What is Tai Chi?

A quick introduction.

Tai Chi Chuan(also spelled T’ai Chi or Taijiquan) is a Chinese Internal Martial Art.

An Internal Art will use focus and internal energy as opposed to the external energy and muscle power displayed by an External Martial Art (like Kung Fu, Karate or Tae Kwon Do).

In China, the three traditional Internal Arts are Hsing Yi (a very effective combative art practised in the old days by the guards of the spice and silk convoys), Pa Kua Chang (a very coiling art based on the movements of the mythical Dragon) and Tai Chi Chuan, which translates as “Grand Ultimate”. The Universal Symbol (Taiji) illustrates the ultimate balance between the universal energies of Yin and Yang.

In Japan, Aikido is based on the very same principles as Tai Chi and is also an Internal Art.
Originally, Tai Chi is said to have been invented by Zhang Sanfeng, a Shaolin Monk during the Song Dynasty, observing a fight between a snake and a crane. The coiling movements of the snake inspired him to create a new, softer and more evasive Martial Art.

There are 4 main styles of Tai Chi Chuan: Chen, Yang, Wu and Sun. Other styles do exist outside these but are not as widely practised.

The style I have been studying and am teaching is Yang, and it’s the style most practised in the Western World. Within the Yang style are different forms, a “form” being a succession of steps in a particular order.

The original Yang form derived directly from the first Tai Chi form practised by the Chen family. It was created by Yang Lu Chan. His grandson Yang Chen Fu taught a slightly “modernised” version of this form and his form is called the Traditional Long Yang Form.

Professor Cheng Man Ching was a disciple of Yang Chen Fu and created his own form, a simplified and shorter version of the traditional one, and a form that would be more accessible to Westerners.
Later in the 20th century, other forms were created, mainly the widely practised 24 step form and the competition 42 step form (Tai Chi is a competitive sport in China and with all the different styles, standards were needed for judging).

Today, Tai Chi is mainly practised for its health benefits. It has in this sense become a “Health Art”. Although we can say that practising Tai Chi for health will open your eyes to the Martial Arts origins and strong self-defence techniques even if you choose not to practise them, and practising Tai Chi as a Martial Art will give you robust health.

Frequently Asked Questions

How are the lessons structured?

The generic Taiji classes are taught in blocks of 6 weeks. Each week, new movements and concepts are introduced and we review what has been taught up to date. Intake weeks are therefore after each block, you cannot join a class in the middle of a block as this would disrupt the teaching to the other students. However, those who miss a lesson should be able to catch up.
For Qigong classes, exercises are taught and practiced each week and several routines can be taught depending on the aim of the class and the ability of the participants. These classes are not necessary held on a weekly basis (for instance WI groups, Residential Homes).
Medical rehab classes are taught in blocks of 6 or 12 weeks (depending on the condition to be addressed) and can open the way for the participants to attend generic Tai Chi classes. Again, the lessons can be held weekly or more often if necessary. Repeating a block of lessons is also sometimes necessary to attain sufficient progress.

What if I do not feel confident to move onto the next 6-week block of lessons?

No problem, you can always repeat a block of lessons if you feel you need more time to assimilate the movements and techniques.

Is Taiji safe to practice? After all, it’s a martial art…

Yes, practice is extremely safe. Those who have problems with balance or standing can even learn the form seated and practice the Qigong routines seated. I encourage everyone to move at their own pace, Rome was not built in a day and not everyone is able to learn fast. I will always be on hand to correct posture and alignment and point out what needs attention. You learn to relax in the movement and pay attention to what your body does, so become much better equipped to look after yourself. Even when practicing weapons and push hands exercises, we do not use speed or violent moves: all remains slow, controlled and mindful.

How long does it take to learn the Taiji Form?

I teach the Cheng Man Ching Form, which is longer than the 24-step form but shorter than the Traditional Long Yang Form or the Chen Forms. The syllabus covers all the moves in the form over 18 to 24 weeks, so a basic knowledge of the moves can take just 18 weeks!

So, what happens after the first 18 weeks?

This is when you really start learning and practicing becomes really enjoyable and fun. We look at the movements more in depth, introduce new concepts and start doing basic push hands exercises. Further down the line, you can learn new qigong routines, more push hand and self-defense techniques and learn weapons forms (broad sword, double-edged sword, staff, fan, walking stick). The beauty of Tai Chi is that no matter how long you have been practicing, you keep on learning all the time, not only about techniques, but also about yourself.

What are the costs?

For the generic classes, £50.00 per block of 6 weeks, payable in advance. This includes some typed notes for guidance, including summary of the moves taught. £20.00 membership (Kai Ming) per year after 4 weeks and this includes a T-Shirt the first year. Community based classes, Residential Homes and Rehab classes do not require any membership and prices vary – some classes are sponsored and free of charge for the students.

Do we wear a uniform?

Not really, just the T-shirt for the members. All students should wear jogging pants, leggings or comfortable loose trousers and flat shoes with non-marking soles for indoor halls. Sports shoes for outside training or events.

What is Kai Ming?

Kai Ming (meaning Open Mind) is the organization I belong to as an instructor. We are based in the West Midlands and have numerous classes over there. There are some instructors (like myself) who live in other parts of the country too, but we all meet monthly to train, are graded every year and required to demonstrate new skills as part of our continuous development. Membership to Kai Ming gives you access to our seminars, our annual Tai Chi Summer Camp (in Bourneville, Birmingham) and our monthly newsletter. You can access a lot of information through Kai Ming and the cost of membership is always kept at a minimum.

What is the TCU?

The (All Styles) Tai Chi Union of Great Britain is the national governing body for Tai Chi. Like all other martial arts and sports, we have a committee of very senior instructors in our field (Masters) that ensures all instructors are properly licensed to teach. The TCU also trains judges for national or international competitions and publishes a magazine. If you train in any sport or art, you should always check that your teacher is recognized and insured – do not put your health in the hands of pretend instructors that have no experience and little or incorrect knowledge.