Why Pretty Boys Avoid Taijiquan

Tell the truth, pretty boy. You don’t really care whether your martial art works on the streets. You just want to burn calories and build muscle, because that is what works on the beach.

So let me warn you: although Taijiquan can benefit your health, your physical appearance will pay the price. Hazards:

  • Regular abdominal breathing will relax and stretch your belly, causing abdominal distension.
  • Standing pole exercises will strengthen your shoulder and back muscles, throwing them into sharper contrast with your scrawny chest and arms.
  • Constant feelings of ease will keep a goofy smile on your face.

Get Ready for Summer!

Zhang Sanfeng
Zhang Sanfeng

Legends say that Taijiquan founder Zhang Sanfeng resembled a sloppy, dim-witted turtle. Unless you wish to follow in his footsteps, you should moderate your practice. Fitness tips:

  • Intimidate would-be bullies by sticking out your chest and chin.
  • Super-size your muscles by working each group in isolation. Scientific fact: a sum is no more than its parts.
  • Smoking and worrying make you thin. Do both as often as possible.

Share your own tips and advice below.


  1. Work more hours so that you can earn enough money to buy those weight lose pills, and that “muscle milk”. yum!

    good stuff here.

  2. Not to mention the slow speed of the body movement resulting from here :-). The relaxed movement of the body will not give anymore that “macho” impression that works for many girls.

  3. well, i’ve been busting my muscle’s asses for about 8 years on this stuff, and i have something to say about it: ultimately loss is just life before martial arts.

  4. Taji isnt all that great. You cant win a fight with it, you wont lose weight with it, you cant do jackship with it. If it had any real applications for anything they are long gone.

  5. Steve,

    I’m not sure if you’re being sarcastic or not. But if you’re not:

    Tai Chi actually helps both of those things you mentioned. Both maintenance of health (including maintaining a healthy weight) and fighting require concentration to be good at. One of the many benefits benefits of Tai Chi is the development of concentration and discipline.

    “Who overcomes by force, hath overcome but half his foe.” -John Milton

    Different arts work best for different people. If you don’t feel like your learning anything from Tai Chi than maybe it’s not for you; or maybe that’s even more reason to explore it.

  6. One of my friends goes a step further than many, he collects martial art books to line his shelves with, in his own words it is just for looks. I borrow and read them but many of them he has never opened.
    He is a type of pretty boy I suppose, just having the image of books on his shelf serves his purpose.

  7. Hey, Chris, do you have any sources for that abdominal distension thing? When I relax my belly, it is abnormally round and hard in an elastic way. But some very accomplished IMA teachers insist that a big belly is not a necessary consequence of IMA training.

  8. Sources? My sources are the dozens of pot-bellied Taiji students and instructors I have met over the years.

    I absolutely agree that a big belly is not a necessary consequence of IMA…but it does seem to be a natural consequence of Taiji.

  9. All martial arts are based on the same principles….but for you knukle heads who wont drink, or at least empty your cup here are some useful tips: ask any RKC (dragondoor.com) and you will find that abdominal breathing and inner abdominal pressure are key to martial arts not to mention strength. your body does not isolate any muscles for any martial technique, besides would you rather use your awesome chest muscles…or your whole body? snatches, clen n jerk, side press, dead lift, dips, pull ups, these are what real strength is all about. you cant have proper posture without the principle of breathing correctly. using your chest muscles to breathe raises your center of gravity… great for telegraphing… not to mention is the cause of a lot of upper back problems. yes a big belly results from laque of proper instruction on pressurizing your breathe with the vocal cords. martial arts are not to intimidate or defeat foes, its about self control. if you have more control over your own body than your opponent has over his own body and more control over our own bodies than our opponents have over us then how can we be beaten by anyone but ourselves? you might win your fight by chance while your lacking control, you cannot lose a fight when in control. read it, drink it and empty that cup! If anything think for yourselves and search for the real answers yourself, no one person is perfect, no one person can provide you with anything but a finger to point you in a direction. You have to feel being for yourself.

