I have been attending Tai Chi classes for just over three years now, I have done the square form and am almost at the end of the round form. I say done rather than learnt because with Tai Chi you never stop learning and you are constantly refining your form.
Having hit my 50's I was looking for a way to get some flexibility into my joints. The gym just did not appeal but Tai Chi looked easy! Ha, what a piece of miss-representation that is! Tai Chi is difficult but it is fun.
The purpose of the square form is to train your body to achieve certain positions, these are refined in the round form and honed in the weapons training. This leads to martial applications, if you want.
You can approach Tai Chi from a martial, spiritual or health view point. It delivers on all fronts.
The real beauty of Tai Chi is that it is a life time activity. You never get board with it because there is always something new to learn and because it can be low impact old age does not prevent you participating.
My review of Tai Chi.
Tai Chi is, as you are probably already aware; best known as a collection of slow body movements (called a form) designed primarily (nowadays - but once it was a deadly martial art) to promote good health. There are many styles of Tai Chi, and branches there of (each style is usually named after the Chinese family credited with creating it; for example Yang and Chen are two of the better known family names/styles) - so it can be very confusing to get a clear picture of the history and evolution of this most unusual 'internal' martial art.
The historical view is clouded even more by the fact that almost every teacher/ style/ school of Tai Chi claim to be the oldest or original style from which the others sprang. Don't you believe it -lol!! Having done a fair bit of Tai Chi over the years, I came to the inescapable conclusion that no one really knows the origins of this art, at least not fully... It's steeped in legend, tales of mysticism and other daft stuff that adds to the image but really detracts from the true art.
So forgetting the 'history' of Tai Chi, and the tall tales, I'd like to talk about what it's like to be a practitioner, through my own experiences to show what Tai Chi can realistically offer...
I first got interested in Tai Chi when I saw TV footage of people in China getting up really early to visit their local park and perform a series of slow, complex beautiful looking movements that supposedly promoted good health.
It wasn't until I was in my late 20's that I actually joined a Tai Chi class though. I really enjoyed the experience - and I was surprised at the diversity in the age groups of the people who attended; from folks in their 20's to folks in their 80's (my instructor was 70 when I first started!!).
I learned that Tai Chi was one of the 3 main 'internal' martial arts of China... 'internal' in the martial arts means that instead of using 'external' muscle power (like Karate, Kung Fu, Boxing etc) it's based on relaxing, yielding, calmness and also a (medically unproven) theoretical internal energy source called 'Chi' (rhymes with 'she'), that supposedly regulates our own health and that of all living things...
Now I'm the sceptical type so I have to say I don't buy into all the 'Chi' stuff to any great degree -though I am willing to keep an open mind to the view taken by some people that it refers to the bodies own electrical system (oddly enough humans really do have an electrical system - it controls many aspects such as our heart beat etc).
But I think that belief in (or disbelief of) 'Chi' is a personal thing/ decision and all that's really important is that you personally feel that Tai Chi benefits you on some level... you certainly don't need to believe in the whole yin/yang 'Chi' energy thing to richly enjoy Tai Chi -lol!!
I learned that the one of the main parts of Tai Chi was a system of exercises called Chi Kung, which is also sometimes spelt Qigung (pronounced the same), which, as far as anyone can tell -lol!... predates the actual art of Tai Chi itself (and supposedly inspired it).
Chi Kung exercises are strange in that your body does a lot of work but you don't seem to do much :-) Some people call it standing meditation...
For example; the first Chi Kung exercise I learned was to stand, feet shoulder width apart, hands/arms out in front of me (as if holding the trunk of a tree), knees slightly bent, to make the natural curve of my lower spine become vertical and straight.
Now this 'tree hugging' exercise sounds like nothing, but when you've tried it for 5 minutes, believe me; it's a whole different story -lol!! It's not that you get tired or breathless; you don't (I suppose that's one of that Tai Chi and Chi Kung is so good and suitable for elderly people too), but your arms and thigh muscles start to feel like lead, and you become warm -especially just below your navel (this is a focus point for the body in Tai Chi)...
Weirdly, this leaden feeling is not unpleasant -in fact to be honest, the more I tried the Chi Kung exercise, the more I liked it...The static rooted standing position, the slow relaxed breathing; it was great (when you got used it, and your thigh muscles had built up a little)... It was a few months later that I realised I'd stopped getting pain in my lower back in the morning (I often used to wake up with a back ache, sometimes stretching down to my leg too).
