January 28, 2009
Try Taiji (Tai Chi)
Monday I wrote about wushu as an umbrella word for Chinese martial arts and focused a bit on the "external" art of kung fu. While it's dramatic, fun to do and very fun to watch, the fast-paced art might not be your style. Another option in the wushu family tree is taijiquan, also known as tai chi.
Tai chi is known as an "internal" martial art meaning players use mind and body together to produce soft, highly-coordinated moves that are as effective against an opponent as those of the more explosive external styles. It is said about tai chi players that one ounce of effort can move 1,000 pounds of force. It is also said that a tai chi master is steel wrapped in cotton. (It is also said that it takes a very long time to become a tai chi master.) At this point, you may be thinking, "Wait, I thought tai chi was that slow-motion exercise that the elderly do in parks." Well, it's that too.
Depending on your instructor, tai chi may be taught strictly as a slow exercise or it may be taught as a traditional martial art where the martial application of each posture is practiced against an opponent. In both cases, tai chi players practice "the form," transitioning through a series of postures, slowly, softly and without stopping. Doing the form will strengthen the legs, improve balance, increase circulation and focus the mind. Click here for the Mayo Clinic's article about tai chi's health benefits.
There are a number of different tai chi styles including the oldest, Chen, and the most popular, Yang. Chen is characterized by low stances and explosive movements while Yang style is the known for continuous soft movements. Finding the style and instructor that are right for you may take a little work. Visit schools, take sample classes, talk with instructors. As a long-time tai chi player, I can tell you it's worth the effort.
Click here to watch Kelly MacLean doing a beautiful Chen routine.