Authenticity  (2)

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The Art of War

The 1988 Shambhala version of The Art of War has a superb introduction by Thomas Cleary. He explained how The Art of War was an attempt to employ Taoist principles in real life combat.
Cleary mentioned how tai chi ("absolute boxing") sought to incorporate the very same insights...

Related reading

Miyamoto Musashi's excellent The Book of Five Rings has nothing directly to do with tai chi but is a very relevant read, as is Eugen Herrigel's Zen in the Art of Archery. 36 Strategies is a must.


It is important not to get too hung up on tai chi styles. The Tai Chi Classics were written by Chang San-feng, Wang Tsung-yueh and Wu Yu-hsiang.
Wu created Hao style, but there are no known styles attributed to Chang or Wang. How come?

Styles, school and instructors...

When seeking tai chi instruction, make sure that you look for the right things. Nationality, popularity or fame are not important.
You need an instructor who can competently perform and teach all aspects the art.


You will begin to feel that your tai chi practice goes beyond simple form training, and you will be able to perceive things as energetic combinations, rather than as static physical objects. Your training partners will appear to your senses as dynamic patterns of energy, rather than as clumsy physical bodies. When this happens, you can skilfully switch strategy and tactics in any situation.

(Yang Jwing-Ming)

3 considerations

Keep these three facts in mind:

Tai chi arose from Taoism
The training follows The Tai Chi Classics
Tai chi is a martial art

It stands to reason that any bona fide instructor must possess expert knowledge and skill in all three areas.


People often name drop or take credit by association. In the Taoist tradition this is regarded as being embarrassing. If you know something, you can do it yourself. If you cannot do it, you do not know it.
A real instructor offers a full repertoire of skills. They understand all aspects of the training and can easily and readily illustrate points from Taoism, The Tai Chi Classics and martial skill.

Value substance over style

Authentic tai chi is not just random slow motion exercise or fragments of the art. It is a classical martial art with functional, realistic, reproducible martial skills.
There are tangible, concrete fitness benefits.

Ability is everything in tai chi

Remember this - martial arts are a meritocracy. Ability is everything. Not knowledge. Not time served. Ability. If you can do it, then you can advance.

5 missing pieces

Many tai chi classes lack 5 important elements necessary in order for tai chi to function as a martial art:

  1. Neigong (whole-body strength)

  2. Martial concepts (what combat constitutes and how to do it effectively)

  3. Chin na (the art of seizing)

  4. Shuai jiao (take downs)

  5. Jing (whole-body power)

Without these 5 components, tai chi is lacking something and may not work in combat.

Tai chi for health

Tai chi for health is not authentic tai chi; it is tai chi without the martial content. This is not a bad thing in itself; after all, not everyone is fit enough to learn a martial art or necessarily wants to.
The main consideration to keep in mind is that the teaching does not deviate too far from the original purpose of the art.
Watering down the art contains a risk: many vital methods, insights and skills can easily be lost.

Tai chi without the Tao

In the 1950's the People's Republic commissioned the creation of a simplified tai chi exercise sequence devoid of martial and unpolitical Taoist influences.
This was the 24 step (it looks like a tai chi/yoga hybrid. Later, performance art tai chi emerged; a series of entertaining forms devoid of martial intent and purpose.
In the 1980's shibashi qigong tai chi became the latest example of empty practice.

Newcastle Tai Chi

We explore an advanced version of the old/classical Yang style tai chi.

When a master of tai chi faces an opponent he brings to the confrontation thousands of years of philosophical, martial and practical thought. He has lived most of his life according to the principles established centuries ago and in the process, he has strengthened his body and probably earned a long and healthy life.

(Howard Reid)

Page created 21 May 1996
Last updated 16 June 2023