Tai Chi | What is Tai Chi?

Tai chi is said to encompass the spirit of Chinese metaphysics, meditation, and medicine in the body of a martial art.

What is Tai Chi?

Tai Chi Chuan is a centuries old Chinese system of movement originally taught as a martial art.  It is considered to be the softest of the internal martial arts “Kung Fu” of China, as well as a moving meditation.  The internal martial arts stress cultivation of internal energy called Chi.

Traditional Chinese Medicine is interested in increasing or balancing the internal energy of the body to maintain health.  Many exercises systems were developed along with the use of food, herbs, massage and techniques such as acupuncture, to ensure proper Chi flow and balance in the human body.

The Yang Style is one of many different Tai Chi systems practiced today.  The word “Yang” refers to the family in China who taught this particular style – some of the family still teaches around the world today.  The basis for this style is called the “Long Form.”  The Long Form consists of one hundred and eight choreographed movements that have martial applications.  All movements are connected and practiced in one slow continuous set without stopping (typically between 20 and 30 minutes).  Emphasis is placed on proper body alignment, correct comfortable foot placement, deep abdominal breathing with soft relaxed movements.  Though relaxation is the most important, the goal is generation and cultivation of internal energy.

After learning the entire form correctly, one can start to move more softly with deeper relaxation.  Total concentration should be placed on the continuity and flow of the movements.  When the form becomes more familiar, you spend less time thinking about external movements and start to look, feel and listen to the energy flow within your body.  With continual practice, you begin to focus the mind only on the form, so all other thoughts are forgotten during the set.  You will be performing a moving meditation.  After years of persistent practice the flow of energy will become stronger, and you will gain more control over the flow of Chi in your body.

Tai Chi | Tai Chi Basics

Movements are connected and practiced in one slow continuous set without stopping. Emphasis is placed on proper body alignment, correct comfortable foot placement, deep abdominal breathing with soft relaxed movements.

Tai Chi Principles

Head top suspended: Your head should feel like it is being suspended by a string, completely relaxed over the center of your shoulders.  Allow the neck muscles to relax without letting the head lean to either side, or fall forward or backward. Listen behind, we tend to project to much to the front.  The head should therefore be in a natural erect upright position. This is important since the head, torso and spine configure a unit. Consequently, the position of the head influences the posture of the body.  The head where possible always remains square to the shoulders and never turns alone.

Place the tip of the tongue on the top of the mouth: The tip of the tongue must curve up onto the upper palate of the mouth and lightly touch a point directly behind your upper front teeth.

Sink the chi:  Allow the energy to sink without bending the knees.  Surrender the energy into your legs.  Imagine the flesh sinking while the skeleton remains in position.  Begin each move by allowing the release of energy, surrendering the energy through the body.

Relax the chest: A relaxed chest is slightly sunken. Avoid pushing your chest out for this position will cause your upper body to be heavy and your lower body to be light.

Open the kua: Relax the hip-crease.  Allow the hips to open, keeping the knees aligned with the direction of the foot placement.  The hips should always move as a natural consequence of actions initiated in the legs.

Round the shoulders: The shoulders should be relaxed and slightly rounded. Since all your joints are part of one another, having a relaxed shoulder means to have a relaxed elbow. Shoulders, arms, and hands should all move in unison. If you push your hands too far forward your arms will be stretched. This makes it impossible for your shoulders and elbows to hang down, therefore going against the least resistance to the pull of gravity. The shoulders should never be forced backwards during any technique.

Allow the pelvis to turn slightly upward: This adjusts the angle of the pelvic girdle and creates a vertical posture allowing for an equal distribution of weight on the lower back. The spine is coaxed into an optimum vertical position. Tension and stiffness are then relieved in individual vertebrae.

Quiet the mind:  Allow your mind to be free from distractions. Chi follows the mind so that wherever you put your attention, chi accumulates. This is the reason that mental self-discipline is so important. Ultimately, everything depends on your will or mind, and not on the external appearance of the movements.

Fair maiden hands:  The hands must follow a natural curve and should neither be fully limp (relaxed) nor fully stretched (tensed). This requires a slight straightening of the fingers thus creating a modest stretching of the palm. Move the hands as if pulling a silken thread; any sudden jerks will break the silk. Feel the chi in your hands, particularly the palms.

Hip-tracking: The hip-track is the simple path that relaxed hips naturally travel through when weight is shifted from one leg to another in Tai Chi practice. Moving through the hip-track ensures rootedness as it ensures alignment between the thighs and the base in the feet and effortlessly prevents the torqueing and twisting in the knees and ankles.

