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.