Practical Arts

Why Tai Chi is perhaps more useful as a martial art than you may think.

Welcome to The Water Method; thoughts and theories on Tai Chi in the modern world. In today’s post, I’ll be talking about why Tai Chi is perhaps more useful as a martial art than you may initially think.

When we ask the question which martial art is the best, as we often hear in mixed martial arts matches, or read in online forums, or even in the training hall, we often assume that best means the toughest. The one that’s the most efficient at tackling unexpected attacks from a potentially unknown number of assailants, possibly with weapons. After all, martial arts are about fighting, so it should stand to reason that these arts should enable the student to fight their way out of any sticky situations that they come across, shouldn’t they?

But hold on a minute – what if that’s not the purpose of all of these different fighting styles? Are you always carrying your sword, your six foot staff, or your limited edition Game Of Death replica nunchucks around with you? If, like most people on the planet, you don’t, then maybe we need to go back a step and re-evaluate what we mean by “the best”.

There is always a constant jockeying for being known as the most practical, efficient style in these competitions.

If you’re an avid viewer of the UFC, Bellator or any other mixed martial arts program, you’ll know that there is always a constant jockeying for being known as the most practical, efficient style in these competitions. Through the past twenty years or so, we’ve seen wrestling, Judo, Muay Thai and Brazilian Jujitsu be praised for their approaches to winning one on one matches in a relatively safe, controlled environment. All grappling formats like wrestling and Jujitsu focus on getting in close to an opponent and locking them up with grips, holds and chokes, completely restraining the other person. However, this is all under the assumption that the practitioner has their undivided attention on one individual; a typical self defence course instructor would never advise getting tied up with someone, or going to ground to apply a lock, when there’s the chance that you could be attacked by a second party.

Likewise, stand up shoot fighters – whether they be Karate, Muay Thai, kickboxing students, or anyone else – will train with the express purpose of striking the body and head, with a lesser focus of working the opponent’s legs to slow them down. But the chest and head are supported by some of the strongest bones in our bodies, and are inherently designed to withstand blunt force trauma, like an incoming fist. Due to the obvious danger in going for the eyes, the throat or (heaven forbid) the groin, these areas are understandably designated as off limits during sparring practice and in technique drills.

So, we can’t risk going to ground for a choke hold or getting wrapped up around our attacker, and we might find ourselves conditioned to not striking in the most dangerous areas. But before you bin your heavy cotton Gi and sell your sparring gloves, maybe we’re looking at this all wrong; instead, let’s ask ourselves another question to help us get to the bottom of what we mean by “the best”.

What percentage of your life do you spend fighting? And I don’t mean sparring, or arguing with work colleagues in the office. I mean fighting – fending off would be muggers, or defending someone from an assault. The chances are, most of us would say less than one percent. Not even half a percent, I’m confident to say. Now, that won’t be true for everybody, but for the general population I would say that learning vicious street fighting techniques are probably not at the top of their to do list.

So, if you go to a martial arts class with the express intention of improving your day to day life, then it stands to reason that studying deadly techniques is most likely not your main priority. We’ve all seen adverts for classes, and they never sell themselves as being the most violent, the most intimidating or the most deadly. They’re often stating that students will become healthier and more confident. People improve their balance, their co-ordination and reduce stress, along with other benefits such as becoming part of a community and broadening their horizons. In fact, most of the things that students want are tangible improvements in their own lives, so the actual punching and kicking can be more of an aside than a requirement.

And if we’re looking for an exercise class with a strong sense of community, that also offers a workout with self defence elements and a martial mindset, where do we turn to? Where are we going to be able to improve our posture, our balance and our mental clarity, which we will appreciate on a daily basis? There’s an argument to be made that this is where Tai Chi steps in.

The best martial art could be the one that helps you through the working day.

If you want “the best” martial art, then are you a professional fighter? If so, I can completely understand that Muay Thai, Brazilian Jujitsu or a mix of different styles would be your first thought. If you’re genuinely concerned about being attacked on the street or in the pub, then I agree that something like the Keysi Fighting Method or the Russian Systema approach makes sense. But if you’re like the rest of us, just living day to day in a relatively aggression free place, then the best martial art could be the one that helps you through the working day. Remove the stress, improve your body, clear your mind – all of these can be done without throwing jumping spinning head kicks or by endlessly striking wooden practice dummies until your fists bleed.

Tai Chi might not be the loudest, it might not claim to be the most vicious, and it certainly isn’t the fastest art out there, but think about what you want from a style. Maybe, it just might be the best.

That brings us to the end of the post; I hope you’ve enjoyed The Water Method and will join me next time for another discussion about the martial arts in the modern world. So until then, be like water.

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