Be mindful of the knees:  The knees should never extend over the center of the shoe.  The knees should always point towards the toes and remain slightly flexed -never locked straight.  Bent knees provide springiness to your legs. Strength and flexibility of the sinews of the knees determine to a great extent the strength and effectiveness of the whole body.

Develop your root:  This requires proper foot, knee, and hip alignments. Search for the feeling of having your leg planted six inches below the floor.

Tai Chi movement:  Each movement must be light, nimble and continuous. In all movements the inner strength is rooted in the feet, developed in the legs, controlled by the waist, and expressed through the limbs. The two complementary factors, emptiness and solidness, must be distinctly differentiated throughout every movement.

Stay inside your box:  Don’t overextend your limbs.  Be moderate and avoid all extremes. Do not overreach or overstretch.

Try to maintain a consistent flow:  Always maintain an even flowing motion from start to finish.  Don’t rush the transitions.  Continually shift your body weight and position. Avoid double movements. Chi is blocked when the flow is impeded or a pause occurs within the sequences.

Move with intent:  Feel the contact with your opponents as you move through the form. Martial intent leads the chi and opens the meridians.

Tai Chi stepping: When moving forward touch the heel down first, when moving backward touch the toe down first. Gradually shift your body weight into the foot, letting the rest of the sole proceed into place. Your body weight should be shifted from one foot to the other as if pouring chi from one leg to the other.  Always maintain some stickiness to the floor with each foot.

Loosen waist:  The waist must be flexible as it controls your energy in both offence and defense. The waist acts like a steering wheel, giving direction to all movements, i.e. intrinsic energy is the rim of a wheel; the waist is the hub of the wheel. The order for movement is issued from the waist.

Tai Chi | Tai Chi Benefits

With meditation you find motion in stillness. With tai chi you find stillness in motion.

Tai Chi Benefits

Despite its long history, tai chi has only been studied scientifically in recent years. With regular practice, you can expect the following benefits:

• Reducing stress
• Reducing anxiety and depression
• Improving sleep quality
• Lowering blood pressure
• Improving cardiovascular fitness
• Relieving chronic pain
• Increasing energy, endurance and agility
• Improving overall feelings of well-being
• Greater strength, flexibility and true freedom of movement
• Better balance resulting in falls prevention
• Improved posture and relief of back pain
• Better circulation
• More energy and stamina
• Smoother and deeper breathing
• Improved concentration and clearer thinking
• Heightened general awareness
• A more youthful appearance
• Relaxation, inner peace and joy

Who can practice Tai Chi Chuan?

Because of the slowness and ease of the movements, it is often thought that tai chi is primarily for senior citizens, but that is notion is false. Tai chi practice will benefit the athlete as well as the arthritis sufferer. The golfer, the snowboarder and the senior citizen can all enjoy the benefits of tai chi.  Initially, the tai chi practitioner will be rewarded with improved balance, more energy and a greater ability to handle stress.  With years of regular practice, tai chi can give a person the strength of a lumberjack, the pliability of a child and the peace of mind of sage.

Companies see that tai chi improves productivity by helping employees to be happy, relaxed, and creative. Hospitals and doctors are finding the tai chi is a potent, yet cost-effective therapy for nearly any condition. Schools find improved concentration and higher test scores. But most importantly every tai chi practitioner improves their own health and well being.

Tai chi is a moving meditation and in order to perform it properly the body must move as a unit. This principle of unity in movement is one of the ways in which it contrasts to calisthenics or weight training, which use various parts of the body independently. Research has shown that tai chi provides all the benefits of a rigorous aerobic workout but because it is not strenuous it carries no potentially harmful side effects. You may also find tai chi appealing because it’s inexpensive, requires no special equipment and can be done indoors or out, either alone or in a group.

Tai Chi | History of Tai Chi

History of Tai Chi

The origins of Tai chi chuan are not clear.  It was most likely developed in the Taoist monasteries over a period of several hundred years.  It clearly embodies Taoist philosophies and reflects the importance of balance between man and nature.

Tai chi chuan is most commonly attributed to one Taoist monk, Zhang Sanfeng (Chang San Fung) of either the 12th or 15th century (depending on the source).

One version of the story describes his learning this form, in a dream, from the Yellow Emperor. The next day he apparently went down the mountain where he defeated a hundred bandits in combat. Another version describes Zhang Sanfeng observing a fight between a snake and a crane. Zhang saw the attacking and yielding strategies of the adversaries as an embodiment of the principles of yin and yang, and developed his martial art based on the same principles. A third version has Zhang developing tai chichuan over a period of many years based on his understanding of the other martial arts practiced by the monks in Shaolin or on Wudang.

