WHAT IS TAI CHI?
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.