How To Appreciate Tai Chi

Most people learn Tai Chi through the “follow me” method where the instructor just moves without explaining the meaning and logic of each movement. As a result, the lesson becomes dry, hard to learn, and easy to forget. In fact, Tai Chi is meant to be a mental and physical exercise for health, relaxation, coordination, awareness and balance. To gain the most benefit, Tai Chi should be learned the intuitive way as a sequence of movements representing a life story rather than the mechanical movements of just arms and legs.

Tai Chi is the slow form of Chinese martial arts called Kung Fu due to the similarities between them. In addition, it is related to Qi Gong, because both are involved with capturing the Qi (also called Chi or energy) and directing its circulation within the body. The Tai Chi movements exhibit several unique characteristics: slow, gentle, focused yet relaxed, and easy flow. If you practice Tai Chi intuitively by thinking about its logic and meaning, you will find that it moves every part of your body including your fingers, toes, eyes, and mind.

Literally, Tai is translated as “too” and Chi as “extreme”. Together the two words mean the ultimate exercise. The origin of Tai Chi is traced to Taoism emerging in China around 300 B.C., whose philosophy centers round the circles of life and its changes. The first document about Tai Chi is entitled “Five Styles of Chinese Boxing” written by Hua To, the legendary physician who lived from 110 to 207 A.D. The first person known to have developed the Tai Chi sequence is a Taoist monk by the name of Chang Sang-Feng circa 1200 A.D. In later years, Tai Chi was taught by some families, notably the Chen and the Wu, giving rise to the Chen and Wu styles. Later, a master named Yang Lu-San spread his Tai Chi teaching throughout China, creating the popular Yang style of today. It has three different forms: basic, short, and long.

For beginners, the basic form is the place to start, from which the two other forms are derived. The basic form has a set of 24 movements while the long form has 127. Let me illustrate how you can make Tai Chi meaningful:

All the 24 movements of the basic form have lively names. They are in fact 24 independent postures arranged in sequence. You must remember all the postures and their correct sequence. This is not hard because the postures are interesting and easy to remember. Some postures imitate animals such as the horse, the monkey and the crane. Some perform human activities such as playing the harp, diving, and emerging. Some show human aspirations such as climbing the twin peaks, hands in clouds, and riding high.

The tough but meaningful part is the connecting movements that allow you to flow smoothly from one independent posture to the next. This is what makes Tai Chi beautiful. This part is not meant for mechanical memorizing, but for internalizing using your imagination. This is where you gain insights into Tai Chi because it requires you to think based on intuition and simple logic. The connecting movements also enable you to self-correct once you fail to make a smooth and natural transition from one posture to another. While you think and move, your eyes follow the so-called leading hand when it passes through the eye level from above or below. Tai Chi needs focus with the eyes and mind, which enhances relaxation of the spirit.

If you choose to memorize the connecting movements, you fail to appreciate the meaning of Tai Chi by not exercising your thinking facility. As a result, you will find Tai Chi dry, hard to learn and easy to forget because you don’t see the the meaning of it.

(April 2012)


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2 Responses to How To Appreciate Tai Chi

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