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How to start a Tai Chi Practice

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  • How to start a Tai Chi Practice

    It's great to see people picking up Tai Chi. I love the art and have practiced it for many years.However, Tai Chi is a deep practice and it can be easy for one to get lost in the beginning. I was thinking of what I'd tell myself if I could go back to when I started.

    Find a good teacher. They should be able to explain and show the movements well. If your teachers movements are coarse or abrupt that should raise questions. When explaining what certain movements are for there should be a balance between grand concepts (cultivating chi, uniting movement and intent, etc) and very tangible examples (opening the hips, developing balance by conditioning muscles, aligning the body to negate physical force, etc.). If the instructor spends a lot of time talking about extraordinary abilities or talents they developed but can't show you, this is again questionable.

    Look for slow flowing movements without changes in tempo (except for the Chen form). A solid, always relaxed stance in another good sign. Also key is that every movement in Tai Chi should be connected, whole body movements. The waist (center, or Tan Tien) is the initiator and drive behind everything we do.

    Cultivate a daily practice. Whether it's ten minutes or two hours, do what works but do it everyday. Your Tai Chi time should be as integral and unquestioned an activity as brushing your teeth.

    The next thing I'd say is, take your time. Tai Chi is a life long process and every step along the way is enjoyable. It's never quantity of movement that matters with the Internal Arts. Far better to deeply know a couple of postures from the form and train them several times a day than to superficially know a (or multiple) whole forms and run through them every day. You will have a much more satisfying experience from the deeper practice.

    Finally, I would say practice Yichuan (standing meditation) as well. There are specific Yichaun postures or you can use any posture from the Tai Chi form as your standing meditation. Yichaun is incredibly valuable both in priming your mind for the practice and developing the ability to relax and root your body. Try it out by holding a posture for ten minutes; smooth, long breaths into the abdomen; gaze off over the horizon; all of the joints relaxed and open; whenever a thought or distraction comes up, let it go and come back to watch the breath. Stand through discomfort but not through pain. If you start to shake that's great; it's your body shedding deep stored tension. If ten minutes is too much at first, no problem, start with five, or two. As your stand becomes easier, follow that retreating limit and let yourself stand longer.

    You should feel challenged by your practice but enjoy every minute of it.

    Take care,

    Northwest Fighting Arts

  • #2
    Excellent post. These are many of the things my teacher has pointed out to me over the years as critera for good TC.

    Smoothness comes from repeated practice and conditioning of the muscles to the movements.

    Postures as well as proper breathing are things my teachers have stressed as well.


    • #3
      Originally posted by Russell View Post

      Look for slow flowing movements without changes in tempo (except for the Chen form).

      Wrong, wrong, wrong, perhaps the worst mistranslation/misunderstanding within Tai Chi.

      ALL Tai Chi should contain a mixture of speeds ans explosiveness, otherwise you're NOT doing a martial art, Tai Chi IS a martial art.

      The original translation said "be like the great river", people thought that meant to flow...well the great river in question was the Yellow River which is known for its mixture of calm and whitewater rapids.


      • #4
        Life is too short to be serious, laugh it up.


        • #5
          What is your Tai Chi experience TTescrima?


          • #6
            All good points, but what about jing applications? Not particularly slow, although I agree, certain aspects of the body's mechanics are learned via slow motion while noting weight distribution. However, it's not unheard of for teachers to mix speed, just to give the student a better feel for the movement.

            What is your opinion of the Tung style? The more recent Wudang?

            What about drills? Things like chin-na, push hands, and shuai jiao?


            • #7
              I think its important to remember that speed and decisiveness are important.. You can practice a slow pace, but when truly applied, speed may be important


              • #8
                So to address a few valid points:

                First, I'd like to point out my post was just general advice for beginners.

                Now, Luohan Fist, you are absolutely right. Many do vary the pace of their forms. I do so myself. The way I was taught and find valuable is to be conscious of what you are working. Fast and you are on the martial end of the scale, slow on the meditative, chi cultivation end. Also, we were trained to only go as fast as our skill could support. Once you lose the principles of centered, whole body movements and rootedness you've lost much of the value of Tai Chi. That said, working the form fast, or exceedingly slow (try making your form take an hour without pausing the movements) is a great way for a skilled Tai Chi practitioner to push themselves further. My advice for those starting out though is keep it simple.

                Chin-Na, push hands and other two person sets are excellent. They are vital for the development of the martial aspect of Tai Chi. They are also a good way to evaluate the depth of a potential teachers knowledge. If a teacher is not capable of the martial aspect this is an issue. Many people train in Tai Chi strictly for the health and meditative benefits. This is entirely valid, but if you are going to teach you should understand the whole of the art. Again though, for beginners keep it simple at first.

                The question of speed in application is a tricky one. Sometimes... many times, yes the application of Tai Chi is quite fast (in a legitimate fighting situation) but if one falls back on trying to "beat someone to the punch", or throw, or joint lock then they have given up much of what makes Tai Chi so potentially effective for self defense.

                A last bit of advice for beginners, test everything you read or are told thoroughly. If the advice is not useful to the practice then it's just words and should be discarded.

                Northwest Fighting Arts