Anybody looking for self defence training, first and foremost wants to know that what they are training in, is effective and realistic. If you're more interested in Tai Chi for health please go here.
I've got over twenty five years experience in teaching Tai Chi as a martial art, a background in the Police Service and other confrontational public sector work. Quite a few Tai Chi schools claim to teach Tai Chi as a martial art sadly the vast majority don't really have a clue.
For some they think having an understanding of some basic applications makes Tai Chi a martial art, it doesn't! Others don't even have that knowledge. I take a strictly empirical approach to martial arts and self defence. All too often you will find demonstrations of so called self defence applications supposedly derived from certain moves in the form that are simply ridiculous, more expressions of vivid imagination rather than true insight or understanding.
I apply a simple test to any so called application; can I really envisage doing this or that on the street against a really aggressive assailant? Tai Chi is probably the most misunderstood martial art being practised today. Most people think of Tai Chi as being nothing more than a slow motion health exercise. That misunderstanding is quite understandable. That is after all how it was first introduced to the west 50 or so years ago. In training Martial TaiJi the familiar hand form, while studied is not the most important aspect.
Taijiquan is indeed good for your health, but be in no doubt it is a martial art and more to the point, if trained properly, a really effective martial art. It’s effective because it is a well rounded and complete combat system. It includes hand and foot strikes, grappling and throws. TaiJi’s main feature is that it does not focus on the use of brute strength but rather the scientific use of body mechanics. All that said a weak body cannot hope to effectively use TaiJi in a real conflict.
But that is not to say that you won’t have to work hard! Because you most certainly will. This is particularly true when you progress onto training in Tai Chi Nei Gong. This is a demanding type of training that has become quite rare, it's rare in part because of its demanding nature, it forms part of what is referred to as 'Bitter Practice' in internal martial arts.
So, you might ask, how does the slow motion movement of TaiJi become a martial art? Good question. As mentioned above doing the form is NOT enough, despite claims made by some wishful thinking TaiJi instructors. The study of forms does have a contribution to make, form training has a number of objectives; relaxation, an understanding of efficient body mechanics and training of the physical principles that underpin effective fighting technique.
All of the above overlap each other, for example because the most mechanically efficient postures require the least amount of muscular effort to carry them out they are also the most relaxed postures. So relaxation = efficient which in turn = strength and power. So we use use the form to train the underlying body shape for each technique thus we achieve the most mechanically efficient posture possible .
But as mentioned above form training is not nearly enough. Because self defence involves an opponent we must train with partners and learn to apply what the form teaches us in a wide range of scenarios. We also need to develop a strong and resilient body able to utilise functional strength. This is where Nei Gong and Zhan Zhuang (mentioned in the XingYi section) play crucial roles.
Partner training can range from pre arranged drilling and free style drills these are usually referred to as pushing hands, to free fighting.