Some people practice Taijiquan primarily for self-defence or fighting, and others are more interested in its beneficial effects on physical and mental health. The true taijiquan schools from a traditional lineage impart their training within a martial art context, even if a majority of their students profess that they are only interested in learning for the claimed health benefits.
Taijiquan has a well-known reputation for ameliorating the effects of aging. Our masters stand testimony to that! It can take years off your actual age. On a more serious note, we do see that hospitals, clinics, community and senior centers have incoprporated Taijiquan classes in communities around the world. Along with Yoga, it is one of the booming fitness and health maintenance activities.
BUT … due to the fact that there is no universal certification process, most people who have not come into contact with Taijiquan don’t know what to look for. The way Taijiquan teaching has evolved today, practically anyone can learn and simply make up a few moves, then call themselves a teacher!! This is extremely devastating for the development of traditional Taijiquan. Now, there are relatively few of these teachers who even know that there are inherent martial applications behind each Taijiquan form. Those who do know that it is a martial art usually don’t provide training in a martial context. And most of those teachers who do try to teach self-defense, often integrate the moves of some other system and try to assimilate them awkwardly into a Taijiquan move.
By ignoring the martial aspect of teaching Taijiquan, it has simplified the teaching process, and has made Taijiquan more accessible for a wider audience. However, the genuine, traditional Taijiquan family schools will still base their training on a martial focus, which is a fundamental part of their foundation, both for health and self-defense purposes. Why a dual emphasis? While the students may not need to practice martial applications themselves in order to derive the health benefits from Taijiquan training, their teachers at least, should know the applications well enough to ensure that the movements are done correctly and safely by their students.
Without teaching in awareness of the martial layer beneath the external forms, these teachers cannot be said to be teaching an art. They can be said to be teaching a sport. Also, they will not be able to reproduce the full health benefits that have made traditional Taijiquan’s reputation in health maintenance.
Adapted from Tai Chi in the Present, a section in Wikipedia.