Posted by: Mike Ferruggia | October 15, 2013

Tai Chi as Martial Art

I was laughed at the other day. I was telling someone what I did on my day off, which included going to the South Orange Mountains and hiking through the woods, doing a round of Tai Chi, and sitting in silence for quite a while. It was really a good day, and the weather was phenomenal. The person asked me if their were any other people around and if I was afraid to be in the woods by myself. I thought about it for a moment. I was there on a Tuesday afternoon and it was pretty desolate. And I have to admit, every once in a blue moon an unsavory character might show up. But my response was, well, I’m there practicing my tai chi chuan kung fu, um, no, I’m not fearful, I think I can take care of myself. And I do believe after practicing for 13 years, that within reason and common sense, I can pretty much take care of myself. But the person laughed as if it were ridiculous to think that one could defend themselves using tai chi.


Ordinarily, 13 years ago, it would have pushed my buttons and I would have gotten angry. I mean, you’ve known me all this time, what the f do you think I’ve been doing. But it didn’t really get my goat. I realized that people just don’t get it. Tai chi still suffers from being misunderstood or not understood at all. Forget about understanding the spiritual mysticism of the practice, or the amazing health benefits that come from balancing your energies using chi kung and tai chi. But especially forget about the fact that this treasure of martial arts might actually help you to defend yourself!

I’m going to add some caveats. I admit I have never been in a real fight or had to use tai chi in a real combat. So it would be silly of me to underestimate this lack of experience. But there are several advantages to knowing tai chi. The development of one’s senses and awareness helps one to be aware of the surroundings and figure out how to avoid situations and confrontations. Learning to be invisible is as important as learning to topple one’s opponent(I’ll do a post one day on becoming invisible. It’s not physically becoming invisible, but the way one acts and behaves and carries oneself so as not to attract problems, to keep people from seeing you). And in the sparring and practice I’ve done, I do have confidence in my self defense abilities.

There is a good story about Yang Lu Chan, the creator of Yang Tai Chi, being invited to teach and was dismissed because he was small and unassuming. After taking on a challenge and defeating the attacker soundly, he was then recognized for who he really was.

There are many times in life when you don’t want to bring attention to yourself, you want to remain hidden. But there are also times when you have to reveal yourself, and other times when the ego asks, when will people recognize who I really am?



  1. Sir, you are so spot on. I was just teaching my 8 year old grandson that we can make ourselves invisible. Of course he looked me as if I were a being from another planet. I did explain as best I could to a child what was meant by that, but I am hoping one day he will come to understand exactly what I meant.

    I too have studied Kung Fu early on and eventually fell in love with Tai Chi. I, like you, have never been in a physical altercation with anyone (nor do I desire to) and have been able to avoid such situations. It is said that samurai Yamamoto Tsunetomo was never in combat. I wonder then does this make his experience in the martial arts become more or less valid?


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