My interest in Tai Chi Chuan began at quite an early age
My interest in Tai Chi Chuan began at quite an early age. This interest came about thanks to my father, a highly skilled Aikido practitioner with a knowledge of Tai Chi and Chi Kung. He was exploring ways in which he might combine Tai Chi and Aikido into a hybrid self-defence system.
When he first began his exploration, a friend in the Chinese embassy provided us with some interesting literature about the fascinating subject. This included illustrations of the key movements and stances of a style known as the Beijing 24-step, and, if my memory serves me correctly, the 108-step. I was fascinated by the fact that some of the stances and movements had exotic names, such as, “Needle at the bottom of the sea”, and “Parting the wild horse’s mane.”
My father went on to achieve significant success with his hybrid system, teaching many enthusiastic and dedicated students over many years. I learnt some of this system from him but, unfortunately, learning directly from your parents can often be the most challenging way of achieving success, and I soon tired of it.
To compound this, my boundless youthful energy and lack of appreciation of the subtleties of Tai Chi, meant that I was drawn away from the subject and more towards what are sometimes referred to as the “external” martial arts. Thus, I went on to study various forms of Kung Fu, Karate, Ju-jitsu and others.
During that time, Tai Chi was still sitting there, regarding me from the back of my mind. So it was in my early 40s, that physical and mental changes brought me full circle. I decided to look at Tai Chi again, and to increase my knowledge by training under various instructors or with experienced practitioners, some of whom had spent years studying in China. I also utilised other resources.
But it was not so easy to get into Tai Chi again. First, I had to decide which of the two most well-known styles to follow, Chen or Yang? In my view, Chen has more apparent martial or defensive applications, whilst Yang is somewhat more subtle and less martial. Then there was the question of approaching it scientifically. I have always treated some of the claims made by some Tai Chi practitioners with great scepticism.
The primary issue for me is some of the claims made about “Chi” energy or its Aikido counterpart, “Ki”. I believe Chi is largely misunderstood and frequently attributed with many doubtful powers and spurious applications, which are easily debunked.
That is not to say that Tai Chi cannot in some way tap into and harness the natural flow of energy in the human body, and in doing so offer potential health benefits – in much the same way that acupuncture has proven successful in treating certain ailments by stimulating the nervous system.
Moving beyond the Chi aspect of Tai Chi, I do believe the system offers physical and mental health benefits. It certainly can be an aid to maintaining an increasing flexibility, balance, and poise. It has a nature, somewhat like a moving meditation, which calms the mind. To add to this, taught properly, it has great potential as the basis of a self-defence, or martial art.
I feel that I have become competent with one Tai Chi form, there are quite a few of these forms. The Cheng Man Ching 37-step form seems to best suit my physique and stature. I have to say, I had to go through quite a journey to settle on the form, and now I am hoping to be able to teach it to my own students. To get to this point, I found it helpful to first experiment with the style which is sometimes known as the Yang 8-step form, moving on to the popular Beijing 24-step form, and finally settling on the 37.
If you are contemplating taking up Tai Chi, I would highly recommend carefully researching the subject first. Finding a reputable and experienced instructor is a must, as is being patient with yourself because it is not something that you can learn overnight. To maximise what you get back from your practice of Tai Chi requires dedication and effort. The results which you see as you progress, the sense of peace and tranquillity it can instil in you, and the overall physical and mental health benefits, make all that effort worthwhile.
However, if you do not put in the time and effort, you will not reap the best results. It has been said that 60-70% of all beginning Tai Chi enthusiasts hurriedly finish a superficial study of the form, and blithely proclaim their understanding. They procrastinate in their daily training and eventually stop altogether. In reality, they enter a treasure trove, and exit empty handed.
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