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Frequently Asked Questions on Tai Chi

Question: What is Tai Chi?
A way of developing healthy body usage

Q: Why is it slow?
Only part of Tai Chi is slow e.g. practice of the form. There is also partner work that can be quite quick.

Q: Why is it good for health?
It promotes good posture, suppleness, resilience, moderate cardio-vascular exercise and good muscle tone.

Q: What is the meditation connection?
Tai Chi encourages us to be aware of our bodies with a clear, quiet mind.

Q: How does it fit in personal development?
Tai Chi provides an arena for development of awareness, of ourselves and others, in a way that is congruent with other personal development ideas.

Q: I’ve heard that Tai Chi is a martial art – but it’s so slow?
Slow practice with big movements is simply a training method. When used in self defence it is very fast.

Q: So why is it so graceful and gentle?
Being graceful and gentle come from the training to improve balance, fluid movement and sensitivity.

Q: How can Tai Chi help me in my daily life?
By training better body usage, daily movement can become easier and improve relaxation. Tai Chi also promotes mental and emotional calmness which helps deal with daily stress.

Q: How quickly does it work?
Most people begin to change quite quickly – in the first few weeks or months – although they often do not notice this themselves.

Like most things the more you put in the more you get out, but in Tai Chi it is important to practice in a relaxed way as one of the factors we are dealing with is our own internal tension.

Major changes are often noticed on a yearly basis.

Q: When does the course start?
There isn’t a particular start, the class is ongoing so you can come along anytime.

Q: How much commitment does it take?
Generally people attend a weekly class and do some sort of personal practice daily.

Q: What sorts of things do you do in the class?
We do a range of exercises and practice a form that takes about 20 minutes to complete. Sometimes this is easy and gentle sometimes it is really hard work – learning the form took me about a year. We also do partner practice.

Q: Does it matter who I train with?
Initially we suggest you find someone you are comfortable with and read a little around the subject. Then as you learn more you will be able to find a teacher who has a good level of understanding and from whom you are able to learn.

Q: How much should it cost?
As much as you want to spend, or as little. There are many people who charge moderate fees, some top instructors who charge high fees, however cost and quality are not always directly in proportion.

Q: What should I wear?
Loose warm clothing and flat-soled trainers.

Q: Where abouts in Shefford is it?
We are at the Community Hall in Shefford, next to the fish and chip shop in Ampthill Road. You can get directions/map by clicking here. We moved from Greenfield in May 2006.

Q: Is Tai Chi suitable for people who are old?
Many people take up Tai Chi when they retire from work and report that their physical ability is improved as a result.

Q: What age do you have to be to start Tai Chi?
There isn’t an age limit – it depends on the individual. People of all ages do Tai Chi in China but young people generally do it in a family setting with father or other relative as teacher. I believe that young people – say under 16 – do not do Tai Chi because it can be very subtle and complex – also because young people tend to want something more obviously dynamic and perhaps get bored with the long, detailed process of learning Tai Chi. I understand that in China young people normally learn hard style Kung Fu styles first – similar to Karate and Judo for example – then move on to soft arts such as Tai Chi Chuan in their late teens.

It seems that actually most people start Tai Chi later in life – many when they retire at 60 years or so! So I suppose my answer is that you are old enough for Tai Chi if you find it sufficiently interesting to keep doing it. Click here for more information on classes for 50+

Q: I have specific physical problems – can I still do Tai Chi?
Very often the answer is yes – of course this is a very subjective question and everyone must take their own view. You can watch a class and ask to join in for a while to find out. You can also ask your responsible health practitioner for guidance.

Q: I have specific health problems – will Tai Chi help?
Tai Chi is believed to be helpful in relation to a wide range of problems – there is a great deal of material you can read about this and most mainstream health professionals today have at least some awareness from which to advise.

Useful links to explore include Chi-gung, Yoga, traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), stress and stress management, meditation, body psychotherapy. The links page on this website will provide a good starting point.