  10. oh and look up rkc, pavel, dragon door, and somthing called systema (russia martial arts) ballistic striking on you tube. you will see that strength comes from tension, and power comes from concentration on one thing….NOW…. which means as little distractions as possible and thus as little tension as possible(if our brains power is put into any undue tension, its focus is just that much more distracted from the goal), icluding gravities pressure form poor posture which uses our minds focus to keep us upright, our opponent who to think of as an oppenent only gives him more power (hint:there is no opponent there is only your center, and in the end, truly, only being) there isn’t even an I, for to think of yourself as I is to become trapped in a moment. there is no I only center… and truly, only being……….. oh and i’m only 23 so give me a break 🙂 I belive that true martial skill comes first from fitness through a full range of motions. then repetition of the principles (and some proper technique) of upper body, lower body, throw and wrestling, joint locking attacks (standing and on the ground) and Pressure Points (which include nerve stikes, nerve presses, hair/skin grab/tear, and seperating the muscle/joint from tendon/bone). and finally LEARNING TO HAVE NO MIND. STOP THINKING AND START BEING. then you will see that your technique is my technique. then you will be technique.

    oh and for the soft stylists out there in my opinion martial arts is about self control, so seeking to just be soft is only half the effort needed to have self control. in my opinion to truly undrstand being soft, one must understand being hard. I have found that chi is more about mental tension and having bodies that are hardened by wolffs law in any manner wont block chi, olny give us a greater understanding of it? I (of course) could be wrong;)

  11. I failed english so forgive me for my poor writing skill and horrible structure

  12. you will see that strength comes from tension
    Which strength?

  13. I can think of one very old, very strong-looking Tai Chi Chuan master. I have trained with several extremely athletic-looking Internal martial artists, with great skill in Xingyi, Bagua and Tai Chi Chuan.

    Internal martial arts will not give you a pot belly. Poor diet and lack of exercise will give you a pot belly.

  14. In fact, internal martial arts emphasise hard work and muscular conditioning a great deal. If you think it’s all about being slow and doing qigong I don’t think you’ve been taught correctly.

    Of course, the Chinese government raped tai chi chuan into tai chi and started selling that crap everywhere, so of course these impressions are persistent.

  15. Holly,

    The movements you teacher advocates will certainly require more energy but, they cannot be relied upon to maintain weight. If a muscle/group of muscles does a certain exercise regularly they develop a greater tendency towards using aerobic energy (energy derived through burning oxygen). If your only exercise is Tai Chi I would recommend a suitable diet rather than weight loss exercises. If you have time for exercises I would recommend any sport which incorporates interval training (for example, strength training, which can be integrated into Tai Chi). This simply means you don’t do one exercise for very long so the body is more reliant on sugar and fat reserves for energy production. Still, a holistic method is always better (meaning take care of your whole body in every way you can).

    Look at me, now I’m just another rambling, know-it-all poster. Remember, life is to be taken with a grain of salt.

  16. Hey, Chris, I’ve been doing Taiji with a Wu stylist for about half a year now. He’s extremely good – able to negate and redirect force with no or little movement, throw us quite a distance, and cause bad internal damage with light touches – and he does not have a pot belly.

    Also, my own belly has gotten smaller since I started Taiji with him. This might be coincidence, but it does seem to go against the “Taiji will make your belly big” notion.

  17. OK eastpaw, cool.

    Here is an experiment that anyone can run themselves. First, learn proper abdominal breathing. Second, remove posture holding, applications, push hands and weapons from your Tai Chi practice, so that you are only doing the long form. Third, let your waist and hips drift out of their correct positions while you are doing the form.

    Now your Tai Chi matches 95% of the Tai Chi community.

    Practice this way, 2 hours per day, for three months straight, and watch what happens to your belly.

    Then you can come back here, and tell me how Tai Chi really affects the human body! 😀

  18. That’s quite funny, Chris. I started a serious reply to you before I realised you were taking a poke at the 95%.

  19. Well, it’s both funny and serious. When we talk about the natural effects of Tai Chi, I don’t think we should ignore that 95%. Its failure mode is rather unique, in that more exercise makes you look less healthy!

  20. Taiji has made me more attractive to women. Nothing is sexier than a healthy and happy person. I have a taiji belly. I’m proud of it. I refuse to girdle myself and lose my oxygen intake. When I try to breath the way others do I feel like I have a cold with a blocked nose. It feels unnatural and I see why they get so many diseases. Nature wins everytime. See any gorillas with six packs? Yet they have a harem.

