Taiji is not a magic pill that makes you suddenly able to fight, what you train is what you become and if you never train to pick up your hands against an opponent, not a compliant partner, you are not going to be able to use your art effectively. There are certainly many benefits to Taiji training without any fighting aspect involved, the health and longevity, sensitivity, and chance for self-work are all amazing parts of the art but realistically these things do not make a fighter. Nothing wrong with that, but deluding students and ourselves into thinking that it does make a fighter is a terrible crime. It breeds false confidence and unrealistic expectations and skews people’s visions of reality. Then, when challenged these dreamers find themselves being taken apart by beginners in arts that actually train fighting.
Can Taiji fight? Yea, I have seen it, felt it, and used it in the past. But that is a direct result of the training style I was put through mainly by Master Ma. Training with him was simple, hard, brutal workouts and lots of sparring. He once told me his method was one class of new material and practice to five classes of fighting practice. So, the only way to get the information out of him was to be there all the time getting taken apart and being given advice on your methods while you were losing. There is no reason any art cannot have this kind of focus if the student wants to go into the combative side of things. Sure, you need the right student(s) to train like this but that’s the trade-off. Commercial success is more important to running a school than putting out actually skilled people for most teachers. Choices and comprises are always made in the name of business. That’s why I have given up having a brick and mortar school, it frees me from that side of things.
Just be honest with yourself and your students. Your magical qi gongs are not going to take the place of touching opponents, they can help, but they are no substitute.
Sifu Neil Ripski is the owner and chief instructor of Red Jade Martial Arts (click here), based out of Edmonton, AB, Canada, where he offers a wide range of martial instruction in both internal and external martial arts along with their intrinsic ties to Traditional Chinese Medicine, including: Ma Family Shadowfist Boxing, Drunken Boxing, Qigong, Taijiquan, Baguazhang and Xingyiquan. He has been featured Kung Fu Magazine, among other publications, and currently offers training both in person for seasonal and full-time sessions, as well as through Patreon (click here).
P.S. (By Bret Gordon) - Sifu Ripski addresses one of the main issues not just in Taijiquan, but the entire internal arts community. One could very easily substitute the word "Aiki" for "Taiji" and have the same valid position. The internal arts have long rested on laurels earned by generations past, without giving consideration to the modern age. I've known some extremely high level aiki masters that are so refined when performing balance breaks from wrist connection drills that you can barely see them move, and yet would have no response for someone trying to punch them in the face.
For the internal arts to be viable, they must be willing to pressure test and work to apply the principles they lecture about under duress. It can be done, if you're willing to put the work in.