London-based Tai Chi Chuan tuition and complementary therapies

tai chi chuan

Tai Chi Chuan or Taijiquan (literally translated as "supreme ultimate fist") is an internal Chinese martial art. There are different styles of Tai Chi Chuan, although most schools can trace their development to the system originally taught by the Chen family in 17th century China.

While it was originally developed as a martial art, today it is widely promoted and practised for health and longevity. It is considered a 'soft' or 'internal' martial art, as deep relaxation or 'softness' in the musculature is stressed, in contrast to the 'hard' or 'external' martial art styles (such as Kung Fu) which use a degree of tension in the muscles.

Traditional Tai Chi training is intended to teach awareness of one's own balance and what affects it, awareness of the same in others, at both mental and physical levels, and how this applies in a self-defense situation. By training the "Yi" (mind or intention), in addition to the physical body, we can learn to feel and then over time direct our "Qi" (internal energy) both within our own body and in relation to others.

The physical training of Tai Chi Chuan develops coordination in relaxation, rather than muscular tension. The slow, repetitive work involved in the process of learning gently and measurably increases and opens the internal circulation: (breath, body heat, blood, lymph, peristalsis, etc.). Over time, this can help to reverse the damaging effects of stress on the human body.

The study of Tai Chi Chuan involves three primary subjects:
• Health
• Meditation
• Martial art

What it involves
All classes will start with a warm-up to open and loosen the joints, gently stretch the muscles and increase flexibility, and relax the body, as well as settle the mind into the body.
Depending on the style and nature of the class, there will be some training of basic or foundation exercises, such as silk-reeling exercises, or stepping practice.
The core training then involves learning a solo form. The solo form involves linking together various movements, which should take the student through a complete, natural, range of motion over their centre of gravity. Accurate, repeated practice of the solo routine helps to retrain posture and develop whole-body coordination, encourage circulation, maintain flexibility through their joints and can familiarise the student with the martial application sequences implied by the forms. Once the external movements and coordination of the form have been learned to a reasonable degree, the more internal aspects tend to focused on. This includes the emphasis and movement of both jin and qi throughout the form, opening and closing of the body and joints, and movement of the dantien.

The five main principles that are initially emphasised in training are:
1. Song - loose, relaxed;
2. Peng - maintaining the structure, supportive loose strength;
3. Ding - lifting upwards, aligned (upright);
4. Chen - rooted (sunk);
5. Chan Si - reeling silk/whole body connectedness

What to expect in your first class
It is important to be comfortable and relaxed when practising Tai Chi, so in terms of clothing, there is no uniform you need, but loose comfortable clothing is recommended, with thin soled shoes. Some people prefer to practise in bare feet, which is fine as well. If you have any injuries or concerns, most exercises can be adapted, so tell the teacher and they can keep an eye on you and suggest alternative ways of doing a movement if necessary. While the goal is to be relaxed and learn to move in a natural and comfortable manner, it does take a while to learn how to do this - in fact, the learning process is neverending - so don't be concerned if at first you struggle to grasp the movements. It is important to remember that the more practise you do the better your progress will be, and the more relaxed you are, the easier it will be.

Additonal training
Two-person work, or pushing hands, is trained for 'stickiness' and to learn sensitivity, along with leverage, timing, coordination and positioning when interacting with another. It also tends to emphasise general mistakes as these show up quite obviously through weaknesses when interacting with another person. The applications implied in the movements may be practised to help students gain a clearer understanding of the intention required and the dynamics of a movement. However, many classes taught primarily for health reasons will not include much, if any, two-person work.

Other training exercises include:
Weapons training: including the jian (straight sword), dao (sabre - also called a broadsword), gun (wooden staff), qiang (spear) and guan dao (a broadsword blade mounted atop a 6 ft pole with a pointed metal counter weight).
Breathing exercises: nei kung or, more commonly, chi kung (qìgong) to develop chi or "breath energy" in coordination with physical movement and standing, or combinations of the two.

There are five major styles of Tai Chi Chuan, each named after the Chinese family from whom they originated:
Chen style
Yang style
Wu or Wu/Hao style of Wu Yu-hsiang (Wu Yuxiang)
Wu style of Wu Ch'uan-yü (Wu Quanyuo) and Wu Chien-ch'uan (Wu Jianquan)
Sun style
These five major family styles share much underlying theory, but differ in their approaches to training. In addition, today there are now dozens of new styles, hybrid styles and offshoots of the main styles.