There were many, many more Chi Kung exercises (I wrote many of them down after each lesson so I wouldn't forget them), and I think I would have been happy if that was all the Tai Chi class entailed; but Chi Kung was only the warm up for the main event; the 'form'.
The 'form' is the group of slow graceful movements that drew me to Tai Chi in the first place. Each style of Tai Chi has its own form (which is almost always just a variation on the form other styles do -once you learned one form well, you'll easily recognise the very close similarities in other styles forms), so take with a pinch of salt any instructor who tells you that their style is the 'true' style...
I've tried different Tai Chi styles (not deliberately, but because I've had to reorganise my time and change/quit classes when changing jobs etc) and they were all good... It was really down to how enthusiastic the teacher was, as to which class I found the best -nothing to do with the style.
Regardless of style most 'forms' will consist of very slow, carefully controlled moves (hand, arm, trunk movements, steps occasional leg lifts and spins) that are all given separate names to make them easy to learn. (The Tai Chi form is really one long continuous 'Chi Kung' movement from start to finish; the names given to each separate posture are only there to make it easier to remember the order).
I really enjoyed learning (and still love performing) each posture of the 'form'. There are moves like 'single whip' (nothing to do with ice cream -lol!) and 'stork spreads wings' to master. Each posture has its own challenges and rewards... it really feels wonderful when you get a posture right, your body feels so balanced and aligned and your mind feels relaxed and refreshed. It doesn't take long till you can string the first few postures together...
..Then you're performing 'grasping the swallows tail' (the name for the first few moves of the Yang style form, which was the first style I learned). It probably took me about 3 months to learn the basic version of the form from start to finish... and the sense of accomplishment for me personally, and for the class as a whole, when we finished the 'form' was heartfelt!! (There's a great friendly team spirit in most Tai Chi classes, between everyone young and old that really adds to the atmosphere of happiness and well being).
I learned that the better you get at Tai Chi, the more detail you put into each move/posture in the 'form'. It's a wonderful, non competitive relaxing challenge to better your performance of each posture each week (and as a bonus, you get some funny looks from the family while practicing round the house too -lol!). Once you learn the main 'big' movements, you concentrate on the subtleties; the breathing, the exact timing of the hand movements, the way to move you back bone, the interplay of 'yin' and 'yang' (simply two opposites; like hard/soft -not to be confused with 'Yang' the Tai Chi style), and even the direction your eyes gaze... it's a fascinating challenge to try and master.
Some say it's impossible to master the form in one lifetime... I personally don't believe this (and I'm totally happy with how well I perform the forms I know -thank you very much :-) Tai Chi forms are very difficult to master, but not impossible (learning to play guitar till I was really, really good at it; now THAT was hard -lol!!).
As well as the Chi Kung exercises and the 'form' I found that many of the Tai Chi lessons I attended ended with meditation sessions; I didn't like this bit much -I tried to, but that aspect just bored me (slightly) I always felt that the 'form' and Chi Kung exercises are already enough of a a meditation in themselves - because you become so absorbed by what you're doing it frees your mind from everything else... so I personally never thought any additional meditation was necessary, but it wasn't unpleasant... I would just have rather been moving about and exercising that sitting about.
If you're lucky (and I was) your instructor may know how to teach massage too, (my first instructor was also well versed in Shiatsu massage, which isn't part of Tai Chi -though Tai Chi does contain acupressure too -which is like acupuncture but without needles) which is brilliant if you've got any aches and pains.
I loved learning the massage - not only did it make me the most popular guy on planet earth with every girlfriend I had (and still does -lol!) because once she knows you can give the most amazing back, and foot massages she'll forgive almost anything!! ...but it comes in useful in other ways too... When I first learned massage I had an elderly dog with arthritis (I love dogs and all animals -just thought you should know -lol!), and my instructor gave me some tips for massaging my dogs legs to help him... and sure enough it genuinely helped, my dog was able to get up on to the couch and bed again!!
It's very easy to forget that Tai Chi is also a martial art (though most people, including me took it up just for the health benefits anyway), but I certainly learned some interesting self defence stuff in between everything else too.. It's amazing the first time you realise you can gently push an 18 stone man backwards 20 yards and he can't stop you, or that you can move the strongest persons attacking arm away with just a gentle pressure from your finger, and it's a little weird letting someone try to two handed strangle you only to find that you can easily resist their best efforts with just your throat muscles (I know you're too sensible to; but please don't try the last one without proper instruction it could be very dangerous) -strange and seemingly amazing stuff ...
