What is Tai Chi (太极)
They say that the hardest thing to do in Tai Chi (tàijí太极) is to learn to relax and for most people that is what they enjoy most about this ancient Chinese martial art. It was originally developed as an ‘internal’ martial art as opposed to the more ‘external’ forms that focus on speed, strength and hardness. Whereas with Tai Chi there is a focus on the internal processes of releasing, relaxing, correct structure and movement in order to generate and express power from the inside. These days Tai Chi is more often practised for its known health benefits and is recognised more for the graceful form of exercise you might see people doing in parks.
Often described as a form of meditation in motion, Tai Chi promotes serenity through its gentle, flowing movements. The focus on the movements generates an improved awareness of body and harmonises breath with our opening and closing of the body as we work through the form. One of the attractive features of Tai Chi is that anybody can do it, no matter what age or level of fitness. It is a low-impact activity, so it puts very little stress on the muscles or joints. It’s most notable for the stress reduction benefits, but it also aids you to focus your mind and has a number of other documented health benefits such as:
- Decreased stress, anxiety and depression
- Improved mood
- Improved aerobic capacity
- Increased energy and stamina
- Improved flexibility, balance and agility
- Improved muscle strength and definition
More research is needed to determine the health benefits of Tai Chi, however, evidence indicates that tai chi may also help:
- Enhance the quality of sleep
- Enhance the immune system
- Help lower blood pressure
- Improve joint pain
- Improve symptoms of congestive heart failure
- Improve overall well-being
- Reduce the risk of falls in older adults
Tai Chi has a long history in China going back several hundred years so understandably there are many different styles and variations of styles. Each style, often associated with a particular family lineage, will emphasise different aspects of the tradition and will often employ different forms of movement. All of these styles draw on the same sets of common principles as set down in the ‘Tai Chi Classics’, a set of written documents that offer insights into philosophy and practice of the art. It is said that “Tai Chi is the art of letting hardness dwell within softness and hiding a needle within cotton” you might also think of Tai Chi as “movement in stillness” that brings about a “gentleness, softness, naturalness and bringing you back to your original nature”.
At Five Elements Academy, we teach a number of Tai Chi forms that include: Wudang Jing Jie 36, Wudang Tai Yi 18, Xuan Wu Quan and Yang Ban Hou Taijiquan Nei Jia.
Yang Ban Hou Taijiquan (Nei Jia)
This form of Tai Chi is possibly the one most people would recognise as it is similar in many ways to the popular Yang family style of Tai chi that is practised all over the world. In fact, it comes from the same lineage but was handed down through a different branch of the family. It is said, that this particular form is closer to the early or original Yang family style of Tai Chi as it was practised some 400 years ago. It is a fairly long form being comprised of 108 movements. But is a beautiful, relaxed and flowing set of movements that have both martial and spiritual application.
Wudang Jing Jie 36
This is a beautiful Taoist form of Tai Chi that was directly passed down to the teachers at the school by Chinese masters living in Wudang Shan (Mount Wudang) China). The form is related to the movement of the five animals of Taoist mythology and the legend of Xuan Wu (The Dark Warrior) who it is said, attained immortality in the Wudang Mountains. The movements are very bold yet elegant.
Wudang Tai Yi 18 Form
This is also a Taoist form from the Xuan Wu lineage of Wudang Shan monasteries. The form is relatively fast (Tai Yi). But It can also be practised slowly as well. The movements include upright high stances as well as low stances and brings to mind the movement of the five animals when in its practised.
Xuan Wu Quan
This Dark Warrior form is very robust and involves quick sudden movements. It employs more martial techniques than the soft and slow methods of the other forms of Tai Chi we teach. The image of Xuan Wu is often depicted as that of a Turtle entwined with a Snake and represents the duality of Yin and Yang, classic Taoist symbols that most people will be familiar with. The movement in the form represents the movement between Yin and Yang and is intended to promote longevity.