Frequently asked questions about tai
What should I expect in a class?
From the early years of development of Tai Chi up to the present
century, the correct methods and techniques have been kept
secret within the Tai Chi families. It was normal to 'knock
on the door' for at least a year before being accepted as
a student by the senior masters. Within the traditional taichi
families knowledge of the full secret techniques, were handed
down carefully within the family or disciples. The circumstances
have now changed a great deal, there is no longer any great
need for secrecy and the patriarchal barriers are now mostly
removed. However some instructors and masters still refuse
to teach openly. Tai Chi has never been regulated by an official
organisation and there are no belts or certificates and therefore
competition or ego should never enter into Tai Chi classes.
Your instructor should always treat you as an equal, but it
is your duty to recognise and show respect to your instructor
and to the senior students within your class. You should also
treat all your fellow students with understanding, friendliness
and consideration. It is important to have faith in your teacher,
but at the same time you should test the truth of his or her
advice by putting it into practice and coming to your own
conclusions. Do not be too quick to accept teaching at face
value. When you hear advice, contemplate the meaning, and
then put it into practice, and then be aware of the experience,
and then learn from that experience.
What are the different styles of tai chi?
There are four main styles of Traditional Tai Chi Chuan:-
Chen, Yang, Wu and Sun.There is also the less commonly found
Wu-Hao style. These names relate to the original family names
of the founding masters, and although they are seen as being
separate and distinct styles, they all have the same origins.
From these traditional styles have spawned a large number
of more modern variants, too numerous to mention, that also
call themselves Tai Chi (or Taiji), all have different approaches
and are all valid as long as they follow the traditional principles
of the art.
How do I know my instruction is valid and authentic?
You know by the principle of generations. Each of the traditional
Tai Chi Family styles are split into generations, who are
the sons and daughters and adopted disciples of the family.
Your instructor should be able to tell you how and where he
or she is connected to the family tree and for the teaching
to be truly authentic your instructor should be directly connected
to a generation. The generations start with the founder of
the style and as with a tree from that first shoot over time
is produced a many branched and diversified entity. The aim
for authenticity is to get as near to the trunk or centre
line as possible.
Can tai chi be used as an attacking art?
Yes, but violence should only be the last resort, never the
first. Ego has no place in Tai- Chi Chuan as it gets in the
way of the efficient practice and use of the art. Violence
is very very rarely the correct solution to a problem and
all life is precious and should be treasured. We learn the
art as a deterrent so that we may NEVER have to use it. With
the knowledge of violence and its consequences we CHOOSE to
avoid it, apart from to save and protect the life and limb
of the weak and less fortunate.
What clothing is needed?
There is no need to buy any special clothing for practising
Tai Chi. Any loose fitting clothing which allows you to move
with complete freedom is suitable. Tracksuit trousers are
ideal for giving freedom of movement, even during the more
expansive positions of the form. For the feet you will need
light footwear that does not have a raised heel. There is
a Chinese slipper, sometimes called the Kung Fu shoe, which
is a good choice. They are usually black with a variety of
different soles:- rope, rubber and plastic. Rope rots if it
gets damp, plastic tends to slip on polished surfaces and
rubber tends to grip too much on rough surface, so you take
your choice according to your normal practice surface. Old
fashioned gym shoes or plimsolls are suitable as are dance
or ballet shoes. Some students do wear trainers, but these
can be too heavy and cumbersome for sensitive contact with
your root (the ground) and tend to make quick movements more
awkward. If the floor surface is comfortable you can practice
in bare feet in your early training but later on some protection
for the foot will be necessary for advanced training.
What are the traditions and etiquette of a tai chi class?
A certain amount of respect for the traditions of Tai Chi
is required. A bow to your instructor at the commencement
and the finish of the training and a bow to your partner at
the beginning and end of two person training is expected.
Behaviour is required to be respectful to both other students
and the class environment.
How much effort is involved in tai chi?
When you begin taichi the experience is probably new and strange,
but you will become more familiar with the Tai Chi way of
moving and expressing your energy in a gradual way - the process
takes time. You will find it helpful if you remember to approach
Tai Chi in a relaxed way, and let your interest and involvement
develop at its own natural pace. Studying and trying to learn
in a class can be a tense activity, particularly if the pace
of the class is too fast for you. However, it is not necessary
to learn everything on the first hearing, as there will be
a great deal of repetition.
Is there any danger of injury?
Tai Chi is essentially a gentle activity; even when practising
with a partner the contact is soft and well co-ordinated.
Unlike the hard arts such as Karate or Judo there will be
no punches or kicks thrown at you and there are no falls or
rolls on the ground. The body stays upright in all of the
postures, including those in a squatting stance, and the improved
sense of balance which is cultivated means that there are
no extreme stresses applied to joints or muscles during any
of the exercises. Tai Chi exercises, operating together with
changes in mental attitude, begin to affect the body and bring
about small changes in the muscle and bone structure as you
learn to relax and sink your centre of gravity into your belly
and feet. If for example, you tend to hunch you shoulders
and through your Tai Chi practice you are relaxing them, then
discomfort may be caused by the muscles releasing the knots
of tension. The collar bone may move a little as the shoulders
relax and drop, which until the body learns to completely
relax and adjust, can also be uncomfortable. Some people find
that when the feet relax and the bodies centre of gravity
is balanced in the middle of the feet, then the arch at the
base of the toes, between the toes and the ball of the feet,
can drop and the feet spread out to become flatter. These
changes occur because the body is becoming more open through
the use of gentle unforced exercise. These changes are a natural
healthy sign of improved posture, although there can be slight
discomforts associated with these changes they are temporary
and will clear. You should always be aware of your limitations
until your joints open up, relax and adjust, which comes with
time and practice.
Can illness, disability or injury stop me training in tai
If in doubt consult your Doctor, but dont necessarily expect
him or her to understand what Tai Chi is. If you have any
physical injuries or weaknesses your practice can be adapted
around them by your instructor, and it is rare for Tai Chi
exercise not to improve or alleviate any problems or complaints.
For example tai-chi is an excellent method for improving your
posture. The use of strength and power comes from your understanding
of your relationship with and contact to the ground and weakened
or damaged back muscles and joints are greatly improved by
this understanding. A by product of this improved posture
is the understanding of good habits for lifting and carrying
heavy weights. Tai Chi is about relating to your body as it
is and becoming in tune with that inner experience so that
you can find ways of expressing your energy in a more natural
way. Whatever problems you have to work with in your body
there need not be any serious restriction to your practice
if you are able to find the way to adapt your Tai chi, with
the help of your instructor, while conforming to the principles
of the art. This is true also for those who have physical
disabilities and are not able to practice Tai Chi in a conventional
NB: None of the information supplied should take the place
of consulting with a doctor nor can we can take any responsibility
for any injuries resulting from its application. Tai chi should
always be learnt under the direction of a competent instructor.
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