How can T’ai Chi Chuan be used for Self Defence?

Tai Chi for self defense
The art of T’ai Chi Chuan has gained a reputation world wide, as a system of meditation, healing and promoting longevity. However, the heart of this art is based in the boxing methods of China, dating back as far as the 1600’s, and possibly beyond.


How can T’ai Chi Chuan be used for Self Defence?


Many would be surprised to learn that T’ai Chi Chuan is, in fact, a method of combat. It is not that it could be applied thus, but in fact how the art developed in the first place.

Historically, China was a dangerous place, and there were many methods developed which taught how to defend ones-self from attack using both weapons and bare hands.

It was in this violent history that T’ai Chi Chuan was developed, and in the golden era of Chinese boxing in the mid-to-late 1800’s where it found popularity. It was not until the early 1900’s when T’ai Chi Chuan came to be recognised for its positive benefits to health and well being. Since then, the softer side of the art has taken prominence over the original purpose.


Many are familiar with the slow motion choreographed sets, which have become the iconic image of T’ai Chi Chuan. But how are these sets translated into fighting methods?

As a martial art, T’ai Chi Chuan has the same range of basic fighting techniques as other martial arts, such as Karate, or JuJutsu. Techniques ranging from punches, to palm strikes, grabs and holds, to throws and takedowns, kicks, stamps, fore-arm strikes, hammer fists… The list is as long as your arm!

The techniques are all contained within the movements of the choreographed sets. Some are quite apparent; techniques such as ‘Parry & Punch’ or ‘Kick with Heel’ are quite obvious in their meaning. However, there are also techniques such as ‘Jade Lady Threads Shuttle’, or ‘Single Whip’, where the basic fighting techniques may not be immediately apparent.


There are multiple ways of applying any technique found within a T’ai Chi Chuan set. Some of which may be immediately obvious; such as the afore-mentioned ‘Parry & Punch’, where one arm deflects an incoming strike, whilst the other hand punches towards the opponent. Other techniques, such as ‘Waving Hands Through Clouds’ may not appear to have any functional application, but are, in fact, methods of applying locks and holds to limbs, or ways of throwing or taking an opponent onto the floor.


Which brings us onto the ‘how’ of this article:

What is the fighting strategy of T’ai Chi Chuan? How does this art plan to defeat an opponent?

As has been mentioned, the techniques of T’ai Chi Chuan cover striking, kicking, locking, holding, throwing and sweeping. As a close-range fighting system, T’ai Chi Chuan seeks to draw an opponent in close, whereby our well built structure will be able to topple our opponents. We seek to absorb his incoming force, and – when he is off balance, we plan to send him smashing to the floor, whereby we can either make an escape from the situation, or apply a submission hold to keep our opponent from causing us further harm.


Proficiency in the fighting skills of T’ai Chi Chuan comes only with practice and exploration. A T’ai Chi martial artist must break apart their choreographed sets into their composite parts, and then explore how those parts can be used, both singularly, and in varying combinations with each other. These fighting combinations should then be tested against other practitioners until they flow smoothly, and the practitioner can apply them under pressure of attack.

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Stephen Finch's picture

Your article is interesting however there is no mention of Qi Gong training or the use of Qi in application. From my understanding of all the nei jia quan arts without qi the movements are just empty movements. Perhaps you will introduce the idea/concept of qi in a follow up article.
Medway Tai Chi Society's picture

This would all depend upon what your personal understanding of 'Qi' is.
bdangr's picture

Is there a Source for Point Combinations with different Meridians? Such as Li 4 and Lung 10 in Single Whip with the Right Hand? as you strike into the TW Points of the Face?
Taoquan's picture

Yes, if you understand the application of the points you can see point combinations. However, I think that hitting "Acupuncture Points" with Martial Arts is a bit over glamorized. The "Big" hitter points are always dangerous because they are near major nerves, arteries, organs etc. (None of which I will put on the internet as they can be reasonably figured out). As far as hitting the points you are talking about "Lung 10 and Li 4" are general points and can be easily accessed with a good grab, hitting the True point is very, very difficult. Most points are hard enough to accurately find with the person laying complacently on the table in front of you. I seriously question being able to accurately hit the True point in full combat.
Stephen Finch's picture

I currently train in Xing Yi Quan and qi gong, but I am now starting to learn a Wu style Taiji form. My Master has always emphasized that with your increased development of qi your martial skill develops. It all begins with qi, if there is no qi all you have are empty movements much like a dance.
Medway Tai Chi Society's picture

Your master is mistaken - it is the practice that develops 'Qi', not 'Qi' that develops practice. Again, this is dependant upon your understanding of 'Qi'.
Stephen Finch's picture

We have original-yang qi within our bodies anyway. Through the right kind of practice this develops and can be channeled into different parts of your body. The way I have been taught is that you begin with your dan tian and the qi moves to your lower back, through your spine, bones ligaments hands, palms, neck, feet, ribs upper back thighs, etc. My Master has been practicing for more than 50 years and developed his qi gong exercises by reading the Chinese classics: yellow emperors cannon, Dao De Jing, etc. Through our practice our breathing and posture becomes improved and we become more rooted. It is not about explaining but in the doing. What is our Master's background? With qi I'm more healthy and have more energy. Hope we can correspond and exchange ideas:)
Taoquan's picture

There is a drastic difference between building Qi, refining Qi and Circulating Qi. What you are describing is a of course Circulating Qi, but also a level of Refinement from Yuan Qi (not necessarily Yang Qi) or Source Qi.
Stephen Finch's picture

So what is the difference? Original/yang qi is what we have when we are born. This can be both refined and circulated. In terms of development this just means practice the more you practice in the right way with guidance the more your qi can circulate as well as refining your qi. I am not arguing with you, however I think that because we are corresponding via this blog and using the written word it makes it more of a challenge to communicate what we really mean, don't you think? There is a drastic difference between building Qi, refining Qi and Circulating Qi. Once of the necessary things required in what I practice is to relax, this means not to use physical strength. This is what I find is suitable for me, thought this may not be for everyone. The more you relax the more qi is allowed to flow, the more it can increase and you can direct it to different parts of your body. In addition you become more sensitive to others and what they do. The practice of standing and moving qi gong increases you being more rooted, others not being able to move you. This does take a lot of time and practice, doing one or several things many times and over many hours. It is not something instant. Hope to correspond more with you!