When one thinks of martial arts, what springs to mind are the mainstream styles that almost everyone has heard about. In that respect, I’m referring to Karate, Tae Kwon Do and Kung Fu as prime examples. And any of their offshoot styles, of course. But when someone tells you that they study the martial arts, the first thing that comes to mind likely isn’t Tai Chi…
First of all, what is Tai Chi? According to a page on the Tai Chi Foundation’s website, “Based on softness and awareness instead of force and resistance, tai chi chuan (also referred to as tai chi, taiji or taijiquan) has been recognized for centuries as a method of self-cultivation and an unexcelled form of self-defence. In Chinese, tai chi means “Supreme Ultimate.” (https://taichifoundation.org/what-tai-chi-chuan?gclid=EAIaIQobChMIupeU-Kjr6AIVLf_jBx2uOA6SEAAYASAAEgLrrfD_BwE)
That’s just scratching the surface, really. Tai Chi is a Chinese martial art, which makes it a style of Kung Fu. In the Western hemisphere, people associate Tai Chi with something that the older population does to improve flexibility and blood flow in the body. Although these certainly are some of the benefits, people often seem to forget that Tai Chi is actually a fantastic style of self-defence, and traditional Tai Chi includes all the same aspects as any other martial art including weapons, forms and faster movements than the slow and steady pace we usually see happening at a public park.
The beauty of Tai Chi, which has often been referred to as “meditation in motion”, is that it’s low impact and places very little strain on the joints. For an old dog such as myself, who has been practicing high impact and full-contact martial arts for over 30 years, this can be a welcome change. The movements automatically cause you to inhale and exhale appropriately to control breathing and helps you to solidify your posture.
Tai Chi also helps by providing other benefits, including but not limited to improved flexibility, balance and muscle strength despite the slow speed and low impact. These are a result of circular movements that never extend or stretch the joints or connective tissue. The Mayo Clinic’s website has an excellent article on further benefits and advantages of Tai Chi, which can be read here: https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/tai-chi/art-20045184
Much like Karate, Tai Chi boasts a number of different styles and offshoots that focus on different aspects as they relate to their respective benefits. So if you’re thinking of starting Tai Chi, you may want to observe a couple of classes before you make a choice. Like any martial art, styles are subjective to the practitioner so you’ll want to ensure that you join a school that will fit your needs and requirements.
Lastly, I’d invite anyone who still thinks of Tai Chi as an “old person” style of the martial arts to do some research into the more traditional forms of the art. In fact, there are a number of reasonable videos on YouTube that demonstrate Tai Chi at combat speed and some with weapons. I, personally, have studied Taoist Tai Chi, which is an offshoot of Yang-style Tai Chi. I never stuck with it, given everything else I try to cram into my brain, but it was certainly an enjoyable experience. ☯