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 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 teach it fully. This is especially in the many Americanized commercial structures that water-down the essential meaning of gong fu in order to make kung fu easier or take a martial combat system and transform it into a fighting sport. Kung fu as a martial art is not meant to be easy. Kung fu as a martial art was not created to be a sport.
Kung fu should become is rather like a life style. It is both a place 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 yet, such knowledge requires a fighting mindset- a will to fight- among the proper threat.
Tai chi is no less a channel for ones 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 and passive listening. Hung Gar kung fu, on the other hand, hardens the practitioner to destroy opposition; meanwhile, the method of tai chi trains one to deflect it (or let the enemy destroy themselves). But there ends the simplicity. Advanced levels of Hung Gar require more listening and sensitivity.
My feeling about tai chi is that it has so much to offer in terms of gaining the insight of an inner strength through qi gong basics that would be hard to get otherwise. Some Hung Gar schools focus more on what some call external qi gong but where hung gar starts the student off with the pushing the body and mind to generate qi, tai chi begins with the mind, the awareness of qi and the harmony of mind and qi directing the body
While many attribute this experience with the spirit or qi (Chinese term for life energy or life force), the sensation is real, and it is a totally different dynamic from what most beginners in most styles learn in kung fu. Modern Shaolin monks still hold a valid respect of qi cultivation- much of it in breath and energy circulation- while many kung fu schools have lost its importance or they overemphasize it. Some are at the extreme of teaching what some might call magical things and they overemphasize qi gong as the mens and the ends- getting into other focuses of energy healing and miracles. I teach a balanced and realistic approach.
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 try. Students will get some understanding of qi awareness in their breathing and energy circulation drills of their kung fu training.
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 practice.