  21. Ha! Hilarious.

    Though I do feel compelled to say if you practice with more intense postures, Tai Chi will keep you quite fit.

  22. Are you guys serious about what this guy is writing? It feels like everyone is stupid and weird here!!! The guy that is writing about Taijiquan is telling you all false information at first I thought it was a kind of tongue and cheek blog thing but then when I saw the comments I found out this is serious. The guy says smoke and worry often as these will make you thin. First of all if you all believe that is the right way to get inti shape your all not human!!! Second of all there are much fitter ways of getting into shape!!! OMD what is the world coming to it’s because of all these weird people!!!

  23. This is very serious GB. Every Sprig I like to do a daily smoking and worrying routine so that I fit into my bathing suite by the time Summer starts. Picking fights and Super-sizing muscles is merely a bonus. I couldn’t think of a “fitter” way of getting into shape.

  24. For one obese-looking yet extremely skilled internal arts practitioner, check out Bruce Kumar Frantzis @ http://www.energyarts.com.

    He has a picture of another obese looking master in one of his larger books (“power of the internal martial arts” or something). Both of those individuals look overweight yet have the respect of those in the know in China (see the accreditations of Mr. Frantzis on his site). Other masters look small and frail, at least from pictures alone.

    From first hand experience, I can recommend Mr. Frantzis’s 16 for Wu tai chi set, I would be very surprised if any of his instructional products were anything less than excellent as well.

    In summary then, internal arts are not about the surface, but the internal health and power of a person. Judging a practitioner from looks alone is therefore a ridiculous posture, one not becoming of any intelligent or serious researcher or student of the subject matter.

  25. One more paraphrase from B.K. Frantzis on the subject of Tai Chi:

    – Tai chi done regularly, even if done poorly, will produce positive health results for the practitioner. (From one of his books on Tai Chi, and based on the western – and eastern, no doubt – scientific research on the subject.)

  26. @Jhon jr. You are clearly nuts or just playing stupid!!! First of all smoking is bad for your health and worrying causes stress wich isn’t good for a persons brain! which part of that do you call healthy? This is promoting bad ways for people especially the young on how to get thin! Now for example it’s like saying people if you want to get thin eat hardly anything and smoke crack and take drugs! Is that healthy? No it isn’t! People need to stop being lazy and get of they backsides and follow some fitness routines like cardio vascular workout for eg: Jogging, swimming, cycling etc also light weight training helps tone the body!!!

  27. As far as health is concerned, I believe physical fitness is still important, regardless of the martial art you practice. One should be able to lift a heavy box, run to the store, spend a day on a farm, etc. These things may seem unnecessary in our modern level of comfort but, things can change in the blink of an eye. It can take time to rebuild a healthy level of fitness and if something unexpected comes along, not only will the time not be there but, the added stress will make it even more difficult. Fitness and martial arts are not only about the present moment but, also very much about preparation. Whether you are preparing to defend yourself against a person, a pathogen or a craving of the mind, it’s all preparation. This is particularly prevalent in the “free world” in which is is supposed to be the civilian’s responsibility to monitor government power (I’m not just talking about revolution and war but, rather confidence to take a stance and make it known).
    Thankfully most of us are able to rely on the help of others when we are incapable but, we should not become dependent on this help if we don’t have to. Martial arts isn’t just about slow breathing and chi control. Martial arts is a psychological study. Through the physical practice we find questions for the spiritual practice. A philosophy of discipline and preparedness. Anyone can pick a fight but, the martial artist has already thought the situation over. He has considered where a fight may start, why it is instigated, the likely ability of the opponents in question and ways of assessing their ability in real time; he has decided his level of involvement before hand, regarding when to get physical and how far to go, and what he is willing to sacrifice, etc. When the time comes all this goes out the window and becomes natural wisdom which is applied with minimal thought and maximum efficiency. In my mind, physical fitness is a good way to prepare for many situations (mostly having nothing to do with combat).

  28. GB,

    I am aware it is difficult to express sarcasm in writing but, I figured this entire article was obviously sarcastic with the purpose of promoting both sarcastic and serious discussion. Thus I assumed my sarcasm would be easily spotted; I suppose I was wrong.

