Guest Author - Caroline Chen-Whatley
Tai Chi is a form of Martial Arts that is near and dear to my heart. It is performed slower than most other Martial Arts and is regularly prescribed to people who are looking for alternative exercise but cannot perform the traditional aerobics exercises.
Tai Chi, also known as tai chi chuan or tai ji, finds its history very common to many Kung Fu styles, originating from the Shaolin monks. It is said that the forms started as part of a daily ritual that the monks would perform for stretching out and warming up the body as well as meditation and time of reflection. It should come as no surprise than that many of the forms of Kung Fu also embody a portion of Tai Chi in their daily practices.
For many, Tai Chi is also known as the “internal arts” because it focuses the movement of “chi” within the body. Chi is nothing more than energy within the body, not much different from the blood that pumps in our veins or the electrical signals that pass through our synapses that keeps us alive.
People from all walks of life and all ages can participate in Tai Chi. When I was younger and traveled weekly to Chinatown, NYC, it wasn’t uncommon to find groups of older men practicing the art in local parks. I personally have taught people who have physical limitations and are unable to do other forms of exercise or Martial Arts.
Some believe that this form of Martial Arts can even help extend life or cure diseases. While I do not endorse this view of the art, I can say that it has been beneficial to my health and helping me to overcome some fairly bad breathing issues when I was younger.
When you start to learn Tai Chi, you will immediately notice a few things. The focus of the training is on creating body unity, emphasizing proper posture, rooting to center your gravity and balance, and breathing. These are fundamental skills for any Martial Arts students and become critical for a Tai Chi practioner. Not surprisingly, they are also important aspects for almost any athlete to learn and thus many professional athletes do learn this art.
While there are many variations to the different styles of Tai Chi, most of them can be boiled down to three origins: Chen, Yang, or Wu. And each, though slightly different in their philosophies around correct breathing techniques and stances, will still emphasize the same focus areas.
Over the last few years, Tai Chi has gained great popularity in the world, especially in the medical field. Its gentler movements and focus on understanding your own limitations have made it an ideal form of exercise used by many physical therapists. In addition to the physical movements of Tai Chi, many of the schools that teach this will also go through meditation training to help focus the mind and reduce stress.
Even with all the health focus, it is important to remember that Tai Chi is still a Martial Arts style. This means that for every movement, there is a self defense application it applies to. Tai Chi has even has “sparring” which is known as push-hands. The idea behind this exercise is to dislodge your opponent not through physical force or strength but through using your opponent’s movements to offset their balance.
Tai Chi is one of the most beautiful Martial Arts performed. When done correctly, not only do the practioners feel at ease, so do all those that watch. If you ever get a chance to take a class, even if it’s just a short one run by your local gym or YMCA, I highly recommend taking the time to go and learn.