What is Tai Chi?
Tai Chi Chuan is an ancient form of Chinese martial art; its origins are shrouded in myth and legend. Its creation is usually attributed to a Taoist monk named Chang San Feng. There are many stories about him, one of our favorites describes Chang as a student of the Universe. He felt that the softest thing in nature was water. Seeing that water could wear down hard rock, yet the rock could do no harm to the water, he set out to develop a martial art form that would imitate water. Which he did. When you watch a tai chi master perform, you will see that their motions flow as fluidly as moving water. This efficiency of movement was said to be so great that it could lead one to immortality! Records indicate that Chang San Feng lived to be several hundred years old.
Although Tai Chi is a powerful form of self-defense, each of its postures representing a defensive and offensive maneuver, it is primarily practiced to improve physical health and mental awareness. This ability to contribute to our sense of well being is the main reason for the arts' increasing popularity. We are far more likely to get sick, our bodies challenged by social or environmental indignities. You could think of Tai Chi as self-defense against this kind of stress.
We teach a style of Tai Chi called Wu Ji Jing Gong. It is characterized by slow, continuous, circular movements, with an emphasis on internal energy and calm, quiet awareness. On the surface it appears to be a physical exercise, beautiful to watch, very graceful like a dance. However it's not just the memorization of a set of physical postures. To be Tai Chi requires that you combine movement with your thoughts, feelings and energy.
So you see, Tai Chi is not just exercise. However if that is what you are looking for then Tai Chi is perfect. It is a low impact physical workout that is suitable for any one, of any age, in any condition of health. The practice activates and lubricates muscle, sinews and joints and is excellent as a weight bearing therapy for building bone density. We are taught to move within our own body's natural ability, increasing flexibility through motion, building strength without rigidity. We are reminded to listen to our body so that we don't weaken it by pushing beyond its limits. At its most elementary level Tai Chi teaches body awareness. We learn how to search for balance and coordination as we propel ourselves through space. That alone is quite an achievement and for some that is enough. Tai Chi has many levels, with rewards to be gained at each. That is why a beginner can experience satisfying results.
For more serious students the practice leads deeper inside. We are told to quiet our mind, empty it of thoughts, so that it is free to become aware of the body. That is the way to begin to unite body and mind together. Now Tai Chi is more like a moving meditation. Problems, tension and stress are set aside and we learn to relax. As we relax we become sensitive and begin to feel more. We seem to experience new or long forgotten sensations. We discover a warm tingly flow of energy. It's our own life force. We've always had it but somehow we got too busy to notice. The Chinese call this energy “Qi”, and describe it as the physical element necessary to sustain life. It is associated with breath, blood and nerve.
Studies suggest that Qi affects every physiological function: respiration, circulation, metabolism, skeletal strength, posture, neuro-muscular function, endocrine function, and the immune system. Unfortunately right now there is no scientific way to accurately test or measure it. Qi cannot be seen or heard. You cannot smell or taste it. It is made of no tangible substance that can be touched; yet you can feel it. You can feel this energy and learn how to use it.
Tai Chi practice trains us to accumulate, balance and circulate this energy. We let it flow through our bodies, inside and around ourselves. Awareness grows from the inside, out and our influence begins to expand outwards. We notice that our energy affects others and vice versa, their energy affects us. Advanced students explore ways to balance this co-mingling of energy, learning to neutralize life's more intense issues, such as conflict, illness and stress.