Take a look at any park in Asia, there are chances that you will see mostly middle-aged or elderly people moving to a slow rhythm. They focus on each breath like their lives depended upon it. Taiji(or Tai Chi), an ancient Chinese martial arts practice, has long been known for its physical and mental benefits.
Catherine Kerr, a Taiji instructor at Harvard Medical School who studies the effect of mind-body exercise on the brain, says its benefits in this article: “Doing Taiji makes me feel lighter on my feet,” she says. “I’m stronger in my legs, more alert, more focused, and more relaxed. It just puts me in a better mood all around.” In essence, Taiji gets its popularity for the mental clarity and meditative peace it brings.
However, an oft-forgotten aspect of the practice is that it is rooted in martial arts. Yang Chengfu, a master who many refer to as the “father of modern Taiji,” did not originally practice his art in the slow manner that we associate Taiji with today.
According to this article and many other overviews of Yang style Tai Chi, his grandfather’s version of the art was “highly demanding, full with not just the slow movements. But also fast explosive movements, leaping kicks that develop strength and power and many very challenging postures.”
Yang style Tai Chi softened and slowed down this martial art to move away from the hard, vigorous exercise. His family’s Tai Chi style exposed him to make it more free-flowing and accessible to the public.
In the article “The Tai Chi Martial Art Has Been Lost,” Erle Montaigue writes that the original Tai Chi was so powerful that “people would look upon this system and its founder as Gods in the martial arts area.” But that many people have long forgotten it. As “Yang Chengfu changed his father’s style so much that the original essence of the fighting art has now been lost in this style forever.”
“Now, we see most people who practice the art being non-martial artists,” he continues. “People who do not wish to actually fight to defend themselves. Most completely dismiss Taiji’s original purpose, that of self-defense, Taiji as a martial art.”
Montaigue argues that the purity of “seeing what’s inside you” will not protect you from the physical danger and harm. Only by embracing the combat aspect of Tai Chi can one be able to unlock their body’s true potential.
Are there any famous figures in the fighting world who actively practice Taiji? There is one MMA fighter, Nick Osipczak, who represents Taiji in the Ultimate Fighting Championships, which is a rarity. In an interview with Fighters Only Magazine, Ospiczak explains that Taiji helps him “move in an efficient and natural way.”
Often times, overtraining and lack of body awareness during mixed martial art fights will lead to soft tissue injuries. Or at worst, catastrophic bone injuries like the one Anderson Silva suffered against Michael Bisping. Through the use of Taiji, Ospiczak has focused on stretching. Slow Taiji movements to help iron his body out, creating a balance to avoid the overtraining injuries mentioned before.
More about Nick Osipczak:
Aside from the physical benefits of Tai Chi, Ospiczak also mentions the mental benefits. He claims that it allows him to be more aware of his own body and his opponents’ intentions. For Ospiczak, Tai Chi becomes a tool through which his technique and mind can become sharpened for battle.
As Bruce Lee once said, “You must always be one with emotion, because the body follows the mind.” Often times, we confuse aggression, hatred, and physical dominance as important aspects for winning a battle or a fight. In reality, the aggression and feeling of anger will only cloud judgment and mental clarity. The lack of mental fluidity will then impact your reaction time, allowing your opponent countless opportunities to strike you down.
Tai Chi can offer a powerful tool for a fighter’s arsenal. The ability to stay calm and collected in the midst of a pressure-packed situation. Tai Chi is not just a method of promoting peace, but also allows practitioners to protect that peace.