What’s the Mystery Behind the Martial Art Known as Tai Chi Chuan?

Written by | Fitness

tai chi group in the park

Stock photo credit: Wavebreak Media Ltd

Ever passed a small group of people practicing what appear to be very slow martial arts moves in a park? Chances are they’re moving through Tai chi chuan poses. And if you’ve ever wondered if you should get out and join them, you probably should give it a try.

Tai chi chuan, also referred to as “shadow boxing,” is an extension of traditional Chinese martial arts. Tai chi chuan literally translates as “perfect boxing.” Its roots extend back to the Ming Dynasty, when Zhang Sanfeng is said to have created the “Thirteen Postures of Tai Chi.” Its routines are used widely today as mind/body exercises known to not only treat but prevent numerous health issues. Tai chi is rooted in and utilizes fundamental Chinese philosophies, including qi as well as yin and yang.

Qi, known as universal life energy or life force — is always in flux as we transfer energy back and forth between people and things throughout our day. Yin and yang (represented by that tattoo you saw a lot back in the 80s and 90s) allude to the the opposite manifestations of qi. Yin refers to qi which is negative, dark and feminine, whereas yang is positive, bright and masculine. The constant interaction of yin and yang supposedly influences the life and destiny of all creatures and things.

Tai chi chuan can help improve your mood and relieve stress, anxiety and even depression. Regular practice can enhance the quality of your sleep, boost the immune system, lower blood pressure, improve pain in joints, increase energy level, stamina, muscle definition and strength. The exercise is low-impact, placing minimal stress muscles and joints — making it extremely safe for nearly anyone to take part (even those for whom other physical activities present a challenge) as it’s known to improve balance, reduce falls and the fear of falling, improve coordination and ease respiratory ailments.

Tai chi for weight loss? Yes! Tai Chi can strengthen both the upper and lower body, and while it may not exactly torch calories, working through its more than 100 movements can certainly augment and boost regular aerobic activity. On the mental front (similar to yoga), focusing and centering your mind can create a sense of calmness and peace which helps banish weight-gain-causing stress from your personal orbit.

The Tai Chi Foundation and The School of Tai Chi Chuan were both founded in 1976 to reflect the vision of Patrick Watson, who wanted to create a school of tai chi teachers to “preserve and transmit the movements and principles of the tai chi form” developed by his own mentor, Cheng Man-Ch’ing. It is affiliated with the New York School of Tai Chi Chuan, which has offered such classes as “Push Hands” and “Sword Form” at various locations around NYC for more than 35 years.

In Los Angeles, the TCSociety is a volunteer organization that aims to spread the understanding of the fundamentals of Tai Chi principles through the practice of Old Yang Style Tai Chi Chuan. Founded in 1992 by TC Hou, the TCSociety holds weekly practice sessions that last 90 minutes in Santa Monica, Studio City, Diamond Bar, Malibu, Thousand Oaks and Riverside. They also offer field trips to China and Taiwan for members seeking to experience and understand tai chi history up close.

Though there are books and videos that can demonstrate the fundamentals of Tai Chi, it’s best to learn from a proper instructor. What should you wear for your first Tai Chi class? Opt for comfortable, loose clothing and flat shoes. Cotton might be the most comfortable fabric to wear because it can absorb sweat and allows the skin to breathe. Avoid constricting clothing or anything that might suppress the qi from flowing!

Last modified: October 24, 2018