In my view, kung fu is an inherited spirit that one must eventually discover on their own. One inherits this skill through proper instruction and personal drive. Yes, you acquire the technical skill-set and discipline, but most importantly, you acquire the essence or the spirit of the art.
While it is difficult to find genuine instruction in kung fu, authentic traditions are still out there. Often times, instructors do not always know the art, but most often, they fail to fully teach it. This is especially true in the way many Americanized commercial schools operate. They water-down the essential meaning of martial gong fu (hard work to achieve a masterful level). Instead many schools simply make it easier or take a martial/combat system away and transform it into a show or a fighting sport. Kung fu as a martial art is not meant to be easy and not meant to be a sport. It is meant as training to obtain the methods needed for safeguarding one's life.
Kung fu should become more of a life style. It is both a way to express oneself freely in a martial discipline and a path to self-cultivation. Additionally, the more knowledge one learns in practice, the less one wishes to use it for real and harm others. A punch is no longer as innocent as it once was when you learn about power and speed; and yet, such knowledge requires a fighting mindset- a will to fight- given the proper threat.
Tai chi is no less a channel for one's potential or a skill of extraordinary hard work and dedication. It is totally different from kung fu and yet it itself is a kung fu. Many Schools are teaching them simultaneously and it is hard to trace a time when they were inseparable.
The old masters more than likely would have varied their skills in a hard or external style with internal and softer techniques so it is folly to get too caught up with labels, legacies and categories.
As I say to my students regarding the many styles both hard and soft, external or internal: it is all part of one great pyramid. This pyramid is that of the ideal perfect martial artist. No style is perfect, no person is perfect and each person in each style starts at the bottom of a pyramid,
whether in different methods and philosophy- even totally opposite - they want to reach the top and gain this perfect way. In order to do so, they will be gradually combining opposite approaches between soft and hard, power, speed and so forth that may or may not be emphasized in their particular style. Both Hung Gar kung fu and Yang tai chi all evolved from
other styles and added new methods and philosophies as they matured in order to encompass a more eclectic martial understanding.
In a simpleton approach, Yang tai chi benefits the practitioner through a concentrated calming of non-resistance, redirecting and passive listening. Hung Gar kung fu, on the other hand, hardens the practitioner to destroy opposition through a righteous aggression. But there ends the simplicity. Advanced levels of Hung Gar require more listening and sensitivity -
technique versus muscle. Advanced levels of tai chi require less subtle, yielding movements, and more direct explosive power projected into the opponent.
Tai chi has so much to offer in terms of gaining insight into an inner strength. From the start, it utilizes soft circular qi gong basics that would be hard to get otherwise. This captures a therapeutic practice as well as a martial side. It is not towards the end of the curriculum in most
Hung Gar schools where they focus more and more on what some call external or hard qi gong. And where hung gar starts the student off with the pushing the body and mind to generate qi in the beginning, tai chi begins with the mind, the awareness of qi and the harmony of mind and qi to direct the body.
While I recommend studying both kung fu and tai chi, some people are better suited for one over the other. That is dependent on their personalities, their body types, their health, their fitness level and their overall interest. I'll leave it to you to decide which is best for you to start.
Students will get some understanding of qi awareness in their breathing and energy circulation drills of their kung fu training as well as tai chi.
Finally, kung fu and tai chi are not for everyone. Because of the commitment needed in this long-term effort, I recommend that most people stay away and only those who have a strong yearning to learn should do so. All students must ultimately make up their own mind to take up the art and discipline.