...But there's absolutely nothing 'mystical' going on here in any of these self defence moves; it really is just careful use of balance, pushing or yielding at just the right moment or having confidence in your muscle control. Self defence was a very, very small part of learning Tai Chi, and the emphasis was always on peace, or gently diverting an attacker away without hurting them... and it was never taxing or physically difficult (even for the elderly members of my class).. But I think adding the occasional self defence move in there made Tai Chi seem a more 'rounded' complete art.
(Though obviously, someone who really wants to learn lots of self defence would be better off joining a more 'combat' based martial art -as it's not a big focus for a lot of Tai Chi classes).
There are/were no belts or gradings to take in any of the Tai Chi classes I attended, so there was no competitive element to spoil the relaxing happy mood (you only compete with yourself, to try and improve a little week by week). There was no confrontational attitude even when practicing in the occasional self defence moves - Tai Chi positively discourages the use of physical strength or any kind of aggression; it's all about relaxing and feeling healthy and positive about yourself and other living things - it may be a cliché -but you feel in harmony with everything, at least for a few fleeting moments before the gas bill/phone bill turn up in your letter box!!
I have nothing but positive things to say about all of the classes I attended, or instructors I knew (except that they really need to get over the 'my style is the best/most original version of Tai Chi' syndrome). I really enjoyed all my years in Tai Chi, and although I don't currently attend a class (work/time constraints), I no doubt will at some point when I have a little more free time.... And Tai Chi stays with you; it's too much fun to neglect - I still practice the forms almost daily, and do my Chi Kung exercises while I'm waiting for the kettle to boil etc... It been 13 years since I attended my first Tai Chi class, and I STILL don't have back ache anymore -lol!
I have seen a few instructors (no one I've ever trained with) charging silly amounts of money for Tai Chi... I've never paid more than £3 or £4 a lesson and I had some brilliant instruction (so good that I've even taught classes myself on occasion - back when I had more time), I learned all the so called 'secret' stuff like pressure points, massage, explosive energy etc as well as aspects of other internal martial arts... and I never paid out for expensive lessons... find a good friendly class and you won't need to either.
No Time For Classes?
You don't even need to attend a class to learn the basics of Tai Chi as there are so many cheap and good Videos/DVDs on sale now (and Chi Kung exercise ones too). Obviously, teaching yourself is not quite as good as attending a proper class (I've seen loads of videos that were only a few pounds -in fact I got one from the Pound Shop once that was pretty good and had some great exercises!).
So if you don't have time to join a Tai Chi class and still want to learn then I don't see anything wrong with teaching yourself from a Video - as long as you're fit enough to start; ask your doctor if you're not sure. (There are probably loads of friendly practitioners on the internet who'll advice you if you get stuck too!!).
As you've already guessed; I LOVE Tai Chi, I'd recommend it to anyone (though it's not supposed to be good for children, as some of the exercises might not suit bones that are still growing).
There are a few things I don't like; instructors who charged too much and/or offer some promise of weird mystic 'Chi' power/healing... save your money, stay home and watch the X Files with Mulder and Sculley instead, it's more entertaining -lol!
...and I'm not a fan of Tai Chi classes that focus more on the martial arts side than the health side of things either...because, although I agree that Tai Chi can be a brilliant fighting art (and I fully appreciate that originally Tai Chi was indeed a deadly martial art) -there are already countless 'fighting' arts; Karate, Kung Fu, Ju Jitsu, Kick Boxing (and about a million others!!) and it would be a shame if many Tai Chi classes went down that route too, because they'd then be so energetic as too exclude elderly people from participating fully... and they're often the heart and soul of any Tai Chi class (I know I mentioned that my first instructor was 70 when I started... but I learned from him for 5 years... lol!) In fact you'll probably never be to old to enjoy Tai Chi!!
Hope you found my review helpful and interesting!!
