This is a follow-up to my previous post, "Internal martial arts have a lot to teach us."
I probably should have been more explicit about what I meant by a lot to teach us. What I meant to focus on, with semi-success, was the general applicability of internal versus external approaches.
Let me attempt a fuller explanation now.
A few commenters observed that when it comes to fighting ability, an Ultimate Fighting dude (or dudette) almost certainly would kick the ass of a Tai Chi practitioner, even one skilled in the martial side of Tai Chi.
I agree. But this gets at the difference between an art and whatever the opposite of art is, which is sort of hard to to come up with a word for.
Regardless, my 30 years of experience with several martial art styles leads me to confidently say that one goal of every martial art is to improve the character of the practitioner.
That's an internal goal, by and large, though it should manifest in outward behavior also.
By contrast, I'm not aware that Ultimate Fighting practitioners put a lot of emphasis on their craft as an art. They're concerned with what works to win a fight. So it doesn't make a lot of sense to compare a martial art with a martial non-art.
Every martial arts instructor I've had emphasized that the #1 intent of the art is to not get into a fight. Fighting is a last resort, whereas for Ultimate Fighting people, it is the main thing.
That said, I'm also a firm believer that physical action is the touchstone of any form of spirituality or art.
If all we're engaged in is a purely internal exercise of supposed transformation, there's no way to tell whether we're really changing for the better. Someone could meditate in a dark room for several hours a day and come to believe that they've become enlightened.
But if there's no evidence of that transformation in their behavior, if enlightenment isn't something that others can distinguish from non-enlightenment, then someone can conjure up a fantasy that they're more spiritually advanced than they really are.
This is one purpose of the Tai Chi push hands exercise I spoke about in the previous post.
A Tai Chi practitioner may believe that they're able to stay rooted to the earth; defeat attempts to uproot them by flexibly rotating their core; use a small amount of force to deflect the movements of someone much more powerful; and so on.
The only way they can know if their belief is justified is to put their Tai Chi to a test with another practitioner. And the more skilled the other person is, the better is the test (and the more humbling).
Understand: in no way am I saying that Tai Chi students must do push hands or martial applications.
It's perfectly fine to look upon Tai Chi as a relaxing form of exercise, in somewhat the same way my wife and I took ballroom dancing lessons for quite a few years without having the slightest interest in dance competitions -- aside from watching them on TV.
Shifting gears, I do want to defend Tai Chi as a martial art, though.
Until Covid changed things, I'd go to two regular Tai Chi classes a week and also a class made up of Tai Chi students with marital arts backgrounds who wanted to learn the fighting side of Tai Chi.
One of these guys was Jeremy. He's a big guy who moonlights as a bouncer at bars and a security guard at events. Muscular. Maybe 230 pounds. About six feet. In short, an imposing figure. When we'd be paired up to practice some move, I'd wonder if I could make it work on Jeremy.
Usually, if not always, I could -- once I used Tai Chi principles correctly. A key principle is that using your whole body will overcome even a strong person's stability, including their arms.
Meaning, my 180 pound body, used effectively, could lead me to move Jeremy around via forms of leverage. This is why jujitsu is so effective. A small person can apply a wrist lock or arm bar on a much bigger person and cause them to "tap out" quickly.
Here's three You Tube videos that offer up a variety of examples of how Tai Chi can be a practical means of self-defense.
The second one is kind of lengthy, but you can skip the solitary demonstration of the Tai Chi move and head right to the two-person demonstration of the martial application.