Tai chi chuan: An Introduction to a Martial Art and Health Exercise

If you are a baby boomer, born between 1946 and 1964, you might be thinking more about your health and physical fitness as you are getting older. There’s an ancient Chinese soft style martial art, tai chi chuan, that can be learned at home without any fancy equipment, no monthly health club fees, many peripheral health benefits, better balance, a meditative stress reducer, and it’s also a powerful martial art..

If you were to watch a tai chi chuan class, it looks like it”s a dance class….. How could this tai chi be a powerful martial art?……..Impossible!. This is a good example of a hasty impression being about as wrong as it gets. Tai chi chuan is as a stress reducer, a martial art, an aid to flexibility, an aid to health management, an aid to self confidence and much more.

Tai Chi Chuan literally means ”Grand Ultimate Fist”; There are many variations of styles, pretty much named after the families in China that developed them: Chen, Yang, Wu/Hao, Wu, and Sun. The Yang style, the one it the most common in the United States; is a soft style that relies on body mechanics and energy flow.

In in the 1970s there weren’t too many schools teaching tai chi chuan. Rumor has it that the old Chinese masters would limit their instructions and teach only Asians. In the New York City there weren’t too many schools that taught tai chi chuan as a fighting art. Who, in their right mind, would be interested in learning a martial art if it wasn’t taught by someone who wasn’t a proven and proficient fighter. Schools to this day that teach tai chi primarily stress teaching this martial art as a health exercise, a breathing exercise, or an exercise to help balance.

If you are interested in tai chi as a martial art you have to be more selective. Now it’s even depicted in movies such as the 1992 film directed by Ang Lee, entitled “Pushing Hands”. Pushing hands is an exercise that develops flexibility and channels chi, or internal energy.

To be able to teach how to fight you have to know what it feels like to get hit. You have to be able to take a blow and not tense up in order to be able to deliver a punch (or counter punch) or a kick with power. If you’re tense, you’re slow…..not good for a fighter. If you’re tense the energy, that we call “chi” is blocked. That means the power of your punch or kick just can’t be there!.

When you punch, or pick up a heavy suitcase, or pull or push a heavy door open, all become easier when you can muster up the needed internal energy or chi. The flexibility is important since, the tai chi form doesn’t have blocks in the traditional sense; it neutralizes. So the speed and force of an attacking punch or kick causes a reaction at an equal speed and force. You actually are moved out of the way as a reaction of the force attacking you, while striking back with the same speed and power.

Even though you can see the effect of focusing chi you have to practice to be able to recognize how to harness this energy. The old masters used to say just practice the forms and the martial art and chi development will just come out, I think that you need to practice, practice and practice some more to be and effective martial artist and develop strong chi. Although you really don’t really have to practice  20 years to be effective.

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