The Ancient Art of Tai Chi – Mind, Body and Spirit
Tai Chi is one of the best known martial arts of the Internal systems from ancient China. Based on Qigong and martial art techniques from thousands of years ago, Chen Wangting developed the Chen Style Tai Chi around 1670.
It is characterised by contrasting and complimentary movements-slow and soft versus fast and hard. It contains explosive power and low stances. Chen style is more difficult and physically demanding than Sun style. Tai Chi is one of the most effective exercises for the health of mind and body. Although an art with a great depth of knowledge and skill, it can be easy to learn and soon delivers its health benefits.
For many, it continues as a lifetime journey.
What Is Thai Chi?
Tai chi is different from most other forms of movement and exercise because it’s a way to work directly with one’s qi, or life force. Qi, Life Force. Only the living are imbued with qi. A lack of qi leaves one sluggish and dull—and in its complete absence, dead. With an abundance of qi, one feels vibrant, alive, and alert to the possibilities of life. Tai Chi Develops Qi. Tai chi movements are a way to develop and to increase one’s life force. But understanding how this happens can be daunting. Explanations are often filled with unpronounceable Chinese words and equally difficult concepts.
The first Tai Chi secret is that choosing the appropriate tai chi style for your goals is very important. In fact, choosing a tai chi style is one of the most important decisions you’ll make/or don’t make on your journey to learn tai chi. Not ‘consciously’ choosing would be like attending a university and not caring what degree you studied. For most of the public, tai chi is just one subject, much like a subject area like math or literature. Yet to the more experienced tai chi practitioner there are many styles of tai chi and choosing the right style is a very important thing to consider before you begin. Now you may luck out and study a style that matches your goals; then again you may not result in frustration or even worse injury.
When the Western world thinks of “martial arts,” it inevitably thinks of kicking, punching, fighting, and body contact. Not slow, rhythmic, and meditative body movements designed to enhance relaxation, inner calm, and peace. But that’s what the martial art of tai chi is all about: slow, rhythmic, meditative movements designed to help you find peace and calm. In this article, we will cover the history, philosophy, and benefits of tai chi, as well as how and where to get started, and more.
Another aim of Tai Chi is to foster a calm and tranquil mind, focused on the precise execution of these exercises. Learning to do them correctly provides a practical avenue for learning about such things as balance, alignment, fine-scale motor control, a rhythm of movement, the genesis of movement from the body’s vital centre, and so on. Thus the practice of Tai Chi can in some measure contribute to being able to better stand, walk, move, run, etc. in other spheres of life as well. Many practitioners notice benefits in terms of correcting poor postural, alignment or movement patterns which can contribute to tension or injury. Furthermore, the meditative nature of the exercises is calming and relaxing in and of itself.
The Philosophy of Tai Chi
Though described as an exercise—even the Perfect Exercise—tai chi is more than a simple exercise. Tai chi is a framework for dealing with different forces and interactions in life. It might even be called the art of yielding. A tai chi martial artist yields to the force of an incoming fist, and may then use the attacker’s force against him. The interaction is not about meeting force directly with force.
Tai Chi teaches us the importance of balance and harmony in all things. We begin to see unity in diversity – that everything in creation operates according to the same basic principles and is essentially the same. We can see that all people and all living creatures are of equal value and we are all part of an integrated whole, like threads in a tapestry. This leads to greater tolerance and respect for each other and for the planet as a whole.
The Tai Chi Symbol
The philosophy of tai chi revolves around cycles and balance. The balance of yin and yang–commonly simplified as feminine and masculine–and the constant shifts between these energies is integral to tai chi.
These principles are represented in the tai chi symbol. The Tai Chi symbol shows the eternal motion and interplay of yin and yang around the central point of stillness. Each contains a little of its opposite (the “eyes” of the fishes) and as each reaches it’s extreme, its opposite arises again. The circle enclosing all of this represents the Tao.
Interestingly, subatomic particles created in the depths of space always emerge as pairs of opposites. It is this phenomenon which gives rise to Hawking radiation from black holes as one of the pair crosses the event horizon and is captured by the black hole while the other remains outside and becomes part of the radiated heat around it. Stephen Hawking has likened this to yin and yang at this fundamental level of the universe.
Yang and Yin Energies Arise. Out of the void, and through the separation and differentiation of the tai chi creative force, two primordial and complementary energies arose: the yang and the yin.
Yang. The yang energies are associated with the radiant light of the sun as well as its fiery heat. Yang energies are expansive and shoot outward.
Yin. Yin energies are associated with the dark of the moon and closing inward for rest, regeneration, regrowth, and creativity.
Complementary Energies. Yin-Yang energies are often thought of as dualities or polar opposites. Dark-light, cold-hot, female-male, matter-spirit, earth-heaven, down-up, soft-hard, closing-opening, and yielding-aggressive are other ways of characterizing these forces.
However, one can also think of these energies as complementary, and share a common source.
Both are equally good. One cannot exist without the other.
Neither is better than the other. This equality and interplay between the yin and the yang are depicted by the equal sizes of the dark swirling yin and that of the swirling white yang.
