Tai Chi Chuan
Tai Chi Overview
Originating in ancient
China, tai chi is an effective exercise for health of mind and body.
Although an art with great depth of knowledge and skill, it can be easy to
learn and soon delivers its health benefits. For many, it continues as a
Almost anyone can learn tai
chi. It's inexpensive and can be practiced almost anywhere. In most of the
styles, the movements are slow and gentle, and the degree of exertion can be
easily adjusted, making it suitable for people of all levels of ability.
There are many styles and
forms of tai chi, the major being Chen, Yang, Wu, Wu (different words in
Chinese) and Sun. Each style has its own unique features, although most
styles share similar essential principles.
The essential principles
include relaxation of muscles and joints, fluidity of the movements; spine
straight with head top suspended; separation of weight; control of
breathing; and, mental concentration with mind and body united. The central focus is to enable the qi
or life force to flow smoothly and powerfully throughout the body. Total
harmony of the inner and outer self comes from the integration of mind
and body, achieved through the ongoing practice of tai chi.
Tai Chi As a Martial Art
Tai Chi, also known as
Shadow Boxing, is the most prominent Chinese martial art of the Internal
style. Internal styles place emphasis on breathing and the mental component
of their training. Execution of movement is generally softer in contrast to
the External style.
External forms features vigorous body movements, dynamic kicks and harsh
In contract, Tai Chi consists of
fluid, gentle, graceful and circular movements that relaxed and slow in
tempo. Breathing is deepened and slowed, aiding visual and mental
concentration. The body relaxes, allowing the life force or "Qi; to flow
unimpeded through the body.
Combining both internal and
external training, Tai Chi becomes a powerfully holistic approach to better
Spellings and Pronunciation
are two translation systems of Chinese: Pin Yin and Wade Giles.
Here are the common spellings of Tai Chi Chuan, Taijiquan and Qigong :
Taijiquan, T’ai Ch’i Ch’uan, Taiji, Tai Chi Qigong, Ch’i Kung, Chi Kung, Chi
Gung, Chi Gong, Qi, Ch’i, Chi, Ki (Japanese)
The names are pronounced:
Tai Chi Chuan = Tie Chee (not hard like K more
like jee) and Chewon
Qigong = Chee Kung (the K is more like a gung)
Meanings of Words
The term 'Tai
Chi' refers not merely to a system of physical exercise. It comes form the
ancient Chinese philosophy of Taoism. "Tao" (pronounced Dow) means the 'the way, the
path' a universal concept implying conscious thought and participation.
"Chi" has been translated as 'vital energy' or as the word 'ultimate
balance' - a powerful life force. 'Tai' means "great, supreme, immense'.
Tai Chi is a way
of finding yourself and your own special path through life.
Chinese literature such as the Book of Changes, I Ching, which dates
back as far as 1100-1221 BC, there is reference to a state of harmony that
exists in all of nature and this is called the Tai Chi.
It is also often
pictured as a symbol called the Tai Chi T'su. This is also called the
'double fish diagram' . This is a circle divided equally and balanced into a
light and a dark section. These are called the 'Yang" and the 'Yin"
respectively. The division is a graceful curve suggesting movement and the
interplay of opposites. Light (Yang) changes into darkness (Yin) and then
back again. There is a eye of each opposite located deep within each section
indicating that there is change and transformation - an interplay of
opposites. Day and night; summer and winter; hot and cold; positive and
negative electricity. Both sides complement each other completely and
together form a perfect whole.
Put into physical
movement the result is the exercise system known as Tai Chi Chuan.
What is Qi? Qigong?
is life energy. It has
also been written that Qi is a resource so essential it is impossible to
define or translate. It can refer to energy
in nature such as the electrical field of the atmosphere and energy in every
living thing. And it refers to the energy or life force inside a person.
If we look in the
Chinese language Qi means air. So if we think that our life energy is oxygen
entering our lungs and food and water entering our blood system that
circulates throughout our body we are thinking of Qi. Opening our joints and
moving our muscles, relaxing our muscles and mind, all help to move our Qi
(energy, oxygen, food, water) throughout our body.
Some people can feel
the Qi during or after a practice. Some describe it as a warm feeling,
tingling or stronger sensation. Others say it is their increase feeling of
energy or well-being. Others do not feel anything. Which is ok. Remember Qi
is there whether you feel it or not. It takes time to sense and cultivate.
Gong means refers to exercises that require a
great deal of time to be proficient.
Qigong then means a variety of breathing, athletic and
meditative exercises that requires regular practice or play to help with
mental relaxation and health using Qi..
Origins of Tai Chi
The real origins of Tai Chi is some what obscure
and is surrounded by mystery and legend. In one account a Taoist priest,
Chang Shanfeng, had a vivid dream where a snake and a crane were engaged in
combat. As the snake attempted to strike the crane, the bird would
gracefully side step and push the snake away with its powerful wings. When
the crane would try to stab the snake with its beak, the snake would recoil
and twist and often launch its own strike. There are many styles but the
four most well known are Chen, Yang, Wu and Sun.
Less romantic as the legend above, history dates back to Chen Wangting, a 16th century Royal Guard of the Chen village in Wenxian
County, Henan Province. He developed several routines which include the old
frame forms still practiced today. This style was only handed down within
his village clan. Interestingly it was taught to daughter-in-law's, never to
daughters who would move away from the village. Generations later, Chen Fake
(d. 1957) published writings of another family member and taught the style
outside the Chen village.
Chen style is characterized by its emphasis on
spiral force. Its movements are similar to other martial arts. Slow and soft
movements intermix with fast and hard ones. It is also characterized by
explosive power and low stances. Chen style is rich with combat techniques.
Yang style is the most popular. Yang Lu-chan
(1799-1872) created it in the early 19th century. He loved martial arts and
studied with many famous masters. One day he was soundly beaten by a member
of the Chen village. He was fascinated by his opponents soft curve like but
powerful movements. He pretended to be a beggar and fainted in the front
door of the Chen's village elder. He was rescued and allowed to stay as a
servant. He woke at night to learn the art through a crack in the wall while
others practiced. He became a skilled practitioner. Later, he was discovered
and although could have been put to death, an elder was so impressed with
Yang's skill, that he took Yang on as a student.
Yang style is characterized by gentle, graceful
an slow movements, which are easy to learn and promote health. Yang style is
suitable for almost all ages and physical conditions.
Sun style is the youngest of the major styles.
It was created by Sun Lu-tang (1861-1932). Sun was a well-known practitioner
of the Xingyiquan and Baguaquan (two famous internal martial arts) before he
learned Tai Chi. In 1912, Sun happened to run into Hao Weizheng who
practiced Hao Wu style, who was sick. Without knowing who Hao was, Sun
took care of him. After Hao recovered, he stayed in Sun's house to teach him
This style is characterized by agile steps.
Whenever one foot moves forward or backwards the other foot follows. Its
movements flow smoothly like a river and there is a powerful Qigong exercise
whenever the direction is changed. Qigong is effective in healing and
relaxation. Sun styles has high stances making it easier for beginners and
seniors to learn. It is more compact and requires less space than other