Tai Chi can't fight.
The recent fight between a one-year MMA fighter and a Taiji teacher from Shanghai yet again demonstrates how weak Taiji has become and I am tired of it.
Taiji is not a magic pill that makes you suddenly able to fight, what you train is what you become and if you never train to pick up your hands against an opponent, not a compliant partner, you are not going to be able to use your art effectively. There are certainly many benefits to Taiji training without any fighting aspect involved, the health and longevity, sensitivity, and chance for self-work are all amazing parts of the art but realistically these things do not make a fighter. Nothing wrong with that, but deluding students and ourselves into thinking that it does make a fighter is a terrible crime. It breeds false confidence and unrealistic expectations and skews people’s visions of reality. Then, when challenged these dreamers find themselves being taken apart by beginners in arts that actually train fighting.
If you want to say you train a martial art, you must remain balanced in training and look at the whole of what you or your students are actually training. Balance the health side with the martial on a larger scale and include non-compliant exercises and combative work. From my own perspective I teach every student, no matter what the style, entry methods to take advantage by attacking first, non-compliant push hands to steal balance, and when they have the control to do it, sparring. I cannot say how many times I have met Chinese martial artists who have great forms and perfect shapes but spar like they are kickboxers, abandoning their art for “what works” rather than having the commitment to look into their art and see what it is built to do. Sure, fighting does not look like forms, but the skills in the art you study should be the skills you are using in combat. If your art uses fast grounded footwork, then why are you bouncing like a boxer? If you train an art that uses mid to close range grappling as its focus why are you standing at long range and throwing kicks? If you cannot invest in loss through sparring enough to work on the skills your art offers until you start to understand them why are you fighting as a representative of that art at all? If you train Taiji but fight as a kickboxer then at least say you’re a kickboxer.
Can Taiji fight? Yea, I have seen it, felt it, and used it in the past. But that is a direct result of the training style I was put through mainly by Master Ma. Training with him was simple, hard, brutal workouts and lots of sparring. He once told me his method was one class of new material and practice to five classes of fighting practice. So, the only way to get the information out of him was to be there all the time getting taken apart and being given advice on your methods while you were losing. There is no reason any art cannot have this kind of focus if the student wants to go into the combative side of things. Sure, you need the right student(s) to train like this but that’s the trade-off. Commercial success is more important to running a school than putting out actually skilled people for most teachers. Choices and comprises are always made in the name of business. That’s why I have given up having a brick and mortar school, it frees me from that side of things.
Just be honest with yourself and your students. Your magical qi gongs are not going to take the place of touching opponents, they can help, but they are no substitute.