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Tai Chi
Healthy Tai Chi

2 Jul 2007
A little more than 100 years ago, major changes were made to the practice of Tai Chi Chuan (taijiquan) -- already a centuries-old art -- that resulted in its spread throughout the globe. To that point it had been a relatively obscure, highly effective, internal martial art available mostly to residents of the Chen Village. In the mid-19th century a villager and student, Yang Lu-chan, struck out on his own.

Yang started his own style, which within two generations would evolve into a set of slow, gentle exercises that were accessible to non-martial artists. One of his sons, Yang Cheng-fu, completed the changes and taught throughout China. Many people mistakenly think of taijiquan as a modern phenomenon, but even its widespread popularity is not recent.

I was reminded of this not long ago when practicing outdoors. An old man came up to me and said, "I haven't seen that since Peking in 1945". He had been a young soldier in the United States Army, stationed there. 1945 was not only the year that the world wars ended, it was the year that America's 100-year military presence in China ended as well. This man was present at history in the making, but he had time to learn about the country he was in as well -- an old story among soldiers.

Hard-core martial artists sometimes resent the practice of taiji purely for health. Their fear, already justified somewhat by history, is that health-only practice will water down the exercises so much that they completely lose their martial capability. Indeed, we probably all know someone who practices taiji without any awareness or ability in the martial realm. But is that so bad?

Most teachers, myself included, have students who will tell you stories that makes it clear taiji practice provides excellent health benefits. One student with recurring migraine headaches reported, within a month after beginning taiji, that the frequency and duration had lessened noticeably. Her son, who suffered from sleeplessness, was able to start sleeping easily again after one simple lesson. Other students with nerve damage or leg injuries have been able to recover leg functionality much more quickly; seniors have learned to strengthen and keep their balance safely in order to avoid falls.

The list goes on and on. This yin-yang story of martial versus health does not have to be one or the other. Practiced together, as one, each side can learn from the other.


You may also like this related article: Tai Chi Tournaments (92)
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