I cant say that until around half a year ago I had truly heard of Tai Chi. It sounds like something to go with your spare ribs when your ordering a takeaway but the truth is that this a Chinese exercise. There is very little coverage of Tai Chi and what it is really about and I have only every seen a few snippets here and there of it on television, unlike Yoga which is some ways is very similar and yet has huge amounts of coverage due to the rich and famous such as Madonna and Geri Halliwell trying it. So what is Tai Chi? It was developed around 4000 years ago in China and it is a form of stretching exercise. There are two forms of Tai Chi, the martial form that is a bit like Karate and Kung Fu and then there is Taoist Tai Chi, which was formed for health, benefits and is more like Yoga and dance routines. I attend and have done for around two months a Taoist Tai Chi class which is what I’m going to tell you about. The class was advertised but I heard about it off a friend. My friend Gill and I decided we were up for a laugh and didn’t mind if we made a fool ourselves it was something to get us out the house on a Wednesday night instead of sitting at home reading dooyoo ops J. We wore lose clothing not really having a clue what to expect but when we arrived everyone there seemed to be wearing the similar t-shirt or jumper and baggy trousers like track suit bottoms. We were greeted by the instructor who told us that if we started we would be joining in the middle of the course which he had never done before but had no objections if we didn’t mind starting at the deepend. We decided to stay and joined in as best we could. Tai Chi is made up of 108 different and very basic moves. These moves, some of which I will describe, are joined together and co-ordinated from one to another very simply into a routine which looks a bit like a slowed down dance routine in some ways. So what are these moves like? Well e
ach is a stretch, which involves the whole body. The hands play an important part because if your hands are in the wrong place the stretch will not work. All fingers are straightened for every move and pushed slightly back but not to far as you should feel no discomfort, this is called tigers mouth. Grasp Bird’s Tail – stretch out your front arm but keep your palm facing you at a 90-degree angle. Your right arm should stretch out behind you and your left leg should be in front of the right leg and bent so you are lunging forwards. Brush Knee – Your legs should be in the same position for the ‘grasp birds tail’ but the right arm should be at the same angle down as the front leg and the right arm should be straight out in front and the hand should leave the ‘tigers mouth’ position into a fist which is clenched Push Needle to Sea Bottom – Both legs should be close together and straight. The right arm goes down, with the left arm clasping it just below the wrist, and tries to get as close to the floor as possible – do not worry if you cannot touch the floor go as far as you can and over time you should be able to get closer and closer to the floor. I could go on but I’m not covering all 108 moves, as it would take forever. Ever week at your class you cover a little more of the set and recap over what you have already learned. There are different level classes just like you get at swimming classes so if you improve faster than your class you can move up and join the next class. So how did I cope joining in the middle of a class? Well I had to sit out for a while but I soon got the idea. My instructor took extra care in explaining the moves, which he did by standing in the middle of the hall while we encircle him so we can all see. The set is broken up into different names and as you go through the set he will tell you what part you are on, such as ‘fa
ir lady’ and ‘snake’. What are the benefits of Tai Chi? It is fairly easy to do which means that all ages can do it. Most of my class are middle aged and myself, Gill and our friend Vanessa who joined after hearing us praise it are the youngest there now as a girl who was doing her Duke of Edinburgh Award (of which you have to take up a physical activity and spend a certain amount of time doing it each week) has just left. The stretches allow you to increase aerobic levels and flexibility. It is stretching, which means that you will burn very few calories, maybe enough to cover one or two tick tacks, thus I still go swimming and to the gym. So how much does Tai Chi cost? Well I pay £2 a week because I am in full time education. However if you go to work it costs £4. After a few lessons you are asked to join the Taoist Tai Chi Society, which after membership fee entitles you to go to as many classes you like a week at no extra cost. The membership cost is the same as the £2 or £4 which is really good value as my class is two hours long costing only £1 an hour. For those of you who like freebies there is also a nice free t-shirt you get and a car sticker. The membership fees cover the cost of hall hire, as the instructors are voluntary workers. If you would like any more information on Tai Chi then the web page is http://www.taoist.org Sara
