About Tai Chi
Taijiquan (often written in the West as "Tai Chi Chuan" or just
"Tai Chi") is an old (about 400 years) and profound traditional Chinese martial art system that is
practised by millions of people worldwide because of it's tremendous health benefits.
When the forms (routines) are practised as gentle slow motion exercise it is physically suitable for anyone willing to put in some time and effort... although not everyone has the self discipline to make real progress. It is a complex art with many levels to it, and is a lot more complex than it may look...
Regular practise, perserverance and correct instruction helps the body to let go of tension and trains the mind to become calmer and much more focused. For hundreds of years it has been well known to increase health & vitality, improve concentration & focus, boost the immune system and ward off illness, if it is integrated into one's lifestyle.
The soft, rhythmic, circular movements of its slow practise routines gently massage the internal organs, assist the lymphatic flow, align
the skeleton, and increase circulation to every cell in the body; which over
time, can help to bring robust health.
Many people nowadays practise Taijiquan form (solo movement routine) just for its health benefits and philosophical insight. The art has been well documented throughout history for its ability to aid healing and prevent illness by boosting the immune system.
"Taiji" is the name given to the philosophy of the interaction between Yin and Yang (the opposite yet mutually supportive forces of everything in nature and the universe). "Taijiquan" is the name of the system that we practise. "Quan" (pronounced ch-wan) means fist, or in this context, means martial art style. Many people regard Taijiquan as slow relaxed movement for health and well-being, but it is actually a combination of martial techniques, breath control, rich philosophy and moving meditation.
At a basic level, the movements are performed in a slow relaxed manner, and they are suitable for most people. However, for the more physically capable students, Chen style also contains complex body methods, internal movement and energetic connections and fast explosive movements, called ‘Fa Jin’ or ‘issue force’ - bursts of power for striking, long and short range. However these can be also practised at a more casual pace depending on the students physical abilities.
The idea is to link all the body parts together through slow careful practise over time so that the body can move as one whole interconnected unit - real Taijiquan is never just "waving your arms around", it is about learning to transfer energy (movement) through every part of the body like a whip. This transfer of energy can then be applied to different techniques. The first task is to learn to hold the correct structures and alignments in each move, then to learn to link them together.
- Beginners... Basic exercises and 16 movement form
- Improvers... 30 movement form
For those that want to, the "Erlu" (second routine), nicknamed "Cannon Fist" can also be taught along with traditional weapons forms and hand to hand combat application.
However, most people find they have more than enough on their plate just learning the first routine.
It is widely accepted and historically verifiable that what is nowadays known as Taijiquan or Tai Chi (the martial art system), began around 400 years ago in Henan Province with Chen Wang Ting (陈王庭 1580 - 1660), Ninth generation of the Chen Family, when he retired to Chenjiagou (Chen family village). He was a seasoned, battle-hardened General at the end of the Ming dynasty and start of the Qing dynasty.
In his retirement he combined his vast knowledge of martial arts with Chinese Medicine theories, and a profound understanding of natural laws and Yin/Yang philosophy. The family style took their name and much later became known as Chen style Taijiquan.
Chen style is the original and most complete system, because, as the Taijiquan family tree spread across China, a lot of knowledge was lost within the other styles (Yang, Wu, Woo, Sun styles). Chen style perfectly embodies the yin & yang theory with its use of both slow and fast, soft and hard, high and low movements as well as its characteristic twining and coiling techniques.
Practising Taijiquan form - not as easy as it may look!
All styles of Chinese martial art have solo practice sequences known as "forms" that contain the techniques of the style. Nowadays, it has become popular for people to practice in groups, although greater progress can be made by oneself. In Taijiquan the forms are practiced regularly in order to develop the attributes required to progress one's skill level. The level of detail beginners learn is just the tip of the iceberg as the art is infinite in its depth.
A common misconception is that Taijiquan is the 'easy' answer to exercise. This could not be further from the truth. Most beginning students find out very quickly that it is extremely physically challenging, very complex and difficult to co-ordinate correctly. Some measure of dedication and regular practice is required to make any real progress in this art.
A student starts learning with large extended movements and the focus is on correct posture, alignment and smooth transitions that abide by the core method. As a person progresses, the circles generated from their body become gradually smaller, subtler and more internal. At an advanced level, these circles become very small, sometimes almost undetectable. This is why each persons Taiji form looks slightly different. We are all at different levels of ability. Whilst the techniques may have the same template, it is how the movements are generated, controlled and expressed that separates the level of the students.
As a beginner, one should breathe naturally during form practice and not try to force the breath to fit the postures. In the beginning, the movements themselves are enough to contend with... Taijiquan can be practiced at different speeds depending on training goals. If you practice very slowly you will need more breaths for a movement than if your movements are quicker. However, over time, and as the movements become part of you, you will develop a deeper 'body-intuition' and the correct breathing patterns will be taught and integrated with ones movements, to create a smooth & efficient way of executing the techniques, with the internal driving the external.