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Martial Arts: Tai Chi, Taijiquan

My Tai Chi Is Terrible

By Bruce Everett Miller

Once again I have been confronted by the comments of another Tai Chi teacher on how terrible my Yang style Tai Chi is ... and once again it has forced me to re-evaluate why it is so terrible.

I would have to be first to agree with the person making the comments, My Tai Chi is terrible. It lacks the grace, the balance and even the obvious strength of practitioners who have studied Tai Chi for many years.  Instead of grace and slow movements it is filled with short choppy movements, obvious strikes and body twists and frankly just looks mean.  It is not a thing of beauty for the person watching.

It is mean. It looks mean and it is mean.


Well before we get into that one has to consider why a person does Tai Chi. I mean really, if you are doing Tai Chi for health, then the thought of using it for violent purposes sits poorly with you.  And your movements will be done completely differently, because the intent will be completely different.

White Crane Spreads Wings -Defence Against A Grab

This technique is from the Yang Short Form, a technique found in many versions of Tai Chi forms. It demonstrates Tai Chi as a martial art. Photos from left to right:  Photo 1 - An attacker grabs you. Photo 2 - Step to side, strike groin and stomp on the attacker's foot. Photo 3- Pull on the shoulders (rotating your body, your right shoulder pressing into his upper arm), your left hand on top of the attacker's right grabbing hand securing it to your chest.  Photo 4 - As you do this lift your right arm vertically behind the attackers extended arm. Photo 5 - Pull your right arm downward, your hand catching the attacker's elbow and carving the arm downward in an action that causes the opponent to spin and loose his balance.


Photos from left to right:  Photo 6 - Stun: Your left hand (reaching across the back of his body) striking a pressure point on the side of the neck.  Photo 7 - Almost simultaneously execute a right knife foot downward, striking behind the attacker's right knee to break his structural support. Photo 8 -  The attacker's collapse is added by pulling the attacker's head down (with your left hand that just stuck his neck) while also using your right hand to lift the attacker's right arm around and upward. and lift right arm. Photo 9 - If the attacker's hasn't collapsed in front of you, you can continue this technique by just pushing the attacker away from you. And option not shown is to keep your weight (your right foot on top of his left) while you push him away. This will minimally causes an ankle wrench and thus great pain, but it is more likely to cause a dislocation, bone break or tendon tear -- perhaps all of the above.

An example of interpretation: Most Tai Chi instructors will agree that movement should come from the center line and flow from the floor through the hips and then out of the hands. But even this statement and movement can be done with dramatically different intent.

Some people will interpret this whole body movement and move as if in a ballet ... some to move so they deflect any attacking force being applied to them others will use the twisting movement to generate snapping pressure on the joints of the attacker ... others so that the movement pulls the attacker of balance ... others still will move to generate wave form force to impart into the attacker.

Which is right?

Again it completely depends on what you are trying to do. Me, I intend to leave my attacker in a pile on the ground next to me, using my own force to cause them very significant damage - enough so that they can not possibly continue the attack, regardless of their intent -- regardless of their size, strength or even pain tolerance - without even breaking a sweat.

But the only way that I know to do this is with the explosive movements that destroy the opponent's balance using reflex pressure points (I have a book on these) to bind them up, use their force against them and cause loud snapping sounds (of bones, tendons and ligaments) generated by their own body weight falling in unnatural directions.

That means that my movements are not nice flowing demonstrations of beauty, grace or strength. They are direct and to the point, without wasted flourishes for beauty. It means the movements are close to the body where I will have the advantage of leverage, where there is obvious force generation from my hips with every twisting movement. It means that every stepping movement is obviously designed to destroy the foot of the attacker (along with their balance), that body movements are designed to pull the attacker off balance and so on.

So the person who claimed my Tai Chi is terrible was right ... and as I walked away I thanked him with a smile on my face. My Tai Chi is terrible indeed, but I work hard to ensure that it is.

To fully understand Tai Chi you MUST understand pressure points, knock outs and combat intent. Tai Chi was not created to impress the public but instead to destroy the attacker. Tai Chi forms are high level kata, and to make them effective you must understand the principles. For these reasons I believe that Tai Chi is better studied by the experienced martial artist then the beginner.

The Yang style Tai Chi short form was created in the 1950's from the long form, yet it contains the essence of the combat meanings of the long because the combat techniques were kept together ....

Unfortunately many people who do not understand the combat applications make up meanings that look pretty but won't work on the street. When they are questioned on this, they pretend that Tai Chi is only for health anyway. This has destroyed the public's understanding of the effectiveness of Tai Chi as an art of combat.

The reality of Tai Chi is very different. It can be brutally effective! However if you intend to make Tai Chi pretty to watch, then it will not be effective on the street, and vise versa.

The combat reality is that you should practice exactly as you would react on the street (as when grabbed) ... no look alike type of moves ... and every move needs to work against the opponent regardless of size, strength or tolerance of pain.

You need to test every technique against a partner who is not cooperating to ensure you have the technique correct before you take it to the street. I believe that if you truly understand martial arts then you will see that this is true for every kata.

The only advantage of Yang Tai Chi forms is that there techniques take extremely little effort to execute, so they can be done at any age against any size attacker.

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About The Author:

Bruce Everett Miller, PA-C, is a 6th degree black belt in the style of Quan Li K'an and a teacher of Tai Chi which he combines with his Western medical training as a Physician's Assistant to provide his own unique perspective on the martial arts. He is a well known teacher, seminar leader and author who has produced thirteen books and four videos on various karate related subjects including free fighting, pressure points, the principles of kata, Acupuncture, and light force knockouts. For more information on his books and DVDs see e-store.  Miller is a frequent contributor to

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Tai Chi, Taijiquan, kata, Yang style Tail Chi, Tail Chi applications, pressure points, Tai Chi self defense, Chinese martial arts

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