” I saw your demonstration video on YouTube, and your Tai Chi fighting seems real to me. Where did you learn your Tai Chi? You seem to have a very strong base, and would be difficult to take down. Have you ever gone against a western wrestler or judo player? Were you able to resist them?
“Do you know any legitimate Tai Chi masters in the Chicago area who teach the combat aspects of Tai Chi?”
To be clear, the videos of me online are not of actual fights, unless someone else has posted one without my knowledge. All the videos I know of are either demonstrations, lessons in progress, or friendly sparring sessions.
When I was in my twenties and thirties, (last century), I would attend classes most days, and train with classmates afterwards. I also taught full-time during most the the 1990s. In addition, I would go to the park to meet with martial artists of other styles in order to “cross hands” and share what we were learning. Vancouver was a hotbed of martial arts at the time, with old masters and ambitious youngsters eager to explore the changing landscape of martial arts.
I was surrounded by people who were much better than I was, and I like to think that I learned a lot from them. Sometimes I would get used to certain tricks always working. For instance, my tai chi tuishou training meant that whenever I sparred with a long-range fighter like a kickboxer, karateka or a TKD student, it seemed as if all I had to do was walk forward and they would fall down. This quickly changed as they got used to me, and I started to get knocked down more. Then I would learn to deal with that.
The grapplers were similar. I didn’t do much wrestling in high school. But many of my classmates were wrestlers and judoka. There was little jiujitsu at the time. But there were other grappling styles, and there were some Aikidoka black belts who were serious challengers. We would play around with tuishou and spend some time going to the ground. Over time, I became more difficult to take down, and they got better at taking me down. I learned a bit about ground fighting, and learned to apply some of the tai chi principles on the ground.
During the past 20 years, I have been fortunate to teach folks who have serious experience in other martial arts. Military combat specialists, martial art teachers and balck belts in karate, BJJ, and a dozen other styles have come to spend days or weeks training here. It is always enlightening and rewarding to exchange knowledge with people who have different perspectives and skill sets.
I did once attend a Judo tournament as a white belt. This was in the days of Koka Judo, when tai chi skill could win a low-level match simply by countering and neutralizing. I could not throw them, and they could not throw me. I could tell that the referee was getting annoyed with me pistol gripping and with the fact that I was failing to do any judo. So, I stiffened up a little and let my opponent have an ippon. I worried that I was not convincing enough. But the other folks consoled me afterwards, saying, “Don’t feel bad. He’s a blue belt but he sometimes wins against black belts.
Koka Judo is long gone, and I hear that even Yuko is not a point anymore. So the days of tai chi people irritating judo referees are long gone. It reminds me of tai chi tournaments, where the rules had to changed so that wrestlers couldn’t sign up for tuishou tournaments and make a mockery of the game.
At least one of my tai chi teachers had a brown belt in Judo before he switched to tai chi. Another tai chi teacher was a Sichuan provincial shuai jiao champion. Yang Chengfu, the famous Yang Style tai chi master was said to have spent a fair amount of time hanging out with the Wrestling team in Beijing.
One of the strengths of tai chi is its mid-range skill. Strikers don’t like to be that close and grapplers don’t like to be that far away. When you are comfortable in that range, you can surprise a lot of mma folks in the bridge.
Nowadays, I get fewer opportunities to attend throwdowns or to train with people from other styles. This is especially true now. I haven’t even had a student in person since March last year.
Tai chi is not much of a martial art if it can’t deal with grappling.
If you are in the Chicago area, then I suspect you will be able to find some tai chi teachers who also do shuai jiao. I used to manage a directory of tai chi schools around the world. But I’ve let that slide for a while. I could tell you who to avoid. But I prefer not to mention their name.
Not every school is right for every student and not every student is right for every school. Find the one that is right for you.
– Ian Sinclair