People are often surprised to learn that tai chi is a functional martial art. Sometimes I am asked, “Does tai chi work in a real fight?”
Techniques do not work when method fails. Method does not work when power fails. Power does not work when nature is corrupted.
When we learn a martial art for self defence, it is important to understand that it is not about what you do, or how you do it. It is about how you ARE, and about the types of mental, physical, and emotional balance you cultivate in your daily life.….
Luck also has something to do with it.
Let me be clear that this is not mere idealism. This is a practical principle.
It is an interesting fact that most martial art schools teach students more about losing than about winning. This demonstrates the state of mind in which most of us are trapped. We tend to see our security and power as something that is at odds with the nature of the Universe. We therefore focus on the dangerousness and strength of our so-called opponent, rather than seeing the harmonious nature that is equally inherent in the Universe.
Again…I am speaking practically here.
If you are driving a car and are always looking at the ditch, trees, or other cars, then you will likely hit one of them. If, on the other hand, you focus on the safest position for your vehicle, then your timing, awareness, distance, and velocity, will optimize, greatly increasing your chances of arriving safely at your destination. Drivers learn that if you start to lose control on slippery road, you should normally look in the direction that you want to go, not at the trees you don’t want to hit.
Likewise, if you focus on the fierceness and aggression of an “attacker,” you will find it impossible to overcome them. Instead, you should seek the safest and most stable state for yourself, optimizing your physical structure and mental state. This will allow you to flow effortlessly in power and balance, while the attacker is defeated by the nature of their attack.
One of the first times a student of mine demonstrated this principle in class, both of my feet left the floor and I stumbled to regain my balance. This petite woman and I shared a laugh which drew the attention of the other students. She explained the experience by saying, “I was just looking for the part of your mind that wanted to get pushed over.”
When a student learns martial techniques, they are told, “if the attacker does this, you do that.” But there are too many variables for such technique to be reliable.
So, we teach a method of engaging the opponent which can be used to make all techniques more effective. But the method must be able to work in all situations.
So, we refine our vehicle (mind/body/spirit) so that it embodies the principles that make the method work, and we empower that which we wish to defend.
Now, this is where it gets rather deep. So, we usually don’t talk about the next part outside of class. In fact, I never really bring it up until the student start to describe the experience themselves.
I recently watched a video by author and wilderness guide Nikki van Schyndel, where she describes the experience of guiding people “to feel the wonder of bears.” In this video, called “How to Create Miracles“, she describes what it is like to take 7 guys from the city into a grizzly bear forest and return them to their boat with limbs attached?
She says, “Well it’s all about faith, and the magic of nature…and keeping my energy brighter than any fearful thoughts my friends may suddenly have….
“…Miracle-making isn’t just for saints and angels. We are full of the power, too. But don’t expect to be shaking paws with grizzly bears simply because you’re thinking positively and focusing and visualizing your desires with all the gratitude you can muster; because it’s more than that.
“Co-creating miracles lies in your ability to connect with that all-encompassing field of vibrating energy that’s responsible for all creation. When I acknowledge this power greater than myself, merge with it, ignore my ego’s need to understand or to be right, to point out all the dangers and reasons for failure, and live in a state of having rather than wanting, I’ve seen unimaginable miracles happen. “
She is describing a state of being that is referred to by many of the great martial arts masters of the past. Yet it is too often ignored or glossed over in modern martial arts schools, perhaps because students just don’t practise enough.
I will add that Ms. van Schyndel has lived a stone-age lifestyle in the B.C. rainforest, is an accomplished athlete in several sports, is an accomplished martial artist, and has killed at least one bear with a spear. So, when people suggest that this sort of talk is in any way flaky, I tend to write them off as ignorant fools.
So, does tai chi work in a real fight? Not in the way that most people think. However, through the practice of tai chi, or any martial art, we discover that victory is achievable, not as a through any combination of techniques that we know, but as a result of what we become.