These stories were popularized in the early part of this century and were the result of misinformation and the desire to connect the art with a more famous and ancient personage.

All of the various styles of Tai chi chuan in existence today can be traced back to a single man, Chen Wangting, a general of the latter years of the Ming Dynasty. After the fall of the Ming and the establishment of the Qing Dynasty (1644), Chen Wangting returned to the Chen village and enhanced his fighting form, known as the early Chen version of Tai chi chuan.

The Art was only taught to members of the Chen clan until a promising young outsider named Yang Luchan was accepted as a student in the early part of the 19th century. Yang Luchan (nicknamed Yang without enemy as he was reportedly a peerless fighter) modified the original Chen style and created the Yang style of Tai chi chuan, the most popular form practiced in the world today.

Origin of the Moniker Tai Chi Chuan

When Yang Luchan first taught in Yung Nien, his art was referred to as Mien Quan (Cotton Fist) or Hua Quan (Neutralizing Fist). While teaching at the Imperial Court, Yang met many challengers, some friendly some not. But he invariably won and in so convincingly using his soft techniques that he gained a great reputation. Many who frequented the imperial households would come to view his matches. At one such gathering in which Yang had won against several reputable opponents, the scholar Ong Tong was present. Inspired by the way Yang moved and executed his techniques; Ong felt that Yang’s movements and techniques expressed the physical manifestation of the principles of Tai Chi the philosophy. Ong wrote for him a matching verse:

“Hands Holding Tai Chi shakes the whole world, a chest containing ultimate skill defeats a gathering of heroes.”

Thereafter, Yang’s art was referred to as tai chi chuan and the styles that sprang from his teaching and by association with him was called Tai Chi Chuan.

Tai Chi | Tai Chi Principles

Tai Chi Principles

Head top suspended: Your head should feel like it is being suspended by a string, completely relaxed over the center of your shoulders.  Allow the neck muscles to relax without letting the head lean to either side, or fall forward or backward. Listen behind, we tend to project to much to the front.  The head should therefore be in a natural erect upright position. This is important since the head, torso and spine configure a unit. Consequently, the position of the head influences the posture of the body.  The head where possible always remains square to the shoulders and never turns alone.

Place the tip of the tongue on the top of the mouth: The tip of the tongue must curve up onto the upper palate of the mouth and lightly touch a point directly behind your upper front teeth.

Sink the chi:  Allow the energy to sink without bending the knees.  Surrender the energy into your legs.  Imagine the flesh sinking while the skeleton remains in position.  Begin each move by allowing the release of energy, surrendering the energy through the body.

Relax the chest: A relaxed chest is slightly sunken. Avoid pushing your chest out for this position will cause your upper body to be heavy and your lower body to be light.

Open the kua: Relax the hip-crease.  Allow the hips to open, keeping the knees aligned with the direction of the foot placement.  The hips should always move as a natural consequence of actions initiated in the legs.

Round the shoulders: The shoulders should be relaxed and slightly rounded. Since all your joints are part of one another, having a relaxed shoulder means to have a relaxed elbow. Shoulders, arms, and hands should all move in unison. If you push your hands too far forward your arms will be stretched. This makes it impossible for your shoulders and elbows to hang down, therefore going against the least resistance to the pull of gravity. The shoulders should never be forced backwards during any technique.

Allow the pelvis to turn slightly upward: This adjusts the angle of the pelvic girdle and creates a vertical posture allowing for an equal distribution of weight on the lower back. The spine is coaxed into an optimum vertical position. Tension and stiffness are then relieved in individual vertebrae.

Quiet the mind:  Allow your mind to be free from distractions. Chi follows the mind so that wherever you put your attention, chi accumulates. This is the reason that mental self-discipline is so important. Ultimately, everything depends on your will or mind, and not on the external appearance of the movements.

Fair maiden hands:  The hands must follow a natural curve and should neither be fully limp (relaxed) nor fully stretched (tensed). This requires a slight straightening of the fingers thus creating a modest stretching of the palm. Move the hands as if pulling a silken thread; any sudden jerks will break the silk. Feel the chi in your hands, particularly the palms.

Hip-tracking: The hip-track is the simple path that relaxed hips naturally travel through when weight is shifted from one leg to another in Tai Chi practice. Moving through the hip-track ensures rootedness as it ensures alignment between the thighs and the base in the feet and effortlessly prevents the torqueing and twisting in the knees and ankles.

Be mindful of the knees:  The knees should never extend over the center of the shoe.  The knees should always point towards the toes and remain slightly flexed -never locked straight.  Bent knees provide springiness to your legs. Strength and flexibility of the sinews of the knees determine to a great extent the strength and effectiveness of the whole body.