Tai Chi’s Five Major Styles
There are five major styles of Taijiquan, each named after the Chinese family that teaches it:
Chen style – 陈式
Yang style – 杨式
Sun style – 孙式
Wu Hao Style of Wu Yu-Hsiang – 武式
Wu style of Wu Ch’uan-yu and Wu Chien-Chuan – 吴式
You also find variations from the family-style where individual taiji masters or experts modify the form for specific purposes. Probably the clearest example of this is Cheng Man-ching who created the 37 short forms from the Yang family style.
1.The Yang Tai Chi Style
The Yang form is typically done with slow, steady movements, which help practitioners to relax and to feel the flow of energy within their bodies. The movements are large enough to foster a sense of exuberance and freedom. Beautiful to watch, relaxing to do, the Yang style is also lyrical in its moves, which include “Fair Lady Works the Shuttles”, “Needle at Sea Bottom”, and “Grasping the Sparrows Tail”. With its grace and emphasis on relaxation and smooth internal energetics, the Yang style attracts and retains many students each year.
The various schools originated from the approach of a speciﬁc tai chi master or from a particular geographic region within China. Each variation has a distinct ﬂavor, looks different from the others to a greater or lesser degree and may emphasize different technical points. All, however, will be called Yang style tai chi.
2.The Wu Tai Chi Style
The Wu tai chi style is the second most popular tai chi style. It has three main variations with strong stylistic differences that derived from the founder, Chuan You, his son, Wu Jian Chuan and his grandchildren. The Wu style’s distinctive hand form, pushing hands and weapons training emphasize parallel footwork and horse stance training with the feet relatively closer together than the modern Yang or Chen styles, small circle hand techniques (although large circle techniques are trained as well) and differs from the other t’ ai chi family styles martially with Wu style’s initial focus on grappling, throws (Shuai Chiao), tumbling, jumping, footsweeps, pressure point leverage and joint locks and breaks, which are trained in addition to more conventional t’ ai chi sparring and fencing at advanced levels
3.The Chen Tai Chi Style
Tai chi is not always done in slow motion. The Chen tai chi style includes a number of fast, explosive moves–jumping kicks, cannon fists, and thundering stomps—even for beginners. If you’re athletically inclined or are looking for an exciting tai chi style, consider the Chen. The Chen tai chi style alternates slow-motion movements with short, fast, explosive ones. It demands more physical coordination and may strain the lower back and knees more than other styles; consequently, Chen style tai chi is difﬁcult for the elderly or injured to learn.
This art is defined by a distinct training curriculum. But it is not only the external appearance of the movement that differentiates this style from other martial arts, but each movement is also based on intricate theories unique to this system. Because it is an art, it is subject to the interpretation of each practitioner. The resulting interpretations created a subdivision within the style. Each variation of Chen style is due to its history and their particular training insight of the teacher.
Wu (Hao) was created by Mr Wu Yu-Xiang, during the Qing Dynasty when Xiang Feng was emperor.
Sometimes it was called Wu or Hao style. The style’s creator, Mr Wu Yu-Xiang, was a scholar. He combined taiji training from Chen Qing-Ping, and Mr Wang Zhong-Yue’s theories with the study of Confucianism, Taoism, and Sun Tze’s Art of War. With this knowledge, Mr Wu Yu-Xiang developed the main form of Wu (Hao) as well as the 13-Technique Taiji Spear (staff), 13-Technique Taiji Saber, and Moving-step Push-Hands. From the basis of Mr Wang’s Zhong-Yue’s theories, Mr Wu continued the development of the 13-Torso Method, an Analysis of Taijiquan Theory, an Introduction of the 13 Postures, and Secret of the Four Words. Once Mr Wu developed these he had completed a taijiquan system.
Wu Yu-Hsiang’s t’ ai chi ch’uan is a distinctive style with small, subtle movements; highly focused on balance, sensitivity and internal ch’i development. It is a rare style today, especially compared with the other major styles. While there are direct descendants of Li Yi-yü and Li Ch’i-hsüan still teaching in China, there are no longer Hao family members teaching the style. Hao tai chi style’s primary focus is on Tai chi’s more internal chi movements with physical motions being much less important. As such it is considered an advanced tai chi style that is hard to appreciate for practitioners without signiﬁcant background knowledge of tai chi.
5.Combination Tai Chi Styles
Combination tai chi styles are the third most popular styles after the Yang and Wu tai chi styles. These tai chi styles freely mix and match movements from the four other tai chi styles as well as movements from other internal martial arts styles, such as Bagua and hsing-i. A Tai Chi form also begins with Stillness (Wu Chi), moves to the extremes of yin and yang in a flowing tide of continuous motion and comes back to stillness. An internal stillness is retained throughout the movements of the form.
Meditation resting in the state of Wu Chi can bring peace of mind, serenity and greater wisdom You may want to revisit the tai chi history, philosophy, and symbol sections after having gotten a glimpse of how tai chi actually looks, or better yet, how it feels to do tai chi. Understanding the philosophy and history of tai chi will inform and deepen your tai chi practice. But don’t let it stop you from getting started.
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