Tai Chi for Health & Self Defense
Tai Chi is usually thought of as a system of exercise that involves moving in a slow, relaxed, dance-like manner. While that is true as far as it goes, Tai Chi is actually much more. Its real purpose is to bring the practioner into a state of harmony with nature.
Due to our modern Western lifestyle, most of us have lost touch with our true relationship to nature. Every animal, inculuding human beings, has a body and mind that is designed to function in a precise manner. Animals naturally behave according to the design of their bodies. A tiger acts like a tiger without thought. The same can be said about every other animal. However, people of today are different in that they almost always go against their natural design.
Our bodies were designed more for hunting and gathering than the modern civilized world we live in. Our society revolves around commerce. Rather than going out into the woods to hunt for dinner, we earn money to buy our dinner by working at some job or another. Too often the job requires us to be overly sedentary or perform the same motions over and over. That is quite opposite to the infinite varitey of movements that hunting requires. Simply put, few people today know how their body is supposed to function.
Too often we push when we should pull, resorting to brute force rather than "going with the flow." This places undue stress on the body resulting in sickness and disease.
That is where Tai Chi can help. The practice of Tai Chi requires you to take an honest look at how you move and hold yourself. The methods will help you discover where you are placing needless stress on your body and how to begin moving in a more natural way.
Tai Chi is a complete system that involves three major areas of practice. They are Chi Kung, Form, and kung Fu. See the links below for more information on how they all work together to bring you back to your true nature.
Imagine someone who tried out for the NFL without ever having bothered to strenghen himself by lifting weights or doing calisthenics. Needless to say, when the tryouts are over, a guy like that would probably be heading home! Why? Because he didn't have the foundation upon which every other skill in the game of football is built.
Chi Kung is the foundation of Tai Chi. It is not possible to go very far in Tai Chi without the practice of Chi Kung. Chi Kung is the basic strength building exercise you need to master Tai Chi. Lifting weights and calisthenics build big muscles. Big muscles are fine, indeed a virtual requirement, for an NFL football player. However, big muscles are of little value when it comes to Tai Chi.
Tai Chi is a Chinese invention. The Chinese language has two different words for strength, li and ging. Li is muscle strength. With li, bigger muscle equates to more power. Ging, on the other hand, does not require big muscles at all. Instead the power of ging comes from a naturally coordinated use of your entire body. More specifically, the power of Tai Chi lies in the bones and joints, not isolated muscle groups. You move more like a bullwhip than a big heavy club. Li is brute force whereas ging is finesse.
The power in Tai Chi comes from bones and joints. But how many of us ever give our skeleton any thought at all? When we look into a mirror we don't see bones but flesh. The flesh forms the image we all have of ourselves. Chi kung will gradually change the image you have of your body. It will help you to become conscious of your entire body, inside and out. With this new awarenes you will discover just how much power you are capable of generating with very little effort.
Chi Kung is the secret to making your everyday movement more relaxed and fluid, thus eliminating stress with all its accompanying maladies.
Chi Kung consists of mostly still postures sprinkled with very simple, repetitive movements. Form expands on Chi Kung by showing you how to make more complex movements. A Form consists of anywhere from 24 to 124 different moves perfomed sequentially in a slow relaxed manner. Form is what most people think of when they think of Tai Chi.
Form teaches you how to integrate every part of your body while moving. Just moving your hands in certain prescribed patterns is not Tai Chi. Instead, all of your movements should include every bone and joint in your body. When one part moves, the whole body moves. Moving this way means your entire body is used to accomplish work instead of isolated parts, evenly distributing mechanical stress on your body instead of forcing a few parts to do the whole job. Not only will this make you more powerful, but it will greatly lessen the risk of placing undue stress on isolated muscles which can result in injury.
Tai Chi Form teaches you an entirely different way of walking. In Tai Chi walking, body weight is very deliberately transferred from one foot to the other. The focus is on the creation of a smooth, even gait which feels almost like flowing or rolling, rather than pounding all of your weight into one foot then the other, jarring your entire skeleton each time. The gentle shift of weight encourages you to use all of the muscles in your legs as you walk.
Balance is another important area that Form helps you perfect. Without balance, your mevements are less than optimal. A loss of balance is, to some degree, the same thing as falling. It is difficult and stressful to do any meaningful work while falling.
The bottom line is that Tai Chi form teaches you how to move in the most efficient way possible. You learn how to both absorb incoming forces on your body as well as how to issue maximum force with minimal effort. Moving this way means you will waste less energy in your everyday life. You will stop using the brakes and gas pedal at the same time!
Although almost everybody has heard of Tai Chi, few people realize that it is a martial art. The slow relaxed manner in which it is practiced doesn't give the impression that it is, in fact, extremely effective as a means of self defense.
There are many, perhaps even most, practioneers of Tai Chi who eschew the idea of fighting or violence of any kind and therefore avoid any hint of such an activity in their practice. Chi Kung and Form are the only elements of Tai Chi they practice. That is too bad. Doing so robs them of about 90% of the benefits of Tai Chi! Self Defense, or Kung Fu, is the barometer which indicates how well you practice Chi Kung and Form. Rarely, if ever, is actuall progress made without including the element of Kung Fu in your practice.
It is one thing to appear calm and serene while practicing Chi Kung and Form. Those are done by yourself in a controlled environment. But what happens when there is another person trying to knock you off your feet? Unless you include Kung Fu in your practice, chances are all that calmness and serenity flies out the window at the speed of light! Relaxation and fluid movemenys are suddenly replaced with tension, stiffness and resistance, all of which are anathema to Tai Chi.
Including Kung Fu in your practice will teach you how to maintain your composure even while engaged in a real street fight. Indeed, an unnamed Chinese monk once said, "Drinking a cup of tea or fighting to death, what's the difference?" That is the true serenity that Tai Chi instills in those who practice the whole package.
The Tai Chi Classics are a body of writings dating form about 1200 AD that lay out the principles of Tai Chi. They state, "The purpose of mastering self-defense applications is not to bully people, but to study the marvelous principles with friends." Nowhere do they give alternate methods to learn the principles, implying that without Kung Fu there is no real Tai Chi.