What is T’ai Chi Ch’uan?

The Supreme Ultimate Fist and is a philosophy, a fighting art and an exercise for energy, healing and fitness all rolled into one.

T’ai Chi Ch’uan (current Romanization is Taijiquan) is one of the four main systems of Chinese Kung Fu  http://www.littleriverkf.com/training-2/northern-shaolin-kung-fu/what-is-kung-fu/ and the most powerful. Unlike the other styles of Kung Fu in which the speed and power are made visible, Taiji forms look soft and receptive. Beneath that slow, flowing movement is a coiled spring of resilient force.

All of the various Taijiquan styles share the same principles. These guidelines boil down to three main themes – Slow, synchronized movements that radiate from the waist, light stepping, and relaxation. I like to say simply, “Slow, Sink, Relax.” From those basic, three themes come other tenets and a myriad of incremental details. For example, “lead with the back, direct the Qi with the mind, synchronize the hand with foot, knee with elbow, toes with fingers, hips with shoulders … and when one part moves, every part moves …”

We experience the Qi (Energy) flow during the form by relaxing, sinking the weight, and connecting to planetary forces. Qi is always there, surrounding us and inside of us, but we choose to focus on other things most of the time. We feel more Qi by becoming aware of it. Observe how you when think about something, it affects the way you feel.

Taijiquan is part exercise and part meditation, and much larger than the sum of those two parts. If you meditate and exercise, or even play a sport at a high level, you will not generate the same quality of energy and awareness you would as a result of Taijiquan training. And more to the point, you can get in the zone without risking injury, and produce Qi at will and without other players, a track, field or ball.

The meditative aspect is a product of the slowness, which allows the mind to tell the body what to do and then watch what it is doing as it’s being done. There is ample time to plan, act and observe the movement as it is carried out. Both the Taijiquan warm-ups and subsequent forms target vital energy centers that move stagnation and circulate qi, creating a mind/body/spirit energy stream that is the hallmark of Taiji.

Flowing mind/body consciousness from practicing Taiji creates a method of communing with others that allows students from any style or system to communicate their level of skill called Push Hands, the interactive Taiji exercise. Taiji practice teaches how to exchange energy without invasive contact, and a way to repel violent force without getting tired, vexed or injured.

Taiji can be practiced at any age and is very therapeutic. Practicing Taiji improves circulation, balance, breathing, bone density, immunity, longevity, awareness and focus. Taijiquan heals and teaches fighting at the same time because it is the integration of Qigong and Kung Fu.

Taijiquan is considered an internal system of kung fu, and the movements are performed slowly, constantly and smoothly, while the external systems of kung fu are done hastily, and with a show of force. Some styles of Taijiquan, like Chen style and Original Yang style (aka Guang Ping Yang) have a slow build up to occasional forceful emissions of power. Other styles, like Wu style, are entirely soft, meditative and self-contained. Though Wu and Yang styles do not show force, they often produce very effective push hands players because they follow force and merely get behind what is already there.

Taiji moves from posture to posture like a river, flowing over obstacles — a constant flow of changes. The positions in-between each picture-perfect posture are as important as the completed movements. Practicing Taiji form exemplifies the notion that — “Life is a journey, not a destination.”

Imagine pulling away from your motif, or point of concentration to get a larger view while still being in high def. I have experienced this during meditation, while dreaming, and while pushing hands.  Another way to describe it is as concentric circles of expanding awareness. The experience is like being inside and outside of your self at the same time.

The primary distinction between the practice of Taiji and all other martial arts styles is the self-control and constant mindful awareness created by the slowness of execution. Anyone adept at Taiji can deflect most aggressive attacks without feeling or causing pain and suffering.

Taiji practice rewires our reactions to stress. Our reptilian brains are bypassed and instead we are reprogrammed to respond with a balanced integration of compassion and aggression. It is the expression of reason over reaction, and mind over matter.

Taiji aligns itself with natural law, and the same laws that prevail in physics with regard to gravity, rotation, motion and stillness. Psychology, physiology, aesthetics, and spirituality all come into play in Taiji. Taiji does not rely on pure strength, but rather awareness, grace and sensitivity. Women can rarely match men in strength, but we excel in these other areas. Taiji uses awareness, calmness and control to counter brute force.

Ironically, Taiji, unlike sports or pure conditioning, does not exploit energy for with the goal of winning, running faster, or scoring points. Taiji improves ones whole state of being by cultivating Qi, simultaneously providing youthful energy, a profound philosophy, a health care plan, a method of poetic self-expression and a system of higher communication. A step up on the evolutionary ladder of humankind, Taiji represents our progress from animalistic primates who grab, push and shove, or cower, shrink and run into balanced, civilized, enlightened people who can take care of themselves and others well into old age.

Understanding Taiji philosophy helps people bond with others on this path. The intense bonding, the sense of community and friendship with ones sisters and brothers is another one of the rich rewards from practicing Taiji. The far reaching and overarching goals of Taiji make the patience required during the learning process a relatively small sacrifice. The cognitive sensing from slowing down even while in the learning phase provides the immediate reward of Qi flow, of feeling more centered and balanced, and over time, the higher level of skill that is attained from long-term training. Practitioners enjoy richer, wiser lives from taking the time to learn and practice Taiji.

The ease of execution comes from focusing on where you are coming from to get to where you are going, not from trying to be where you are not. You always have to be firmly sunk and rooted on the back leg to achieve the light step on the other leg to advance to the next movement. You can never get ahead of yourself, literally and figuratively.

Ironically, you won’t get where you want to be – healthy, calm and youthful – by straining to be as strong as you think you should be, or struggling look as young as you once did. You will achieve this by practicing something that is designed specifically to produce youth and vitality – Taiji.

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