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Applied Taijiquan #1: Introduction

I plan to do a series on Taijiquan and my explorations of it from the perspective of viewing the art as an authentic, martial practice. This began as a single post on Taijiquan but I realized that it was such a large topic that I could not possibly explore it thoroughly or even meaningfully unless the article became very long and most likely too unwieldy for most readers. So I am doing this in chapters instead.

This all began with my study of tai chi Quan at my subsequent interest in its effectiveness as a martial art. Generally speaking, you saw one of two responses regarding Taijiquan's effectiveness, disregarding those people who had become lost in their own delusions to such a degree that they were out of touch.

The first response was to point out the obvious lack of martiality in most of the Taijiquan practitioners in the world. from this perspective, Taijiquan was an exercise and nothing more. It may have served as good cross training for a fighter, but in the same way that weight lifting, running, or CrossFit might serve as well.

The second response saw taijiquan as effective as a martial art "if you train it right." When getting right down to it, this often, but not always, meant training using standard MMA methods, but then integrating some principles or ideas into an otherwise classically MMA framework (at this point I feel that MMA has come to mean a more or less specific style of martial art when used in general conversation, and I continue this practice here). Thus, the Taijiquan in this case served more as a value add to an existing system of training instead of as an independently useful or effective tool.

There are some small number of fighters with real fighting credentials that have either themselves been Taijiquan fighters, usually after having spent time in some other art, such as is the case with Nick Osipczak, or who tell stories of having been bested by Taijiquan fighters in one form or another at some point in time such as Ramsey Dewey. These fighters usually do not practice Taijiquan themselves and so say simply that it can be effective, but leave it at that, or they have their own modern take on how to train.

I find this situation somewhat unsatisfactory. While places like Chen village are training real fighters using their methods, I tend to think most martial artists, as well as the general population appear to have very little information on what authentic, martially practiced Taijiquan is or was, making it very difficult to train in Taijiquan to a real level.

My interest in this series is to explore Taijiquan from an authentic and martial point of view, hopefully contrasting this against what I see as the predominant modes of practice that I have seen.

Nothing I am doing here has any claim either to originality or to uniqueness, and, indeed, that would defeat the point. Likewise, I am not suggesting a means of training or suggesting anything in this series is better than alternatives. I am certainly not claiming any authority on the matter. An authority might have the understanding to make changes to a thing without harm, but I cannot even claim the understanding to express what they are or have been with any true certainty. This is just my amateur attempt to get at what constitutes authentic Taijiquan practice as a martial art, with the emphasis on martial.

I will be going through various topics in this series bit by bit, but in this introduction I want to place some scope on the discussion. What do I mean by martial and authentic?

When I speak of martial Taijiquan I am referring to a practice that has as an explicit and primary goal the acquisition or cultivation of applied combat skill. This encompasses military, competition, and self-defense. I take as a given that such skill would be expected to be repeatable and demonstrable in all three realms, not just one. Keep in mind here that I am not arguing about how relatively effective the art may be. It is clear from historical record that Taijiquan was an art of combat in practice and not just in theory, and that it was able to favorably and effectively acquit itself over a long period of time in such a capacity. I am interested in this applied side of the art.

When speaking of authentic, I mean the methods, principles, and approach that would have represented the art historically and even today when the art was considered as a complete and total school of martial education. That is, how is and was Taijiquan practiced as a complete and practical martial art, not just as an auxiliary or supplementary type of training, and not just as a theoretical framework or a method only for health?

I am interested in this because in the modern era of Taijiquan development, almost non of the current changes that the art has undergone were to improve martial effectiveness. Almost everything new has been done with an eye towards ease of use and health. Of some of the martially justified changes, it is not clear that they were actually an improvement to the older methods. I hope to explore this in a separate chapter in more detail.

While I may explore various aspects of the various styles of Taijiquan, I intend mainly to focus here on Chen-style. Chen style has remained more explicitely and systematically martial than the others, and has a longer, stronger martial history than the others. That is not to say that good fighters do not come out of the others, but many of the others do not have as traceable and as authentic a martially focused system. For example, in some systems, the more "martially" you train, the less the practice begins to mirror the records that can be found on historical practice. This often happens because the martial methods employed are modern practices being integrated into the curriculum as it existed historically. I am interested in examining Taijiquan as an innately martial practice rather than as a practice that can be made martial by injecting martial methods from other martial arts into it. Thus, in my exploration, Chen style is the most clearly suited to this purpose. If someone else would like to make a case with evidence and such for other styles I am eager to receive them and may even put up a chapter in the series to address the martial methods of the various other styles besides Chen as well.

The next chapter in this series will address what the traditional, martial, authentic Taijiquan might have been like and how it differs from the modern curriculum and practice.