TAIJIQUAN (TAI CHI CHUAN)
The longer one practices and studies Taijiquan the more difficult it can become to answer the question “What is Taiji?” Students of the art develop a general understanding, while each practitioner cultivates a deeply personal understanding and experience.
What follows here is meant to give you a general idea of Taijiquan, to spark your curiosity, and open the way to further study. Taijiquan is a Chinese internal art, practiced throughout the world by millions of people of all nationalities and ages for its health and meditative benefits, and for martial arts training. Often translated as “Great Ultimate Boxing,” or “Yin/Yang Boxing”, “Taiji” literally means the balance of yin and yang, or complimentary opposites, and “quan” means fist or boxing, indicating the original development of the art was for martial purposes. The principles of Taiji are represented by the Yin and Yang circle. The Taiji Classics say that Taiji springs from Wuji, the primordial state of the universe, also described as the void, the limitless, nothingness. Wuji, represented by an empty circle, gives birth to Taiji, the mother of the Yin/Yang polarity, the source of motion and tranquility.
The Yin/Yang polarity is the dynamic interplay of opposites, complementary parts of one whole. Yin, originally referred to the dark shadowed side of a mountain (the northern slope), and Yang was the bright illuminated side (the southern slope). The Yin/Yang polarity represents the harmonious balancing of soft and hard, storing and releasing, passive and active, etc.
Although historians dispute the exact origin of Taijiquan , one legend states that it was founded by Taoist monk and martial arts practitioner, Chang San Feng, who lived in the Sung dynasty (AD 960-1279). According to the legend, Chang San Feng was inspired to develop Taijiquan after witnessing a battle between a crane and a snake. Developing movements that conformed to the Taoist ideals of softness and yielding, and combining them with Taoist breathing techniques, he is often credited for establishing the basis for Taijiquan.
Another, (perhaps more accurate) version of the origins of Taiiquan is that the system was devised by general Chen Wangting (1580–1660) after the fall of the Ming Dynasty.An experienced military general, Chen Wangting is said to have combined his expertise of Shaolin forms and popular teachings military generals, with theories of Chinese meridian medicine and Taoist Qi cultivation techniques. From his home in Chenjiagou, Henan province, Chen Wangting devised the Chen style Taijiquan from which all other styles have originated, including the Yang style founded by Yang Luchan (1799-1872).
Taiji is generally characterized as an “internal” martial art. Michael Raposa in Meditation and the Martial Arts writes that “martial arts known as ‘external’ are intended primarily to enhance bodily strength, speed, and stamina, toughening the hands and feet, while developing the musculature. In contrast, the internal arts are devoted specifically to the talk of generating qi (or ch’i, or vital energy,) and circulating it throughout the body. The ability to produce and then control this internal energy can be useful for fighting purposes. At the same time, the flow of qi bathes the major organ systems, cleansing joints and strengthening tendons and ligaments, so that the practice of these arts is also considered to be quite healthful.”
Taiji & Qigong practice is becoming increasingly popular around the world. Part of the resurgence in popularity of this fabulous art can be attributed to increased cultural exchange, divergence from traditional teaching methods, evolved scientific understanding of efficacy of methods and growing demand for low cost holistic wellness modalities.
THE PRACTICE OF TAIJIQUAN FORMS
Taijquan form is sometimes called a “moving meditation” and “meditation in motion” and is generally studied and performed as a series of choreographed movements, coordinating the mind, body and breath. Generally considered a whole body Qigong originally developed for self-defense, in modern culture Taijiquan forms are more commonly practiced for physical, mental and spiritual health. One aspect of Taijiquan training involves two person exercises and drills known as Sensing Hands, or Push Hands.
The five main styles of Taijiquan (Chen, Yang, Wu, Wu Hoa, and Sun) share the same core principles, although each style is unique. Although each Taijiquan style utilizes forms as a central aspect of practice, the emphasis, physical characteristics, auxiliary training methods, and purpose of each style differ. At MCT we primarily teach Chen & Yang style Taijiquan along with a variety of Qigong systems.
Beginning students needn’t be too concerned which particular style of Taiji they study, if the instruction is clear and the teacher’s understanding, intentions and methods are sound and appropriate for the student. However, one’s physical ability, goals and interests, even learning style, are important considerations when deeply pursuing any particular style, as some Taiji styles are more demanding and complex than others.
Additionally, teachers of the art can only hope to offer their best understanding based upon their intelligence, depth of instruction, and the amount of time spent earnestly training and studying. Likewise, the ability of a teacher to demonstrate and communicate insights that appropriately match a developing student’s ability to comprehend and appreciate, are also important.
