Ken Gullette offers good instruction on how T'ai Chi helps you build, and use, strength.
As a martial art, T'ai Chi belongs to the internal school (or Nèijiā), and as such it focuses on mind (i), energy (chi) and spirit (shen), rather than muscle, tension or force. Focusing on the internal doesn't mean you neglect the external, that is, your body, the ground, or objects. It's a matter of principle or priority.
In fact, what Gullette teaches is this:
- In T'ai Chi, proper body mechanics, rooting to the ground, and mind-redirection are all part of how you respond to, and neutralize, attacks.
- You receive the opponents force (push), redirect it through your legs, and release it into the ground.
- In practice, you become more skilled and stronger at such a response, when you work with a teacher or classmate who literally pushes us and helps you learn and develop.
- But it's the daily practice of the solo movements - following T'ai Chi principles, such as relaxation, continuity, and energy - which helps you build internal (and external) strength.
The notion of an iron fist, wrapped in cotton, is how T'ai Chi develops your body over years of practice: steel-hard on the inside, but cotton-soft on the outside.
T'ai Chi philosophy says, Soft defeats hard.
If you're primarily used to the physical arts, this may be difficult to believe or conceptualize. But think about water or wind. Yes, a tsunami or tornado can definitely create destruction. But even the gentle flow of a river and the easy passing of the wind can carve astounding landscapes like the Grand Canyon in the southwest US.
It may take time, and it may not be anything we notice, but water and wind can definitely move mountains.
It was Bruce Lee who said, 'Be like water, my friend.'