Tai Chi Training is for everyone.

Tai Chi training can seem a strange cousin to other members in the martial clan. Instead of a line of beginners pounding away at heavy bags, a row of immobile people attempt to look like they are heavy bags. Where, normally, students are tossing off strikes with the sound of whip cracks, the Tai Chi group moves with a lethargic reticence as though the air itself were as thick as whipped tofu. Where sparring should run two fighters back and forth like opposing armies, two slow-moving aficionados appear to play a sticky game of patty-cake. No matter how you look at it, there is a relative absence of martial staples such as kicks and throws, grunts and snaps. Witnessing a person performing Tai Chi sword, completes the sense that Tai Chi has even managed to defang its weapons practice along with everything else.

wutc2aFrom the first lesson, Tai Chi seems to have little to do with any martial art most people have ever seen. The movements appear so unfocused, with technical aspects so hard to grasp, one cannot avoid the impression of visiting a private club without knowing any of the hand signals.

In my early training I spent a lot of time seeking dry land. My teacher emphasized relaxation and looseness, with many typical martial results seeming to have deserted the field and nowhere to be found. For instance, none of the movements snapped with that trademark of speed so often sought in martial schools, or the heavy impact of striking parts of my own body with rebounding power.

Anyone seeking the martial meaning of Tai Chi might be confused and disappointed if she does not understand the background of the art. First, it should be known that much of what seems so unusual is indeed anything but. Tai Chi is just a throwback to the way Chinese martial arts has been taught for centuries. So much of what people think are the secrets of Tai Chi training are actually not secrets at all. There is the unavoidable fact that the type of physical movement developed through Chinese martial practice has a goal of integrating the whole body as well as the whole person.

art_seekingsoft10Centuries of training reveal that slow movement allows the student enough time to coordinate the many parts of any real Kung Fu action. There are only two ways, really, to build integrated strength. The first, which we might call Shaolin style, is to start with the parts—limb action, joint snapping, added torque—to expand basic skills, bit-by-bit, until fully integrated. In the case of Tai Chi, this concept of integration appears immediately, but then only through slow motion can beginners balance such complexity. Another way to put it might be that everyone starts out in Tai Chi at about the rank of lowly black belt and, having skipped the white belt stage, must be willing to slow down enough to work at an expert level.

art_seekingsoft8Such conscious slow motion is really a great and traditional method, shared in part by almost all martial arts but notably by some styles such as BaJi and Wing Chun. Most any style, though, when it reaches a high stage of development tends, to slow down and return to basics. At this point many expert practitioners realize how much deeper and fuller so called “basics” can be. To correlate what must happen with the waist, the breathing, the limbs, the mind, the opponent and the sensations you are monitoring and adapting to—all in one move—can only be a challenge.

art_pushhands1 copyOn the other side of the coin, it is important to mention the definite benefits of bringing martial meaning back into Tai Chi; otherwise superfluous integration can go too far, causing the body to move as a robotic, enervated whole, the long abandoned cocoon of an absentee butterfly. Without blended, cascading martial motion there is a danger of hollow, stiff movement like the yin spirit of a ghost.

Keeping all this in mind I say, the training methods of Tai Chi should not stay in Tai Chi, but regain their prominence throughout the entire country of martial arts.






5 Responses to “Tai Chi Training is for everyone.”

  1. Ken Whitaker says:

    It took me a long time to see tai chi as a martial art. In fact it was during my introduction to Krav Maga in the Army when the instructors kept yelling at us to slow down, “slow is smooth and smooth is fast”, that the light bulb began to come on. Their mantra became something I heard in my sleep. Now I see “tai chi” in a lot of things outside the “martial”.
    To move through life with a “tai chi” fluid-like grace is a goal I have yet to achieve, but by practice I can at least see the signposts along the way.
    Nice article as always.

  2. Jeff says:

    I only recently began to practice tai chi, after years of taekwondo. I thought my foundations were solid and my physical fitness pretty good. Tai Chi has shown me I have much to learn.

  3. s. alleyne says:

    From this article, one gathers nothing about taijiquan training!
    In almost all spheres of taijiquan intellectualization, no one mentions individual posture training, repeated repititons of a or b postures, variation and elements of post standing (zhuang gong) with basic conditioning so I am not surprised that people are not surprised at the length and breath of this training.

    Taijiquan training is rarely mentioned and the present knowledge base is that learning different forms is taijiquan training, which is not the case.

  4. Ted says:

    I see that I might have confused people on the direction of this piece. I did not mention many of the training principles of TJQ because they are already acknowledged as universal to CMA and therefore understood. What I was trying to bring into the martial dialog was the idea that many methods of training specifically identified with TJQ were once common practice methods in many other styles. From my point of view it might be useful for more people to incorporate some of these methods into other arts. I find it beneficial and I think my students do, too. For me, personally, TJQ is the way to keep to old training methods. Its recognition and fame are as much a product of history as any of its unique attributes.

  5. Sifu ted, keep putting together articles like this and the art of gongfu may never die!

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