One of the reasons I've continued fighting in tournaments is because most internal artists don't. I've attended several huge Chicago tournaments. At the beginning of the forms competition, the internal artists--Hsing-I, Tai Chi, and Bagua--went down to one end of the gymnasium and did their forms. Then most of them went home.
I never understood why I was the only one who competed in the internal forms competition who stayed and fought along with the "external" guys.
And we wonder why they call us the "soft" arts.
You can argue all you want that tournament sparring, even semi-contact sparring, isn't "real" fighting. And it's true that you can't break your opponent in these tournaments, which is the goal of Tai Chi. But a lot of people come to watch, and when they see you doing something really cool and different, relaxed and flowing, like a Tai Chi or Bagua form, and then you proceed to kick a little booty in the sparring competition, it causes the internal arts to be looked at with a little more respect.
I've made a lot of friends at tournaments. One of my closest friends is Dan Gray, a high-ranking black belt in Shinkyudo karate. When we first met, he had a very dim view of Tai Chi. The longer we've known each other, and as we've competed against each other many times, the more respect he has for the art.
I'll never forget the time that I went to a big external tournament, won the forms competition and the fighting. A week later, I attended another huge external tournament, and one of the top karate black belts, who had never paid me much attention, saw me enter the gym and walked all the way across the floor to shake my hand. "I heard what you did last week," he said. "Congratulations. That's great!"
I was very proud, but I was also proud to represent the internal arts.
The reason arts like Tai Chi are looked upon as wussy arts is because most people in the internal arts really are wusses. They focus on "cultivating chi" and all the mystical B.S. that turns many internal arts classes into groups bordering on cult-like behavior.
The Chen tai chi teachers I've had are as tough as any martial artists out there. A lot of guys I've seen doing internal arts at tournaments, though, are the "one with the universe" guys who do internal arts but couldn't fight their way out of a J.C. Penney store.
The internal arts are never going to gain the respect they deserve by other martial artists, and the general public, in America until more internal artists grow a pair and go toe-to-toe with the external guys. In marketing, perception is reality. Until internal artists market themselves like other martial arts, the perception of Tai Chi, Hsing-I, and Bagua will remain "soft."
I don't care how old I get. I want Americans to see Tai Chi and the internal arts for what they are--not a bunch of people pretending to have supernatural powers, able to heal or knock down people without touching them--I want Americans to see the internal arts as what they truly are; powerful fighting arts that are as effective as any martial arts out there.