For those who may have a growing interest in experiencing Tai Chi, here is a guide that may help dispel some of the myths about the practice, and some great ways to look at getting started.
What does Tai Chi actually mean?
To add a bit of background, Tai Chi is also known as Taiji or Tai Chi Quan, and to clarify, these are all just different interpretations of the wording, when translated into English language.
Tai Chi and Tai Chi Quan are not different styles. Tai Chi is just the shorter variation of the same word, which is popularised now in western society.
Tai Chi Quan literally means “Grand Ultimate Fist”.
Tai Chi is a kind of internal martial art that is characterized by soft flowing movements interspersed with the occasional sudden explosive release of energy, or ‘fajin’.
It is trained with the theory of Yin and Yang in mind, combining relaxed meditative moves, and fast, powerful moves, exchanging seamlessly when practising the form.
A Moving Meditation Practice, and a Powerful Martial Art
Tai Chi is both a moving meditation practice for general health and martial art. There are some instructors that focus only on movements from a health benefits perspective, whereas others will focus on both the health and martial aspects of the system.
In today’s current society, at least 80% of those who are taken part in the practice of Tai Chi embrace the idea of it being an art.
Traditional martial artists like me, however, believe that knowing the true essence of Tai Chi incorporates both the self-defence component as well as the health practice, as knowledge of the individual movement applications can also help you understand how to feel energy moving throughout the body when engaging in the practice.
The age range and the number of participants in each class can vary hugely from location to location, however, it is not unusual to anticipate about 20-30 trainees in each class.
It is rare to see a men-only or women-only class within a Tai Chi program. Typically, it is much more beneficial if ladies and males mix because of the energy that rises inside the class.
Is Tai Chi safe for anyone to practice?
One of the great benefits of Tai Chi is that even those who are permanently disabled or confined to wheelchairs can adapt to the movements of Tai Chi, using their upper body.
Having said that, if you have undergone certain medical treatments, or have suffered debilitating injuries, ask your doctor if Tai Chi is recommended for you, as there may be a possibility that it is contraindicated, and following a health practitioner’s advice is often the right decision.
If your medical professional has made recommendations to minimise the risk of injury by participating in Tai Chi, tell your instructor about your special needs, so he/she can adjust or limit the movements that you would struggle to complete.
What should I wear when attending a class?
You don’t have to shop for specific clothes if you are concerned about what to wear during a Tai Chi class. Special clothing is not a requirement. You simply need to wear something loose and comfortable, like T-shirts and jogging pants, preferably with flat-soled shoes.
Remember, it needs to be something that would allow you to move easily while carrying out every move. It is never recommended to use jeans or any constrictive clothing.
What can I expect to learn when participating in a Tai Chi lesson?
Whilst there are many aspects to Tai Chi, some common things to anticipate while in a Tai Chi class are:
1. Qigong, which is an energy cultivation exercise that is either taught through specific movements or alternatively static exercises.
2. Push hands or what is known as tui shou, is an exercise where two practitioners exchange energy by carrying out movements in unison with each other.
3. Weapons practice. Traditional Tai Chi practice incorporates the use of various weapons, the most common of which is the Tai Chi Straight sword or Jian.
Whilst beginners may benefit from classes in person to understand the concepts of Tai Chi, and to receive regular correction on movements and applications, it is also possible to enjoy learning the movements from good instructional videos online.
My only suggestion is to research the background of the instructor and their level of experience, prior to making a decision on the right one for you.
I personally have been very fortunate in finding real masters of Tai Chi who have a deep understanding of not only the form, but also the internal mechanics of movement, the energy generation principles, and martial applications, which have helped me refine my own practice over the past twenty years.
Best of luck with your Tai Chi journey, hopefully, you will find the practice as enlightening as I have!