Tai Chi for Martial Arts

Tai Chi Fajin Image

Before we close the Tai Chi Mastery Program I want to share with you some of my perspectives on using tai chi as a martial art. I know many of you mainly practice tai chi for health, but many others want to know how to use tai chi as an effective martial art and for self-defense.

I have seen a lot of comments about why we don't see tai chi being used in MMA (mixed martial arts) and because it is not seen in that arena, it therefore must not be very effective. My own view is that tai chi can be as deadly as many other martial arts, in fact I would say it is better than most, but to be effective you have to go through the classical training progression, which few in the West undertake.

One could ask, "In the age of guns and mechanised weapons what is the usefulness of learning a martial art like tai chi?" I think it is important to recognize that the art of tai chi gives you the abillity to be a master of different energies both in yourself and those around you. As you move toward mastery in tai chi you are at the same time moving toward mastering energy.

How many times have people tried to suck your energy dry? How many times in life has negative energy been directed at you either directly or indirectly? Were you conscious of this at the time and were you able able to make a choice about the best action or did you take a negative energy hit? Tai chi gives you practical methods to work with day-to-day situations learning to flow and move with energy so you can choose how to best use your energy. Few martial arts do this. Tai chi also works on the principles of water, that of flowing with the line of least resistance.

In my book, The Power of Internal Martial Arts and Chi: Combat Secrets of Tai Chi, Bagua and Hsing-i, I talk about four different stages of learning tai chi as a martial art. To go through all four stages requires ten to twenty years of learning and is only for the most dedicated (some would say extreme).

I studied full-time in Communist China in the Chinese language for eleven years (this was before I had a family). To put this in perspective you can become a Western medical doctor in just over eight years. I say this to emphasize that traditionally learning tai chi was taken as a full-time profession not as a part-time hobby. Doing so enables a person to acheive extraordinary mastery of the tai chi form, energies of tai chi and of course superior fighting abilities.

At the end of the post I have shared a short video where I introduce tai chi as a martial art and show a few basic applications. This is taken from the Tai Chi for Beginners program. You can click here to skip straight to the video.

If you want to learn the four stages of learning tai chi as a martial art please keep reading:

Stage 1: Form Work (Long or Short Form):

This first stage can be broken into seven parts:

  1. First you learn the moves separately. 
  2. Then you learn how all the moves flow together. You now learn to see and feel opponents attacking you from all different angles.
  3. Next, you work with both speeding the form up and slowing the form down while staying connected.
  4. Now you go back and learn in more detail all of the four energies that flow through each move. You start to do push hands here.
  5. Next, you start to hardwire the 16 neigong internal components into your form. You separate and combine all of the internal components into your form.
  6. Begin to hold specific tai chi postures for specific durations (this is part of the second installment of the Tai Chi Mastery Program). The neigong components are tested within each of the standing postures and usually progress with a learning sequence like this: a) dissolving process, b) breathing, c) internal alignments, d) bending and stretching the soft tissues, e) unifying the body and its qi, f) the twisting of the soft tissue, g) opening and closings of cavities and joints, h) lower tantien work, i) spinal pumping, j) energy channel movements. I don't know of anyone in the West that teaches at this level of detail and precision.
  7. The form takes on an evolutionary process determined by the individual. This involves working with specific neigong, repairing any short-comings and practicing to release the mind to stay completely in the present.

Much of the Tai Chi Mastery Program is about building a strong form. I wish I could say that it is common for teachers to help others build a really solid form including the internal energetics, but unfortunately I have not found this to be the case in the West.

To build a strong foundation you also need to know how each of the four primary energies within tai chi flows through the different moves. These are the four energies and brief martial applications:

  1. Peng or Ward Off: Mastering this energy gives you an expansive internal power that is explosive.
  2. Lu or Roll Back: Mastering this energy allows you to absorb your opponent's energy. It is a yielding power that sucks in your opponent. The Tai Chi Classics say that your opponent 'falls into emptiness'.
  3. Ji or Press Forward: Mastering this energy gives you a straight ahead forward power. It is a focused power like a laser.
  4. An or Push Downward: Mastering this energy allows you to root your opponent right into the ground and is a downward-moving power.

