Tai Chi, like any other group activity, suffers from a certain attrition. People come to class, try it out for a bit, and then leave. Other students immediately “get it” and stay for years. There is no clear rhyme or reason to this. Some get it , and some don’t. Such is life.

But a conversation with a student brought this fact into sharper focus. The real distinction is between people who are committed and enjoy introspection, and those who don’t. Tai Chi requires the student to spend long periods of silent self-analysis, with low stimulus and a slow rhythm. In short, paradise for the introverts.

Extroverts, not so much.

We could stop the discussion right here; Tai Chi and most Chinese internal martial arts are for introverts. The rest is for the extroverts. Since the health benefits of Tai Chi are recognized by the Western doctors, a few elderly extroverts are usually sprinkled among the quiet crowds of introverted Tai Chi players.  But there is something else.

Tai Chi becomes a practice of self-defense for introverts. Not just in the physical sense, but in a broader full-life approach. By this I mean that in the relentlessly extroverted modern life we are pushed into, Tai Chi teaches us life skills to deal with the life-draining frantic energies that surrounds us.

The core idea in Tai Chi is that we have a center, or more precisely an axis, which remains still and stable no matter what life throws at us. The meditative aspects of doing the form train the mind to remain still as the body moves through space. When we progress to Push Hands, the training becomes more intense. We now have to remain still and calm as we are physically moved by someone else. Finally on a spiritual level we discover an eternal and productive Stillness, the Tao, to which we can remain connected at all times.

Tai Chi becomes both a safe haven and a training ground for the introverted among us, and the extroverts who might need a little mental space from time to time.