Duality of Tai Chi – Mind and Body Exercise vs. Martial Art – Discussion

“I was very impressed by the honesty in Fred Keenan’s response to the special class (Shifu Tony Wong, February 15th 2009). I thought the feelings and confusions he expressed represent a part of the spectrum in tai chi students who came to tai chi for its health benefit.  In the class discussion last Sunday (March 8th, 2009), I shared my thoughts on the topic with the group and somewhat pleasantly surprised by the strong, positive response from the floor. Art Zinger, a new student, told me that he had trouble hearing everything even with hearing aid and asked me to write a brief summary.  I will try to get to it soon. Before that, Rebecca has made a forum page with the first few written responses I received.  I feel that many of you may have desire to join the discussion.  Please email Rebecca your comments (cc me) if you want to share your thoughts. I am especially interested in your thoughts on why/how/if the martial art aspect of tai chi is useful to you in the quality of your tai chi practice.  Meanwhile, I have made a translation of LaoTzu Chapter 33 , which can be found on our new page under Core Values Link.  Thank you for your enthusiasm. Your response reminded me why I enjoy the group so much.”

-Laura Ting 3/11/2009

“Basically, I came away from the class feeling very confused. I found myself questioning my motive for studying Tai Chi. The thought that kept running through my mind was, “Why am I doing this?” I can’t remember being in a fight since I was about 12 years old and I doubt very much that I will even be in a fight again. SO, why am I devoting time and effort to learning something that is designed to defeat an opponent in a fight? Up until now I have been looking at Tai Chi as an intrinsically interesting form of physical and mental exercise, almost like a dance or some other art form. Two weeks ago the martial roots of the practice were brought home to me, however, and I felt disoriented. This feeling was exacerbated because I do not know Chen style and could not relate to the explanations for the particular move we were shown. It all seemed very much over my head and I can’t say that I actually learned anything from the class. Nor did I have any idea why we were doing the new patterns he had us practice as a group at the end of class.

IF I were a more advanced student perhaps things would have made more sense to me. As it is, after being away for a year I am struggling to get my head back into the game and, unfortunately, this didn’t help much.”

-Fred Keenan

Response from Other Members

“There are some sincere responses that come up from my heart toward Fred’s response. If I am going to respond to him, I will tell him that ” I totally agree with him. From time to time, I do ask myself the same question ‘ why do I keep practicing Taiji? What is my intention and what is my goal?’ It always takes me wondering around my practice for a while to get answers. And those answers made me to keep practicing Taiji with my intention at the time. I did admire Tony Wong a lot with his devotion to Taiji, and his humble and open presence. His demonstration of Martial applications made me to think more about the basic principles and philosophies underneath them. It makes me to look at my life more and try to practice Taiji with these basics more and apply them to my daily life. For me the martial applications are not for fighting, they are practices of dealing daily issues mindfully and with compassion. It’s my goal and it my life time practice.”

    Thank you very much for all of your care and effort for our club.”

-Shing-Jiuan Liau


“I have been thinking of what you talked about today.  What you said touched on my reasons for practicing tai chi – especially what you said about the internal and external aspects.  Much of western culture is very external.    As a product of the culture, I grew up being very externally oriented, and when I did look inside, often didn’t understand it, or how it related to the external world, or was even afraid of it.  I often felt something missing. That is why I like tai chi – to help me develop my internal awareness and power, and hopefully integrate it with the external.  I like the  passage you read from the Tao Te Ching and what you said about how Lao Tzu describes water as not contending, yet always overcoming.  The connections of tai chi with Daoism help me see the ‘bigger picture’.  I know you don’t want to intellectualize too much – but hearing you talk of these things from time to time is very helpful to me.”

-Mark Flower


“Laura has spent some time talking about the last special class and what that did for club members.  I commented on the specifics earlier.  I thought this was a good opportunity to comment in a larger sense on what the club has done for me and also to thank you.  Three years ago I came back to Tai Chi because I was worried about old injuries and that I was getting tighter. I wanted to be flexible as I aged. George no longer offered classes so I was looking around and found Gu Feng.

Three years later I got the flexibility and some extra benefits.  The main one is the peace of mind I get.  Lately I have been caring for an elderly Mother on hospice and also have been dealing with some other serious family issues.  In this troubling time I find my practice anchors me.  If I am in a depressed place I practice and feel more able to cope with all that is happening.  In fact if I don’t practice for a couple of days I find myself getting very unbalanced.

So right now my practice is essential to get me through difficult times.  The flexibility is great but is now secondary to the peace I am getting.  I really don’t know were I would be right now if I didn’t have this practice to help me.  Thank you both for the Sunday and Tuesday classes!”

-Blaise Stephanus


“Thank you for inviting our thoughts on the martial side of Taiji.  I have been rather timid in the face of aggression most of my life.  I’ts embarassing for a male or at least for me to feel cowardly and try to hide it to avoid shame.  Fear of shame and ridicule and also of physical injury are part of what led me to martial arts in general.  However, by the time I began to take an interest in Taiji, I had already begun to find success in working with my emotional distress meditatively and the esthectics and health aspects as well as the rather remarkable mechanics and dynamics of the behavior of Chi drew my attention along new pathways.  I was also more and more attracted toward methods for resolving potentially dangerous social situations and confrontations in least destructive ways.  Also, the fear that diminishing the strength and protective isolation of the ego would lead to unbearable intimacy with society and individuals of variable appeal has been calming and I’m beginning to explore ways of coping with the awkward, occasionally pleasurable and generally interesting process of opening to Being and the Tao.  Good health seems to involve learning to work with basic physics.  Bodies at rest and in motion involve stillness and motion, velocity  and acceleration, smooth flow and chaotic randomness, collision friction and so on.  Exercise, even when practiced cautiously, is generally accompanied by muscle and joint soreness and even bodily damage.  Daily life is a continuously changing and often challenging dynamic.  Taiji with push hands as gradual approach to physical interaction makes this art a preferable means of increasing ones capacity to cope with unpredictable events and interactions.  Having even a minimum confidence in being able to protect onesself and others from physical threats seems to have a certain appeal.  In addition, part of the intriguing way the various forms of Taiji have been designed is that part which is revealed both theoretically and experientially In the biomechanics of the application side.  Emotional and mental balance may also increase as one learns and practices forms and transitions in a physically balanced way,  and what better way to test one’s development than by occasionally adding to the challenge by moving a sword or pole or training partner around the room.  Under wise and careful guidance I’m definitely in favor of integrating the martial side of Taiji into our practice.”

-Bill Clarke