What is Tai Chi?

In the traditional Chinese cosmology, wu chi is the name given to the undifferentiated, primordial essence of the universe– no light or dark, up or down, positive or negative, motion or stillness– pure potentiality.

Tai chi, symbolized by the familiar Yin/Yang diagram, is the energy of complementary opposites, the emergence of difference, energy taking on form and motion.

Tai Chi Chu’an is an advanced martial art traditionally taken up by kung fu masters in mid-life.

A middle-aged master can no longer count on competing with younger fighters in striking power, speed, resilience to injury, or endurance.  He or she must now rely on cunning, superior technique, lessons of experience, and an elusive quality that I’ll label  “attentional state,” through which the master slows his perception of time and merges with the energies of the moment to attain a superior position over the adversary and turn his power against him.  This latter quality can only be achieved through meditative practice, for which many young fighters lack patience.

I generally recommend that new students coming to my martial arts school get a good foundation in the basics by starting their training in my kung fu program.  Tai chi training (particularly Yang style, which comprises most of our system in the beginning) assumes that the new student already has a solid grounding in fundamental self-defense skills.

This is particularly true if the student’s primary goals include physical fitness and self-defense, and they do not have any medical conditions that preclude vigorous exercise.  Kung fu training is the fast-track to fitness and self-defense skill.  Tai chi training requires a great deal of patience and self-discipline. The health benefits often do not begin to flower until several months into training, and the self-defense principles take years to master. But as my teacher Master Joe Schaefer says, once you have mastered the principles of tai chi, you are practically invincible.

Tai chi ch’uan as a martial art is concerned primarily with the moment of initial contact between two or more bodies in conflict.  Tai chi teaches you to absorb and redirect the energy of an attack in such a way that you give power to your position and unbalance your attacker.  You are now well-placed to use the energy of the situation to your advantage.

Tai chi is popular today as a gentle form of rehabilitative exercise.  Many people seeking instruction in tai chi do not know that it is an advanced martial art, and some are even completely averse to learning the martial applications of tai chi.  I welcome these people as private students so that I can take them step-by-step through the sophisticated principles of tai chi movement and tailor the classes to their needs and goals.

My intermediate/advanced group classes involve exploring the self-defense aspects of tai chi ch’uan.


~ by nolashaolin on January 25, 2009.

2 Responses to “What is Tai Chi?”

  1. Looking for tai chi closer to houma, la.

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