Exploring the Myth of T’ai Chi: T’ai Chi isn’t Useful for Self Defense

Karate, Kung Fu, Ju Jitsu, Krav Maga, Boxing, MMA… all of these arts are known for their excellent self defense techniques. T’ai Chi, on the other hand, just doesn’t have the same reputation. To the average observer, it’s just too slow, too gentle, and not nearly aggressive enough to be a viable method of combat.

On top of that, many modern instructors only teach T’ai Chi for health benefits, leaving very few examples of combat applications available to the public. It’s no wonder that among non-practicioners, there’s a sense that T’ai Chi isn’t very good for self defense.

To many out there, T’ai Chi combat might look something like this…

So, how can we begin to dispel this myth? What practical application can T’ai Chi bring to martial training?

In order to explore this myth, we have to consider the ways T’ai Chi takes a unique view on self defense training.

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Exploring the Myth of T’ai Chi: T’ai Chi People are Like Zen Masters or Something

One piece of folklore that most T’ai Chi practitioners relish is the notion of the wise, zen-like Master, who is always in command of his or her emotions. A Master who always lives in the present and has deep philosophical insight into the problems that afflict everyday people. This Master wanders through life like the fictional monk, Kwai Chang Caine, played by David Carradine in the 70’s  TV show, Kung Fu.

Caine is the mythical ‘Zen-Master’ uses martial arts skills to fight off the  bad guys and help others, while maintaining a calm, serene presence at all times.

If you practice T’ai Chi long enough, the myth goes, You too will achieve this kind of enlightened temperament. T’ai Chi practice will make you calm in the most stressful situations. You’ll be able to serenely defeat the bad guys without ever losing your cool or letting your emotions get the best of you.

As much as we all wish this myth was true, unfortunately, it’s not. T’ai Chi people also get upset about silly things, we have arguments, and we feel stress just like everyone else. T’ai Chi practice doesn’t give us any super powers and it doesn’t make us immune to emotional problems or frustrations.

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Exploring the Myth of T’ai Chi: T’ai Chi is Just Like Yoga

We’ve been looking at some of the myths and realities behind the practice of Tai Chi. These aren’t myths about fantastic abilities or feats of power that you sometimes read about in old legends. Instead, we’re exploring the everyday myths that are generally accepted without much thought.

It’s easy to dismiss wild claims of a T’ai Chi masters who seems to have psychic abilities or can use their Chi-Power to perform outrageous stunts. What’s difficult to confront is the common beliefs that are brought about from books, movies, magazines, and the everyday media. These are the notions that need to be challenged in order to gain greater understanding and appreciation of our art.

One myth that can be really amusing to any serious practitioner is the belief that ‘T’ai Chi is just like Yoga.’ While it’s painfully obvious to anyone who trains in either art, that these two practices are uniquely different, it’s worth exploring this myth in order to understand why outsiders might be confused and to gain some insight into our own practice.

When I tell most people that I practice T’ai Chi, I usually just get a blank stare. But, sometimes they’ll say, “T’ai Chi? Isn’t that just like Yoga?”

In popular culture, these two arts are often confused, mostly because they both practice mindfulness. Although their approach to meditation can be quite different, they share some similarities that causes them to be lumped together by those who don’t understand the difference.

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Exploring the Myth of T’ai Chi: T’ai Chi is Only for the Elderly or those in Ill Health

There’s always a little bit of truth behind every myth, but you rarely get the full story. Sometimes the myth is born out of the exaggerated retelling of a story or a memory. Sometimes they come from misunderstood stereotypes, started by people who never really had a grasp of the subject in the first place.

The art of T’ai Chi is filthy with these kinds of myth. Some are the result of grandiose imaginations, others are worn out cliches spread through the media and pop culture. For those of us that really want to understand this art, we have to look past those legends in order to explore the truth of T’ai Chi.

