Tai Chi in the ParkCredit: Creative Commons

Tai Chi Chuan is an ancient Chinese set of exercises and practices whose goal is to balance the mind, body, and spirit.  Tai Chi is considered an internal martial art as opposed to an external martial art. (i.e. Karate or Judo) As a primary goal, Tai Chi teaches methods that allow people to build internal energies, well into later stages of life.

There are many examples of people who started practicing Tai Chi later in life.  Even starting at 50 or even 60 years of age, many people have lived on to be over 100 years old.

If you have read about Tai Chi and are curious about this lifestyle, the first step would be to find a school with a qualified teacher (Sifu).  Personally, I have studied with four teachers.  Three of them masters.  The common thread that I experienced in their individual teaching styles is the teachings of The Three Pillars of Tai Chi Chuan.

These three pillars of Tai Chi are:

1.    Chi or Energy Cultivation
2.    Form
3.    Push Hands

It is by learning and using these three practices that will allow you to cultivate real internal energy and to advance to higher levels of this subtle martial art.

Chi Cultivation (energy)

This practice is done through the use of Chi Kung (energy work) that helps to open structural and mental energy blockages in the body and permits the continuous flow of circulation of energy throughout your body.  Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) believes that if you can achieve an uninterrupted flow of energy through all of the bodies meridians - or energy highways, you can achieve Radiant Health.   Please note that Radiant Health is not just the absence of disease, but that a body is balanced physically, emotionally, and spiritually.  TCM concludes that the blockage of energy is the root-cause of all ailments.  

Even though there are thousands of Chi Kung forms, they all have certain practices in common.  All use some sort of breathing exercise, visualization, and slow rhythmic movement to oblige the flow of energy.  Chi Kung also teaches you to be present and conscious.   The practice of Chi Kung is used widely in China for medical purposes and there are documented scientific studies that prove its effectiveness against many illnesses.


Traditional Yin & YangCredit: Creative Commons

Form is based on a series of choreographed steps or movements (similar to a kata in Karate) whose purpose is to teach Tai Chi principles and energy structure.  In Tai Chi form you learn not only the sequential movements but its self defense applications.  If you consider that the universal sign for Tai Chi is the Yin and Yang symbol, when you practice and learn Tai Chi exclusively for pure health benefits (Yin) this is considered “unbalanced Tai Chi Chuan”.  The self defense aspect of Tai Chi (Yang) teaches correct body structure, alignment, and balance.  

Some Tai Chi principles include: movement from your center, relaxation, empty and full (transferring weight from one side to the other), rooting, (being grounded in body & mind) and many other principals - all essential for a deeper understanding of Tai Chi Chuan and its subtleties.  It is through form practice that you learn and internalize these principles.

Push Hands

Push Hands should probably be called “sensing hands” since the purpose of this practice is not to actually push your partner, but instead learn to “read” their energy through cooperative exercises and teamwork.

By using principals like “full and empty”, moving from the center, and sticking & following, push hands allows you to gauge and measure your understanding of the Tai Chi principals and how well you have internalized them.

Finally there are a few aspects you should consider when choosing a school or teacher to study under.  I will cover this in detail in a future article but for now, know that it’s important that any school that you may consider attending should have the Three Pillars of Tai Chi Chuan as the basis of their curriculum.  If these principals aren’t being taught, I would advise you to continue your search.