boys now, do I? There are a lot of those around: people who do Taiji for a couple of months and try push-hands a few times and think they have experience. But really, push-hands is (A) just an exercise and (B) very hard to do correctly without consistent practice for years. On the one hand you can’t have rules in push-hands because then what is the practical point of the exercise? On the other hand, without any rules it just becomes a stupid shoving match. So you stick to principles (not dogma).

Some people seem to think if they’re really peaceful and just practice push-hands and some form work they’ll magically get enlightened one day and be martial masters. I understand that people are afraid of or perturbed by martial arts, they don’t want to fight or hurt people (almost all Taiji teachers do not require that you learn to fight if you are opposed to the idea). It’s sick to hurt someone else. I have always thought that. We all say that, but I am serious. I started practicing martial arts because I really hated hurting people. In fact, I used to get bullied because I didn’t want to fight. But was that smart? Anyway, the point is, the highest level in the stuff is achieved by the martial masters. Sad but true. Not that anyone in particular has   cornered enlightenment or ultimate reality more than anyone else.

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4 Responses to “Taijiquan for some…”

  1. archeduct Says:

    I started doing tai chi at age 24 with the idea that it would be a good introduction into martial arts. I thought of eventually ending up doing kungfu or any other more spectacular form of martial arts. After a year or so of tai chi practice, I asked my teacher which other martial art she would recommend to me. She replied with a question: What is your aim? Today 8 years have passed and here I am, still doing tai chi and leaving the more spectacular stuff to others.

  2. There’s definitely a difference between devoting yourself to a martial art (or any other form of gung-fu for that matter) and learning “self-defense” or being able to impress people. Sometimes all three go together, but not always.

    People who are seriously into the hard martial arts (TKD etc) can wind up looking pretty beat up by the time they hit middle age, but then I’ve known people who do hard styles but look pretty good well into their old age as well. I think it’s all in how you approach the art.

    Oh, and I’m about principles as opposed to dogma. ;)

  3. All of my students change physically. They gain strength and they develop appropriate musculature. They can choose when and where to apply tension or no-tension; that’s freedom!

    Before one develops abilities to sense and feel electrical-ish things, one must develop muscle, tendon, and fascia strength. Taiji, done right, provides strength development. Many people are sore (that light kind of deep, suspicious soreness) the day after my classes. We never cheat the movement: we use, for example, the weighted turn in Brush-Knee-Twist-Step, never the sitting-back-lazy turn.

    So I agree we cannot “become lazy and just put blatant physical force into the movements. The concepts are a little more subtle.” The subtleties are where the goodness lives. It sounds like your teacher has access to it.

  4. Thanks for the kind words, Steve. It would please me greatly if I could reflect even a portion of my teacher’s talent in Taijiquan.

    I like some of the ways you phrase things on your site: “If you want self-defense and safety in your life, you must kindly and patiently re-design your thinking and behavior.”

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