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.