I decided a short time ago to write this for a friend who had asked me about my thoughts on the viability of tai chi/chi kung training as it pertains to combatives training. While many are either seemingly pushing the woo-woo, chi-power, metaphysical powers of chi kung or tai chi, or trying desperately to re-transform it into a powerful fighting art, I thought I’d take a few minutes to offer some rather tangible functional benefits it ‘can’ contain, as is:

  1.   It teaches one to lengthen movements. As movements are shortened dramatically by the effects of adrenaline, fast styles and techniques over-reliant on speed often fall by the wayside and don’t have near the desired impact in real situations as “in the dojo”. (As an aside, the techniques, poses themselves, and positions aren’t nearly as important the control, relaxed power, and deliberate movements it promotes. Actual combative concepts can replace traditional ones with the same mechanics in-play)
  2.   It can teach proper use of the kinetic chain for maximizing power and efficient movement. Proper power development…and power is a more important than speed in a violent scenario, the vast majority of the time.
  3.   It teaches slow deliberate practice, which leads to efficient myelination/”uploading” from proper, progressive, and correct conditioning of skillsets for function. We’ve likely all heard the “slow-is-fast” maxim but training things deliberately and with purpose sets them more permanently, in proper context, and with greater efficiency.
  4.  It can teach breathing, both while static (the “interview” phase of developing conflict) and while moving in a dynamic arena (active/aggressive). I realize this is given tons of lip service but many don’t seem to really know why, but the major reason is because when adrenaline floods our system, we tend to predominantly stop breathing, putting access to our training and conditioning “off-line.” (We panic, forget, disconnect from) Remembering to breath and having done so out of various constructs, triggers us to do so when it matters and keep us “online”, therefore having accessibility to prior training. (hopefully correct and aligned with what actually happens pertaining to real violence)Image result for chi kung

5.  It teaches body control and relaxation. Simply, the more relaxation one can achieve within the restraints of adrenal-stress response, the more subtle, explosive, and decisive the movement(s) following and the less chance of a powerful counter.

6.   The grounding/rooting and balance helps one to “sit on” one’s shots, as well, putting proper body weight into those mechanics. Footwork is the fundamental fighting tool. Without balance, agility, movement, power generation, angling, zoning…..all other skillsets fall by the wayside.

7.  As an aside, I often hear critique on the hip-punching done in tai chi/chi kung/karate/kung-fu, etc. However, as we can see from case studies, violence videos, mixed martial-arts matches, personal experiences from experienced people….taking longer trajectory to the target has shown little to no problems of connection from the various ranges/stages of fighting. Punches from the hip often fall under the depth perception line caused by adrenaline/extreme focus, are heavy in power, and connect far more often than the bullshit myths in martial arts will have you believe.

8.  While this may be a stretch to those long-timers in the “internal arts”, I’ve often (personally, so take with salt) made a correlation of the 2 types of Chinese breathing (Buddhist – regular, belly expands when inhaling & Taoist – reverse, chest expands/belly contracts when inhaling) with relaxed or controlled breathing and tension or stress breathing. Relaxed when at rest, at ease, or able to be controlled when under minimal or containable stress. (including during low-level or pre-escalation conflict) Tension breathing when exerting oneself physically (including fighting).

9.  It can teach self-control, discipline, and patience…3 monumentally-important elements when dealing with conflict management and pre-violence escalation, not the least of which are important in cultivating proper violence mindset and state-change capability.

Notice I use the word “can” for more than one of the examples given as, remember, this is in reference to this practice being combined with actual fight training, that which hopefully correlates and reinforces our innate survival skills and instinctive fighting mechanisms. Can all these things be found in other training methodologies and personal manners of fight training? Absolutely. However, I find these elements often go unexplained as to their reasoning (or unknown, for most trying to make the correlation) or context as it relates to real-world issues.


The “Dual Process Theory” of human thought has been around for some time, in varied incarnations, how generally decision-making is done by 2 different processes. The most recent that has gained momentum is from Daniel Kahneman, who in 2003, came out with the terminology of “system 1” for what’s inevitably intuition, and “system 2”, regarding reasoning.

Now, these 2 systems sometimes overlap, let’s take driving as an example. As we learn to drive, a lot is going on upstairs – focus on what others are doing on the road, our pressure on the pedals, reeling in the environment around us, worrying about directions, etc. A lot to take in. This would qualify as system 2, as we’re perpetually having to make conscious decisions based on analysis of best possible outcome. As we become more experienced, a lot of these processes become automatic based on time, like-scenarios, prior familiarity –  system 1, intuitive. There are also times where these processes come into contact with one another. In events where our safety or protection is at stake, system 2 may take too long to come up with precise solution to the problem, so we default to system 1 – intuition takes over and, based on prior experiences, comes up with the best possible solution to the immediate problem, “overruling” system 2, which is taking too long to give finality with something that needs immediacy.

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While, apparently, there are still some flaws in the theory (I’m not a neuro-scientist nor do I claim to be), it’s an interesting and relevant theory pertaining to self-defense and personal preservation.  Even if some parts of the theory are unsound or the theory itself is proven lacking over time, there’s still a lot of validity here when explaining threat analysis and recognition to students or civilians.  There are 2 points I’d like to gloss over here:

  1. It has the potential to make for a much easier idea to transmit to students or the general public as opposed to something like the Cooper Color Code, which often tends to draw a lot of confusion, over-thinking, and paranoia in the average student, even when given clear explanation. Telling them that they’re hardwired to notice important things in their vicinity that may affect their well-being automatically and their rational thought will be alerted when more complex decisions need to be made makes for less paranoia, less overthought, and less confusion over the minutiae that so many self-defense instructors love to harp on. Stop being paranoid and perpetually looking for irrelevant things that stand-out, analyzing constant stimuli, assessing people – and let what’s already innate look for the important things that ‘are’ relevant to your safety, while you continue on with your day as needed. Being jacked and forever honed-in is not healthy.

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2.   Maybe entirely hypothetical (maybe not) but what if (just what if) this is related to actual violent conflict as well? It would explain a lot of things we see regularly with real violence, social media, Youtube videos, case studies, first-hand reports, etc….even with trained people. Under heavy duress, most people revert back to primal means of survival – innate survival skill/instinctive fighting/naturally-occurring technique, – those things which system 1 gravitates to to overrule system 2 (trained response), which often takes conscious thought or “upload time” when/if it goes against what’s survival-driven evolutionarily. If System 2, or trained responses that aren’t in line with evolution, take too long, are too complex, or don’t go along with what’s hardwired – system 1 or intuitive response to something that threatens our safety or survival, kicks in, overwriting poor or unnatural training, no matter how conditioned or for how long. If it’s in-line, it can enhance and supplement our natural innate survival response mechanisms.

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Something to think about. If oftentimes, the simplest explanation is usually the correct one, or at minimum the one that helps us understand and go about our day with the most calm and confidence, then maybe this has more than a little validity. And now, to wait on the theory’s durability…