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April 26, 2021


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Does this kind of thing actually work, in real-life fights?

I don't want to disparage what, to be frank, I don't really know about, but this brings to mind some fights I've seen where people who're given to following these highly stylized martial-arts traditions perform brilliantly against others who've trained with them or who follow their own system, but then very quickly fall flat on their face when facing some real MMA fighters or boxers.

Again, I've no personal knowledge of tai chi. You do. Can this kind of thing really hold up in a real-life fight or brawl, especially against a trained fighter? (Which last is a fair enough qualification, because after all it takes a great deal of training to learn this, so apples to apples).

@ Can this kind of thing really hold up in a real-life fight or brawl, especially against a trained fighter?

I keep remembering a scene in a Crocodile Dundee movie? where an
assailant jumps into a martial arts stance, complete with "Bruce Lee"
animal sound effects. IIRC, Dundee launches a single punch and
knocks him out cold.

Actually, I just re-read that article of yours, Brian, and it seems to me that my comment above, voicing my skepticism, was kind of at a tangent to the gist of your article itself.

Like you say, the push-hands thing isn’t a contest, not about winning or losing per se, so that it isn’t such a big deal that the Tai Chi practitioner may end up losing against an expert MMA fighter. Besides, it doesn’t have to be an either-or thing. MMA itself is entirely eclectic, and I can see how those centering techniques and movements might be useful against someone that isn’t trained, and also how they might be useful not so much in isolation but part of a wider repertoire of skills and moves.


That said, and unrelated though the question is to the main thrust of your article itself, I’d be curious, generally, to know your take on this. Basis your long and first-hand familiarity with Tai Chi, do you think what that old man was doing in that video, he’d be able to do that kind of thing with someone who isn’t into Tai Chi, and who won’t follow the Tai Chi rules and conventions of moving in certain pre-defined patterns?

Quote Dungeness:

"I keep remembering a scene in a Crocodile Dundee movie? where an
assailant jumps into a martial arts stance, complete with "Bruce Lee"
animal sound effects. IIRC, Dundee launches a single punch and
knocks him out cold."


As far as fiction, I remember seeing this movie, the name eludes me at the moment, one of those Hong Kong martial arts flicks, it’s based roughly on the man who Bruce Lee trained with when he was a kid back in Hong Kong. So there’s this sequence where this teacher, a short slight middle-aged man, frail and womanish in build, but an expert in Wing Chung, who faces up with this burly snarling boxer who is literally head and shoulders taller. Pretty cool match, that, that goes a good many rounds, and ends with the little man almost killing the much larger boxer.

But that’s fiction, of course, and the director can show whatever the heck he wants to show in a movie, and do it convincingly too if he’s technically any good and if he’s got good actors to work with, so that’s neither here nor there, obviously.

As far as reality, I’ve seen some matches where you have these very stylized martial arts types, who do their Tai Chi or whatever moves, and in matches with their own students perform brilliantly, and sometimes even apparently miraculously, using their chi or whatever to down their opponent pretty much spectacularly.

Leaving outright charlatanry out, what often happens is, these stylized fighters, they’re trained to move just so when their opponent moves in a certain way. So that even if not necessarily putting up a show deliberately, the end result sometimes turns out that way, just a show.

And what happens is, the honestly deluded amongst these stylized fighters, they end up believing this make-believe invincibility of theirs. And they sometimes end up taking up the challenge of fighting a real MMA type. And then the MMA guys goes and kicks their venerable ass royally within the first round itself, as their fawning acolytes look on aghast.

This kind of debunking might be pretty much apt, actually, in a broad sense, here at Brian’s Church. I remember this website I’d come across some years back—it was called Bullshido (neat, right?)—which had these very interesting forum discussions involving actual practitioners, some of whom recalled how they themselves had been suckered into performances of the kind I described earlier. Not deliberately play-acting, not deliberately misleading the audience, but moving in such a stylized way, rolling over just so when the sensei moves their arm just so, that kind of thing, so that the end result is very graceful, very impressive, but in effect more dancing than actually fighting, all an elaborate make-believe that wouldn’t last for a minute outside of their dojo. They hadn’t realized it back when they were into it, much like someone who’s in a cult may not be able to realize that at the time. They only realized it, and were speaking of it, much later, many years later. A trained fighter who hasn’t bought into all of this can very easily punch out someone who goes on in that vein.


Which is not to deride Tai Chi, at all. To begin with I myself lack the first-hand familiarity with Tai Chi to speak at all authoritatively about any of this. And besides, like I was saying just now to Brian, I guess these skills might be of some use against an entirely untrained brawler; and even against a trained fighter I guess they can be of use, not so much stand-alone as part of a wider repertoire made up of an eclectic set of skills and moves.

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