For Registered Users: T'ai-Chi as Close Combat Art, p. 2

The present section comprises two interwoven themes. The first considers the meaning of qi internal energy as perceived by the founding masters of the martial art of t’ai-chi ch’üan, hereafter most often abbreviated as t’ai-chi. The second is an alternative theory for how the martial art might have developed. This alternative origin theory may shed light on the meaning of “internal energy” in the martial arts. It may also shed light on the question of why out of hundreds, if not thousands, of Chinese martial art styles, t’ai-chi stands above most others, not only as a remarkable close combat art, but the gateway to the systematic teaching of “internal energy” principles in all forms of close combat.

Why is the subject of t’ai-chi central to a book on internal energy? The answer comes in four parts. The first has to do with the way sophisticated skill associated with the art is linked to the practitioner’s mind-body state, while the second involves the practitioner’s reliance on biofeedback sensations that allow the art to be effective as a close combat skill. Later, it will be explained how attention to these biofeedback sensations, rightly or wrongly identified as qi internal energy, were, and still are, used to activate superior athletic abilities.

The third part considers t’ai-chi’s unique approach to resolving physical conflict. If indeed it can be utilized as an unusual way of engaging an adversary, it advances our discussion of “internal power,” as it describes how brain-cognitive training develops alongside the practical / combat side of one’s physical practice. This new model incorporates principles from neurophysiology that highlight the relationship between brain structures and how a person responds to stress.

Later, the co-influences of brain structures and the stress response will be considered in light of a particular training environment. Could it be that these are factors that also contributed to the development of t’ai-chi?

“Internal energy” may one day become scientifically measurable, or perhaps it will remain mysterious. In either case, one’s ability to express the particular kind of athleticism associated with t’ai-chi will be shown to be inseparable from the synergism of experience, training environment, and the subsequent mental and emotional patterns that emerge from the training milieu.

The fourth and final part of the answer speaks to the t’ai-chi ideal of minimal contact-minimal force. T’ai-chi involves a particularly interesting way to engage an opponent. As t’ai-chi researcher and historian Douglas Wile suggests, this kind of engagement is sometimes referred to as the “softening of t’ai-chi.”   

There are different ways to engage an adversary and resolve conflict, including physical combat, and contact with an adversary and “solutions” employed can be either “heavy” or “light.” Where it might be possible for a person to utterly destroy an attacker, it is also often possible that a minimal, or in some cases even a non-aggressive, response can accomplish the same end. In this light, t’ai-chi provides a model to investigate the possibility of how a “light hand” is often superior to the use of a “heavy hand” in response to a physical challenge — and metaphorically, perhaps, to other forms of challenge.

Taken together, these four points seek to elucidate t’ai-chi as a close combat art. It is a practice that includes the induction of a specific mind-body state, biofeedback training, learning to access creative brain structures under stress, and the skill of “light touch,” or “soft” problem solving. All of these contribute to the discussion of subtle energy and the possibility of something that might be called “internal energy in the martial arts.”

The discussion that follows has implications for other styles of martial arts, as well as contact sports in general. The genesis of what we today know as t’ai-chi is based on the notion that a master practitioner can influence and defeat an opponent through the aforementioned minimal contact and physical effort. This goal, first systematized in the art of t’ai-chi, has broad implications for the way martial arts have been thought about and taught ever since.

Covered in this section:
    T’ai-chi as we know it: a nineteenth-century phenomenon
    The accidental discovery of exceptional efficiency in close combat
    The concept of using qi and mind to defeat an opponent
    A definable advanced mind-body state

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