Yes, please do read the title again. You did see the word martial and if you disagree, I'll meet you on the mat at a local village hall. Kidding, really! But I am fed up with the 'Spiritual' camp. T'ai Chi is a meditation tool, but the end of this is surely the ability to fight better and win. It is a slow Kung Fu form. I have been studying T'ai Chi Chuan and Qi Gong for several years, and I am still only the merest beginner. The class I have 'grown up' with has comprised of older people trying to improve their general fitness and mobility. The younger ones who come to our class for 'spiritual awareness' don't last long. Don't get me wrong, as a butterfly mind sort of person myself, the impact of this meditation and concentration does border on spiritual, but it is purely internal. T'ai Chi is an effective fighting form. My other half and I spar continuously. Friends of ours who study the offensive forms such as JuJitsu have started to move towards Kung Fu and T'ai Chi. When they realised that they were getting up a sweat and were being pushed around by someone who barely moved and certainly used no effort, they learned the value of internal forms. It is an excellent way to improve fitness, blood pressure readigns and mobility. And it is suitable for everyone from the youngest to the oldest because it only requires you to do as much as you are able. My breathing exercises help my not to shout at my bosses when they are plain stupid! And I can sing an entire verse without needing extra breaths. What is more, I have Scoliosis, which is curvature of the spine, which although corrected surgically 14 years ago, is still moving. I often have incredible back pains, and I can twist up quite dramatically. The first time I showed up at a class looking like Quasimodo, my master refused to teach me. I ignored him and went through the form with the rest of the
class. By the end of the hour and a half lesson, I was standing straight and the pain had diminished to a dull roar. Accupressure: The accupressure we learn is an effective muscle relaxant. I might add, that in London, one half hour session could cost you as much as your month's grocery bill. I give and receive this for nothing during my class. Never having tried Yoga I cannot compare this and advise T'ai Chi as an alternative. However, for potential martial artists, start with this. Learn to love the art for the art's sake, not in order to be able to knock that big bloke from the club out with the strike of a hand. Kung fu is about control, thinking and relaxation. That is its strength.
It’s a strange world isn’t it? I’m doing something that a year ago I thought looked really boring and I’m thoroughly enjoying it. I was vaguely aware that Tai Chi was the slow exercise thing that Chinese people seem to do quite a lot in parks and open spaces and it didn’t appeal to me at all. Last year I got involved with an organisation on the internet which I suspected had a rather sinister ulteria motive. Having always fancied myself as a latter day Mata Hari I was rather tempted to do some undercover research. I was talking to my son about it and he said that if I wanted to go and play at spies I should learn Tai Chi. He is quite into martial arts and does some strange Kung Fu thing himself and I think he suggested Tai Chi on the basis that anyone can do it – with the obvious meaning – even old grannies like me. I was vaguely interested and looked at a couple of books about it but it looked just as slow and boring as the dance in the park thing– so I didn’t bother to pursue it. However, several weeks ago I noticed that there was a Tai Chi class at the village hall so because it was on my doorstep I decided to check it out. The class is run by the Taoist Tai Chi Society which is an international charitable organisation. The only information that I was given when I started was that they practised a set of 108 moves and that the object was mainly to promote good health in body and mind. In contrast to other forms of Tai Chi (such as Tai Chi Chuan) Taoist Tai Chi is not taught as a martial art (so much for my spy career – I thought). In the first lesson I watched as a group of about five people of very mixed ages performed the complete set. The set took about 20 minutes to complete and I was rather enchanted at the gracefulness. Some moves were repeated but the overall effect is one of slow meditative yet highly complex routine. I still wondered whether in the long term I would f
ind it rather boring. However, after doing some simple warm up exercises the next hour was spent learning a few opening moves. The instructor was very patient and had a wonderfully relaxed attitude that he transmitted to the rest of the class. Although it did not seem very physical the movements were quite difficult to remember. At the end of the first lesson I was still not sure but I had found it very relaxing but also quite challenging at the same time. Having spent a whole hour and only learnt about 3 moves of 108 it seemed a rather daunting task but other class members assured me that I would be able to do the whole set within three months. I was given a list of the moves many of which have rather poetic names such as ‘White Stork Spreads Wings’, ‘Grasp Bird’s Tail’, Push Needle to Sea Bottom’ or ‘Step up to Seven Stars’, and a leaflet explaining the possible health benefits of Taoist Tai Chi. Over the next couple of weeks I learned a few more moves and decided that it was not quite so slow and boring after all and came away from the classes feeling incredibly relaxed and energised. I decided to check out the society and found their web site which is http://www.taoist.org/ From the site I discovered that it is run by volunteers and was a non profit making charitable organisation. I rather liked the Taoist philosophy too – the following is from the ‘background’ page of the web site. “The Taoist principles taught by the Society to participants of Taoist Tai Chi promote a healthy lifestyle and mental attitude. Emphasis is put on being kind, generous and helpful to others and releasing one's own stress and worries. The goal of Taoist Tai Chi is to return the body and mind to its original pure and healthy state. Taoist Tai Chi has been described as a form of "meditation in motion" where the continuity of its movements, combined with the devotion of one
