Here’s an interesting quote I read recently:
“Chinese Martial Arts people are looking for 100% perfection, but staying in elementary school all along.” – John Wang
You might expect me to defend Tai Chi Chuan against such a stinging attack, but I actually think the author has a point, and something needs to be done about it.
In Tai Chi Chuan we have the form, which is typically learnt first, then you move onto push hands, possibly a year after starting your training. At this point your form is by no means “finished” – you’ve just started refining it really. Some styles have neikung exercises to learn and then there’s weapons forms, and possibly more hand forms. It’s a big old chunk of learning just getting to the end of the forms in most styles, and remember, if you want to do things traditionally and learn the proper long form, it can take up to half an hour to perform it once!
To reach any kind of standard in Tai Chi Chuan you really need to practice the form every day. It’s a bit like swimming upstream. If you stop paddling the current just takes you back downstream. It requires an awful lot of time to progress, especially when compared to other martial arts. Worse, you risk never actually moving on to learning how to apply your martial arts because you’ve got so much to do just maintaining a standard in all your forms! It’s very easy to slip into the habit of staying in ‘elmentary school’ all your life.
Compare this to somebody learning MMA, Judo or Jiu Jitsu. There are very few (if any) forms, you start with techniques on a partner straight away from day one.
I think the point is to be honest about what you’re training, the level of intensity you’re working at and have a realistic view of what you’re hoping to achieve from it all. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that because you can unbalance people in push hands you can ‘fight’. if you want to be able to hold your own in those sorts of environments then you need to be training in a way that most Tai Chi purists would dismiss as ‘low level’ or ‘external’.