Tai Chi for Beginners – Flows Like Water (but has paws like a tiger!)

A friend asked me to show him how to do Tai Chi, so I thought I’d throw together a short post on the topic, to help me get it together with figuring out how to go about teaching this martial art to a beginner. ‘Martial art, really?’ I can imagine at least a few readers (if I have any at all, har har) will be surprised to hear that the thing they normally associate with elderly people waving arms about gently at a sloth-like pace in the park is a martial art.  In fact, Tai Chi is a relation of the well-known martial art Kung-Fu, popularised by the late, great Bruce Lee. Ah, hell, let’s stick a clip of Bruce in, just ‘cos he’s still cool, even if he’s no longer with us.

OK. Back to the art of Tai Chi. Many of the circular, curving movements, and twists that makes up the moves, known as ‘forms’ of the Tai Chi routine, are energy-generating movements, designed to channel power to the direction you want it to travel. In martial arts, the twisting movements are getting energy not only from the energy-storing core of the body, the area known as the Dan Tian, but also up through the ground, and controlling it mindfully throughout the routine. The style of Tai Chi explored here is the Tai Chi Chuan, 24 form one. I have included the video on Chi light energy here also, because the utilization of Chi energy is so important when learning Tai Chi. This technique is also very useful for focussing bodily awareness in meditation practices.

Now that we’re all in a focussed and calm frame of mind, we are better able to admire the beautiful, flowing forms of the Tai Chi practice. I’ve included two videos below for you, one with a guy performing the forms, and one with a girl.  Watch one, or both, to get an idea of what Tai Chi looks like in action.

There’s a lot to take in, so obviously things need to be broken down a little for you to learn the 24 forms, and it takes a little patience. It is, however, very rewarding, mentally and physically, because as well as teaching you to slow down and pay attention to what you are doing, it strengthens your body and keeps you loose, and you don’t have to be super-athletic to get started either. The next video I’ve included is a good place to start. I think this guy is easy to follow, and performs the routine in a clear way and at a good pace for the beginner. This is the first video in a series of three, which take you through the full routine.

Let’s have a look at this lady doing a Tai Chi routine with a great big sword in her hand. You can really start to see how the martial arts come into it, can’t you? Looks like she is ready for a part in the next  Matrix movie. This is how I look (in my dreams) by the way.

Here’s another helpful link to get you started with your Tai Chi (or you can click on the book image below, right). Some things I really like about this book is the fact that it shows you the fighting applications of the moves, and it has lots of photographs and diagrams to make things clear. It’s a great resource when used withTai Chi Book the video instructions. You can’t beat classes from a good master, of course, but we don’t all have lots of time and/or money at our disposal, so make use of free stuff that’s out there by all means. I was lucky enough to start from a position of familiarity with martial arts before I took Tai Chi classes, and that gave me a bit of an understanding of what Tai Chi was about, although the martial art I trained in was Taekwondo, which is a bit different from Kung Fu. Here’s the guy who founded the school I trained in; most martial arts have sets of forms students learn to improve their skills. These are the ones Taekwondo students have to learn to earn their black belt.

Let’s give Master Kan from the TV series ‘Kung Fu‘ the last word. He always gave such great advice to grasshopper.

In the Shaolin temple there are three kinds of men: students, disciples and masters. Development of the mind can be achieved only when the body has been disciplined. To accomplish this, the ancients have taught us to imitate God’s creatures…. From the crane we learn grace and self-control. The snake teaches us suppleness and rhythmic endurance. The praying mantis teaches us speed and patience. And from the tiger we learn tenacity and power. And from the dragon we learn to ride the wind. All creatures, the low and the high, are one with nature. If we have the wisdom to learn, all may teach us their virtues. Between the fragile beauty of the praying mantis and the fire and passion of the winged dragon, there is no discord. Between the supple silence of the snake and the eagle’s claws, there is only harmony. As no two elements of nature are in conflict so when we perceive the ways of nature, we remove conflict within ourselves and discover a harmony of body and mind in accord with the flow of the universe. It may take half a lifetime to master one system.’

Master Kan

Link to next Tai Chi post

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