A few of these myths have been passed around for so long and been so pervasive in our culture that even regular T’ai Chi practitioners might fail to question their authority. We owe it to ourselves to understand and challenge these myths, so that our own training isn’t tainted by the opinion of others, who might not really get what it means to do T’ai Chi.

We’re going to start a series of posts that uncover and explore these myths. To find out how they started and to challenge them in order to improve our own understanding of the art.

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Thich Nhat Hanh & T’ai Chi: The Mindful Dichotomy

Inspirational quotes are a great source to help us stay motivated to practice. The best quotes are the ones that act as gentle reminders for the principles of breathing, movement, and keeping a mindful attitude while training.

On the subject of T’ai Chi, one author who really seems to speak to me is Thich Nhat Hanh, a Buddhist monk and Peace Activist who has written extensively about the philosophy, practice, and art of Mindful Meditation. It’s a bit odd that I choose Thich Nhat Hanh for T’ai Chi inspiration because his personal philosophy admonishes any kind of violence, either in thought or action. It’s doubtful that he would advocate the practice of a martial art in relation to any of his teachings.

Thich Nhat Hanh was born in Central Vietnam in 1926. As a young Buddhist Monk, he was confronted by the war that engulfed his country during the l960’s. He opposed the war and traveled the throughout the world, calling for peace and exchanging ideas with writers, scholars, and the activists of the time.

He met with the Civil Rights Leader, Dr. Martin Luther King and discussed the ways non-violent action could be used to change political thought and oppose injustice in the world.

He eventually led the Buddhist delegation at the Paris Peace talks in 1969 in the hopes of ending the hostilities in his Homeland.

After the war, Thich Nhat Hanh continued to travel and teach, opening monasteries and meditation communities so that he could spread his message of peace. He has written well over 100 books and articles on meditation, mindfulness, and Buddhist practices. He continues to be a voice for political and environmental injustice, as well as a Spiritual Leader in the Mindfulness Movement.

While age and an unfortunate stroke in 2014 prevent him from traveling and speaking, Thich Nhat Hanh continues to practice mindful meditation at his Plum Village communityy in France.

It’s difficult to reconcile the non-violence philosophy of Thich Nhat Hanh with the martial aspects of T’ai Chi; However, both adhere to a mindful approach and a reflective awareness that is difficult to ignore.

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T’ai Chi for Couch Potatos: Getting the T’ai Chi Experience in Front of a Television Screen

Ah, the perfect escape, when you feel relaxed and worry free. Everything is so soft and soothing as you gently forget your problems of the day and just settle into a carefree state of mind. You can simply accept everything that forms on the blank canvas before you and rest.

Another example of the T’ai Chi experience? Well, not really.

In this case, I’m describing what it feels like to watch Bob Ross painting his creations during his television shows The Joy of Painting and Beauty is Everywhere.

The long running Joy of Painting which was shown on PBS from 1983 to 1994 is now available on Youtube.com, while his second series, Beauty is Everywhere filmed in 1991 is now available at Netflix.com. (Bob Ross and Chill???)

 

Ross is a fantastic painter who demonstrated his art weekly for his loyal audience. He was known for his wildly permed hair and Bohemian fashions, but mostly for his upbeat, calm demeanor as he swiftly painted the beautiful landscapes featured on his show. He would shift colors around the canvas, mixing shapes and textures as he happily gave tips and hints to those interested in his craft.

Most people who watched him would never pick up a brush, but instead would watch all the same to experience the joy of this artist at work. He was also known for his light hearted and witty comments  that seemed to come almost from his stream of conscious as he worked.

We don’t make mistakes, we make happy accidents,” he’s known to explain. And another fun little quip while painting, “He’s a crooked little tree, we’ll send him to Washington!

Bob Ross’s approach to painting could have easily come from a talented T’ai Chi instructor. He brought his impressions through the TV screen and into our homes, even into our hearts. Television, unfortunately, rarely has such a positive effect on our spirits, though we’re rarely aware of the influence it can have on us.

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