I first became interested in martial arts in general as a very small boy. My local leisure centre ran Judo and Jujitsu classes, and a friend of mine was taking Judo. I went along and I found it an almost mystical experience. I remember my mum taking me into the lesson and me I saw all the boys in their white suits (called ‘gi’) and all the different coloured belts. Along the edge of the mat were several pairs of sandals. As the boys entered the mat they bowed, and they bowed again when the sensei (master) called them to attention.
The sensei was a very old Japanese man. He was very small and extremely agile. Much later in my training, I had the opportunity to spar with him and he wiped the floor with me completely, although my friend actually managed to get a throw in against him. Much of the initial training was learning Japanese terminology for the moves, something I missed when I later studied Jujitsu. I was hooked from that point on and I developed quite a passion for martial arts and a taste for the philosophies.
Now I am older, the idea of punching people in the face is less exciting to me. I’ll let Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan do that for me in the movies, but I do still harbour a passion for martial arts. That’s where Tai Chi comes in. When I started Tai Chi Chuan I actually learned a combination of the Chi Kung breathing technique and a portion of the Yang style Tai Chi short form. I think this is a nice introduction and even now it is the form that I use to keep my body flexible and supple.
I initially learned Tai Chi using a DVD. However, I found that when I learned from an experienced instructor in a class, I made much more rapid progress and the quality of what I was learning was higher.
I have found that Tai Chi has the following benefits when practised on a regular basis.
This is one of the most important lessons that you can learn from Tai Chi. Improving your balance means that you will have more confidence in your body’s physical ability (for example, I took to roller-skating fairly quickly because of the good balance that I developed through Tai Chi).
Tai Chi is great for working out the kink in that stiff neck from a bad night's sleep or keeping your knees and hips ready for when you need to run for a bus.
Tai Chi helps you to breathe deeply and slowly. Breathing properly from the diaphragm helps you to be calm and relaxed in many stressful situations. It will help you hold your tongue if you want to snap at your boss, or even to walk away from a pointless confrontation.
Tai chi promotes a good physical posture, which can transfer into other disciplines such as playing violin or juggling. This posture also helps you to balance.
Focus and philosophy
The main reason that I continue to practice Tai Chi today is that it gives me an underlying connection to the myriad eastern philosophies that I grew up with. It is a central point of focus that spills out into everything else I do or am interested in. Regardless of whatever new things I try, I always come back to it.