"The Supreme Ultimate"
Tai Chi is an internal Chinese martial art practiced for both its defense training and its health benefits. Though originally conceived as a martial art, it is also typically practiced for a variety of other personal reasons, including health, mental clarity, and competition.
Tai Chi (or more accurately, Taiji) is translated as "the Supreme Ultimate" and implies Taoist origins. Behind the movements were philosophy and the application of "yin yang theory." In modern times, such studies are reserved for more advanced students only. For students in the West, the study of Tai Chi primarily involves three aspects:
Health:Tai Chi's health training concentrates on relieving the physical effects of stress on the body and mind. It increases blood flow to all parts of the body, and rejuvenates you in a way that must be experienced to understand. Many students describe how they also seem to gain energy, paradoxically, as your body learns to relax while becoming stronger.
Leg and hip strength, spine straightening, balance and overall coordination improvement comes with regular practice, helping us to avoid injury from falling. For those focused on Tai Chi's martial application, good physical fitness is an important step towards effective self-defense.
Meditation:The focus and calmness cultivated by the meditative aspect of Tai Chi is seen as necessary in maintaining optimum health (in the sense of relieving stress and maintaining homeostasis) and in application of the form as a martial art.
Standing Meditation is a part of most Tai Chi training protocols and it produces amazing results.
Martial Art:When training for fighting ability it is called Tai Chi Chuan (Chuan meaning "fist"), and is the study of appropriate change in response to outside forces, and the yielding and "sticking" to an incoming attack rather than attempting to meet it with opposing force. The use of Tai Chi Chuan as a martial art is quite challenging and requires a great deal of training.
After form training advances, with and without weapons, there is much instruction on Push Hands (two-person application drills), Chin Na (joint-locking and breaking skill), and Shuai Jiao (ground wrestling).
Tendons and Tai Chi
With Tai Chi, you develop an internal awareness of your body that can become highly refined and subtle. The use of guided imagery in training helps the student grasp concepts for using these parts of the body that are more "invisible" to us.
The concept of body strength in the West focuses on the use of muscle for power. In the East, the concept of strength centers on development of the tendons and connective tissues, the space in between your muscle and your bone.
Tendons are a different fiber than muscle and thus have different kinetic abilities, and it is from using the tendons that we get concepts like "spiraling energy" and "fa jin (explosive energy)." Strengthening tendons and taking advantage of their spring-like abilities is intimately connected to Tai Chi training.
As new students, we tend to use too much muscle power when we train. It is easy to overuse the
body and therefore hold many tensions that are detrimental to our health. As we progress, we learn to hold the postures longer and go through the movement with much more relaxation in our bodies.
The more our tendons and muscles develop through proper movement, the better we are able to relax and "let go" into the form.
Standing Meditation (zhan zhuang) is helpful in this aspect of Tai Chi training. All students of Tai Chi should be required to "stand" as part of their regular instruction and solo practice. The "standing stake" posture is very common, but the Tai Chi poses themselves are also used in this training.