    However, on a serious note. Stress is actually incredibly healthy. To build strength in muscle we must repeatedly damage the muscle, so that it knows to grow. To increase critical thinking, memorizations, intelligence, etc. we must stress the mind with these tasks. The harmful bit comes from continual stress without a chance to heal and rebuild. Also, equally or more detrimental is complete lack of stress. For, without stress we would be nothing but mindless, slimy piles of useless sludge. To maintain a healthy level of stress free time we must maintain a certain amount of stress. For most people, as you will likely agree, it is difficult to find this balance.

  29. @Jhon Jr The reason I thought it wasn’t sarcastic because you and everyone else was seriously arguing over the topic, when the parts I critisized are clearly correct to only dissalusioned people! Also there isn’t one type of stress for eg; there is stress that is mentally like worrying and there is stress that is caused by exercising which breaks the cells in the bones and muscles so next time they grow back they will be more stronger!!! Also I think you should read the article and what type of stress I was referring to ,as the article isnt talking about stress caused by practicality, it is talking about mental stress so don’t mix it up with a different kind of stress!!! Oh yeh once again if you had paid attention to what I first wrote and what I was referring to you will see that I never mentioned that we should be stress free, I was reffering to the part where it said you should smoke and stress as often as possible wich I objected to and was right! So don’t twist or mix up things by saying stuff like we need to have certain amount of stress or else we would be useless sludge because I never said that we shouldn’t have stress at all I was referring to the article which said in other word you should stress alot!!! So next time you post something make sure you read what I am talking and referring to before trying to make me look like I am saying something that I never said!!! So next time please understand things fully and please I don’t want to waste anymore time explaining things again to you like this just because you are misunderstanding what I am saying!!! ThankYou!!!

  30. GB, chill out. The original post was full of irony, but that doesn’t mean there wasn’t a serious message behind the snark.

  31. There wasn’t a serious message because it is sarcastic I thought? Oh here we go again! The things I critisized I was 100% correct but Jhon was arguing about something irrelevant to what I was saying, for example he was saying we need certain ammount of stress, when I never said we don’t need it I in other words was saying too much stress isn’t good by referring to the article and then he gets it mixed up with stress that is caused by exercise when clearly me and the article wernt talking that kind ov stress! I just don’t like people that misunderstand me that’s all if they were infront of my face I could explain better but it annoys me to explain it on typing as sometimes people like Jhon and possible you could misunderstand but I hope you understand what I am saying!!! ThankYou!!!

  32. GB,

    Calm down friend. I haven’t put any words in your mouth and I haven’t argued anything you have said. I was simply adding more irony to original post. My description of stress was not meant to insult your intelligence but, merely to add on to what you were saying.

    The irony about cigarette smoking and worrying is that it can cause effects like weight loss. However, it doesn’t necessarily do so in a healthy way. It is ironic that people would engage in those activities with the goal of tress relief, but you do often hear smokers qualifying their addiction with supposed health benefits.

    For the most part, I think we’re actually on the same page (literally and figuratively I suppose). Happy training.

  33. The purpose of Tai Ch’i Ch’uan from a traditional health point of view would have been to make you a little plump even while eating a modest or even deficient diet.
    Why? because in the old days food scarcity was always a concern. Being healthy meant having a little extra fat to get you through the times when crops failed!
    Of course taichi makes you fat, duh! Any exercise routine which is older than 200 years probably makes you fat. If you want to practice Tai Chi without getting fat you have to eat less food every year. Tai chi will make your digestion more efficient–meaning less food will produce more stored energy, also known as FAT.

    However, if you are very careful, more efficient movement should also decrease appetite. So if you used to play basketball and now you do taichi, your appetite should decrease. But if you used to sit on the couch and now you do taichi, sorry you’re gonna get fatter.

  34. It sounds like there is good information here but maybe I could add my two cents (sense). Tai Chi has indeed become watered down but the reality as I have been taught is that it is not really a slow motion movement and these slow moving forms are just the begining of this deep art there are also the fast forms and fighting forms that have more realistic martial aplications, and for real physical exercise there are Nei Gung exercises that use not only chi but your tendons, and muscles. Let us not leave out the weapon forms that use weighted weapons for muscular exercise. What many fail to realize is that this is a complete martial art that also uses locks (chin na), and is very difficult to wrestle with a Tai Chi Chaun practioner because of his stable stance. The chinese had wrestling long before Tai Chi and it was used for combat until Tai Chi came around. There are many masters out there who only teach the forms and not the complete art for whatever reason, but if this art is practiced as a whole martial art you would see why it was an effective form of fighting. This art was not created to become spiritual it was created to fight. I personally know senior student from my school that won full contact tournament using Tai Chi. I also believe that most martial arts are good, only the students and sometimes instructors are bad.

