T’ai-Chi as Close Combat Art

From the new book by John Bracy (Copyrighted material)

Some of the proposals that follow will be controversial;

they will challenge the conventional narrative that describes the origins of t’ai-chi ch’üan. (1) These alternative views will question not only the traditional story of the art’s origins, but its traditional birthplace as well. The discussions that follow are based on the notion that the art which has come to be known as t’ai-chi might not have been passed down from a long line of wizened sages. Instead, the practice was more likely more recent, and the product of accidental discoveries leading to a more efficient way of engaging an opponent. Following this, the pioneers of the art systematized what they had discovered as a training method. The tradition that emerged was profound. It manifested as the practitioner’s ability to merge technical skill with an altered, and super-efficient, mind-body state.

(1) Consistent with comments in the opening pages of the present work, for the most part, Chinese characters are transliterated using the pinyin system of transliteration. However, there are a few exceptions where Chinese is romanized in the Wade-Giles style. Examples of Wade-Giles transliteration in this chapter include t’ai-chi ch’üan, Chuang Tzu, cook Ting, Li Yi-yu, Ch’en Village and Huang Tsung-hsi.

It will also be argued that the art could only have evolved in the context of specific social, psychological, and neuro-chemical influences. Thus, the pages that follow also describe how the new style could only have developed under conditions that fostered those innovations. To accomplish this, we suggest that the practitioners engaged in a type of martial play.

Many t’ai-chi ch’üan practitioners believe that the genesis of their art can be traced to a secret. Most often, that secret involves the sudden realization by a founding master of how to subdue an attacker while employing no more than the slightest touch. Thus, a martial discipline emerged based on the promise that an individual could attain a kind of superpower. Instead of relying on gross physical strength, the new art incorporated subtle, but no less powerful, forces of intention, and even more so, the enigmatic force known to the Chinese as qi.