39;s undivided attention, heal and revitalize both the body and mind. It is a holistic, noninvasive therapeutic treatment involving the dual cultivation of mind and body. The physical component of Taoist Tai Chi consists of the basic principles known as the "Foundations", and 108 movements, which constitute the "Set". Some of the principles reflected in the movements are summarized by the following key words: relaxation, balance, lining up the body, correcting angles, "squaring" the hips, controlling the step and the transfer of weight, turning constantly in spirals, "opening" and "closing", centering the trunk, and stretching and relaxing the spine. The movements are gentle, continuous and circular. Practice of the Set is to be done with a relaxed state of mind. The prime spiritual aspect of Taoist Tai Chi is the adoption of a spirit of self-sacrifice, generosity and the elimination of self-centeredness. Taoist Tai Chi is meant to be taught and practiced in a spirit of compassion and service to others.” The web site also has some very basic Tai Chi FAQS, contacts for local societies and further information on the Taoist background and founder. OK I thought maybe it isn’t taught as a martial art and I may never get to be a spy but perhaps I really am too old for that anyway but at least I may eventually get to play with swords and sabres, another ambition of mine, – so I decided to join up. You pay a one off membership fee which is very reasonable and scaled dependent on status. This membership allows you to go to any class or workshop anywhere and you get a T shirt. You then pay a monthly fee to cover cost of hall hire etc. In my area there are several classes a week and the fee covers going to as many as you like. I am now several weeks into Tai Chi and have covered about half the Set. My last session was particularly good and I actually felt like the
movements were flowing - perhaps the chi is working. I find the class incredibly relaxing and will certainly attend a few of the other classes and workshops when I have more time to do so. I really feel that it has already made some difference to my posture and the way I move in general. It seems to me that Tai Chi is rather deceptive because on the surface it merely looks like a rather slow graceful set of movements but its very name and in fact symbol holds the key to its secret. Most people are familiar with the black and white, yin yang ‘tai chi’ symbol. There are many translations of Tai Chi but one of the most popular is the grand or supreme ultimate. Tai Chi Chuan, the martial form, is translated the grand ultimate ‘force’ or ‘fist’. Chi or Qi, sometimes translated air, power, motion, energy or life, is the name for the original, eternal and ultimate energy which, according to Chinese philosophy, moves the universe. Everyone who reflects upon the cycles of nature, the phases of the moon, ebb and flow of tides and seasons may well be aware of chi, the energy of changes in all aspects of life but without having a special name for it. The same energy powers humans and the goal of Tai Chi is to seek and develop the ‘ultimate’ in human potential. The chi energy is the same as that used in Acupuncture and in Tai Chi the different postures combined with breathing are used to manipulate the energy in the body. There are several styles of Tai Chi taught but all of them have been developed from centuries old systems grounded in the Taoist tradition and connected with the principles of yin and yang, the two opposing yet complementary powers as found in the I Ching, the ancient Chinese book of divination. Tai Chi can be practised for many reasons: for health and relaxation as a moving meditation or dance, for self defence and martial art or as a spiritual discipline. But whichever
way it is taught and for whatever reason if practised properly I am convinced that all the benefits will come eventually. So even if you learn it purely for health reasons the chances are that you will develop some other skills naturally without even realising it. As a martial art Tai Chi is described as an internal style because it relies on internal power or chi rather than the more obvious strength required by external styles. That is why Tai Chi is suitable for everyone. First an awareness of chi within oneself is developed through the subtle yet very precise exercises and breathing. Then one learns to convert the internal energy, chi, into internal power, jing, which can be projected. Later the student works with a partner in exercises called ‘push hands’ to develop sensitivity and after this the student may progress further to work with weapons such as swords, sabre and staff. As with most other disciplines I think you will get out only as much as you are prepared to put in. There is a saying of Lao-tzu in the Tao Te Ching that “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” I have taken that first step and perhaps one day I might even be able to carry mountain to tiger.
