If It’s Not Martial, Is it Still Tai Chi?

Issue: As a martial art, each movement of Tai Chi (TC) developed around defensive and offensive functions that dictate the movement’s configuration – where the arm is held, which way does the palm face, how does the upper body interact with the lower, etc.

The players we work with in Tai Chi for Health (TCH) come to us with extensive life experience in such varied fields as art (dance), sport (handball), spirit (meditation), and work (manual labor). Does it matter that these experiences can give players a natural bent that compromises the martial functions of TC movements?

A Case Example: Chris is a very accomplished Handball player whose Brush Knee (BK) ends with a strong follow through.

A Basic Principle in TCH: Our Community focuses on the healthful functions of each movement not the martial. My respnse to the case is premised by my acceptance of other purposes of players as long as they do not compromise health functions.

  • A martial TC player’s power stems from coordinated waist rotation and weight shift. As an accomplished “full-body” player, Chris is in conformance with TCH and is a resource for a TCH class.
  • A martial TC player imagines their hand fitting in the opponent’s sternum. Chris’s BK ends with a flat hand pointed at an imaginary target. I view the contrast of 45 degrees vs. flat as not compromising TCH and openly accept it.
  • A martial TC player imagines chi circulating through the hand and back to the core. Chris imagines a ball striking the target point. I view this a compromising TCH and try to correct it.
  • A martial TC player’s central axis remains vertical with both feet rooted firmly. Chris’s axis has a forward lean. I view this as also compromising TCH and have found that it is very hard for players to be even aware of, never mind correct a lean. One step that has helped is having Chris take smaller steps.

Comments Please: The posting above merely scratches the surface of an important issue. I would love to hear from others on such topics as:

  1. A natural bent that appeared in your classes and how you dealt with it.
  2. What areas of previous experience most characterize your players.
  3. What are least compromising expressions of previous experience in TCH.
  4. What is the most compromising expression that challenged you.


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