Return to Synature Home      What is Tai Chi Chuan?

Tai Chi Chuan means "Grand Ulitmate Perfect Fist Fighting."

There is a growing community of modern practitioners who participate in tournaments, though the old days of challenges between masters passed away with the advent of firearms in China. There is also a growing community of practitioners who do the form strictly as a method of health improvement.  These folks often shorten the name to Tai Chi.

Modern Tai Chi Chuan is almost always a health exercise, though it is important to keep the martial aspects of this art in mind. Tai Chi Chuan is not "Swimming in Air" nor is it "Moving Meditation." Neither is it a kind of dance. It has been described as all three, and with good reason -- it can look or feel like a kind of meditation, or like swimming, or even a kind of stately dance. A closer look will show more external alertness than is common in meditation, a directness of movement not found in swimming, and firm contact with the ground not associated with dance.

The practitioner of Tai Chi Chuan gains health benefits by doing the moves as prescribed -- not only the physical sequence of leg and arm moves, but also more importantly, the continuous and flowing motion directed from the center of the body. It is not necessary to understand the Chinese theory of meridians and internal energy (Chi) circulation to obtain these benefits.

It is, however, necessary to perform the form with alertness, concentration, precision, continuity, balance, and coordination. The main reason I will often emphasize the martial aspect of Tai Chi Chuan is because it is the best way to describe the kind of alertness and concentration needed to get something out of practice of the form. A Chinese word often used to admonish students of Tai Chi Chuan is "Sung." This is normally translated as "Relax." However, this is the kind of relaxation that can be seen in a Tiger waiting beside a trail, or an Olympic athlete preparing for an event. It is not the state of a soldier about to go into combat -- for those who have been in combat, it is the relaxation that comes after the first blows or shots have been exchanged, the fear is gone, and all that remains is concentrating on using combat skills to survive. A lot of soldiers never learn this, and quite a few lucky ones survive to describe battle as a constant agony of fear and stress. The martial artist knows fear and stress, too, but before or after combat, never during it.

The kind of relaxation needed in Tai Chi Chuan benefits almost any other kind of endeavor. The muscles are not flaccid, nor are they tense. The muscles should be at rest and ready for full use at any moment. When a move is made, only those muscles needed to perform the move are used, the other muscles should remain relaxed. The muscles being used are fully utilized, but not tensed beyond what's needed for the move.

You can see this kind of relaxation in almost anyone who is a true master of their vocation or avocation. The potter at his or her wheel who gets up from several hours of working feeling more energetic than when he or she started probably had that kind of relaxation going for them. The carpenter who drives nails straight and without ever missing. Part of this relaxation is skill and knowledge in doing the activity, another part is the practice that makes for skill. In Tai Chi Chuan there are no external tools to worry about, only the skill of making the moves precisely, coordinated, smoothly, and continuously. Relaxed.

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Last update: October 2008.
Copyright © 1997,Brandon C. Smith. All rights reserved.
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