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Tai Chi New Zealand Robert Gemmell


Physical Tai Chi is the most commonly practised form of the art. This places Tai Chi within the definition of “gentle exercise.” Each movement is known as a Form. These movements or forms have been connected in a series to allow for ease of practise. Frequently the same movement is repeated, to emphasise the importance of a particular form.

Traditional view

The traditional view is that some Forms/exercises are superior to others in the sense that they open channels or gates, hence their frequent use throughout the practise sequence. However one defines Tai Chi, the art must be closely supervised by qualified Instructors to ensure correct and accurate practise sequences.

As an ancient art form designed primarily for health benefit to the practitioner, Tai Chi has been adopted by millions of people all over the world. Widely accepted by Chinese people as a “national treasure” Tai Chi has become recognised world wide as a gentle exercise that assists with the reduction of stress through relaxation techniques, particularly suitable for middle to older aged people.

A quick look at the translation of the words “Tai Chi Chuan” highlights other important divisions of the Art .
1) Tai - Supreme, great or grand.
2) Chi (Qi) - Breathing (or internal energy) .
3) Chuan (or Quan) Fist or Boxing.
Ref. Chinese Traditional Translation Dictionary.

Chi (Qi) (Breath)

Dealing with the Chi/breath aspect of the Art requires a higher level teacher. This is due to the fact that breathing is often left at the student’s normal level. Improved breathing can result from correct sequence breathing especially in the cases where breathing is impaired.

Breathing or “Chi” (or “Qi”) is one of the most important aspects of Tai Chi, due to the fact that Chi (energy derived from breath) represents the vital force or energy within the human body. Western scientists refer to the electromagnetic field in the body. It is thought that this may be the same thing that the Chinese people call Chi.

Chi is cultivated through a process called Chi Gung (Qigong). Every Chinese Martial Art utilises and practises one form of Chi Gung or another.

Internal Exercise

The easiest way to understand Chi Gung is to liken it to calisthenics or the exercise used generally to attain fitness by most sports people. Stretching, knee bends etc., have an internal equivalent. This arises from the fact that the Chinese divide all Kung Fu into two categories.
1. Wei Gung - External, hard, or Aerobic.
2. Nei Gung - Internal, soft, or gentle.

Tai Chi falls into the Internal category and therefore Chi Gung is an aspect of the Art that must be considered when correctly practising or teaching Tai Chi.

Chuan - Meaning Fist or Boxing

The position of the palm governs the flow of energy through the body. Therefore a close relationship between the waist / hand correlation should be monitored.

Without recognising the key parts of the Art of Tai Chi it is difficult to ensure that the art is properly taught. Modifying the Art for Falls Prevention or to benefit other ailments can be achieved without diluting the other key benefits. The Respiratory process which is assisted by breathing forms will also provide benefits to other illnesses.


Like other Martial Arts systems different styles of Tai Chi exist. These include Chen, Yang, (also known as Young,) Sung, (also known as Sun,) Wu (also known as Ng,) as well as the Oi style. Some more modern style names are beginning to appear, however the generally accepted styles in China are the five mentioned.

How a style is derived

Karate (Empty Hand) (hard) is seen to be the opposite of Tai Chi (soft). The difference between each art is the way in which each is practised. Whereas Karate utilises explosive single linear movements that develop into a sharp and powerful combination of block and punch, Tai Chi on the other hand flows one move (form) into another in a slow circular pattern. Tae Kwon Do being the art of the foot, will train its participants to lift the centre of balance so that the power is available in the foot or leg. Interestingly both Tai Chi and Karate favour power to the hand, consequently the stance is lowered to achieve this.

The importance then is drawn to the way in which Tai Chi is practised. For Instructors to lack an understanding of the underlying principles of the art results and benefits will vary.

Sections of the Short or Long Form

Each style has or is developing a Long and Short form version. This has become necessary for two main reasons. Firstly Westerners have difficulty in learning the complete form which is long and complicated when practised in its original format. Secondly people no longer have the time in modern life in which to dedicate to the learning or even practise of the Long Form. Forms are broken down into sections thus enabling completion in stages.

Learning levels

Instructors should identify varying learning levels in the class. With an Assistant Instructor the class can be broken down at least into two groups- one practising previously learned moves and the other moving on to learn new forms. By giving students this choice learning levels are maintained at an acceptable level for each student.

Attrition rates

Attrition rates can be substantially attributed to the fact that a student experiences difficulty in keeping up for one reason or another and if no way exists to express their frustration is likely to cause them to drop out of the programme. The Robert Gemmell System identified this as the main cause of class demise and applied the group breakdown method of teaching. His five step programme is now taught at more than one hundred locations.

Tai Chi practise methods

Another major problem leading to high attrition rates arises from the “quiet” group scenario. This prevails when the method used to practise the art requires the entire group to begin by commencing the form and proceeding through without a single instruction being given. This is a wonderful experience to the “expert” or advanced student, however is less helpful to those who urgently seek guidance on how to do each form. This method often develops the attitude that once you have been through the form sufficiently to remember the steps there is nothing more to learn. This once again points to a high attrition rate. Surprisingly this method of instruction and practise is reasonably common.

Continuation of Practise

Robert Gemmell established a set of basic movements that can be practised sitting or standing, with single or continuous stepping according to ability and physical wellbeing. Using this (5 Step) method every student can participate at safe and achievable levels. The goal of long term benefit by continued practise is achieved because students are properly evaluated and graduate according to personal confidence and progress speed. Robert Gemmell schools develop a majority of students into veteran practitioners with a minimal attrition rate.




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