Tai Chi ~ FAQ

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Frequently asked questions about tai chi chuan

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 chi?
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 way.

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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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