History & Philosophy
Tai chi (太極; pinyin: Tàijí), short for T'ai chi ch'üan or Tàijí quán (太極拳), is an internal Chinese martial art practiced for its health benefits, meditation and self defence. The term taiji is a Chinese cosmological concept for the flux of yin and yang, and 'quan' means fist. Etymologically, Taijiquan is a fist system based on the dynamic relationship between polarities (Yin and Yang). Though originally conceived as a martial art, it is also typically practiced for a variety of other personal reasons: competitive wrestling in the format of pushing hands (tui shou), demonstration competitions and achieving greater longevity. As a result, a multitude of training forms exist, both traditional and modern, which correspond to those aims with differing emphasis. Some training forms of tai chi are especially known for being practiced with relatively slow movements.
Today, tai chi has spread worldwide. Most modern styles of tai chi trace their development to at least one of the five traditional schools: Chen, Yang, Wu (Hao), Wu and Sun. All of the former, in turn, trace their historical origins to Chen Village.
The concept of the taiji ("supreme ultimate"), in contrast with wuji ("without ultimate"), appears in both Taoist and Confucian Chinese philosophy, where it represents the fusion or mother of yin and yang into a single ultimate, represented by the taijitu symbol . Tai chi theory and practice evolved in agreement with many Chinese philosophical principles, including those of Taoism and Confucianism. Tai chi training involves five elements, taolu (solo hand and weapons routines/forms), neigong and qigong (breathing, movement and awareness exercises and meditation), tuishou (response drills) and sanshou (self defence techniques). While tai chi is typified by some for its slow movements, many styles (including the three most popular: Yang, Wu and Chen) have secondary forms with faster pace. Some traditional schools teach partner exercises known as tuishou ("pushing hands"), and martial applications of the postures of different forms (taolu).
Taijiquan is classified as an internal art, one of the three pillars of neijia quan, along with Xing Yi Quan and Bagua Zhang. Since the earliest widespread promotion of the health benefits of tai chi by Yang Shaohou, Yang Chengfu, Wu Chien-ch‘üan and Sun Lutang in the early 20th century, it has developed a worldwide following of people, often with little or no interest in martial training, for its benefit to personal health. Medical studies of t‘ai-chi support its effectiveness as an alternative exercise and a form of martial arts therapy. It is purported that focusing the mind solely on the movements of the form helps to bring about a state of mental calm and clarity.
The physical techniques of tai chi are characterized by the use of leverage through the joints, based on coordination and relaxation, rather than muscular tension, in order to neutralize, yield, or initiate attacks. The slow, repetitive work involved in the process of learning how that leverage is generated gently and measurably increases, as well as opens, the internal circulation (breath, body heat, blood, lymph, peristalsis).
The study of tai chi primarily involves three aspects:
Health: An unhealthy or otherwise uncomfortable person may find it difficult to meditate to a state of calmness or to use tai chi as a martial art. Tai chi's health training, therefore, concentrates on relieving the physical effects of stress on the body and mind. For those focused on tai chi's martial application, good physical fitness is an important step towards effective self-defense.
Meditation: The focus and calmness cultivated by the meditative aspect of tai chi is seen as necessary in maintaining optimum health (in the sense of relieving stress and maintaining homeostasis) and in application of the form as a soft style martial art.
Martial art: The ability to use tai chi as a form of self-defense in combat is the test of a student's understanding of the art. Tai chi is the study of appropriate change in response to outside forces, the study of yielding and sticking to an incoming attack rather than attempting to meet it with opposing force. The use of tai chi as a martial art is quite challenging and requires a great deal of training.
