Taiji Quan / Tai Chi
Taiji Quan or Tai Chi as commonly referred to in the Western World is often used as a form of moving meditation and low impact exercise. And it is good for this. However, Taiji Quan was intended to be much more. It is a blending of Daoist Qi Gong practices (internal energy work) and Chinese Martial Arts. The mind and the bodies' vital energy (or qi) can be trained through breathing techniques and meditation while the bones, muscles and tendons will also be trained from the martial practices for over all health. This is how the Internal Martial Arts from Wudang Mountain train the mind, body and spirit simultaneously allowing these practices to be used for healing or self therapy in addition to self defense. Taiji Quan is a very practical Martial Art that can evoke the spirit of the peaceful warrior. By focusing on developing the Qi energy inside the body, striving to maintain or create a supple body and with use of integrated whole body movements, the Taiji practitioner does not rely on brute strength to overpower an opponent. This makes it useful for practitioners of all sizes and ages. That's probably why Taiji Quan is the most popular Chinese Martial Art and millions of people worldwide of all ages practice it.
So what does one do in a Tai Chi class?
Typically one can expect a gentle warm up of all the joints, muscles, tendons and connective tissues. Then there is standing meditation to help clear the mind and build Qi (internal energy) which will then be circulated throughout the body by the movements of the Taiji Quan form. The form has 108 movements so the brain gets a workout as well. When the student gets to a place where the whole sequence has been learned and stored to muscle memory than the practitioner gets to enjoy more than 10 minutes of continuous moving meditation and non stressful exercise per one commencement of the form. There is also the Tai Chi sword form which can be studied after the hand form has been accomplished.
So how can slow soft fluid movements be used for self defense?
Taiji Quan is rooted in Daoist philosophy. As in Yin and Yang which is from Taiji theory, an opponent's attack is seen as Yang or hard in nature. A Taiji practitioner uses Yin or soft energy to transform and redirect an attack. Thus the saying 4 ounces to deflect 1000 pounds. If done properly one can use the opponents own force against them. This is called borrowing energy. By practicing to become more relaxed one can become more responsive to an attack than someone who is tense and stiff. In this way you're learning to be more like water. Of course practical application must be done with speed and by removing tension from the body there is nothing in the way to hinder movement. Internal martial arts like Tai Chi teach how to use whole body power. Whether you want to learn Taiji Quan for health or Martial Arts, the more you practice and learn the more you discover the dualities of this art. The concept of Yin and Yang are ever present in the art of Taiji where every principle has a use for wellness and on the flip side a martial purpose. The better one gets at this art the more profound effects it will have.
Why practice Tai Chi and what's to gain?
With consistent practice it will improve balance, increase vitality, and can help prevent and heal injuries and sickness. Unlike other types of physical activities that may be too demanding for people in poor condition or suffer from various ailments, the gentle approach of Tai Chi means it can be an appropriate way to start getting back into better physical/mental/spiritual shape. As it is a very complex art with infinite sudleties it is unlikely for one to grow out of it. For people of modern society like myself, the techniques of practice are a welcome balance to the onslaught of modern living.
It is common in our times that one can become so wrapped up in external affairs and chasing material things that there is little time for the brain to rest. Overly active brain or monkey brain (as the Chinese sometimes call it) eats up ones' energy or Qi. Over time this has unfavorable effects on the immune system and ones' emotional sense of well being. By practicing Meditation and Taiji one can create a more balanced pattern in life where there is time to focus inwards and tune out the monkey brain. Through this practice one will become more present to the moment and develop a better awareness of self.