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Which is Better - Hsing-I or Chen Tai Chi?

Gary Liu asked this question:

I have been learning Chen Taiji for just over 2 years. One of the things that frustrates me is the seemingly unrealistic techniques and chin-na that would be unrealistic for self-defence. Felt like a waste of time covering and learning them. I have always looked for simple techniques and doing them well for self-defence purposes.

After reading your post here about practicing the concepts behind them, things fall into perspective a lot more. Instead of a chore, chin-na becomes an opportunity to learn to send force into the opponent to control his body (as opposed to control of a local joint).

The Cannon Fist routine was a lot more direct and aligns more with what I am looking for (I have learned short yilu and erlu forms - now learning a long yilu form). Though looking at your Hsing-I instructions, I wonder if I should be giving Hsing-I a go due to more direct and simple movements.

If you have time, I would be very interested in hearing your view on Hsing-I and Chen Taiji and whether it makes any difference learning which in the longer term.

That's an interesting question, Gary. I think the realistic nature of fighting applications may depend upon the quality and knowledge of your teacher. I've been lucky to have had some good teachers (Jim and Angela Criscimagna of San Diego, as the best examples) who really turned me on to tai chi as a fighting art.

Chen tai chi is tremendously difficult to do well. Two years isn't much time. I wouldn't get too impatient. Hsing-I is difficult to do well, too. Two years isn't even enough time to get the body mechanics down. You can fake it more with Hsing-I, however.

In the longer term, the true answer to this question is: whatever makes you happy is the art you should choose. But why choose just one? It's more difficult to be really good at more than one art, but it all depends upon your goals.

You might also look to see if there's another Chen teacher around. If there's a Hsing-I teacher, go take a class or watch one.

Within a month, I'll be launching a new website to teach these arts online. Something like that could supplement what you're learning from your own teacher, and you might be able to fill in the gaps in Hsing-I, Tai Chi or Bagua through the videos and techniques taught in the online school.

I would end my initial response to your question by saying that I absolutely love Chen tai chi. It's the greatest of all martial arts in my opinion (because it appeals most to me for some reason). Other people will feel the same about jiu jitsu or karate. I also deeply enjoy Hsing-i and Bagua. All three arts are closely related in the body mechanics and many techniques. But if someone put a gun to my head and told me to pick one art, I'd chose Chen tai chi. I'd choose Hsing-I or Bagua over Yang tai chi any day, but Chen is the King of internal arts. It's the foundation of everything I do, and it's a complete fighting art. The skills are so difficult to master, that you can forget about becoming a master, but if you even become "good," you will have achieved something to be proud of.


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Sean C. Ledig

One of my taiji classmates, Mike Young, is a local Unitarian minister. He made the great point that you can develop a greater appreciation of your own religious faith by studying and becoming familiar with another person's faith.

I think the same is true for martial arts. For example, even though I have rarely practiced karate for 18 years, I can do the forms and techniques better than before because I returned to the source, namely Southern Chinese Kung Fu.

I have a better understanding of the "why's" of certain techniques. I know that what are called blocks in karate are not blocks at all, but blows to destroy someone's limb. I credit my training in Filipino Tribal Arts for opening my eyes to that possibility.

I know that the sideways stepping in the Naihangchi katas/hyungs are really low kicks designed to tie up the other guy's leg and destroy his knee. Again, I picked that up from my training in Kung Fu and FTA.

Lastly, I had a session with a Japanese karate expert in 1984 who went into some incredibly minute details of how to move your legs and pelvis to transmit power up your spine, down your shoulder into your punch.

Ten years later, when I started Chen taiji, I realized what a genius that karate master was. Everything he taught was included in Chen taiji.

After I'd been studying Chen for about six months, I visited a Tae Kwon Do school and did some demonstrations of my karate sets. I was amazed at how much more focus and power I generated in my movements.

Gary may have hit a wall with his Chen Taiji. But cross-training in Xingyi might help him to discover something about Chen that he couldn't see before because he was looking at the art as an insider. Sometimes, all it takes is looking at something from a different angle.

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