Does Tai Chi have any real martial art value?

Does Tai Chi have any real martial art value? I came across this excellent and informative article by Violet Li while researching push hands techniques at which I am currently woefully inept, judging by the bruises on my arms and a sore rib. Having already come across the Chinese Central TV Station (CCTV) Wushu Tournaments on You Tube I have to say I was seriously impressed with the badass takedowns and chin na techniques of one competition champion Wang Zhanjun, a practitioner of Chen family taijiquan, and Violet Li’s article, reprinted below,  provides an interesting and informative overview of a potentially confusing competition where one has to guess the rules in play and that has a clap happy teenage audience. Read on.

                                   ABOVE: Wang Zhanjun in action.

“Most people who never practice Tai Chi consider it too slow and only for seniors. So when they put 14 young fearless martial champions together, who do you think would win an all-out Lei Tai fighting tournament?

Chinese Central TV Station (CCTV) in China has been hosting annual Wushu Tournaments in recent years. One of the most exciting annual tournaments is that they include martial artists with diverse backgrounds to fight on the same Lei Tai. This year, CCTV joined venture with the beautiful tropical City of Sanya, Hainan Island and hosted a series of matches in January and aired them on TV from June 19 to July 31. Only recently the videos of the shows were posted online. All 14 contestants were national champions representing Shaolin, Ba Ji, Hong Quan (or Red Boxing), Tong Bei, Xin Yi and Tai Chi.

Aside from bare-hand fighting, contestants fought with a “weapon” that is a long staff with protected foams on both ends and wore helmets. But in the bare-hand fighting, there was almost no limits what you could do to an opponent; grappling, neck attacks, double arm grabs, sudden arm bars, grabbing around the waist, tripping, throwing, sweeping, disengagement, sudden strikes, full take-down, punching to the chest or kicking to face were all allowed. There were seven male and one female judge. There were two referees and one was a woman. The tournament format was rather nostalgic. The original one-on-one fights generated two defending champions. The later match winner got to choose which defending champion to challenge.

Chen Zicheng vs Chen Geng

Chen Zicheng vs Chen Geng

After 40 some exhaustive matches, four finalists emerged and they were Chen Style Tai Chi Chen Zhicheng, Shaolin monk Chen Geng, Shaolin monk Cheng Xianwen and Ba Ji Quan Dai Qianzhen. You can watch the final four games by clicking the link here . In the first game, red-belted Chen Zhicheng won over black-belted Dai Qianzhen with his superb skills, even though Dai is stronger and more muscular than Chen. The fight was intense and Chen’s shirt was torn. In the second game, red-belted Cheng Xianwen beat his Shaolin brother black-belted Chen Geng. In the third game, black-belted Chen Geng, who sat in the defending throne a couple times during pre-games, eventually overpowered Ba Ji red-belted Dai and won the third place in the tournament.

The 19-year old Tai Chi fighter Chen Zhicheng was 5’8” tall and weighed 159 lbs. His opponent Shaolin monk Cheng Xianwen was also 19-year-old, 5’7” and 163 lbs. Chen Zhicheng won all eight matches in pre-games while Cheng Xianwen lost once but gained the final status by total winning points. Their fighting skills were extremely comparable. After one round of weapon and two rounds of bare-hand fights, red-belted Chen Style Tai Chi Chen Zhicheng was judged as the champion for the tournament.

The gentle-looking Chen Zhicheng is a student of Master Wang Zhanjun. In the west, Wang Zhanjun may not be as well known as other 12th generation Chen Style Tai Chi inheritors. Born to Grandmaster Wang Xian, he is an undefeated heavyweight Lai Tai champion in national and international tournaments. He continued to compete even though he was the oldest one on the Lei Tai. Wang Zhanjun also trained many other Tai Chi martial artists gold medalists in Lei Tai and Push Hands tournaments.

GM Wang Xian

GM Wang Xian

People used to call Tai Chi Cotton Boxing (Mian Quan) due to its softness. Historically Grandmasters Yang Lu Chan, Chen Fake, Chen Zhaopei and a few other masters proved them wrong by winning all style Lei Tai’s. In recent decades, Tai Chi has been modified or simplified and many of its martial art applications have been removed. It is good to see that the authentic Chen Style Tai Chi still maintains this art in its entirety. In previous tournaments hosted elsewhere, Chen Style Tai Chi also knocked others out. We certainly cannot conclude that Tai Chi is the most powerful martial art simply based on these results. But we can say with confidence that Tai Chi can be an effective martial art and it processes the explosive features for both defensive and offensive purposes.” Violet Li

Back in the day! Shuaijiao masters_in Tianjin 1930

Lei Tai back in the day! Shuaijiao masters_in Tianjin 1930

Violet Li is an award winning journalist, a 12th generation Chen Style Tai Chi Inheritor, certified Taiji (Taichi) instructor, and certified Heart Zone Trainer. She has studied with many grandmasters and experts. Her passion for Tai Chi, Qigong and fitness motivates her to write. Check: Contact Violet Lee at

About Paul Brad

Freelance journalist / Publisher / Editor - Straight No Chaser magazine / Editor - L FM : Broadcasting In A Pandemic - Gilles Peterson (Worldwide FM) / Publisher: From Jazz Funk & Fusion to Acid Jazz: A History Of The UK Jazz Dance Scene by Mark 'Snowboy' Cotgrove / Music Fan: Interplanetary Sounds: Ancient to Future / Cultural Event Consultant & Activist / Nei Jia practitioner
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3 Responses to Does Tai Chi have any real martial art value?

  1. Steve Judges says:

    Great post, thanks

  2. Paul Brad says:

    Hey Steve… good to hear from you… been trying top track down Simon ‘Tai Chi’ Cousins… the man dropped off the radar! For real! Hope all’s good with you.

  3. Mike Wolfe says:

    Love that 1930 pic. Good one!!

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