Tai Chi is an ancient martial art and all movements are rooted in original fighting application. Many schools still teach Tai Chi as a fighting system, using energy and strong rooting to imbalance an opponent, much like the japanese Aikido.
Our main purpose in Tai Chi is health improvement
Personally I put more focus on the health aspects of Tai Chi. I studied Karate for a long time and am pretty sure I would go back to those techniques if I ever needed to defend myself. I studied Tai Chi over the same duration so it’s not about new versus old habits. Plus if you want to be able to defend yourself effectively with a short learning ramp you should buy pepper spray anyways.
Most people who come to our classes follow the same goals (I know, it’s selection bias). They want to learn Tai Chi for health, for balance, as an antidote for stressful jobs and to improve their mindfulness. They know the movements originate in martial arts and we often show potential applications to more fully explain the movement.
However, one wonders if Tai Chi would actually create the right reflexes that are needed to defend oneself if ever needed. Especially if a student focuses on the form, precision in movement, flow and the typical slow, deliberate execution. We practice Yang style, so we don’t have the explosive techniques in-between that the Chen style teaches.
Muscle memory – polish, polish, polish
I think Tai Chi, even when practicing the form, builds up those reflexes over time. You won’t become a hand to hand combat strategist or skilled offensive attacker, but your muscles will learn self-defense movements and those will turn into muscle memory and eventually reflexes.
Don’t focus on the application, your body will react through reflexes anyway. Focus on the proper execution of a movement and the other pieces will fall into place.
“Wax on, wax off.”
Mr. Myagi in Karate Kid
Of course it will take years but then again, that’s not why we are doing Tai Chi to begin with and we hope to never use those skills anyway. If you are looking for a quick solution, buy pepper spray.
Slow is smooth, smooth is fast
In my personal opinion, I also don’t think one must try to execute movements fast. One should try to execute them correctly, with minimal waste through unnecessary movements, keeping all muscles relaxed and as smoothly as possible, flowing from one movement into the other without interruption.
As you build up energy flow and smooth out blockers, you will build up speed and force. Water breaks the rock. Remember the old saying:
Slow is smooth, smooth is fast.
If your movement is fluid it will be fast when it needs to.