Stage 2: Tai Chi Push Hands or Tui Shou

Push hands is not fighting itself, but is a two-person exercise that develops most of the skills and types of power practitioners will need in combat, both open-handed and with weapons. Normally, you first learn empty-handed and then later practice with a variety of weapons.

There are four styles of push hands:

  1. Single Push Hands: Partners' hands continuosly touch at the wrists and initially this is done while your feet are fixed.
  2. Double Push Hands: There are three kinds of double-push hands: a) middle between single and double, b) large-circle push hands, and c) small-circle push hands. In all of the methods, your weight is constantly shifting between being forward-weighted and back-weighted.
  3. Da Lu, or Four Corners, Push Hands: This style teaches how to move to diagonals, spin, turn around at 135-degree angles, and attack and defend from off-center and unusual angles.
  4. Freestyle Moving Push Hands: This style allows you to freely combine at will the hand, waist and stepping techniques of double push hands and da lu, in freestyle movements.

If you love tai chi and have not discovered push hands yet, you are in for a treat as it is a special practice that is both fun and what many call addictive.

Stage 3: Transition Methods Between Push Hands and Sparring

Push hands is not fighting or even sparring. So you have to make the jump. There are three methods that get you from push hands to sparring:

  1. Practicing Single Fighting Applications with a Partner: This method is not much different from sparring in karate or tae kwon do. Intially in tai chi you begin with fixed feet. Only after your hand techniques, kicks, throws, and joint locks are up to standard, do you move your feet in accordance with the principles of Push Hands.
  2. Circling Hands: This practice is similar to bagua's Rou Shou. Each partner attempts to create an opening through which the other can be hit with a tai chi hand technique.
  3. Two-Person Sets: In these sets, two people attack and defend themselves over and over again in a long, prearranged sequence. Initially the forms are done slowly and then gradually the speed is increased.

In all three of these transition methods, the focus is on gaining the skill to recognize what energies inherently defeat what other energies.

Stage 4: Sparring and Actual Fighting

Sparring has a hundred times more variables to be handled than Push Hands. Yang Lu Chuan is said to have spend six years learning only the fighting and sparring strategies of tai chi. Free-style sparring is quite different from actual life-and-death combat. People respond very differently when they feel their survival is at stake as opposed to when only winning and losing is at risk.

From the traditional tai chi perspective, fighting called lan tsai hua is push hands with the following added:

  1. Distance appreciation
  2. Ability to flow between close, middle and long fighting distances
  3. Fighting angles
  4. Hitting, kicking, throwing, joint-locking, and the ability to absorb blows
  5. The ability to touch, disengage and tough again, fluidly and without discontinuity
  6. The ability to stay centered and calm regardless of danger, attempting to transcend the instinctual animal fight-or-flight reaction
  7. Training aimed at being able to defend against high and low attacks from multiple opponents advancing at multiple angles
  8. Bare hands versus weapons training

The classical fighting training exists on two levels. The lower level is concerned pragmatically with how to hurt or kill your opponent. The highest level, acheived by the famous Yang Lu Chuan who was called "The Invisible," is where, instead of hurting your opponents, you are able to throw them some distance through the air without hurting them at all, using nonviolent fa jin. An opponent who is not physically harmed is often relieved of an inner need to seek revenge.

Video: Tai Chi as a Martial Art

Here is a short video clip from the Tai Chi for Beginners program which is a bonus to the mastery program:


The internal martial arts are very powerful but their effectiveness requires full commitment, time and dedication. Whatever you interest level, 20 minutes several times a week or as something you do as a profession, I believe that tai chi gives you back more than you put in. I think knowing these four stages can help you if you are just starting off or even if you are a teacher of the art, especially if you are interest in tai chi as a martial art.

Finally I want to mention that within the Mastery program, if you are a martial artist, I follow this classic progression with a focus on the first two stages giving you as much of the internal knowledge that I could fit into 50 plus hour program . This includes building a solid form with neigong components, tai chi standing postures, understanding the classics and an entire series on tai chi push hands.

We have also included 2-DVDs which focus on using the four energies of tai chi in fighting applications. After that you will need to find a Live teacher to go through the next two stages. If the group decides I will do some additional Live sessions on martial applications.

Whether you study with me or with others, my hope is this information has been useful to you. I look forward to seeing those in the mastery program at the events and interacting through the Live lessons I will be giving each month.

