Tai Chi Benefits for Self Defense

Many people think of tai chi as the slow, dance-like exercise practiced in synchrony by groups in parks. While this is a popular aspect of tai chi, tai chi was developed as a martial art. It wasn’t only a practice for health, but a critical skill for defending against attackers and even for protecting the Chinese emperor against assassins.
tai chi martial art bruce

Tai chi, practiced as a martial art, will teach you useful self-defense techniques. No question about that, despite the still popular (but nevertheless false) view of tai chi as a noncompetitive exercise for the elderly. Skilled practitioners in tai chi as a fighting art know that each of the movements allows for different fighting applications to be used against opponents.

A slow practice develops speed. You can learn to smoothly and quickly execute tai chi martial movements by first practicing them slowly. Slow movements, done with attention, help to identify and to release tension points which would block the full expression of the move.

The slow movements also help one to unify the body, intention, and energy. Fast movements can cause jerky, uncoordinated actions, while slow movements help the body to move in a unified, smooth way. Add intention to the slow movements, and the mind can help to direct the flow of energy for the desired fighting application. A practitioner can’t do this with fast movements unless they’ve already mastered this unification of body, energy and mind in the slow movements.

Yielding. Tai chi is not about resisting attacks but about first yielding to the attack. The strategy of tai chi is to flow around obstacles, and to redirect the energy of an incoming attack back outward. This is a trademark of tai chi, and a teaching that differentiates it from many other types of martial arts.

tai chi single whip application
Self-defense over the long term. Those interested in learning tai chi for self defense should realize that tai chi is not the fastest way to learn these types of skills. In the short term, less than a year or two, good instruction in any of the external martial arts (e.g. kung fu, karate) is usually the faster way to go for self-defense. The linear techniques and reliance on muscle strength are easier to learn than the relaxed, circular, internal approach of tai chi.

That said, external forms are harder on the body. After a number of years, many practitioners of these arts are unable or unwilling to continue because of the strain the training puts on the body—and the resulting aches, pain, and risks of injury.

If you’re willing to make the longer-term commitment to tai chi as a martial art, you’ll develop effective self-defense skills. You’ll be able to train and to hone these skills even in your senior years, in addition to reaping the additional health benefits from tai chi, which are not accessible through other types of martial arts.

Defending against more than just blows. Attacks can be physical, and the appropriate response may first involve dodging and then responding to incoming blows. Attacks can also be nonphysical, taking the form of taunts and psychological threats.

Tai chi gives practitioners a way of dodging or defusing these by remaining grounded, balanced, and calm. This is the best position for decision-making, such as whether to engage in a fight or to simply disengage and to move on.

By remaining calm, tai chi practitioners can avoid anger, fear, and the impaired judgment that accompanies these emotions. This is a self-defense benefit of tai chi that can be applied not only in fights but throughout one’s life.

Next: Read about tai chi styles and their trademarks.