Oh look there’s a new video…

A new video has been making the rounds featuring an MMA fighter beating the crap out of a Tai Chi practitioner. I will not make any excuses, I will not resort to silly arguments like the Tai Chi guy held back, in fact, he lost spectacularly. What I will do is offer some observational analysis. First and foremost, styles do not fight, people do. It is up to the person to apply the principles of their system effectively, and clearly not everyone does this. It is all too common to see “traditional” martial artists being decimated by MMA fighters, and as a result, we tend to lump these examples into categories that seem to define traditional martial arts as outdated and useless. So lets examine this notion.
How does something become a tradition? It must contribute something effectively. When discussing this idea in terms of martial arts, a fighting system had to be effective, during some of the bloodiest periods of human history. Consider the fact that grappling goes back to the 7th century BC in Greece with Pankration and 1,000 BC in China during the Zhao Dynasty where we see examples of Shuai Jiao. China is the oldest, continuous civilization in the world with thousands of years of record keeping and oral traditions, from a culture that has given the world many of its most impressive inventions. To assume these fighting systems did not test themselves against grappling and striking arts seems highly illogical. So why, in this modern age, do they seem so ineffective? It is not the tradition, it is the dogma. It is the allegiance to style, and lineage, or nationality. I have been studying martial arts for over three decades and I have seen the flavor of the month rise and fall like the tides. I am not a champion, I am not in any hall of fame. I am a student; one who studies. In fact, my greatest contribution is that none of this ever came easy to me, I was never the best in the class, the most impressive; the one in the spotlight. So I had to learn why it worked for some but not me. And over the years I have had the opportunity to work with people of many different styles. I have seen boxers get inside and dominate against taekwondo, but lose to wrestlers, I have seen wing chun neutralize boxers but get kicked in the head by a lightning fast TKD roundhouse kick, and I have seen grapplers rocked by a solid right cross as they attempted to shoot in. Most importantly, I saw the need to try and solve the problem within the principles of each system.
I am going to say something very unpopular, but undeniably accurate. Most people who study martial arts will never be very good. It is a combination of the student (lack of effort, lack of study, lack of physical ability, or lack of intelligence.), it could be the instructor, who may be an excellent practitioner but not a good communicator, not good at analysis, or diagnosis, or it may be the system getting too bogged down in dogma, point fighting or self promotion. Regardless, it is the responsibility of the student to oversee their own progress and to do so in a realistic manner. You need to recognize that you do not live in a bubble, where you only work with those doing the same thing. Make connections with people of other styles that are genuinely willing to exchange ideas and not just trying to inflate their own ego. As my master has written, “invest in loss, thank your opponent for showing you a weakness, then correct it”.
Now I would like to specifically address the use of Tai Chi in the video. What are the principles of Tai Chi? To use correct positioning of the body to divert energy and off balance your opponent. To this end we practice “push hands” to increase our awareness and sensitivity. In order to do this you need to make contact with your opponent, and adhere softly. In the video in question, did the Tai Chi practitioner engage in contact? Adhere to his opponent? Maintain correct posture so he could flow better? No, none of these criteria were met. In other words, it was like a boxer not punching, a taekwondo fighter not kicking, or a Brazilian Juijitsu fighter not grappling. Tai Chi is supposed to be the use of small circular movement to generate torque to diffuse and neutralize energy. In short, it is the study of physics within the context of the human body. The principles are sound, but only if one utilizes them.
One last note, yes, Qi, Chi, or Ki is a real thing. It is bio-electrical energy, that when flowing balances the well being. It is the vibe you get from certain people, the feeling that you are being watched across a room before you notice the old friend who has seen you after many years. It is what we experience daily, yet dismiss as coincidence. What it is not, is a force field, a magical, telekinetic power that turns you into Yoda. Martial arts is the scientific study of the body, not magic. Use the Force at Star Wars parties, but not against knuckles.