Tai Chi is a meditative martial art form that originated in China over 400 years ago, during the Ming dynasty. It was created by the esteemed military commander Chen Wangting, who wanted to teach martial arts to his family so that they could protect themselves from bandits. He did this by designing patterns of movements that he could easily demonstrate, using a combination of different martial arts styles, traditional Chinese medicine, and spiritual elements such as the Taoist yin-yang. Tai Chi is a flowing series of movements often practiced at sunrise or sunset to either awaken the body for the day, or to relax it for the night.
Today, Tai Chi has taken on many different forms and styles, and is now practiced worldwide for its physical, social, and spiritual health benefits.
The Holistic Health Benefits of Tai Chi
The health benefits of Tai Chi are numerous and there’s a ton of well-respected research on the topic. It has preventive qualities, such as helping to reduce the risk of falls, osteoarthritis, and Parkinson’s disease. It can help with cardiac health, and stroke rehabilitation. It can also improve the quality of life of cancer patients. It’s helpful in terms of strength training, improving balance, and aerobic capacity. In terms of mental health, Tai Chi can improve cognitive abilities, help with dementia, depression, and sleep.
So, Tai Chi is clearly amazing — what else is there to know?
The Basic Principles of Tai Chi
One of the most basic tenets of Tai Chi comes from the Taoist belief system, prominently the philosophy of yin and yang. You’ve likely seen the visual depiction of yin and yang here and there; the circle with light and dark chasing one another. In Taoism, this signifies the way that life’s opposing forces complement one another. This could be light and dark, or any other opposites: forward and back, warm and cold, or fast and slow. In Tai Chi, each movement is closely tied to either yin or yang. As one step manifests yin, the rest of the movement will find balance and manifest yang. A fast step must be done with a calm mind, and stillness must be held in anticipation of movement.
Tai Chi As a Martial Art
There’s an old joke where, if you ask 1000 Tai Chi practitioners how to do Tai Chi, they will give you 1001 answers. This is a widely studied and differentiated form of exercise. While it may appear to be calming and relaxed, or as one practitioner called it “poetry in motion,” it was also designed to be a formidable martial art.
All forms of Tai Chi work by learning patterns of movements. Beginners start with simple patterns of 10 or so moves, and then steadily work their way up to more complex patterns, with up to 100 moves. There are thousands of patterns to learn, and you can get started by joining a local club, or by picking them up from a book! It’s something that anyone can do anywhere. What’s more, it’s said that in order to defend yourself from almost any physical aggression, you need only learn a few Tai Chi patterns. When these patterns become second nature, you’ll be able to instinctively move in the best way to defend yourself, should the need arise. Pretty amazing, right?