Tai Chi Chuan
Tai Chi Chuan
, T'ai Chi Ch'üan
commonly known as Tai Chi
, T'ai Chi
, or Taiji
, is an internal Chinese martial art. There are different styles of T'ai Chi Ch'uan, although most modern schools can trace their development to the system originally taught by the Chen family to the Yang family starting in 1820. It is often promoted and practiced as a martial arts therapy for the purposes of health and longevity, (some recent medical studies support its effectiveness). T'ai Chi Ch'uan is considered a soft
style martial art, an art applied with as much deep relaxation or "softness" in the musculature as possible, to distinguish its theory and application from that of the hard
martial art styles which use a degree of tension in the muscles.Variations of T'ai Chi Ch'uan's basic training forms are well known as the slow motion routines that groups of people practice every morning in parks across China and other parts of the world. Traditional T'ai Chi training is intended to teach awareness of one's own balance and what affects it, awareness of the same in others, an appreciation of the practical value in one's ability to moderate extremes of behavior and attitude at both mental and physical levels, and how this applies to effective self-defense principles.
OverviewHistorically, T'ai Chi Ch'uan has been regarded as a martial art, and its traditional practitioners still teach it as one. Even so, it has developed a worldwide following among many thousands of people with little or no interest in martial training for its aforementioned benefits to health and health maintenance. Some call it a form of moving meditation, and T'ai Chi theory and practice evolved in agreement with many of the principles of traditional Chinese medicine. Besides general health benefits and stress management attributed to beginning and intermediate level T'ai Chi training, many therapeutic interventions along the lines of traditional Chinese medicine are taught to advanced T'ai Chi students.The physical training of T'ai Chi Ch'uan is described in the writings of its older schools as being characterized by the use of leverage through the joints based on coordination in relaxation, rather than muscular tension, in order to neutralize or initiate physical attacks. The slow, repetitive work involved in the process of learning how that leverage is generated gently and measurably increases and opens the internal circulation: (breath, body heat, blood, lymph, peristalsis, etc.). Over time, proponents say, this enhancement becomes a lasting effect, a direct reversal of the constricting physical effects of stress on the human body. This reversal allows much more of the students' native energy to be available to them, which they may then apply more effectively to the rest of their lives; families, careers, spiritual or creative pursuits, hobbies, etc.The study of T'ai Chi Ch'uan involves three primary subjects:
- An unhealthy or otherwise uncomfortable person will find it difficult to meditate to a state of calmness or to use T'ai Chi as a martial art. T'ai Chi's health training therefore concentrates on relieving the physical effects of stress on the body and mind.
- The focus meditation and subsequent calmness cultivated by the meditative aspect of T'ai Chi is seen as necessary to maintain optimum health (in the sense of effectively maintaining stress relief or homeostasis) and in order to use it as a soft style martial art.
- Martial art
- The ability to competently use T'ai Chi as a martial art is said to be proof that the health and meditation aspects are working according to the dictates of the theory of T'ai Chi Ch'uan.
