Q: Can Tai Chi be considered to be a competition sport?

A: If you are training a martial arts sport, the purpose is, of course, to win over your opponent. But this is simply not the purpose of Tai Chi. Tai Chi is, according to the Classics, about learning interactions between yin and yang and many other so-called internal principles described in the Tai Chi Classics. As far as we know, the Taoist monks who practiced Tai Chi as a spiritual discipline were not having competitions. The only authority that can define the art of Tai Chi is the Classics and the purpose is unequivocally stated in them.

From the Tai Chi classics:

Poem of the Practice of the Thirteen Movements:
‘If you ask what the principle for the body is,
the intention and qi is the ruler, bones and flesh are the subjects.
If wondering about the final purpose, it is to prolong life and stay youthful.
(Li Chunmao 1590 – previously ascribed to Wang Zongyue).

Treatise of Taijiquan:
‘Although their Style appears to be different from each other, in general,
they are nothing but the strong bullying the weak, and the slow being
inferior to the fast.’
(Li Helin 1787 – previously ascribed to Wang Zongyue)

‘From steady practice you will gradually come to understand energy.
From understanding energy, you will gradually reach spiritual enlightenment.’
(Li Helin 1787 – previously ascribed to Wang Zongyue)

My personal opinion on this matter is that in general the principles of Tai Chi is mostly forgotten in competions. Perhaps because the desire to gain recognition makes people take unfortunate shortcuts.

Then you may say: “why can it be considered a martial art then?” The answer is simple: Competition is SPORT, which is about winning, always. But remember that any ART form is done for the excitement of the art itself. A true artist plays with materials and friends because it is wonderful to do so and they can’t stop doing it. When you learn Tai Chi the right way it may be absolutely wonderful, and you want to keep doing it every day even without getting any praise from others.

For myself personally the goal is not to win over others, but to learn to find my own limitations and shortcomings – and most of all relax in my body and find some peace and be happy in my life. It is not the kind of happy I seek that I would get after having won in a competition because that is a rather short-lived happiness that will disappear if you lose. And there is always someone stronger than you.

The end goal of Tai Chi was simply never to push and win. Being grounded and co-ordinated in sparring is a tool to practice difficult principles and measure your progress. The very important point is that people who cannot win a competition can be much better seen in the light of applying true Tai Chi principles – it is a matter of perspective.