Forms & Weapons Sets
Solo (taolu, neigong and qigong)
The taolu (solo "forms") should take the students through a complete, natural range of motion over their centre of gravity. Accurate, repeated practice of the solo routine is said to retrain posture, encourage circulation throughout the students' bodies, maintain flexibility through their joints, and further familiarize students with the martial application sequences implied by the various forms. The major traditional styles of tai chi have forms that differ somewhat in terms of aesthetics, but there are also many obvious similarities that point to their common origin. The solo forms (empty-hand and weapon) are catalogues of movements that are practised individually in pushing hands and martial application scenarios to prepare students for self-defence training. In most traditional schools, different variations of the solo forms can be practised: fast / slow, small-circle / large-circle, square / round (which are different expressions of leverage through the joints), low-sitting / high-sitting (the degree to which weight-bearing knees are kept bent throughout the form), for example.
Breathing exercises; neigong (internal skill) or, more commonly, qigong (life energy cultivation) are practiced to develop qi(life energy) in coordination with physical movement and zhan zhuang (standing like a post) or combinations of the two. These were formerly taught only to disciples as a separate, complementary training system. In the last 60 years they have become better known to the general public.
Qigong versus tai chi
Qigong involves coordinated movement, breath, and awareness used for health, meditation, and martial arts training. While many scholars and practitioners consider tai chi to be a type of qigong, the two are commonly distinguished as separate but closely related practices, with qigong playing an important role in training for tai chi, and with many tai chi movements performed as part of qigong practice. The focus of qigong is typically more on health or meditation than martial applications. Internally the main difference is the flow of qi. In qigong, the flow of qi is held at a gate point for a moment to aid the opening and cleansing of the channels.[clarification needed] In tai chi, the flow of qi is continuous, thus allowing the development of power for the use by the practitioner.
Partnered (tuishou and sanshou)
Two students receive instruction in tuishou ("pushing hands"), one of the core training exercises of t‘ai-chi ch‘üan. Tai chi's martial aspect relies on sensitivity to the opponent's movements and centre of gravity dictating appropriate responses. Effectively affecting the opponent's centre of gravity immediately upon contact, is trained as the primary goal of the martial t‘ai-chi ch‘üan student.The sensitivity needed to capture the centre is acquired over thousands of hours of first yin (slow, repetitive, meditative, low-impact) and then later adding yang (realistic, active, fast, high-impact) martial training through taolu (forms, tuishou pushing hands), and sanshou (free fighting). Tai chi trains in three basic ranges: close, medium and long, and then everything in between. Pushes and open-hand strikes are more common than punches, and kicks are usually to the legs and lower torso, never higher than the hip, depending on style. The fingers, fists, palms, sides of the hands, wrists, forearms, elbows, shoulders, back, hips, knees, and feet are commonly used to strike, with strikes to the eyes, throat, heart, groin, and other acupressure points trained by advanced students. Chin na, which are joint traps, locks, and breaks are also used. Most tai chi teachers expect their students to thoroughly learn defensive or neutralizing skills first, and a student will have to demonstrate proficiency with them before offensive skills will be extensively trained. In addition to the physical form, martial tai chi schools also focus on how the energy of a strike affects the other person. A palm strike that looks to have the same movement may be performed in such a way that it has a completely different effect on the target's body. A palm strike that could simply push the opponent backward, could instead be focused in such a way as to lift the opponent vertically off the ground, breaking his/her centre of gravity; or that it could terminate the force of the strike within the other person's body with the intent of causing internal damage. Most aspects of a trainee's tai chi development are meant to be covered within the partnered practice of tuishou, and so, sanshou (sparring) is not as commonly used as a method of training, a factor which
has diminished its applicability to combat.
the jian, a straight double-edged sword, practiced as taijijian;
the dao, a heavier curved saber, sometimes called a broadsword;
the tieshan, a folding fan, also called shan and practiced as taijishan;
the gun, a 2 m long wooden staff and practiced as taijigun;
the qiang, a 2 m long spear or a 4 m long lance.
A matched set of two feng huo lun
More exotic weapons still used by some traditional styles include:
the large dadao and podao sabres;
the ji, or halberd;
the sheng biao, or rope dart;
the sanjiegun, or three sectional staff;
the feng huo lun, or wind and fire wheels;
the whip, chain whip and steel whip.