Tai Chi, also known as Taijiquan or T’ai Chi Ch’uan, is a form of Chinese ‘Internal’ Martial Art.
It is a fairly new system, that originated in China about 1820, when the present style was taught to the Yang family, from another family called Chen.
But almost certainly was originally developed from the much older Chi Gung.
At the present time there are several different styles, but they can all trace their ancestry back to the Yangs and the Chens, and only differ from one another usually in comparatively minor details.
Tai Chi has become extremely popular in the West, and its gentle exercises appeal to people of all ages.
It has long been a very frequent sight in the Orient – where if you go to any public park in the early morning you will almost certainly see Chinese of all ages – and especially the elders – practicing the slow gentle movements of Tai Chi.
There has been a lot of research done on the health benefits of Tai Chi, and it has been shown that it can be very useful for its many health benefits such as;-
……Improves balance control, flexibility and cardiovascular fitness, and reduces the risk of falls in the elderly, with therefore a decrease in broken limbs.
……It reduces pain, stress and anxiety.
……It is of benefit in the treatment and management of high blood pressure, heart failure, those recovering from heart attacks, most forms of arthritis, and multiple sclerosis.
……It has been shown to reduce the symptoms of ADHD, and shows promise – along with Chi Gung, in reducing the severity of diabetes.
It has long been associated with the symbol on the left, that we tend to call the Yin/Yang symbol, but whose proper name is the Tai Chi Tu – or Tai Chi symbol.
The meaning of the symbol involves the principle that ‘in everything there is also its opposite.’
What I mean by this is that for example;- every male has a small part of his psychological makeup which is female, and every female has a corresponding male part.
In the symbol, the black portion is said to be male – or Yang – and the white portion represents the female – or Yin. Each is shown to have a small dot of the opposite color within it – which demonstrates this small part of the opposite in each.
The other important message in the symbol is that if the two halves – male and female – yin and yang – are each balanced with a small part of their opposites within them….then they will fit together and form an unbroken circle….the universal symbol of ‘unity.’
This Tai Chi symbol can be applied to many situations, for example –
……In a complete day (the circle), there is night or darkness (the black), that always contains a little light within it – on the darkest of nights, we can always see a little bit once our eyes become adapted to our night vision…and in the day (the white), there is always a bit of darkness in the deep shadows.
……in the same way – in all bad there is a little bit of good, and all good contains a little bit of bad.
……in all strength there is a bit of weakness, and even the weakest has a little bit of strength.
Tai Chi is most commonly practiced in the West – and by the elderly in the East – as the Chuan, or Solo Form.
This involves a series of gentle exercises that are actually a very powerful system of martial art, but this aspect is minimized in this use.
The exercises are done by the individual person (thus Solo), but almost always as part of a group, all doing the same Tai Chi exercises in a synchronized way – as in the photo on the top of the page.
Traditionally they are done twice daily, early in the morning and around sunset.
Most people do not do – or even know – the complete set of the Tai Chi exercises – which number more than one hundred separate ones – now the majority of schools teach the ‘Short Form’, which gives enough of the exercises to give maximum benefits.
Another aspect of Tai Chi that is not often taught, or even being known by the teachers – is the very powerful martial art applications.
Traditionally, after the student has been studying and learning the Tai Chi ‘form’ for some time, then he/she will be introduced to Tui Shou – or ‘Push Hands’.
This is a series of exercises where two practitioners work together, going through complicated and repetitive hand and arm and body movements.
The whole idea is that there is constant hand contact between them, so that each ‘follows’ the movements of the other, looking for internal loss of attention in the other, so as to ‘throw off’ or deflect the energy of the inattentive one.
This exercise is designed to teach what is called ‘stickiness’ – which is one of the main martial arts Tai Chi tools.
This is – where you try to contact the ‘energy center’ of your opponent by being in contact with him at all times and by this being able to feel where his energy center is…if it is ‘off center’ then it is easy to gently redirect the opponents’ energy so that they fall or are repulsed.
From this the student progresses until he is doing Tai Chi faster and faster, and then is also given training in weapon use – usually a kind of sword – that is included in another special set or form.
With one of my Tai Chi teachers I was shown an old film clip of a famous historical Tai Chi Master, called Chen Man Ching.
At the time that the film was taken he was about 60 years old.
It showed him being attacked by 4 students at the same time – and yet with what looked like gentle, flowing, fluid and non-violent movements, he had all 4 flying through the air away from him, again and again !
It has been said that if you were to put a Tai Chi Master in combat with a Master from any other Martial Arts system, that the Tai Chi Master would almost always win.
During the practice of Tai Chi, the consciousness is directed on two things – the breathing, and where the energy is.
This is the meditative aspect of Tai Chi, and uses the Dantien (Center of Gravity point – 3 fingers width below the navel and two fingers width inside the belly from there), as both the point into which one breathes, and also the central point from which ones’ energy flows.
It obviously hard to give a good example of the Tai Chi exercises and meditation as an online class, because it is a system that involves constant slow movements.
However I can give you a small taste of Tai Chi by showing you the ‘Beginning’ posture, as follows –
Stand with your feet parallel to each other and a shoulder width apart, your hands by your sides with the backs of your hands facing forwards, hands open, and keep your back straight throughout the exercise……..
……Let your eyes go ‘out of focus’ so that you are not looking at anything in particular…..
Become aware of your breathing, gently make it slower and deeper, and concentrate on each breath bringing energy into your body, and both the breath and the energy going down to the Dantien point…….
Imagine your Dantien point slowly filling with more and more energy, and feel all the weight of your body concentrating there……
Feel all the weight in your Dantien gently pulling you vertically downwards towards the floor, and gently bend your knees to go with it – bend them as far as is comfortable for you- keeping your back straight…….