Q: Where can I find more about Tai Chi?
If you go to the Books and Articles section on this website you will find material written by me over the past 20 years and if you go to the Links section you will find many connections to sites that take a varied approach to the subject – each with it’s own articles and links.

Q: I have been told that Tai Chi is for improvement in posture, balance and breathing, but also that it’s good for self defense. I’ve also read that the Chinese characters for Tai Chi Chuan can be translated as the ‘Supreme Ultimate Force’, but if its about movement, balance and posture, how can it be used as an ultimate force? So, is it a good self defense martial art, or just about the movement?
The translation for “Tai Chi” can be varied but generally it is “supreme ultimate” or “breath (energy of life) “. The word “chuan” is usually translated as “boxing” which has a wider meaning than in western boxing – not just using fists. Kung Fu by the way is really “hard daily work” so can apply to anything on which one puts in regular strenuous practice. Wu Shu is the general term for martial or war related arts.

So a fair translation for Tai Chi Chuan would be Supreme Ultimate Boxing. That’s quite a cheek really, but it is a claim that has stood the test of time. It is generally practiced without weapons but there are weapons forms.

It is perfectly possible to practice purely for health, balance etc and this may be referred to as Tai Chi – more rigorous practice and study of fighting aspects would then be referred to as Tai Chi Chuan. There is actually little difference between them except amount of practice and depth of study. For example I have seen it recommended that one should practice the form once a day for health but would need to do so seven times a day to develop martial skill.

It is generally regarded as one of the oldest codified martial arts and has benefited from ideas in traditional Chinese medicine about how the human body works, from Chen/Zen Buddhism about how the spirit and emotions work and from Taoist philosophy about how the world works. It has been continuously refined over hundreds of years.

The simple way to look at it is that if one wants to defend oneself effectively then it is important first to be healthy and to learn to use one’s body well, so there is a lot of focus on good posture, balance, structure, relaxed movement, integrated movement using the whole body and to train one’s mind in the same way. These are beneficial in their own right for health at all stages of life and especially for activity into old age and if one does not have them – young or old – then it is impossible to generate much force in a violent conflict.

Q: Would learning Tai Chi compliment my understanding of Karate?
Where you are now sounds similar to where I found myself some years ago – Tai Chi did indeed help me to better understand Shotokan in a very much greater depth than my Karate instructors had ever managed for a variety of reasons. I started Yang style Tai Chi in the same year that I gained my 1st Dan ( I think I was about 34 at the time ) and for a long time I continued to train in both Shotokan and Yang style despite urging from both sides to concentrate on just one – I then met a 7th Dan in Hong Kong who very successfully demonstrated the benefits of practicing Tai Chi in parallel and I started to understand the balance involved.

I noticed for example that some basic beginners stuff from Tai Chi was only taught in an advanced Karate class and then only in passing – I was 2nd or 3rd Dan under Kanazawa at the time. Also by exploring the Tai Chi approach to applications I found that I could see much faster and more effective applications than I was taught in Karate classes and explain techniques that no one in Karate could really make to work. I began to appreciate how the effectiveness had been lost from the more sport orientated types of Karate and just how fast and brutal Tai Chi can be – this led me to train for some years with Vince Morris of Kissaki Kai who specialises in old style Okinawan vulnerable point work – and found that far from being an add-on this aspect is integral to Tai Chi Chuan.

Ultimately what convinced me was the way that my Karate improved, compared to other students who did a great deal more Karate training than I did. I now practice Chen style Tai Chi with a small group, each of whom have come through the Karate route over the past 20 plus years. Our UK instructor is Karel Koskuba in Reading, where we train regularly for a one-day seminar each month. Karel teaches across Europe, often to external styles groups, and is a recognised disciple of Chen Xaowang. Master Chen is 19th Grandaster of the Chen family style and twice all China champion. He teaches many seminars around the UK on a twice yearly basis so is very accessible. However as they say in Tai Chi, to know how good someone is you have to touch them – there is no substitute for the physical experience. My own experience of him is of great softness and sensitivity and completely untouchable power.


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