I’ve been doing Tai Chi on and off for twenty years but I'd honestly never considered that it could be used as a form of self defense mostly because it's so calm and fairly gentle (at least the way I've been taught).
While Tai Chi might not be the first form of physical combat that springs to mind when your mind starts to drift toward martial arts, as Terrence Stamp so eloquently said...
"The fundamentals of every form of martial arts are the same".
You just need to know how, and when, to best apply them.
The Soft Defense
A lot of its more faithful students were initially attracted to Tai Chi because, unlike a lot of other martial arts.
It isn’t purely physical and doesn’t emphasize confrontation and sparring as a means to practice and perfect it.
That helped Tai Chi to become known as a “soft defense” as it doesn’t rely purely on physicality and isn’t dependent solely on strength and speed to enable those who study it to defend themselves.
Even though it stresses harmony and the balance and relationship between the body and mind and physical and mental wellbeing, like any martial art, Tai Chi is also an incredibly focused and effective means of self-defense.
It might be seen as being soft, but in a real-world setting, when it’s used in any sort of confrontation, it can be just as brutal and punishing as its other, far brasher and more ostentatious “relatives”
As any fighter will attest, there really isn’t a soft way to defend yourself in any sort of physical confrontation.
In order to make sure that you’re able to safely walk away from any situation in which you’re forced to deal with someone intent on doing you harm, the only way to defend yourself is by hurting the person attacking you.
Speed isn’t everything, and Tai Chi prepares its students by increasing their self-awareness and focus and ensuring that every aspect and move becomes etched into the mind of the student.
That way if, or when, they find themselves in a situation in which they are forced to physically respond, they can react instantly and without hesitation,
The muscle memory and spiritual balance that become as natural as breathing to any Tai Chi student ensures that they’re able to emerge from any “fight” in which they are not the aggressor, relatively unscathed.
And while we can’t promise that the person who ultimately preempts that confrontation won’t sustain some level of physical damage, what they do endure will only be what they have ultimately brought upon themselves.
After all, Tai Chi believes and is founded upon, defense and not offense.
Which Tai Chi Style Is The Best For Self Defense?
Like any form of martial arts, Tai Chi has a number of separate and distinctive styles that are meant to be used for different purposes.
Yang and Wu styles are built around large, graceful movements that were predominantly based on wrestling stances and styles and are most commonly associated with the more spiritual side of Tai Chi (Tai chi is not great for self defense on the whole - see 14 Disadvantages of Tai Chi)
Hao style is an evolved form of the Yang and Wu disciplines that is more focused on the internal rather than physical aspects of Tai Chi.
Considered to be Tai Chi spiritual masterclass, Hao encourages the individual to focus on themselves rather than the external world and the stimuli that surround them.
Sun style is the form that always leads people to think of Tai Chi as an elaborate dance that is closer to yoga than martial arts, as it emphasizes movement as a way to connect the body, mind, and chi of an individual.
It’s incredible and entrancing to watch and a perfect way for a beginner to learn the fundamental aspects of Tai Chi.
But if you’re merely looking for a way to defend yourself without submitting your body to the physical punishment that a lot of other martial arts would inflict on it, the style of Tai Chi that should draw you toward it like a bee to honey is Chen style.
It combines speed and slow, sure and precise movement and is slightly more physically demanding as it focuses on strikes and the practitioner’s ability to react.
Chen is the only style of Tai Chi that is directly related to the more physical aspects of other martial arts and is absolutely the best style of Tai Chi to practice if your motivations are driven purely by the need to learn self-defense rather than the more spiritual aspects of Tai Chi.
Can I Use Tai Chi To Fight?
As it’s a martial art, you can use Tai Chi to fight with, but the more pressing question should be “Why do you want to fight?”
As effective as it is in fighting, the goals and belief system of Tai Chi aren’t suited to or meant to be used for brawling.
If you wish to practice a more fight-oriented style of martial art, then we would suggest you might be happier learning and practicing Karate instead.
Just because you can use Tai Chi to fight, why would you want to?