Hard Verses Soft Styles
The short version of this article is that it is a load of nonsense to suggest Soft syles are better than Hard. It's the individual who can make any style great or of no value.
"9. Use the Mind Instead of Force
Start from soft to hard. Not hard to hard or limp to limp."
"Don't use too much force. Use your mind. Too much force creates tightness. You have to be relaxed but not limp. It's seems the Qi (energy) follows your mind. So if you flick a whip, but hold the energy in and are stiff, it's difficult to get a crack. But if you stay relaxed and place your intention on flicking the end of the whip, you achieve a crack. This is the supposed significant difference between Hard and soft styles."
However, having trained in both for an equal period of time (well longer in Hard), it would seem this is more based on the fact that many Tai Chi students and teachers have never done a hard style to any depth and just believe what they read about hard styles. I feel to make this claim about a hard style, you must have done an equal amount of time (in years) in both to really have any valid opinion.
In modern Karate their are many soft techniques using evasion and relaxation such as Uraken (Back Fist Strike) and Tension Kata's and techiques (sweeping blocks and evasion, redirecting your opponent). Even in the more obvious train crash situations (You punch at 5mph, they move forward at 5mph, the impact on them is 10 mph) uses soft to hard ideas. The downside is that situation favours the strong, but the punch is still thrown in a relaxed manner (in theory) to achieve speed and on the moment of impact given weight and tension.
It's fair to say that the ideas of Tai Chi take the ideas of energy control to a greater depth, in that by using the mind to decide where you wish the energy to flow (the idea is) it delivers it to that point. Just as a footballer under pressure seems to kick the ball at a goalkeeper, so there is a tendency to hold in your own energy by concentrating on the impact point and your own body rather than releasing the full energy.
Hard styles tend to promote the idea of punching through an object rather than at it to overcome this mental barrier. Soft styles concentrate on training the mind to release the energy. Remember, the whip has no energy of it's own when it cracks, it's your energy that is released, but contained at the point the size of a nail head. But that requires complete relaxation and the intention to completely release the energy. It seems the object of the whip gives the user the self belief to achieve the aim. Remove the whip and it becomes not so easy to release and remain relaxed, yet the principles and actual body actions remain similar.
However in real life, it's the individual who does the fighting and real people have a habit of kicking the s**t out of you if you if you just train to fresh air and friends. This is a good reason why a professional boxing ring isn't full of martial artists who could earn a fortune. Because in real life it really hurts.