Tai Chi Competitions
There are a number of annual or bi-annual events in which Tai Chi practitioners can demonstrate and test their skills. Some are general showcases of the art in which different schools come together for a public display to entertain, inform and share. An example of this is Tai Chi Caledonia which takes place in Scotland every Summer.
Other events are the competitions such as the Zhong Ding Championships, the British Open Championships and the European Championships. If you don't live in the UK or Europe, a bit of online research will tell you what's available locally; or if you feel that your skills are at a high enough level, you may want to enter some of the competitions in China.
The Competitions may include hand forms, weapons forms, pushing hands (fixed step and moving step) and free fighting (San Shou).
You may be thinking: "but Tai Chi is non-competitive, right?"
And that's true in general. We're a pretty easy-going bunch and we're not into glorifying ourselves at other people's expense. In fact we could begin by saying that the down side of any competition is that someone has to lose and even the winners can end up with a reputation to maintain that's more of a burden than a pedestal to climb upon (there will always be someone who wants to knock you off it). These are good arguments and there are many highly-skilled Tai Chi practitioners who never compete for these and other ethical reasons.
However, there are also a few good reasons why competition organisers put themselves through the annual stress of organising these complicated gatherings.
1. It allows Tai Chi practitioners to measure their progress in understanding their art.
2. It provides an opportunity to find out if the self-defence skills you think you have acquired - when you practice with co-operative partners in your school - might actually work against a real attacker on the street. Fair enough, competitions have rules that muggers haven't heard of, but trying your hand against a succession of strangers with varying levels of skill is perhaps a preferable alternative to walking down a back street after dark in your local no-go area shouting "OK you b***s, come and get me!".
3 It provides you with an opportunity to train your mind to cope with intense emotions such as fear and anger and discover ways to keep calm in a crisis and give your best in extreme situations.
If you would like to enter a competition, here's a bit of advice:
Go along to a couple of competitions before you ever sign up to compete. You need to know what you are letting yourself in for. You can get a basic idea from YouTube clips but it's not the same as the real thing. The boredom alone, while you hang around waiting for your turn and trying to stay "warmed up", is part of the challenge, as is going straight into the next round after a heavy bout with hardly a moment to get your breath back.
Familiarise yourself with the rules, these tend to vary a bit between different competitions so you need to get the up-to-date version from the organiser of the particular event you are applying for. (And expect some changes on the day.)
Be prepared for the unexpected, such as discovering that the mat you are fighting on is only half the size of the one you fought on last year and trained on all year in readiness; or that the combat area has been situated next to a plate glass window; or that the judges are half asleep and one of them drops their score card half way through and adds an extra point to your opponent while picking it up (we have this on film!), or that the weight category you starved yourself for weeks to get into no longer exists as not enough people applied so the competition is now "open-weight" and you are up against Godzilla! (Not trying to put you off but these are just some of the challenges our own fighters have had to deal with.)
Take somebody with you so that they can cheer you on, congratulate you if you win, comfort you if you lose and drive you home/visit you in the hospital if the need arises. (Broken bones are rare but being prepared is sound wisdom.)
Make sure you have a good teacher/trainer This might be a trial and error thing in some ways. A good teacher might have students who have gained medals in competitions or they might not, (not because they are not good at Tai Chi but because they don't choose to compete.) So it's not necessarily a good thing to judge a teacher by their students' reputations. Make up your own mind by getting to know a few teachers
Train hard, fight easy It's no good having a lot of skill if you are so unfit you can't last a round against someone of equivalent skills, and it's no good being as fit as a flea if you don't have any Tai Chi skills. Like the Yin and the Yang, you need a balanced approach to your training.
Win the lottery first. It's difficult to get any kind of funding for these things and some of them have started to get a bit pricey. It's not just travel and accommodation expenses you have to find but also a matter of additional insurance/medical checks. Word on the street has it that there's now and extra £40 to pay if you want to enter the Sanshou at the British Open and that if you were to enter the world championships in China you would have to a) get to China and b) arrange to have an ECG, brain scan and various other checks done by Chinese doctors and obviously c) pay for all the aforementioned.
The same would apply if you were a boxing champion of course. So basically, competitions are becoming as much a test of how much money you've got as how good your Tai Chi skills are and we may end up going down the road of having to seek sponsorship or government backing in order to compete at international level.