Today, the vast majority of students who study martial arts have no desire to be “fighters”. Many may want to learn “self defense” but in reality, the major benefit of martial arts today is learning proper movement and the improvement of health. From the Yang family’s evolution of Chen family fighting art to public health method, to Swedish fencer Pehr Henrik Ling’s “Swedish gymnastics”, to Judoka Moshé Feldenkrais’ healing movement method; there seems to be a natural evolution to find from combat method a form of healing and corrective movement.
Tai Chi as corrective movement has much to be said for it, as does the FeldenKrais method, et al. But clearly, the change in direction has inherent dangers. If we stray too far from the martial origins of these methods, we risk losing our direction. We risk losing our sense of reality. We risk falling for ridiculous superstition, embracing ineffective methods and building cults of personality.
Combat method and healing movement seem two separate paths, but really they can be practiced as one. That is, you may not train for combat, but you still train martially. That is, the methods of practice are the same, even if you have no interest in “testing” the methods. In other words, your practice must exhibit the same characteristics regardless of your intention.
The body must have the proper shape. You must stand correctly. Your body must be aligned correctly. You must have awareness of your core, your limbs and your head. You must have awareness of your breathing and your balance. The outward appearance of the fighter and the hobbyist should not be radically different.
Even when you move rigorously, you must move with coordination and “effortlessly”. By this, I mean that the body must work with the correct coordinations; hands and feet, shoulders and hips, eyes and hands, etc. Whether you refer to the “Dan Tian” or the “core” the idea is the same. We transition from awareness through stillness to movement with awareness.
When proper structure and proper movement are utilized, the issuing of power should be a natural outcome. There is no such thing as “soft martial arts”; if you can not strike or kick with some power, against something like a heavy bag or a pad, there is something fundamentally wrong with your practice, regardless of your orientation.
If you are not training to fight, there is nothing wrong with this. If you are not really training to fight, to think you can fight just by doing a part of the tradition is foolish and ultimately will undermine your practice. Train with Truth.