Tai Chi - the Most Misunderstood Martial Art

By: Ken Gullette

When the small tai chi master from China threw me to my basement floor, I realized the real power behind this misunderstood martial art. I laughed at how easily he threw me down. He laughed, too.

I stood up and we touched wrists again. I stepped at him and again found myself on the floor, looking at my carpet in a whole new way.

I was on the receiving end of a tai chi master's skill and power.

Grandmaster Chen Xiaoxing (pronounced "shou-shing") is a direct descendant of the man who created tai chi. He visited my home for a week and I spent quality time finding out first-hand why so many people misunderstand this powerful martial art.

Around the world, tai chi is used as a slow-motion exercise for health and meditation, but that's not why it was created. Many martial artists call tai chi a "soft" art, but that's because real tai chi is rare in the United States. Every movement in tai chi is a self-defense technique.

The art was created in the 15th Century by Chen Wangting, a retired warrior in Henan Province, China. His family still practices it as a martial art. They say you have to "eat bitter" to develop tai chi skill. Real tai chi training, especially with the Chen family, involves pain.

The idea of tai chi is to break your attacker quickly and end the fight. Tai Chi is practiced in slow motion so students can develop the body mechanics and structure to deliver the self-defense techniques powerfully. To the average observer, tai chi appears relaxed and fluid. Underneath, the body structure gives it an iron-like strength.

I studied tai chi for a decade before being introduced to the real art, and I was stunned at its power. In the years since I began studying the Chen style, as my skill has increased, I've met many tai chi students who have been in the art for over 20 years but they don't know the proper way to move. Most teachers don't understand the "secrets" of the art. As a result, students don't learn real tai chi.

The real secret of tai chi and the "internal" arts of China is simple: these are physical skills that take years to develop. Too many teachers focus on developing "chi," a mysterious energy they claim is circulating through the body. Their students focus on chi and miss the body mechanics that can make them powerful.

This lesson was driven home to me in my basement as Grandmaster Chen kept throwing me to the floor while he remained relaxed. I began to realize what he was doing, and the subtle way he was making me lose just enough of my balance that I could be easily thrown. It was a valuable lesson. After he left my home, I was more determined than ever to keep practicing so I could develop higher-level skill in this very hard "soft" art.

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