Tai chi chuan is a health and meditative exercise, originating in China, that is also a martial art; if practiced regularly, it will benefit health, aid relaxation, and will be effective training for self-defense. Enhanced balance, deep breathing, patience, and more energy are among the benefits of a disciplined practitioner of Tai Chi. Regular practice, supplemented with lessons with a qualified instructor, will help promote mental and physical focus, which is a prerequisite in order to develop effective self-defense techniques.
Daily repetition of the tai-chi forms should be incorporated into a way of life; these forms should be practiced in a slow and controlled manner and should take from seven to ten minutes a day. The form is inherently meditative; as you practice the exercise slowly you develop a stress reducing calmness. Less stress promotes health; less stress and a relaxed state must exist in order to fight effectively.
It’s more likely that you’ll sustain a routine if you are able to find the same time every day to practice. It is important to be disciplined to master any martial art; it is particularly important since it’s a physical as well as mental discipline.
Learning how to breathe properly, when practicing the forms, leads to an increased energy level; better balance and control, with an efficiency of movement, is a by-product of daily practice. You teach your body to move with controlled balance, so that punches and kicks can be delivered with precision and power since the strikes and kicks have become natural movements: your body movements become automatic, much like a piano player who practices the scales.
To develop and control your own power enables you to deliver blows and kicks with maximum efficiency. This means that there are no wasted moves and, consequently, no waste of energy. If the body is tense there’s restricted movement; tenseness reduces your ability to move quickly, and, while energy is being used by muscles that are not directly involve in the delivery of a blow, your striking power loses power and effectiveness. The blow or strike must be able to channel as much of your body power as it can. Since, the repetition of the forms daily trains the body to move in certain ways, the student, who practices tai chi chuan, trains his body to move efficiently and effectively to deliver blows and to neutralize other’s attacks. The benefits are both physical and emotional; in both areas better balance leads to more productive performance.
I’ve heard other martial artists and practitioners of Tai Chi call it an “Ultimate Self-defense”: … if a student practices the forms diligently for long enough the self-defense applications will be automatic. In reality, there is no magic to the effectiveness of Tai Chi as a martial art. There’s an obvious health benefit: balance, breathe control, being able to punch with power, certainly have self-defense benefits, however without practice – without being used to blocking, without being used to punching and kicking from various angles, and, most importantly, without used to taking a punch, you can’t possibly be effective as a martial artist. If the student is not able to fight while being relaxed and still gets tense in the middle of battle, effectiveness is precluded.
On a practical basis, someone who is not used to getting hit will tense up and become inefficient when they’re actually fighting and getting hit. The solution, to be relaxed when fighting, can only be achieve with sparring experience; to be effective in a fight you must be able to take a punch, know how to and be flexible enough to duck, and be able to deliver blocks and blows with speed, agility and power from any angle or position.
If a grown man of 180 lbs., or heavier, man strikes someone with all his weight, they’re likely to hurt that person. However, to be effective in combat and be able to deliver a blow with all your power, you have to be relaxed and efficient when you’re being attacked; you have to be able to block and strike with power while you are being attacked.
This theory holds true for many situations that have nothing to do with physical fighting. For example when negotiating a business transaction, if you are too tense you can’t think clearly and effectively respond to adversity. To be controlled and efficient it’s necessary to be relaxed. You can’t waste energy by tensing, either physically or emotionally.
After the forms become reflexive “push hands” can be practiced. This helps the tai chi student to enhance their balance while using the body in a way similar to its use doing the movements. Push hands exercises, as in self-defense movements, require relaxation to be effective; your body yields to the push of an opponent, theoretically at the same force and speed of the opponent’s push. The same theory exists for self-defense: as a punch or kick is thrown you “neutralize” the blow at the same speed of the attack.
The pushing hands exercise teaches you to move, or to avoid a push or, later, avoiding a punch or kick by moving away. When a blow is neutralized, you are not matching your power against your opponent’s power; the ability to neutralize, as distinct from stopping a motion with a block, equalizes the power a stronger opponent. Don’t stop your opponent’s energy; exploit this energy by using it to complement your energy. If you block a punch and stop an attacker’s momentum, then deliver your blow, you will have less power than if you neutralize his blow. You move away or yield as his energy in his punch comes to you; it is as if he is moving you; you move at the same speed and intensity as his blow or energy comes into you. Your counter punch or kick is fueled by the punch or kick coming at you. It is returned at the same speed and power that it comes toward you. If a car is driven into a parked car it has less force than if these same two cars are being driven into each other!
After practicing the meditative movements for many years, we can see the benefit to practicing the forms. As the forms are practiced regularly, it becomes easier to be relaxed; we reach a meditative state and anxiety level is reduced; we are more efficient as our performance, on many different levels, is not diluted.
Only if you’re not afraid of getting hit can you effectively defend yourself.