Hold that position for a few seconds, keeping watch on your breathing and the energy and your weight all centered in your Dantien. Notice that with all your weight so low down, you are very well balanced and stable…..
Very slowly start to bring your wrists forward, with your palms facing backwards – keeping your hands and arms totally relaxed…. and imagine that there are Helium balloons attached to the back of your wrists – so that they are slowly lifted upwards….
Keep your elbows and hands totally relaxed, and the muscles ‘soft.’….
When your wrists are about 12 to 18 inches from your body, let the Helium balloons lift them very slowly upwards, with your hands and elbows ‘dangling.’….
At the same time as your wrists are rising, let your body also rise a little, but not so much that your knees are not still a little bit bent…..
Let all this slowly continue until your wrists are at about shoulder height, then – staying totally relaxed ( yet watching the breathing and energy and weight in the Dantien)
…. let your arms stay in the same position….. but let your hands slowly lift and bend backwards at the wrist until they are both facing palms away from you and with your hands open and upright…..
Then imagine that the Helium is slowly going out of the balloons – and let your wrists slowly float downwards, your arms following them
….. with your hands open and upright, palms out, and keep your hands as upright as you can until you get to about waist height.
…. then let your hands slowly fall and gently bring them back to the same position that they started from.
At the same time as your wrists were sinking from shoulder height, let your Dantien pull you back downwards, your knees bending more until you are back in the position that you stated from.
Throughout all of this, you should make it so that you are taking a very deep deep slow slow breath in as you are ‘rising’ – and a corresponding very deep slow breath out as you are ‘sinking.’
Rest for a few slow deep breaths, and then do the whole thing at least twice more.
If you have done this a few times, you will begin to get an idea of the phrase that we have mentioned before about Tai Chi as being ‘Stillness in Movement’
Normally, from that position that we finished with, one would then go on to do all of the exercises of the ‘form’ of Tai Chi – but obviously impossible to do with just words – but this at least will give you perhaps a ‘taste’ of what Tai Chi is about.
So lets move on to Chi Gung –
Chi Gung – (or Qigong)
Chi Gung (or Qigong) is an old technique that has been part of Chinese Traditional medicine for centuries. This is the fairly new symbol for Chi Gung on the left, that is slowly gaining acceptance worldwide
It is also used as an additional technique with many of the martial art systems.
Recently it has been the subject of much study by the Chinese Government, who have both extensively researched it and also given Chi Gung its ‘official seal of approval,’ so that applications of it can be used and taught in Government run Chinese Traditional Medicine Hospitals.
Like most of the martial arts and also Tai Chi, it involves breathing techniques and visualizations, and/or manipulations, of the inherent energy – or Chi, (Prana or Ki, in other cultures).
It also uses non-movement postures as a means of gathering Chi energy, which is probably where it got the label of Movement in Stillness.
Essentially then, it a system of special breathing exercises, postures, stretching and special movements of the body.
These are often used as an additive to other systems such as martial arts, Chinese Medicine, and for use in health maintenance.
There are literally more than 3000 different schools of Chi Gung, all with varying differences.
It should be taught by a qualified teacher, if one wants to learn it thoroughly, but I can give you a small ‘taste’ example – in the same way that I did with Tai Chi.
What I will be teaching you is called the “Horse Pose” by some Chi Gung schools, I suspect because it has some similarities to the position of the legs in horse riding – so here we go !
Stand with your feet a bit wider apart than you were with the Tai Chi meditation – about six inches wider than shoulder width – and both feet parallel…….
Keep your eyes open but not focused on anything, and start to take very deep slow breaths……
Once again, imagine that each breath is going right down to your Dantien point below the navel, and to help it, make a conscious effort to push your belly out as you take each breath in, and pull your belly in as you breathe out each time……….
slowly bend your knees, keeping your back straight, as far as you can with comfort – and imagine that you are sitting on a great big inflated beach ball – imagine that it is taking some of your weight for you…….
As with the Tai Chi meditation, imagine that all your weight is concentrated at your Dantien…..
Bring your hands out in front of you – hands open and palms facing each other – arms only very slightly bent – and imagine that you are holding another big beach ball in front of you and against you…… The picture on the left gives you an idea where your hands should be, although it is not a great picture (the best I could find !)
Hold that position, and as you breathe, imagine that Chi or energy is coming into you with each breath, right down to the Dantien ….. then with each breath out… imagine that the energy is spreading out from the Dantien point to all the rest of your body, and down your arms and legs to your fingers and toes……
If you can – hold that position for 7 to 10 minutes, and alternate your concentration between all the different things….back straight……sitting on a beach ball…….holding another beach ball in front of you…….breathing in with your belly – down to the Dantien…….breathing out and the energy flowing from your Dantien to the rest of your body.
At the end of the time…… gently drop your hands to your sides…. slowly straighten up and bring your feet together, and let everything come back to ‘normal.’
What did you feel as you were doing it, and how do you feel now ?
Most people find that they feel ‘energized’ afterward, and many people feel tinglings in their arms and legs as they are doing it
(The movement of energy ?.. Who knows for sure ?…. But that would certainly seem right to me).
A.k.a. “qigong,” Chi Kung Unlimited covers a wide range of topics on this 5000-year-old Chinese form of yoga as an ancient but still viable way of life, including tai chi chuan, diet and nutrition, acupressure massage, home and herbal remedies, self-defense, Eastern philosophy, yogic breathing and meditation. Benefits include health, healing, well-being and inner peace. Ecourses, personal training program, and free online support are available. Discover how tai chi qigong can best meet your individual needs.
I hope that you found these interesting, and if you have a Chinese community near you, then go to any Public Park there in the early morning, and you will be sure to see Tai Chi, and maybe Chi Gung, being practiced.
Let’s move on to the next page which is ‘Taoism.’