In its traditional form (many modern variations exist which ignore at least one of the above requirements) every aspect of its training has to conform with all three of the aforementioned categories.The Mandarin term "T'ai Chi Ch'uan" translates as "Supreme Ultimate Boxing" or "Boundless Fist". T'ai Chi training involves learning solo routines, known as forms
, and two person routines, known as pushing hands
, as well as acupressure
-related manipulations taught by traditional schools. T'ai Chi Ch'uan is seen by many of its schools as a variety of Taoism, and it does seemingly incorporate many Taoist principles into its practice (see below). It is an art form said to date back many centuries (although not reliably documented under that name before 1850), with precursor disciplines dating back thousands of years. The explanation given by the traditional T'ai Chi family schools for why so many of their previous generations have dedicated their lives to the study and preservation of the art is that the discipline it seems to give its students to dramatically improve the effects of stress in their lives, with a few years of hard work, should hold a useful purpose for people living in a stressful world. They say that once the T'ai Chi principles have been understood and internalized into the bodily framework the practitioner will have an immediately accessible "toolkit" thereby to improve and then maintain their health, to provide a meditative focus, and that can work as an effective and subtle martial art for self-defense.Orthodox T'ai Chi schools say the study of T'ai Chi Ch'uan is studying how to change appropriately in response to outside forces. These principles are taught using the examples of physics as experienced by two (or more) bodies training for combat. In order to be able to protect oneself or someone else by using change, it is necessary to understand what the consequences are of changing appropriately, changing inappropriately and not changing at all in response to an attack. Students, by this theory, will appreciate the full benefits of the entire art in the fastest way through physical training of the martial art aspect.Training and techniquesAs the name T'ai Chi Ch'uan
is held to be derived from the T'ai Chi symbol (taijitu
or t'ai chi t'u
), commonly known in the West as the "yin-yang" diagram, T'ai Chi Ch'uan is therefore said in literature preserved in its oldest schools to be a study of yin
(receptive) and yang
(active) principles, using terminology found in the Chinese classics, especially the Book of Changes and the Tao Te Ching.The core training involves two primary features: the first being the solo form (ch'üan
), a slow sequence of movements which emphasize a straight spine, relaxed breathing and a natural range of motion; the second being different styles of pushing hands (t'ui shou
) for training "stickiness" and sensitivity in the reflexes through various motions from the forms in concert with a training partner in order to learn leverage, timing, coordination and positioning when interacting with another. Pushing hands is seen as necessary not only for training the self-defense skills of a soft style such as T'ai Chi by demonstrating the forms' movement principles experientially, but also it is said to improve upon the level of conditioning provided by practice of the solo forms by increasing the workload on students while they practice those movement principles.The solo form 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 forms. The major traditional styles of T'ai Chi have forms which differ somewhat cosmetically, but there are also many obvious similarities which 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-defense training. In most traditional schools different variations of the solo forms can be practiced: 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.In a fight, if one uses hardness to resist violent force then both sides are certain to be injured, at least to some degree. Such injury, according to T'ai Chi theory, is a natural consequence of meeting brute force with brute force. The collision of two like forces, yang with yang, is known as "double-weighted" in T'ai Chi terminology. Instead, students are taught not to fight or resist an incoming force, but to meet it in softness and "stick" to it, following its motion while remaining in physical contact until the incoming force of attack exhausts itself or can be safely redirected, the result of meeting yang with yin. Done correctly, achieving this yin/yang or yang/yin balance in combat (and, by extension, other areas of one's life) is known as being "single-weighted" and is a primary goal of T'ai Chi Ch'üan training. Lao Tzu provided the archetype for this in the Tao Te Ching when he wrote, "The soft and the pliable will defeat the hard and strong."T'ai Chi's martial aspect relies on sensitivity to the opponent's movements and centre of gravity dictating appropriate responses. Effectively affecting or "capturing" the opponent's centre of gravity immediately upon contact is trained as the primary goal of the martial T'ai Chi 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; forms, pushing hands and sparring. T'ai Chi Ch'üan 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 in most styles. 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. There is an extensive repertoire of joint traps, locks and breaks (chin na), particularly applied to lock up or break an opponent's elbows, wrists, fingers, ankles, back or neck. Most T'ai 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. There is also an emphasis in the traditional schools that one is expected to show wu te, martial virtue or heroism, to protect the defenseless and show mercy to one's opponents.Other training exercises include:
- Weapons training and fencing applications employing the straight sword known as the jian or chien or gim (jiàn), a heavier curved sabre, sometimes called a broadsword or tao (dāo , which is actually considered a big knife), folding fan also called san, wooden staff (2 m) known as kun , 7 foot (2 m) spear and 13 foot (4 m) lance (both called qiāng). More exotic weapons still used by some traditional styles are the large Da Dao or Ta Tao sabre, halberd, cane, rope-dart, three sectional staff, lasso, whip, chain whip and steel whip. Two-person tournament sparring (as part of push hands competitions and/or sanshou);
- Breathing exercises; nei kung ( nèigōng) or, more commonly, ch'i kung (qìgōng) to develop ch'i ( qì) or "breath energy" in coordination with physical movement and post standing or combinations of the two. These were formerly taught only to disciples as a separate, complementary training system. In the last 50 years they have become more well known to the general public.