I have been practicing Tai Chi for two years now and would like to recommend it as a very beneficial activity. I can't say exactly what prompted me to join my local Tai Chi / Chi Kung class, perhaps it was my subconscious guiding me towards a practice that would benefit me in ways that my conscious mind couldn't possibly imagine, but I am glad I did. I used to have pains down my legs due to bad posture - that is a thing of the past I used to suffer sleepless nights - not anymore I used to be very stressed at work - a distant memory The physical activity in itself has helped my back trouble, it has improved my posture, helped my balance and improved my muscle tone. The psychological side of things is quite remarkable, I find with regular practice I am much more relaxed, confident, patient and generally allot calmer. It's easy enough to begin. - I am learning 'Infinite Tai Chi', the basics are not difficult to learn, there is nothing too strenuous and the benefits can be experienced very early on. However it is a discipline that can take a very long time to perfect, I find that even when performing the early movements of the first form, which I initially thought I had mastered over a year ago, I am constantly honing and improving the movements. Breathing and correct distribution of weight are crucial to perfecting the movements with grace and balance and maintaining the rhythm necessary. No specialist equipment is required, just loose fitting clothing. Some members of the class I attend wear socks but I (and my tutor) recommend barefoot. If you are interested in trying it for yourself I would suggest you take a look at notice boards at your local Library, Community Centre, Sports Facility or similar for available courses. It wouldn't cost you too much, typically about £3 per week. try it, it may improve your quality of life, it did mine!
I began doing the Yang short form of Tai Chi almost ten years ago, and, although i don't practice quite as often as i should, i believe that it has benefited me enormously. It's the gentlest of the martial arts, and can be learned by all age groups and does not discriminate between the sexes. My first class containing far more women than men. I recommend that if you wish to learn, that you do go to a professionally run class: Though there are a proliferation of instruction books on the market , covering all the basic styles. And although there are nothing wrong with these, they can't assist you if you are doing a movement incorrectly. It is a 'form' learned through repetition and slowly executed and controlled movements. (This actually puts a number of people off). But bear with it, because the ultimate goal (completion of the 'form') is a satisfaction that will last a lifetime. But that really is just the beginning. From there, you begin to hone the form, so that it becomes a soft, flowing and almost balletic series of continuous movements. Although it is, it never seems as though it's a form of unarmed combat; but all the moves do have a serious, martial, side - and each is named. It won't burn many calories, or make you fantistically muscled. But it will give you confidence, allow you to relax (it has been called meditation through movement), and keep you supple and generally fit. It also, if you should carry it that little bit further, give you a small insight into a very different culture.
For thousands of years the Chinese have practised a gentle exercise regime called Tai Chi. This system has many different forms and poses but a basic Tai Chi (Short) 'workout' takes only 12 minutes per day. You have to learn the right moves and their order. Tai Chi can help maintain good health by opening up the energy channels in the body. It helps keep your joints to stay supple and makes you feel good. A simple instruction book like 'Tai Chi' by Paul Tucker, available from Ottakers at just £3.95 is a good place to start. Once you have mastered the first few exercises you will feel a difference. Tai Chi, however, can not be mastered by using a book. It is a good idea to enrol in classes if you want to be really good at it. In Hong Kong Chinese of all ages can be seen early in the morning, stretching and moving in their exercise regime. This ancient art is part of Chinese tradition and if it has been beneficial to the Chinese for all those years, why not for us?
In programmes and films, have you ever seen people in the parks in China and Hong Kong, practicing movement exercises with their arms? This is called Chi Kung (or Tai Chi-Chi Kung), and is a simpler form of Tai Chi. The chinese have believed for centuries that 'chi' is an essential part of life. In chi kung, through movements and simple non-energetic exercises, chi moves around the body, and can sometimes be recognised as a warm sensation. People with arthritis, back ache and other medical problems have reported that doing chi kung relieves them from some pain. Chinese people believe that there are 'meridian' lines around the body, and by doing the exercises in chi kung, the chi can flow and circulate healthely. I discoered Chi Kung two years ago and can honestly say that it DOES work, the Chinese were right!. Tai chi used to take years to years and years before you felt any health benefits or experienced chi. But Chi Kung is a much quicker alternative that is now being recognised and practiced in Western countries. Read books, rent videos and try and find a local Chi Kung teacher. I strongly recommend this as a great health benefit.
