: You are a two time world champion in Tai Chi Chuan. Many BJJ practitioners write off styles like Tai Chi. Why do you think that is?
: I was fortunate enough to be introduced to Tai Chi Chuan by William CC Chen, who is humble, understated, very practical, a true master of body mechanics, and a fabulous teacher. He is well into his seventies and is still a demon in the boxing ring. If grapplers were exposed to William Chen’s Tai Chi, they wouldn’t write it off
But to answer your question—honestly, a very large percentage of Tai Chi practitioners have their heads in the clouds…and they are the ones who make the most noise, stage the silly fake demonstrations, and create a cultish mindset that a practical fighter can just walk right through. I’d write them off too. Plus the system has little groundwork and most teachers are still closed minded about that element of the martial arts. Frankly, I think this problem is rampant in many traditional martial arts—teachers are terrified of looking bad and losing students so they create a world that denies what they don’t know.
On the other hand, if you travel to Taiwan and China and focus on the top competitors, the Tai Chi scene becomes incredibly dynamic. The rules of International Push Hands comptition are that you are in an 18 foot diameter ring and points are scored for throwing the guy on the floor or out of the ring. No frills. The fighters are superb athletes, training 6 and 8 hours a day since childhood, competing all the time. There is no fancy esoteric language—they just smash you on the floor with a speed and power that is breathtaking. They are open-minded, incredibly subtle, and of a very similar spirit to the top BJJ fighters.
: What benefits from Tai Chi do you bring to BJJ and vice versa?
: Well, the learning process begins from different places but arrives, ideally, at a similar feeling. In BJJ, you tend to begin with technique, and through repetition you come to a smooth, efficient, unobstructed body mechanics. In Tai Chi, you begin with body mechanics, get a certain internal feeling over months and years of moving meditative practice, and then you learn the martial application of what you’ve been doing all along.
The essence of Tai Chi is sensitivity to intention. Turning force against itself, overcoming power without meeting it head on. Of course these principles are at the heart Jiu Jitsu as well. In my mind, the arts are completely intertwined and to be honest, the purest Tai Chi I’ve ever felt has been getting my ass handed to me, over and over, by John Machado and Marcelo Garcia