Ultimately, no one individual can posses a complete knowledge of the art of Taijiquan. Taijiquan is dynamic, alive, holistic, and one’s understanding continuously develops over time, evolving uniquely for everybody. This is part of the beautiful magic of the practice. It’s the quality and value of your experience that counts! Ultimately, the art and practice of Taijiquan is holistic in nature, and cannot be reduced to intellectual understanding.
Students generally learn longer, more intricate forms after establishing a foundation of understanding through qigong practice and simplified form routine work. In addition to learning the mechanics of form choreography, students continue developing awareness of internal energy and their ability to maintain physical and energetic integration while adding complexity and length to the form sequence. Through correct practice of any style; real power, efficiency, timing, and health are achieved through the union of opposites: yin and yang, hard and soft, fast and slow, assertiveness and yielding etc. We hope you will consider joining us in our study and exploration of this ancient, wonderful and transforming system.
YANG STYLE TAIJI FORM CLASSES
Yang style taijiquan is the most widely practiced style in the world, due in part, to modifications made for the purpose of ease of learning.
Yang style Forms as evolved by Master William.C.C. Chen, are generally characterized by slow, small-to-medium sized expressions performed at a consistent speed in a medium-to-high stance. This style is suitable for all ages and easily allows for modifications due to physical limitations.
CHEN STYLE TAIJI FORM CLASSES
Chen style is the original style of Taijiquan from which all other styles derive.
This dynamic style is generally characterized by large, spiraling movements, eventually performed with fast and slow movements linked together in progression, alternating softness and hardness, often with explosive issuing of force that illustrate the martial origins and self-defense potential. Large extension, complex spiraling, alternating speed, and lower stances make Chen style more suitable for athletes and young to middle aged individuals without significant limitations.
TAIJIQUAN FOR HEALTH AND WELLNESS
Taijiquan is based on certain principles and qualities of efficient movement and developed attention, to cultivate a sense of unity between natural motion, awareness, intention and the breath. Taiji forms require the release of excess tension in the body and mind to develop a relaxed yet integrated state of dynamic balance that involves the interplay between pliant rootedness, and fluid agility, and are designed to help balance the flow of qi or energy in the entire body.
After habitualizing and internalizing the form movements through correct, mindful practice, many practitioners report a quiet meditative joy and deep tranquility as they experience the inherent naturalness and flow of the sequence of forms.
The health benefits of Taijiquan are well documented. Taiji helps relieve tension and stress and can help regulate blood pressure, improve circulation, and decrease insomnia and pain. Taiji is said by some medical researchers to benefit people suffering from arthritis and injuries. It can also help facilitate proper digestion, improve the functioning of the kidneys, and develop deep, natural breathing.
TAIJIQUAN AS AN INTERNAL MARTIAL ART
Taijiquan solo work and two person work are complementary parts of one system.
As one learns to develop greater awareness of his or her body, energy, and state of mind during conflict, he or she simultaneously and naturally develop a greater awareness of others.
By cultivating sensitivity, and other essential taiji qualities, one can learn to more efficiently transform unpleasant or hostile interactions, making them more productive and reaching resolution in a timelier manner.
Understanding the principles of Taijiquan, along with adequate training, can afford the earnest practitioner substantial practical martial abilities when engaged with an opponent.
Sensitivity, suppleness, yielding, neutralization and agility, along with solid rootedness, and precision when issuing controlled whole body force, are all qualities of Taijiquan practice which directly contribute to one’s martial prowess.
The Taijiquan system, whether its solo or two-person work, is designed to adapt and conform to the needs and proclivities of the practitioner, becoming a manifestation of each person.
All students are encouraged and given the opportunity to pursue safe two-person work, although there is no requirement.
TAIJIQUAN AS A WAY TO UNDERSTANDING
The more one studies the system, and the more one learns and understands, the more one realizes how much deeper the system is. In addition, the more one studies the more personal his or her experience becomes. With time, one comes to see Taiji as a manifestation of one’s character, and can provide an authentic path towards self-discovery.
QIGONG (CHI KUNG)
To begin to understand the nature of Qigong, it helps to begin with a translation, of which there are many. The shorthand translation we most often use is “life-force energy (Qi) cultivation (gong)” or “internal energy work.” Though the term qigong was first widely used in the 1950s, qigong was developed over thousands of years in China. Qigong is sometimes called “neigong” which translates as “the refinement and transmutation of the three treasures of Jing, Qi. and Shen “, or essence, vitality and spirit. As a mind/body/spirit integrative exercise, qigong is sometimes referred to as Chinese yoga. The Chinese concept of qi is equivalent to the Indian “prana”, Greek “pneuma”, Latin “spritus”, and Japanese “ki”.
As Master practitioner and researcher Dr. Yang Yang points out, there are many different kinds of qigong practices, and levels or depths of practice and understanding.
