In the early mornings, many older Chinese people practice tai chi in parks or natural settings. It is quite a thing to watch. It looks like a peaceful slow-motion karate movie.
The term ‘tai chi chuan’ means ‘grand ultimate,’ which also makes no sense at all, right? One book on it says it means “the beginning and the end. It is the eternal. Tai Chi is reality, truth, God or whatever one wishes to call it.” But ‘Chuan’ means fist. This makes sense as tai chi has its origins in Taoism, medicinal theory and the martial arts.
Before the mid-1800s when it was first recorded as tai chi chuan, it was known by the name of touch boxing.
Tai chi health benefits
Tai chi is a mind and body harmony exercise, similar to yoga. Both are designed for self-awareness and enlightenment. They are both designed to bring mind and soul together. They are both designed to soften stress and bring good breathing.
The differences are that postures are held in yoga, whereas tai chi is set around 88 movements that are performed in a slow, steady sequence. Also, breathing in yoga is often the focus, whereas, during tai chi practice, proper breathing results from the fluid movements.
There are no proven health benefits of tai chi. It has been recommended for older folks as it has physical and psychological benefits, including improved balance and reduced depression and anxiety.
However, a study at Georgia State University of College students who did tai chi positively recommends tai chi as a form of exercise for this age group as it promotes physical and mental health.
Another study, conducted in Boston found that this meditative style of exercise ‘reduces pain and improves physical function, self-efficacy, depression, and health status for osteoarthritis of the knee.’ They suggested that more research should be done to learn about its benefits can be extended to a broader population.
Tai chi styles
Tai chi is both meditative and improves self-defense. If someone attacks a tai chi master, they know that the other person possesses life force. That life force will be quickly directed at him or her. But rather than force with force, the tai chi practitioner will let the attacker’s life force pass through, by gently nudging it quickly past.
Meditation comes in the form of concentration on the physical exercise, so you are integrating mind and body. Some of the forms in a tai chi set are hard to master and is especially hard to make them look natural.
The Chen family was the first to develop their own style, which they still teach today in Chen village (or Chen Jia Gou in Henan Province). Since then there have been other families who developed their own styles, such as Yang, Wu, and Sun.
The Chen style was developed by one of Chen’s ancestors who fought in Shanxi during the Qing Dynasty (1644-192). He returned home and worked on his knowledge of martial arts and medicine to create this combination of exercise and meditation – designed to promote long life and rejuvenate energy (or qi).
The Chen style has a lot of quick, sudden movements than the Yang style also possesses. Some movements are much bigger in some forms as well. Most include classic movements with names like ‘white stork displays its wings’ and ‘carry tiger home to the mountains’. These might also be done slightly differently in the different styles.
The Chen Village School
There are not a lot of reasons to go to Chen village unless you are on a tai chi pilgrimage. Empty Mind Films released a movie called Chen Village in 2009 that shows students from all over the world being trained in tai chi. It also gives you a snapshot of the village and its people.
Chen Xiaoxing, the main teacher there, is a 19th generation Chen grandmaster and has been teaching since 1976.
The school teaches Chinese people, sometimes for two years, but foreigners can also go and do shorter courses (between a week and a couple of months). The school currently has about 100 full-time students. It is hard to find an English-language website with current information on courses, but you can have a go. I did discover that certification after an exam costs around 100 euros.
Tai chi also uses weaponry. Weapons used can be swords, spears, folding fans and whips. Poles, fans, and whips would be available to most people and can be used to defend yourself well. The swords and spears are more military style weapons that are harder to use for your average beginner.
Most people are better off getting to know the empty hand forms before they even try using weapons. A Chinese song explains, “Like the rainbow, the Art of the Sword was very mysterious and profound. If you cut and chop using the sword like a knife, then old Master Chang will laugh to death at you.”
Pushing hands is a type of wrestling that can involve throwing and locks. The principle of this is that when your opponent advances, you must retreat. And when an opponent retreats, you advance.
Like other forms of tai chi, pushing hands is an internal art designed to help you create new energy (or qi) to better your health. As a student, it is about how you direct that energy to your opponent and how sensitive you are to your opponent’s intention. It is also a great thing to watch, and there are loads of videos on YouTube about all these things.
So if you happen to stumble on a bunch of people doing tai chi in parks in China, you will know that they are meditating and fighting at the same time. They are breathing in cleaner air. They are cultivating self-awareness. The energy they generate when they perform together is different from doing it alone, and this is why so many Chinese people do tai chi.