What is tai chi?
The tai chi form is a series of slow moving exercises, performed smoothly and accurately, with the muscles as relaxed as possible, and the mind absorbed in each movement.
Tai chi is practised by millions of people who consider it to be an integral part of their everyday lives, giving robust good health, a calm stress-free mind and a flexible body. Tai chi is not designed to promote muscle size or enhance physical endurance. It is used to stimulate the internal organs gently, exercise the body, calm the nervous system and mobilise the joints. With consistent correct practice, the tai chi form leaves you warm, relaxed and gently stimulated. In time the mind has a stillness and clarity rarely experienced with other forms of exercise. Calmness eventually pervades the whole body, leaving you less stressed and more refreshed at the end of the day.
The tai chi form is but a part of the whole tai chi chuan system. Tai chi means 'grand ultimate', which refers to the original Taoist beliefs of the origins of existence. Chuan can be translated literally as 'boxing'. Originally tai chi chuan was a formidable martial art which was also beneficial to health. Now the health aspect, in most schools, has taken over completely. Many students do not even realise that they are practising a martial art.
Apart from the slow tai chi form, at a more advanced stage the students are introduced to the fast form. Relaxation and gentleness are still used, but at a higher speed. With this training the student acquires stamina and nimbleness to add to the calmness.
Pushing hands practice for two people increases sensitivity and the ability to cope with changing situations, as the partners perform pre-set movements. The vast array of martial arts techniques at the disposal of the tai chi student gives a lifetime of potential study in this most excellent self-defence system.
San shou, or 'free hands' two-man fighting exercise, allows the students to combine their techniques into a flowing interchange with a partner, giving flexibility and dexterity in combat applications. Each person has a series of attack and counter-attack manoeuvres to learn, which you could call 'side A' and 'side B'. When side A and side B have completed their own attack-and-defence series against each other, they immediately move into the other's technique routine; that is, side A will then begin side B's series of attack and defence, and vice versa. The san shou then forms a complete loop, with continuous and unbroken activity on both sides. When the san shou is practised alone, sides A and B are strung together in a flowing form. If explosive force is then added to the san shou form, it is described as pao chuan, or 'exploding fist'. Chi kung (or vital energy accumulation exercise) is an integral part of traditional tai chi training, resulting in a healthier body, a calmer mind and strong self-defence power.
Source: Yang Tai Chi Chuan, by John Hine.