Tai chi chuan or tai chi is the martial art for thinkers. As much a spiritual activity as a physical one, it has been called "moving meditation". Its steady and continuous flowing movements are a slo-mo version of ancient combat techniques. Tai chi's inventor, a 14th-century monk named Chang San Feng, foreshadowed judo by several centuries when he saw the self- defence potential of using an attacker's own energy to rebuff him. For this reason tai chi is closely bound to the Chinese philosophy of opposing but balanced forces. Supposedly enhancing the flow of "chi", or life force, around your body, tai chi is certainly a healty way to unwind after a hard day. Tai chi is truly stress-free. As well as the psychological benefits, it requires no specialist equipment, clothing or club and has no age limit. The best teachers are often found through word of mouth or by looking in the alternative health sections of local papers.
I am currently doing a beginners course in Tai Chi and Chi Gung, which is similar. They both consist of slow, precise movements, while keeping your body in alignment. Tai Chi is more complicated than Chi Gung. I find the classes a bit boring, as the pace is so slow, but for some people, for example people with injuries, or old people, they would be very good. You learn the movements in stages, starting with how to stand. You have to bend your knees, keep your back straight and stick your belly out - very flattering! The movements all have odd names, which are hard to remember, and become easier with practise. Tai Chi is something you would have to do for a long time to really feel the benefits.
This is an ancient art of chineese meditation which is based on the movements of the wild goose throughout the day. Master Yang Meijun perfectet the technique and at the age of 93 was still teaching it to pupils throughout the world. Mrs Yang is the director of training in The Centre of Dayan (Wild Goose) Qigong in Beijing. I started learning this technique as a means to complementing the tai chi I was learning. There is a book written on the form called Wild Goose Quigong and was written by the Master.
I first tried Tai Chi about five years ago in the hope of improving my overall fitness and in particular my balance. It is a soft martial art mainly used as an exercise form in this country. A good Tai Chi teacher should be qualified and or very experienced to avoid any danger of injuries or strains. A class should cover several aspects. At the heart is the form - a series of precise movements which can be learnt basically in a short while but can take a lifetime to perfect. In addition there are postures and exercises such as Chi Gung exercises where a pose is held for a set time. Most of this is done on an individual basis but there are also partner exercises such as Pushing Hands where you learn to sense and react to another person. All of the movements have self defence applications, which can be learnt. The idea being to avoid force and to turn attackers energy to your advantage. Adult Education Centre often run good courses. Therefore you can take up Tai Chi for many reasons, fitness, self defence or even for the expert as a competitive sport. One great advantage is it is suitable for ALL ages from nine to ninety and ALL levels of fitness. You do as much or as little as you wish or are able to and I always attended mixed ability classes where there was no pressure to be better than anyone else. I particularly found some of the exercises useful for relaxation or balance. You can for example hold a posture while the kettle boils or practice awareness by "weaving" through a crowd being aware and avoiding collisions. Oh and the balance ? Yes it did improve. I can now stand on one leg for twenty seconds instead of five.
Yang Tai Chi Chuan There appear to a number of versions or "forms" of Tai Chi, I chose, out of ignorance and because there was a class nearby, the Yang long form. The Yang Long form has some 315 moves in it and aims to exercise both the muscles and internal organs of the body. Do not expect this type of exercise to be a "quick fix" it's benefits come with the passage of time. In addition to the 315 moves, a good instructor will teach the student Chi kung, a series of mobile postures similar to the Yang postures which are intended to improve the flow of energy (chi) through the student's system thus creating a healthy mind and body. Another discipline a student might expect to learn as well is "moving hands" this is practised by two people and involves the two participants in learning to anticipate the movement of each other. For the more advanced students there is the possibility of practising Tai Chi double-edged sword form. This is a collection of techniques involving the use of a Chinese sword with a straight blade of about 0.6 metre long. In exhibitions a steel blade is used but I think that in normal practice wooden swords are used. As a final word, it would probably not be wrong to consider Tai Chi as a form of "moving meditation".
Originated in China over 4000 years ago. T'ai chi was ultimately a form of combat and was used by Chinese soldiers. Made a little more sedate for the exercise studio it typically consists of a series of languid but purposeful moves - a 20 minutes session can incorporate up to 108 movements that flow in to each other. While you shouldn't expect to burn off calories with tai chi it will help to stretch and tone muscles and can greatly improve posture.