  35. abdominal breathing itself over the past year and a half has left me with an abdominal section like steel. how can muscles that are constantly being contracted and relaxed turn into a pot belly.

    Also, no muscles move on their own, nothing in our bodies happen without the use of our nervous system. any training we undergo is more for the programing of our nervous system to be coordinated seamlessly with our body. we are all trying to do the same thing. instead of arguing and hating each others opinions don’t you think if we could just compile the facts and try to relate to one another maybe we would get somewhere other than all this stagnant arguing. maybe we could all learn from each other and get some real answers. maybe we could help each other improve rather than shun each other for our differences.

  36. I find it interesting and am in agreement about abdominal breathing building the abdominal muscles. It is also true that we are not looking for the same thing. What I look for is a martial art that has some application in realistic fighting (self-defense) as well as health benefits. But we should realize that health is due to many factor such as age, dna, lifestyle and diet just to name a few. So if we think that a martial art that is for combat (otherwise it wouldn’t be martial) is the only action needed for total health then maybe they should re-examine their motives. Tai chi for health is a worthy reason to take up this art but it might seem that if the martial part of this art is taken away or ignored are we really getting the full benefits (health)? If your “belly” is large from Tai Chi the I think instead of going to your sifu you should perhaps see a doctor for medical advice because ther might be something alse going on the Tai chi or maybe drinking less beer. Have you ever een Brue F. on youtube? He is a big invidual and I don’t think that he has any problem throwing people around so do not be fooled by the a person looks, boxing is another sport have you ever seen the feather weights? They look like little skinny men but could probaly hurt your average big man in the streets. If its about how you look in the beaches then take up weight lifting there is nothing wrong with that but do not judge a martial art because it doesn’t make you beach “worthy”. The fault is not the art but do “martial artist”. There is no rule where you cant do it ups and weight lifting in Tai chi. Even though there are some teachers who say don’t lift weights or do situps. Why not? I haven’t heard a good answer yet.

  37. Everyone in less than ten words please try to explain why you practice the martial arts. I think I can show how we are all trying to do the same thing our perspectives and personal agendas just make us word it differently. Please just humor me i consider myself a scientist and could use as many perspectives as possible.

  38. Thanks for these warnings … no, seriously, I used to ride my bicycle 7 days a week to keep in shape in addition to training my tai chi. I find it absolutely necessary!

  39. Well, neither Chen Zhenglei nor Chen Bing nor Chen Xiaowang have round bellies… and they are some of the most prominent Taiji masters….

  40. Having met them myself, I would respectfully suggest that you take a second look–with comparison to elite athletes in any other sport–bowling excepted.

  41. Tai Chi defuses situations before they begin. It takes two tense people to fight. If one is relaxed, a fight is less likely to occur. Any thug will be intimidated by a relaxed opponent, who isn’t afraid and looks like he could spring into action. This is the frame of mind and body Tai Chi cultivates. How many times have you looked back at a situation on the street and thought, that was really stupid and could have been avoided?

    Tai Chi heals injuries and prevents new ones. This makes a very powerful foundation for harder, external martial arts. It enables one to move faster, with more technique.

    In the old days, a Tai Chi fighter would practice all hours of the day for years before using it for actual challenge fights. Its rarely if ever practiced like this in the west, but I’ve said it is the ideal compliment to harder styles.

  42. Keeping to the humor side (2013 January) of Tai Chi:
    Don’t eat garlic or beans before long sessions of Tai Chi practice. Gas comes out of both ends. If the kind wifey is into the vegetable soup diet for the week, please bring extra underwear to change from the somewhat wet and soiled one.
    Happy and prosperous New Year to everyone. – Year of the Snake

  43. Threaten a MT practitioners that you will slow mo them and bored them to death with your long form. Ask nicely to a BJJ practitioner that you wish to hire his girlfriend as your body guard because her thighs are bigger thanyour chest size.
    (only joking for all those serious internal martial artists)

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