Tai Chi movements always puzzle onlookers. At first, it seems to them that they are watching a movie in slow motion and they wonder how this can be good for you. When Tai Chi students claim that this is a martial art, it is hard to believe. About a hundred years ago, Tai Chi was considered one of the top four martial art systems in China. It belongs to the Nei Jia school or internal family of kung fu. Xingyi and Bagua are its close relatives.
In Tai Chi or Wu Dao Gong, our training is designed to transform the body from tension to relaxation, weakness to strength, lethargic to energetic and uncoordinated to coordinated. We achieve this through a process of static, semi-static and dynamic exercises that loosen, stretch, strengthen, integrate and align the entire body. The initial exercises are done slowly and deliberately to foster awareness of how our bodies move. This helps us to avoid moving in a mechanical manner. Some of the first advice we hear in Chinese health and martial arts is to know yourself. This alludes to bei
The Tao is the way to harmony and happiness and is based on living in accord with certain principles expounded by Taoist masters over 2000 years ago. Lao Tzu and Chuang Tzu were two of the more well known exponents of this philosophy. Over the centuries, Taoism has infiltrated every aspect of Chinese culture – from cooking, medicine, martial arts, architecture, music and relationships to astronomy. Tai Chi movements and applications are heavily influenced by Taoist philosophy which uses yin yang, the five elements and bagua (the eight trigrams) as the underlying principles.
The art of performing Tai Chi is similar to that of a calligraphy master writing a Chinese character, that is, focused, relaxed, smooth and with the right intention. An expert can detect any interruptions or hesitations in the strokes. One’s intention directs the movements. Intention is a combination of awareness, feeling from the heart and focusing the mind. The Chinese talk about xin yi (heart mind). This term is used to convey the relationship between the mind and the body.
Awareness of the many benefits of meditation and exercise in today’s world is much greater than at any other time in our history. In fact, it is virtually a revolution in terms of the growing popularity and acknowledgement of the well-being they bestow. Yet over 2000 years ago, Taoist masters, such as Lao Tzu and Chuang Tzu, were promoting the importance of meditation and energy cultivation.
Everyone would like to be healthy and strong and enjoy a high quality of life up to a ripe old age. However, every activity in life costs us energy; even digestion requires energy. Food and sleep do not appear to be sufficient to sustain our vitality. So what is this magic that will rejuvenate our lives?
As I myself grow older and watch my contemporaries ageing, I appreciate even more so the wisdom of the qigong masters. Depletion of energy is a major contributor to the ageing process and disease. We are always expending energy. We replenish our energy through food and sleep. However, that does not appear to be enough to sustain our vitality. It is similar to constantly drawing money out of our bank account without depositing enough savings.