I continue to think about the question of why many Taiji masters can’t fight.

If I had to pinpoint one issue, it would be the sheer weight and demand of Chinese culture. Traditionally, it was never enough to just do one thing at a time. It had to be elevated, artistic, and completely tied to all the classical scholarly standards.

Speaking as someone who’s looked for this, do you know that the classical records don’t talk about martial arts, or have biographies of famous martial artists? There are numerous accounts of wars, battles, duels, assassinations, and murders. There are celebrations of great warriors. But there are no records that parallel the oral histories within martial arts schools.

I asked my master once about this and he winced: “Because martial arts by itself was considered vulgar.” His father was a general, his grandparents were martial artists, and he was trained in many schools. I could see the weight of that attitude.

That may be part of the reason why Taijiquan has to associate itself with such a lofty philosophical concept. It’s why it has to be simultaneously spirituality, exercise, relaxation, philosophy, and poetry (the names of the postures for example). Few normal Chinese parents would send their kids to a martial arts school just to be brawlers. There had to be other reasons. That, by the way, is how most martial art schools today advertise themselves for kids: discipline, focus, confidence, health.*

That makes it challenging to be considered “good” at Taijiquan. You have to be able to show mastery in so many different areas—just to be considered good at the “one thing,” that is Taijiquan.

We have to balance all aspects of Taijiquan equally. That means fighting is as important as health is as important as philosophy is as important as spirituality. That’s a tall order. And it’s why, like songbirds in gilded cages who can no longer live in the wild, so many Taiji “masters” can’t fight.

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* As a father, I wouldn’t ever send a kid to a school that only taught combat and whose teachers weren’t ethical, safe, able to explain greater concepts, remain nonviolent in class, or be nurturing to children.

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Note: this photo for illustration only and is not a comment in any way about the people shown.