Can you use Tai Chi for self defense?

Whenever I mention that Tai Chi (Taijiquan) is a martial art, people ask me: can you use Tai Chi for self defense?

Well, my usual answer to this is this:

If you urgently need to learn how to defend yourself, there are other martial arts that will help you much quicker. Because it takes a lot of time to learn Taijiquan. Instead you could rather have a look at Wing Chun, Krav Maga or Sistema, just to mention a few.

However, I do think that it is possible to use Tai Chi for self defense. Like I noticed with my son, who likes to rumble with me. When he grabs my arm, I know how to get out of it (without hurting him or me). Maybe, in an actual attack, I think I could get my arm out of someone grabbing it.

And after more than a decade practicing and meeting quite a lot of other Tai Chi people, I have to say: If you can use Tai Chi for self defense – that depends largely on HOW you are taught, WHAT you practice, and the TIME you put into the art. I’ve met people who most likely could get out of a little street attack. But there are also others of whom I think – well, they’d better run fast!

However, if you really want spend years on learning Tai Chi for self defense, here is what I think you should do:

How to learn Tai Chi for self defense

  • find a teacher who can fight: easier said than done. You might have to try different teachers and travel around a lot to finally find someone who can show you what you are looking for.
  • get yourself training partners: it’s like driving a car: you can learn it all in theory, but in the end you need to get on the road. So go to all the local Push Hands/Tuishou meetings in your area.
  • learn applications: all the Tai Chi moves have a meaning. And obviously if you want to fight with Tai Chi, you need to know what you are doing! So learn all the applications. Squeeze your teacher for answers, maybe even have a look at Tai Chi videos and even more so talk to your Push Hands partners about it!
  • practice practice practice practice practice practice practice practice. Did I mention PRACTICE?

Obviously, the more you want to use Tai Chi self defense or Tai Chi combat, the more you should do of the above!

Maybe you wonder if there is a specific Taijiquan style that is best for self defense. I actually think that it depends mostly on the teacher. I asume there are teachers from all different Taijiquan styles who simply do not show any applications at all. Or who do not practice any Push Hands. The right teacher is crucial. Finding one might take a while.

However, you could also do it like me: I do not practice Tai Chi for self defense. I just put on my Tai Chi shoes and relax. Luckily I live in a very safe environment. However, I am intrigued by the martial aspect of Taijiquan. I LOVE applications. I always enjoy when a teachers shows one, I can try it myself and have this little “AHA-moment”. Because the fighting aspect is really the difference between Taijiquan and Qi Gong!

And I really believe that some of the applications are memorized by my body. As I notice when I play with my kids.

However, there is another important aspect. Scott Meredith calls it the “Goldilock Attack Paradox”. Basically most situations where you would really want to defend yourself would be either to small (= running and screaming would be enough to get out of the situation) or too big (= dealing with multiple James-Bond villains). In all those cases, most unarmed martial arts skills wouldn’t be too helpful. (Read more about it in this book page 21*).

To sum it up: Tai Chi is not suitable for a workshop à la “learn how to defend yourself in 3 hours”. But over time you will pick up some applications. And don’t forget that all the things you learn do not only apply in physical fights, but in verbal fights also! For me, Taijiquan skills are just another tool in my communication skill box.

I think Taijiquan is fun, relaxing, and a wonderful way to move your body. The self defense skills are just a mere little long-term-bonus!

Happy Qi!


P.S.: Read this article about self defense for women: Martial arts delusion and how it hurts women. It’s eye-opening. And you’ll understand what kind of self defense tools you actually need. And Taijiquan might be just the right one.




  • Tai Chi and Qi Gong can both be used as self-defense. I came to both thinking I was going to learn a Chinese dance and breathing exercises for older people. But I have learned that even breathing can be defensive if applied properly. Tai Chi/Qi Gong are the most subtle of the defensive arts and takes longer to learn to apply. and execute, but I have had opportunities to apply these and they work so well your opponent will never know what happened. You might not believe it yourself.

  • Hi Jeffrey,
    thank you for your comment! Yes, most people do not know that Taijiquan is an actual martial art. So let’s spread the word and make it more popular, because I believe it will benefit a lot of people.

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