Why Tai Chi Is the Most Commonly-Misunderstood Martial Art

In a great many media outlets, Tai Chi has been portrayed as a slow, meditative and yogic style of martial arts.  Many Tai Chi instructors will agree that the study and practice of the martial art form will improve physical health, co-ordination and balance and relieve practitioners of all ages of anxiety and tension.  However, the idea that Tai Chi martial arts is reserved for retirees in parks (as some American movies would have us believe) is reductive of the self-defensive qualities that sit at the core of Tai Chi.  As a Tai Chi instructor with over 30 years’ experience in studying and teaching Tai Chi classes in London and Kent, I want to share my answers to some of Tai Chi’s most common misconceptions.

Is there More than One Form of Tai Chi?

Yes, and because they are not widely advertised, or depicted in film and media may excuse the misunderstanding surrounding Tai Chi as a self-defence martial art.  Whilst graceful movements and deep concentration are often fundamental to the various forms of Tai Chi, there is much more to the martial art than this.  For example, five major Tai Chi martial arts are practiced throughout China and the west.  These are: Chen, Yang, Wu-Hao, Wu and Sun. In addition, San Shou (free hand fighting form) is practised, and all styles of tai chi have weapons forms.

Is Tai Chi Martial Arts Like Yoga?

It is true that there are shared aspects of yoga and Tai Chi. Where yoga focuses on the movement into and out of postures and poses, Tai Chi does similarly with stances. They both rely upon balance, enhancing the body’s strength and elasticity. However, the purpose of yoga is in large part to relax. Here, a distinction must be made between yoga and Tai Chi, since the latter is about controlling the space or energy that sits between relaxation and tension. In general, Tai Chi will often have more continual flowing movement than yoga too. These shared qualities of Tai Chi and yoga can certainly be beneficial for older people whose mobility and balance can naturally deteriorate over time.

Where Do Tai Chi and Self-Defence Come Together?

The idea of Tai Chi is to simply stop the attacker in their tracks as quickly as possible to end the fight.  When a Tai Chi instructor teaches the slow flowing movements which are associated with Tai Chi it allows students to understand and acutely learn the mechanics of the body during each self-defence technique.  Within Tai Chi martial arts, the self-defensive manipulations of the body all begin with the importance of stances. A strong stance alongside purposeful sequences of movement enables practitioners to use their component’s energy against himself; using the circle to return energy as smoothly as possible, preferably without the attacker realising that this is what has happened.

Do Tai Chi Practitioners Need to Meditate?

Tai Chi is sometimes referred to as 'meditation in movement'.  It is about calming the body, and ensuring that all movement comes from the centre – the 'dantian'; it is about moving with as little movement as necessary. Unsurprisingly then, the meditative qualities of Tai Chi is an important aspect to our Tai Chi classes in London and Kent.  Anyone practicing Tai Chi will feel a distinctive meditative benefit to practicing the martial art. However, new practitioners do not need to have a specific meditative background in Tai Chi to gain substantial benefits from learning Tai Chi.

Do Practitioners Need to Wear Shoes and a Uniform?

Tai Chi can be performed either barefoot or in flat shoes. Tai Chi shoes are merely minimal slipper-like foot covers. Sports shoes with a strong grip or tread on the soles can inhibit movement.

As any Tai Chi instructor will tell you, there is no specific uniform required to practice the martial art.  Practitioners are advised to opt for loose fitting clothes that won’t inhibit movement in any way.  Anyone can opt to wear a uniform which is akin to silk pyjamas, allowing for optimal free-flowing movement.  These are often used in demonstration because they help to make the joints of the body appear more curved than angular.

Do Tai Chi Instructors Need to Be Certified?

In short, yes, instructors do need to be certified if teaching Tai Chi.  However, if you want to learn the martial arts, it’s best to find out how long the Tai Chi instructor has been practicing, and whether they teach Tai Chi martial art defence as well as the meditative “soft” art.  Something else to note is that anyone can set up as a tai chi teacher with only one week of training, therefore when looking for Tai Chi classes in London and Kent, or throughout the UK, I would always suggest researching the practitioner.

From reading this blog, I hope that I have cleared some misconceptions and left you with a better understanding of Tai Chi as a martial art.  When looking for a Tai Chi instructor, if you do your research and ask questions, your journey in Tai Chi will be far more fulfilling, both mentally and physically.  If you would like to take your first step with Tai Chi, why not come along to one of our beginners’ Tai Chi classes in London or Kent. Get in touch today to learn more.

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