Bruce Frantzis

>Checkout the Tai Chi Mastery Program before it closes here.

JamesMMA (not verified) wrote 1 year 20 weeks ago

This is the first time I ran

This is the first time I ran into Tai Chi for martial arts. I have always known that people practice this for health reasons. I’ll have to read back on your posts!

daniel mark (not verified) wrote 2 years 6 weeks ago

Great article from a wonderful person

Great article from a wonderful person

Brawl Mixed Martial Arts Sri Lanka (not verified) wrote 2 years 13 weeks ago

MMA can benefit from Tai Chi Techniques

Modern MMA has benefited a lot by combining essential fighting techniques that can produce an all-round fighter who can combat both standing and on ground. Tai Chi as one of the ancient martial arts, can immensely assist in honing MMA further.

eaz123 (not verified) wrote 2 years 15 weeks ago

It’s my first time to visit

It’s my first time to visit this site & I’m really surprised to see such impressive stuff out there.

Jerilyn (not verified) wrote 2 years 16 weeks ago


Thank you for your blog. Very interesting. I just started taking Taiji. My Sifu is a Master and when we practice he say's that we are like a "school of fish". We move together in harmony.

Mei-Ling (not verified) wrote 2 years 25 weeks ago

I wish to learn Tai Chi,

I wish to learn Tai Chi, there is a limit of age for beginners? I live in Puerto Rico. To learn this art do I need to travel to China?

Ricardo Kroc (not verified) wrote 2 years 30 weeks ago

Martial Arts

Discipline plays a vital role in human life and it is core thing in every types of martial art.

Mix Martial Arts (not verified) wrote 2 years 51 weeks ago

This is a wonderfully

This is a wonderfully informative blog. Tai Chi is not well known for its value as martial arts. Bit this blog explains a lot of its benefits.

Alessandro Ferullo (not verified) wrote 3 years 5 weeks ago

Informative for all.

Thanks for this amazing article! I am trainer but I like to learn from your articles. Your content was very useful.

Raymond Magpulong (not verified) wrote 3 years 22 weeks ago

There are different types of

There are different types of martial arts that all of us could cling into – which we could barely use for the following reasons: self-defense, competition, physical health and fitness, entertainment, as well as mental, physical, and spiritual development. We can also try Philippine martial arts and/or Filipino martial arts as well as other mix martial arts such as kali martial art.
It depends upon the individual if what kind of martial arts is he going to do or of whatever reason he is doing such.

Alivia Watson (not verified) wrote 3 years 29 weeks ago

Promote Better Mental Health

I am really pleased to read your post on Tai Chi as I always had an interest in learning this martial art style. All the four stages of Tai Chi which you have mentioned in your blog will be very useful for a martial art learner who is interested in learning the technique. It is designed to keep your body and spirit in balance. Learning the graceful movements of Tai Chi can be so effective that it can not only promote your physical health but also helps you to regain energy and develop a clearer mental state.

Raymond (not verified) wrote 3 years 29 weeks ago


Tai chi is truly an amazing discipline,

great post!

Greg Horton (not verified) wrote 3 years 32 weeks ago

martial arts

All martial arts is good for you at some level. Energy awareness, developing and enhancing could change americas health care issues in 25 years.

Visitor (not verified) wrote 3 years 33 weeks ago

Neck Pain

Is Tai Chi Helpful in my neck pain..?

Self Defense Classes for women (not verified) wrote 3 years 39 weeks ago

Martial art not only teach

Martial art not only teach you to defend yourself, but to also get yourself into the best possible physical and mental shape, improving your total health!
Nice blog & good artwork. Hope u have a wonderful day & awaiting for more new post. Keep Blogging!

elvira caamal (not verified) wrote 3 years 46 weeks ago

Thanks for this amazing

Thanks for this amazing article. I have been learning martial arts from past six months and can't wait to use tai chi as martial arts. This articles has cleared my doubts about tai chi. I have taken martial arts for self defense. But later on developed more interest in its various forms. I am learning this art form at an taekwondo school which is famous for its training.

