Sinclair Martial Arts

Healing Exercise and Martial Arts
• Tai chi • Qigong • Kungfu • Practical Self defence

Tai chi is a martial art. But most tai chi students don't practise one.

There are so many benefits to practising a martial art that many schools are able to profit without actually providing the "martial" component. This is true regardless of the style or school, and has resulted in a lot of students being deluded into thinking that their path to mastery is inexorable. While a martial art school can set you on the path to mastery, it is you who are the vehicle, the driver, and the navigator. The path can lead you. But it will not take you there if you won't move.

The fact is that most students are not interested in going all the way, and there is no need for me to tell them that they should complete the journey. I am happy to give them whatever benefits they want to take away with them. If they follow this path for a while and then diverge, I am glad to help them on their way. But I want to give them all the tools necessary to take them as far along the road as they want to go, because I believe that the world becomes a better place when true martial artists are allowed to follow their personal journeys toward enlightenment.

While most of my students come to learn tai chi for the physical and mental health benefits, a significant number come to add tai chi skills to their martial art. Some of my students are jiujitsu or mma teachers or competitors, some are with military and law enforcement. But whether they come to improve their health or combat skills, the art is the same.

The most recognized benefit of tai chi is health of mind and body. This is in spite of the art's history as a martial art. Those who do not wish to practise tai chi as a martial art, can continue to progress indefinitely without participating in the more "martial" aspects of the curriculum. There is some overlap, however. Tai chi "for health" students may learn about the martial applications, or combat principles of the art without ever practising them enough to be able to apply them. Sometimes these students think that knowing a little about a martial art means that they are martial artists.

This is the same with many martial arts. The exercises and drills which are taught in most martial arts classes will not, on their own, guarantee progress to martial mastery. There are several important elements that are omitted from regular classes because most students are not actual martial artists, meaning that they are not mentally or physically prepared to do the training that is necessary. You can't efficiently teach advanced skills to those who don't have the proper foundation, just as you can't teach students with whom you don't share a common language.

But tai chi is still practised as a martial art to those who wish to go there. It even has several sport components.

Bridging the gap between "Tai chi for health" and "Tai chi for Martial arts"

One important element of tai chi is refining the ability to maintain mental and physical balance in the face of external conflict. At one stage, this involves an exercise called tuishou (Pushing hands). In practice, tuishou is a cooperative exercise intended to develop skills that can be applied in meditation or in combat. In sport, the goal is to uproot your opponent. Points are given to the competitor who remains balanced while their opponent stumbles or falls.

Tuishou can be a bridge for those who want to develop some advanced tai chi skills without fully embracing the rigours of martial training. It can also give advanced martial artists of other styles a skill set that may be lacking in their normal training.

There are three main types of tuishou matches. Each type has a variety of different rules and formats, depending on who is organizing the event:

  • Fixed step tuishou requires to competitors to keep one or both feet still.
  • Restricted step tuishou allows forward and backward movement of the feet but does not allow sideways stepping, or reversing of a stance. The foot that is in front must remain ahead of the other.
  • Moving step tuishou allows competitors to step anywhere within the arena (often a square or circle similar to a boxing, sumo, or wrestling ring.) Points may be give to the competitor who ejects the opponent from he ring or downs them by push or throw.

Some types of tuishou competitions are very subtle affairs. Others are hard to distinguish from mma, or judo, or wrestling. This video demonstrates a tuishou competition with a rule format that is somewhere in the middle.

Here is a demonstration of basic taichi training methods and applications.

Be like water, unless

Text quotes Bruce Lee as saying

"Be like water, my friend." - Bruce Lee
"Be like water…unless the enemy is like a grease fire. Then, be like baking soda." - Ian Sinclair

You cannot master a style.

The Master's Journey

a photograph of Master Shouyu Liang meditating. He sits in a half lotus position, illuminated by sunlight, framed by natural shadow.
Masters do not become great by practising a style, or by purchasing knowledge, or by self-promotion.
Instead, they practise an art, develop a pedagogy, and transcend their egos.

Many modern schools market "a style" to students who want paint-by-numbers instruction, simplistic knowledge, and self-validation.

The best teachers I know are those who seek to liberate their students from the restrictions of style, from the limits of knowledge, and from delusions of self.

- Ian Sinclair

Fishing for a righteous cause.

- by Ian Sinclair

Legend tells us how Jiang, the Fisherman, became a hero of Ancient China.

The last king of the Shang Dynasty, King Di Xin, was an arrogant, decadent, narcissistic psychopath who did not listen to advisors, and who turned the people against each other.

So, the wise old Jiang Ziya resigned from the Shang court in protest. He went into exile in the land of Zhou, where he spent much of his time fishing. Some of the people who knew him thought it was a shame that such a wise and talented man would fritter away his time in such a trivial pursuit. But they realized he could not seek a position in a rival kingdom due to his employment history. He might be suspected as a spy or punished for the actions of the Shang court. Other people thought that it was just as well that Jiang should retire, since he was over 70-years-old, and too old for the rigours of office.

One day, the wise and benevolent King Wen of Zhou, was travelling along the river and noticed a distinctively peaceful old man sitting with a fishing rod in his hands. It was the old man's aspect that caught King Wen's attention. For neither in real life nor even in a painting had the king seen anything that exuded the mysterious calm of this lone fisherman. The king approached the old man as if drawn irresistibly by a force of nature. After a long and peaceful silence, the king addressed the fisherman, exchanging the usual pleasantries.

The king then asked the old man how the fishing was going.

"The fishing is going particularly well today," answered Jiang.

"What sort of bait are you using?" asked King Wen.

Jiang reeled in his line so Wen could see. To the king's surprise, there was no bait, and the hook was both straightened and un-barbed.

"How can you say that the fishing is going well when your tackle is clearly incapable of catching a fish?" asked the king.

"Well, I did catch your attention, Your Majesty."

So it was that Jiang Ziya found a worthy employer, who was in the habit of searching for wise and talented people.

More than a decade later, while well into his 80's, Jiang Ziya oversaw the defeat of King Di Xin, bringing about the ignoble end of the Shang Dynasty, and the rise of the great Zhou Dynasty.

Dai Jin-Dropping a Fishing Line on the Bank of the Wei River
Dai Jin Dropping a Fishing Line on the Bank of the Wei River

#metoo is Not a Threat to Men. But it is a lesson for martial artists.

It is one of the greatest challenges for martial artists. Can we discern the difference between the real threats and the imagined dangers? Are we still being deluded by our own internal conflict? Can we tell the difference between emotional defensiveness and practical engagement?

Because when we try to assert power by claiming victimhood, then we abuse ourselves as well as others. We create more conflict when we let our emotions obscure the truth. We must learn to free ourselves from our own fear and selfishness and to avoid the negative consequences of that pesky flinch response.

As men, we may feel threatened by 
#metoo. But we are not - not really. The movement is good for all of us if it enables honest communication, self reflection, compassion, and better behaviour all around. If it helps us to be more aware, and more kind and more respectful, then that is a good thing. If it helps actual victims to feel less guilt, and enables their abusers to recognize their responsibility, that is a good thing.

Of course, there are 6 sides to every story, and 64 degrees of nuance. But it starts with letting go of fear, and opening ourselves to the possibility that for a martial artist, one of the best things we can do to defend ourselves is to become more compassionate.

Tai chi Tuishou evolution

Training for combat does requires us to be non-combative. Training for competition is often about being non-competitive. Realism has its place. But we can't train the elements if we are stressed or under fire.

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