Develop your root:  This requires proper foot, knee, and hip alignments. Search for the feeling of having your leg planted six inches below the floor.

Tai Chi movement:  Each movement must be light, nimble and continuous. In all movements the inner strength is rooted in the feet, developed in the legs, controlled by the waist, and expressed through the limbs. The two complementary factors, emptiness and solidness, must be distinctly differentiated throughout every movement.

Stay inside your box:  Don’t overextend your limbs.  Be moderate and avoid all extremes. Do not overreach or overstretch.

Try to maintain a consistent flow:  Always maintain an even flowing motion from start to finish.  Don’t rush the transitions.  Continually shift your body weight and position. Avoid double movements. Chi is blocked when the flow is impeded or a pause occurs within the sequences.

Move with intent:  Feel the contact with your opponents as you move through the form. Martial intent leads the chi and opens the meridians.

Tai Chi stepping: When moving forward touch the heel down first, when moving backward touch the toe down first. Gradually shift your body weight into the foot, letting the rest of the sole proceed into place. Your body weight should be shifted from one foot to the other as if pouring chi from one leg to the other.  Always maintain some stickiness to the floor with each foot.

Loosen waist:  The waist must be flexible as it controls your energy in both offence and defense. The waist acts like a steering wheel, giving direction to all movements, i.e. intrinsic energy is the rim of a wheel; the waist is the hub of the wheel. The order for movement is issued from the waist.

Tai Chi | 13 Energies

13 Energies

These eight gates and five directions make up the energetic and conceptual core of tai chi chuan training.

Ward Off (Peng): Peng Ching (Jing) is outward expanding and moving energy.  Peng is often referred to as a kind of “bouncing” energy.  Example: Grasping the Sparrow’s Tail – Ward Off

Roll Back (Lu): Lu Ching is receiving and collecting energy, or inward receiving energy.  Li is the use of force in a sideways direction, such as where we intercept and move with a forward directed attack, simultaneously diverting it slightly to one side and thus to the void.   The greater the force of his attack, the greater the resulting loss of balance on the part of our opponent.  Example: Grasping the Sparrow’s Tail – Rollback

Press (Ji/Chi): Chi or Ji Ching is pressing and receiving energy.  This is an offensive force delivered by following the opponent’s energy, by squeezing of sticking forward.  Example: Grasping the Sparrow’s Tail – Press

Push (An): An Ching is downward pushing energy. Pushing power comes from the legs pushing into the earth.  Pushing or pressing with both palms in a downward direction, peng energy directed downward.  When applied it is like flowing water.  Examples: Grasping the Sparrow’s Tail – Push, Fair Maiden Works Shuttles

Pluck/Pull Down (Tsai): Tsai Ching is grabbing energy.  A force delivered by a quick grab and pull, usually of an opponent’s wrist, both backward and down.  Sometimes called ‘inch energy’.  Like picking fruit off a tree with a snap of the wrist.  Example: Needle at Sea Bottom

Split (Lieh): Lieh Ching is striking energy that splits apart an opponent.  Examples: Parting the Wild Horse’s Mane, Slanting Flight, Stork Spreads Wings

Elbow Strike (Zhou):  Chou Ching is elbow striking energy.  Example: The Big Overhand

Shoulder Strike (Kao): Kao Ching is a full body striking energy.  The peng energy is mobilized throughout the entire body, and then the entire body is used as one unit and the force is delivered with the shoulder or back.  Example: Shoulder Strike

Advancing Steps (Jin): Example: Brush Knee and Twist Step

Retreating steps (Tui): Example: Step Back like a Monkey

Stepping to the Left Side After Faking Right (Ku):  Examples: Part the Wild Horse’s Mane, Clouds Hands, Punch Tiger, Deflect Parry and Punch, Single Whip

Stepping to the Right Side after Faking Left (Pan):  Examples: Part the Wild Horse’s Mane, Punch Tiger, Brush Knee and Twist Step, Slanting Flight

Central equilibrium (Ding): Examples: Wuji Stance, Golden Cock Stands on one Leg, Needle at Sea Bottom, Fair Lady Works the Shuttles

Tai Chi | Tai Chi Terms

Tai Chi Terms

Dantian (elixir field, there are three dantians: lower, middle and upper)
Qi (vital energy)
Song (a specific way to relax)
Wuji  (no extremes, before yin and yang)
Tao  (The “way” of the universe)
Mingmen (life gate, a major energy gate located in the small of the back between the kidneys)
Laogong (labor palace, the point at the center of the palm of the hand)
Yongquan (bubbling well, the point at the centre of the sole of the foot)
Yin and Yang (opposites,  complementary elements in the tai chi philosophy)