Lito (not verified) wrote 4 years 3 weeks ago

Very good points by great

Very good points by great master Bruce Frantzis. His simple demonstrations and comments really shoots directly at the aspects of Tai Chi Chuan as martial art.

brook (not verified) wrote 4 years 5 weeks ago

BJJ Brooklyn

Thanks for sharing this blog, it's such a great royal amazing .i like this blog very much. really such an nice and decent information shared here with awesome stuff.
BJJ Brooklyn

MMA Fitness (not verified) wrote 4 years 6 weeks ago

This article is very detailed

This article is very detailed and great. I learned a lot. Thanks for sharing

windows support tools (not verified) wrote 4 years 15 weeks ago

hysical and mental health!

Tai Chi is one of the most peaceful and oldest forms of martial arts that can help a person develop his physical and mental health. I am glad to land your page here where the experienced users can come up with new tips and knowledge on the topic. I will visit again.

Barry Wald (not verified) wrote 4 years 50 weeks ago

school in my area

I took Tai Chi many years ago but because of financial problems and the movement of my life, I wasn't able to continue the practice. I forgot some critical parts of the form and stopped practicing. I would like to go back to learning Tai Chi. I would like to give myself a second chance. I have learned to still my mind and to stop the internal dialogue at will.
I live in Brooklyn, New York. Which school(s) in my area would you recommend?
I have been having problems with others stealing my energy and I have also been exposed to psychic attacks. I am seeking a path that will enable me to ward off those attacks.

patrick alexander (not verified) wrote 5 years 12 weeks ago

I want to learn this

I thank tai chi is an excellent art for inner peace concentrative methods
humbleness and greator honor for ones self and those around you and I would like to learn this.

ajit daniel (not verified) wrote 5 years 12 weeks ago

tai chi

Dear Bruce

for a person who is new to tai chi (yang style) and who is still studying same - i wish you could have more instructors or centers in india. i have picked up 85 form from an instructor who has taught more on a watch and learn concept. classes were discontinued due to lack of students but the centers elsewhere in india is finding takers to learn tai chi. from your write ups and others available on the net have realised there is much more basic fundamentals that go into taichi (back bone or foundation) that needs to be shared before one begins taichi. thank you for your contributions and sharing of knowledge on this fine art. i now practise alone (almost every day) doing 20 minutes of shibashi followed by a brief warm up exercise and 18 - 20 minutes of 85 form. despite no classes, i know my form needs correction but falling in love with this beautiful art makes me practice with the hope that it will at least lead to health benefits......wishing you the very best and keep the TAI CHI spirit flying...best regards...ajit / india

Visitor (not verified) wrote 5 years 12 weeks ago

Taiji and MMA

I believe the reason that taiji isn't used in MMA is (at least) threefold: (1) taiji is best as a defensive art, not a dualistic gotta-get-the-other-guy type of thing (which isn't to say that it can't be brutal in its defensive moves). (2) MMA attracts psychologically damaged, violent people. The best aren't this way, but the vast majority are. Good taiji people won't teach that type of person. (3) Finally, related to point (2), such psychologically damaged folk aren't the sort to put in 10-20 years to learn an art.

As I hinted, there are some notable exceptions, and people like Anderson Silva are starting to open up to the internal arts. He has had some interaction with well-known aikidoka Steven Seagal. Japanese bagua is a start! (With apologies to the rigid Japanese nationalists.)

Ernie Boxall (not verified) wrote 5 years 12 weeks ago


The video reminds me of an article I read a couple of years ago by a woman who also wrote about the fighting art of t'ai chi.
One comment was that people often associate t'ai chi with hundreds of people in a park "moving" and that this is like saying watching soccer in a park is the same as watching professional soccer. An interesting thought.

Visitor (not verified) wrote 5 years 12 weeks ago

The video

It is just breathtaking and beautiful to watch.

I LOVE watching Tai Chi.

panther (not verified) wrote 5 years 12 weeks ago

THANX.,.,., Bruce..,.,.,.

THANX.,.,., Bruce..,.,.,.

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As a result of meeting Bruce Frantzis in 1992 I am currently enjoying a quality of life I was informed I would not have following a partially successful major heart operation. Although my lifestyle is restricted, I believe that the Tai Chi and Quigong routines, especially Cloud Hands from the Energy gates have enabled me to stay mobile & active , to continue working and keep my medication well below that taken by others in my position.

Nick Cahill, UK