In general qigong is primarily used to:
1. Maintain or restore health
2. Achieve quality longevity
3. Deepen martial skill, and
4. Realize spiritual awareness through the integration of mind/body/spirit.
Different kinds of qigong practices may be categorized as either static or dynamic exercises:
1. Static (sitting, standing, lying-down meditation), and
2. Dynamic (simple repetitive motions, Taiji form, push-hands, daily activity—all are qigong exercises if done with relaxation, tranquility, and awareness).
Kenneth S. Cohen, renowned Qigong master and China scholar defines Qigong as the “art and science of regulating internal energy to improve health, calm the mind and condition the body for martial arts and other sports.” In addition Mr. Cohen has said that Qigong means “working with life energy, learning how to control the flow and distribution of Qi to improve the health and harmony of mind and body.”
Don Ethan Miller, three-time national Push Hands champion and master Taijiquan teacher has said that Qigong is “anything that you do which integrates the mind and body.” This means that Qigong can be as simple as attending to your movement while walking through a park, or can be as sophisticated as highly choreographed movement sequences lasting 30 minutes or more and taking many years to master.
Self-improvement through the practice of mind-body (breath and spirit) systems is not unique to China. Indeed most every indigenous culture has some form of Qigong-like practice for self-improvement and spiritual enhancement. There are Qigong systems that are primarily for self-healing as well as Qigong systems that have powerful applications for both self-healing and self-defense such as Taijiquan which we teach as both a martial and healing practice. In the end, qigong practice yields a sense of holistic well-being that is difficult to communicate intellectually and must be experienced to be understood.
HEALTH BENEFITS OF QIGONG
Qigong is being used in all kinds of ways and places to promote healing and wellness. Respected and validated research has found that Qigong can improve posture and respiration, promote relaxation, improve blood chemistry, and foster greater concentration. It has also been found to be beneficial for a variety of illnesses, including asthma, arthritis, cancer, cardiovascular disease, chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, headaches, pain and other common ailments.
Select Potential Benefits of Qigong Practice:
|Primary potential benefits of Qigong||Secondary potential benefits of Qigong||Holistic potential benefits of Qigong|
|• Immune function||• Digestion/bowel function||• Avoidance or repair of stress related injuries|
|• Arthritis pain||• Cardio-respiratory function||• Social interaction/sense of community|
|• Sleep quality||• Immune system function||• Awareness (cognitive & somatic, spiritual)|
|• Reducing stress||• Prevention or treatment of arthritis||• Acceptance|
|• Quality of life||• Pain Management||• Resilience|
|• Flexibility, range of motion||• Cognitive function (attention, concentration, memory)||• Spiritual development (calmness/tranquility/serenity)|
|• Postural control/balance||• Prevention of osteoporosis|
|• Core strength, Force control, agility|
Newsweek also discussed that Qigong and Taiji were being used by patients at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston to help them sleep better, cope with the pain, anxiety and depression, and to enhance their immune systems.The relationship between the mind and body is becoming more widely accepted and recognized as Qigong becomes more widely known in the West. Qigong (and Taiji) were mentioned in Newsweek magazine article entitled “The New Science of Mind and Body” (9/27/04). Doctors from Harvard Medical School wrote that “Over the past three decades, scores of studies have confirmed the benefits of what we call the ‘relaxation response,’ a state of mental calm during which your blood pressure drops, your heart and breathing slow, and our muscles become less tense.” These doctors recommended Taiji (and as such Qigong) among other exercises and techniques as a means to calm the mind and relieve stress, and thereby promote greater health and mitigate some of the ravages of chronic stress.
In other news, a recent study has found a link between stress and memory. Dr. Amy F. T. Arnsten, of Yale Medical School, reported a study in the journal Science, which found that stressful situations activate an enzyme in the brain that impairs short-term memory. Certainly relaxation practices like Qigong can relieve some chronic stress and as such may help improve memory.
THE PRACTICE OF QIGONG
One may practice just breathing, incorporating visualization and physical techniques to deepen and soften the breath. One may practice different systems of standing and moving, cultivating one’s awareness of internal energy, relaxing and opening the body for improved health and serenity. One may also practice martial arts, including Taijiquan, which is itself a form of Qigong.
The essential nature of Qigong is the developing of one’s ability to pay attention to what one is doing, and what is happening. The ability to be present, to join one’s mind and attention with one’s body and spirit provides the basis to cultivate internal energy, promoting greater health and vitality, more relaxation, and relief from chronic stress and anxiety. While amazing abilities and results have been attributed to the practice of Qigong on a daily basis we find that it cultivates:
- A stronger sense of being calm and naturally energized.
- A greater sense of being present within one’s body and improved awareness of one’s surroundings.
- Improved balance and greater enjoyment of the movements of the body, mind and spirit.
- A greater skill to release the stress and tension of life that can so easily get stuck inside.
The myriad benefits of Qigong are now widely known and accepted. We would love to share our knowledge and love of the art with you.