I have recently received some more interesting questions from beginnning Tai Chi students. I hope they help you in your practice! In the next blogpost, I will describe the larger picture of Tai Chi health practices--what is meant by "Total Tai Chi (tm)."
I don’t seem to FEEL much when I do Tai Chi. I have heard that Tai Chi develops QI, but I am not really sure what QI is. Am I supposed to feel the QI when I do my Tai Chi form?
There can be a lot of mystique surrounding the training of QI. But, simply put, QI is a kind of bio-electricity in your body which animates all vital processes. In short, if you are alive, you have QI!
By practicing Tai Chi, Qigong, Meditation, and other methods, you can refine, strengthen, and harmonize your flow of QI. That is, you can cultivate MORE QI-- a higher “voltage” of bio-electricity. You can learn to store your QI in the lower abdomen, so it is not dissipated needlessly. And, especially with Tai Chi, you can harmonize your flow of QI, so it circulates through every part of your body in the right proportions.
When you do your Tai Chi Solo Form, as long as it is a correct form, and you are doing it with reasonable accuracy, in time you will feel a flow of QI. Usually, you first feel your hands get warm and tingly; later you might feel your abdomen having a warm and “full” feeling. The critical requirement is to relax, maintain a perfect alignment of your “frame” or bone structure, concentrate fully on the movements, and let the Tai Chi process do its work.
Being concerned or worried about whether or not you are developing QI is almost certain to hinder the process.
At some point, your teacher may recommend Standing Meditation (“Holding the Post”) or other specific techniques to further develop your QI. But in the beginning, just relax, focus your intention on the movements, allow your breath to be unstrained, and to “sink” to the lower abdomen, and enjoy the Form.
Absolutely avoid any kind of forcing the “sinking” process or the breath.
Is Tai Chi supposed to be a martial art? If so, how in the world can Tai Chi be used in fighting if all we practice are the sloooooow movements?
Many beginning students think that the slow-motion “Solo Form” is the entirety of Tai Chi. But Tai Chi is in realty an entire System of practice. You start with some preliminary exercises and the Solo Form, and then go on to two-person work, such as Push Hands and San Shou (a kind of pre-arranged “sparring” which illustrates the defensive applications of each movement). After that, you study Tai Chi weapons (Saber, Sword, and Staff (or Spear) to fully develop your strength and ability to project energy.
The slow (Yang Style) Solo Form is the initial practice to develop strength in the legs, flexibility in the waist, good alignment of the “frame,” and begin the process of cultivating QI. Part of the reason for the slow movement is to diminish internal muscular resistance when you move. The other reason is to promote full flow of blood to the internal organs for health. Rapid vigorous external strength-based movements will bring more blood to the outer muscles and reduce blood in the internal organs (with the exception of the heart). For health and longevity, you want complete and easy blood flow in the internal organs.
Regarding Tai Chi as a martial art, you first learn Push Hands to developing sensing acuity and San Shou to learn technique. At first starting slowly, eventually those practices are speeded up to approximate combat speed. And, (only with the proper teaching from a qualified instructor) some students, go into Tai Chi “free sparring” at real-time speeds.
The actual development of martial ability of Tai Chi involves specialized training, and goes far beyond the Solo Form. It must be learned from a fully qualified teacher.
If you are interested in learning more about the entire "Tai Chi System," check out my book at:
I like vigorous exercise, such as weightlifting or sports. But I also like Tai Chi. My problem is that Tai Chi doesn’t seem to be “aerobic.” Is Tai Chi really dynamic enough to create real fitness?
Again, looking at the Solo Form, Tai Chi is not necessarily “vigorous” or “aerobic” like some sports. But once a student progresses to weapons, especially the long staff, Tai Chi definitely develops breath and stamina.
In all of Tai Chi practice, the student learns to breathe in a deep and relaxed manner. But if you ever have occasion to do one hundred thrusts with a Tai Chi long staff (9 feet long), you will surely feel that you have had a vigorous workout!
I notice that there are several “styles” of Tai Chi. Is any one style the “best” style? Why are there different styles of Tai Chi anyway?
Any style of martial art develops because of specific conditions and necessities. That is, a martial art style is developed to respond to other methods of combat which are prevailing at the time, and ultimately to be able to neutralize or defeat them. Don’t forget, in old China, martial arts were a matter of life or death—to the clan, or to the civil authorities who learned and applied them.
(Yang Lu Chan, founder of the Yang Style, is said to have instructed some members of the Chinese Emperor’s elite personal bodyguards).
A style also reflects the founder’s body type and temperament. As an example, Yang Lu Chan had two sons who carried on his teaching. One of them Ban Hou, was famous for his short-range explosive power. The other Jian-Hou, was more renowned for his “soft” neutralizing style. Neither style was better; it was just a matter of what style was the best fit for the masters involved.
The same thing is true of the Styles, as they evolved through the famous Tai Chi “families”—Chen, Yang, Wu, and Sun. Each founder developed techniques which worked best for him, in accordance with his physical attributes and natural abilities. Then, these techniques and “forms” were passed down as part of a family heritage, with each generation making some improvements and modifications.
For a beginning student of Tai Chi, the style is not nearly as important as correct teaching. But overall, I recommend the Yang Style for most beginners, of any physical condition or body type. The Chen Style is excellent for younger people wanting vigorous conditioning, and the Wu Style contains many subtle and small-range techniques, which are more difficult for beginners to assimilate.
Remember that less than 80 years ago, Tai Chi instruction was available only to experienced martial artists, who ALREADY were in excellent physical shape and had substantial martial prowess. Tai Chi was a way to further refine and internalize their considerable skills. It might have been called the Ph.D. of martial arts.
With the advent of Tai Chi as a popular health exercise (in the 1930’s and 1940’s) what was once a “Ph.D. level” martial art became a form of physical culture for the masses. I believe the Yang Style is a style which is most amenable to the greatest number of beginners of all ages and physical condition levels.
But whatever Style you study, as long as you get correct instruction, will eventually work for you, if you practice with perseverance.