T’ai Chi Ch’uan is one of the four main systems of Chinese Kung Fu, and the most powerful. Unlike the other styles of Kung Fu in which the speed and power are made visible, T’ai Chi Ch’uan forms look soft and receptive. Beneath that slow, flowing movement is a coiled spring of resilient force, the nomenclature for which is “peng jing.”
All of the various T’ai Chi Ch’uan styles share the same principles – slow, soft, relaxed movements that radiate from the center with weight sunk, and light steps. When both players adhere to the same basic principles, a common body language is spoken that allows students from any style or system to communicate their level of skill with the partnered T’ai Chi exercise called “Push Hands.” This interactive T’ai Chi practice teaches students how to exchange energy without invasive contact. Push hands teaches a way to repel violent force without getting tired, vexed or injured, and without injuring the other person.
T’ai Chi can be practiced at any age and is very therapeutic. Practicing T’ai Chi improves circulation, balance, breathing, bone density, immunity, longevity, awareness and focus. Because T’ai Chi Ch’uan is the integration of Qigong and Kung Fu, it heals and teaches fighting at the same time.
T’ai Chi Ch’uan is considered an “internal” system of Kung Fu, and the movements are performed slowly, constantly and smoothly, while the “external” systems of Kung Fu are done hastily, and with a show of force. Some styles of T’ai Chi Ch’uan, like Chen style and Original Yang style (aka Guang Ping Yang) have a slow build up to occasional forceful emissions of power. Other styles, like Wu style, are entirely soft, meditative and self-contained. Though Wu and Yang styles do not show force, they often produce very skilled Push Hands players.
T’ai Chi Ch’uan moves from posture to posture like a river, flowing over obstacles — a constant flow of changes. The positions in-between each picture-perfect posture are as important as the completed movements. Practicing T’ai Chi Ch’uan form exemplifies the notion that “Life is a journey, not a destination.”
The primary distinction between the practice of T’ai Chi Ch’uan and all other martial arts styles is the self-control and constant mindful awareness created by the slowness of execution. Anyone adept at T’ai Chi Ch’uan can deflect most aggressive attacks without direct opposition, by going with the flow and not resisting it, and then channeling it in another direction.
T’ai Chi practice rewires our reactions to stress. Our “reptilian brains” are bypassed and instead we are reprogrammed to respond with a balanced integration of compassion and aggression. It is the expression of reason over reaction, and mind over matter.
T’ai Chi aligns itself with natural law, and the same laws that prevail in physics with regard to gravity, rotation, motion and stillness. Psychology, physiology, aesthetics, and spirituality all come into play in T’ai Chi. T’ai Chi does not rely on pure strength, but rather awareness, grace and sensitivity. Women can rarely match men in strength, but we excel in these other areas. T’ai Chi uses awareness, calmness and control to counter mindless, brute force.
Ironically, T’ai Chi, unlike sports or pure conditioning, does not exploit energy for with the goal of winning, running faster, or scoring points. T’ai Chi improves ones whole state of being by “cultivating qi.” This refined method of self-expression provides youthful energy and is a philosophy, a health care plan and a social security system all rolled into one. It is a step up on the evolutionary ladder of humankind. It represents our progress from animalistic primates who grab, push and shove, or cower, shrink and run into balanced, civilized, enlightened people who can take care of themselves and others well into old age.
Understanding T’ai Chi philosophy helps people bond with others on this path. The intense bonding, the sense of community and friendship with ones sisters and brothers is another one of the rich rewards from practicing T’ai Chi. The far reaching and overarching goals of T’ai Chi make the patience required during the learning process a relatively small sacrifice. The cognitive sensing from slowing down even while in the learning phase provides the immediate reward of qi flow, of feeling more centered and balanced, and over time, the higher level of skill that is attained from long-term training. Practitioners enjoy richer, wiser lives from taking the time to learn and practice T’ai Chi.
The ease of execution comes from focusing on where you are coming from to get to where you are going, not from trying to be where you are not. You always have to be firmly sunk and rooted on the back leg to achieve the light step on the other leg to advance to the next movement. You can never get ahead of yourself, literally and figuratively.
Ironically, you won’t get where you want to be – healthy, calm and youthful – by straining to be as strong as you think you should be, or struggling look as young as you once did. You will achieve this by practicing something that is designed specifically to produce youth and vitality – T’ai Chi.