Lavanya looks forward to her evening jog every day not only for the “runner’s high” but also the chance to catch a glimpse of the many groups of people practising Tai Chi gracefully at the community park. She knew that Tai Chi is a martial art that has become a favourite exercise of many worldwide. Still, she had several curious questions such as “How can a martial art form be so graceful” , “Can everyone do Tai Chi”, “Do I need to know Chinese to learn it” , “What the benefits are” etc, etc.
So, we caught up with Peter, who has been practising Tai Chi for more than three decades and asked him a few popular questions one might have about Tai Chi.
Peter Castle is a Tai Chi practitioner and instructor who himself got introduced to the practice after a sports injury. He is a remarkable person who is making a tremendous difference in many people’s lives.
I went to my first Tai Chi class in 1985 and have been using it for exercising and relaxation since then. When I retired ten years ago, I started teaching Tai Chi as a hobby. I teach on the Mid-North Coast of NSW. My answers below are based on my own understanding and experiences with Tai Chi. To find out more about the history of the martial art form, I recommend checking Wikipedia. I hope you enjoy the read!
Peter has tried answering some of the FAQs you may have about Tai Chi. Hope the article clarifies all your questions, kindles your interest in Tai Chi, and may even inspire you to learn the traditional martial art form.
Our questions and Peter’s answers for you…
1. What is Tai Chi?
Tai Chi is a gentle form of exercise, sometimes called “moving meditation”. It’s sneaky, though, because, at the end of a lesson or session, you realise your body has had quite a workout, especially legs and joints.
2. Who is it for?
Anybody, see my more detailed answer in question 12.
3. Isn’t Tai Chi originally a martial art?
On the internet, from various websites, you’ll see the martial arts side of the history of Tai Chi. In simple terms, it was used as a martial arts training tool, in particular, because the slow movements allowed moves to be fine-tuned.
Any older history is hard to research mainly because each new Chinese dynasty often destroyed anything related to the previous one, including records. There are records of Tai Chi-like exercises as far back as 500 BC, but these were mostly one-off exercises rather than ones joined together as in “modern” Tai Chi.
4. How did it become a form of exercise?
It’s hard to say when it became the exercise we now know. The change to becoming more of an exercise probably started when West met East in the 1800s and 1900s, and our cultures began to mix.
5. Do I need to know the Chinese language to learn Tai chi?
No, but I think it would be interesting to learn the language to understand the English translations of the original Chinese names of the moves.
6. There are so many forms/styles of Tai Chi. Which one should I start with?
A difficult question because there may not be many teachers to choose from in your local area. The most common form in the West is the Yang form, and it is probably the easiest to learn. The forms vary in particular in speed, and some of the moves are slightly different. Also, even in one form, the moves are very often linked together in a different order by different teachers. I would recommend finding a teacher you are comfortable with rather than worrying about forms.
7. Tai Chi movements appear slow. Will it be boring?
No time to be bored, especially when you are learning! You will spend a lot of time trying to get parts of your body to do what you want them to, with your weight on the correct foot, and still remembering to breathe in and out at the right time!
8. Is it a religious or spiritual practice?
9. Can a person from any religion or those who are non-religious practice it?
10. I am fascinated by those who practise Tai Chi with wooden swords and colourful hand fans. What form is that?
Apart from the wooden swords and fans, there is also the Tai Chi staff. Of the three, the fan is more a female weapon, and it usually has large knife type blades at the end and makes amazing whooshing noises when twirled.
The weapons are mainly for display purposes but can be used when doing Tai Chi on your own. I often use the sword when on my own.
11. When will a beginner be able to learn Tai Chi with weapons?
My classes are broken up into six levels, and I teach the Sword as a seventh level. This is because it’s far too hard to learn as a beginner. While only adding one extra component (the sword), it adds significantly more coordination issues. It’s good fun though and will impress your friends!
12. What will a typical class be like? What can I expect?
They will vary significantly by the instructor and whether or not they are teaching under the banner of a typical school (e.g. The Australian Academy of Tai Chi, where I first learnt).
For example, my class is divided into sections. I start with Shibashi, then traditional “moving” Tai Chi, next is the Sword, followed by two QiGong exercises, and finally a short meditation session (I’ve also done meditation teacher training). My class goes for about 90 minutes.
13. How do I learn Tai Chi as an absolute beginner?
Find a teacher, enrol for a class, just turn up and be prepared to have some fun. Even if you are not able to find a beginner class and can only find more advanced classes, still give it a go but just be patient!
14. What are the benefits of practising Tai Chi?
The various websites list heaps, but I’ll just tell you some of the feedback I’ve had from my classes, in no particular order.
- Firstly, increased coordination; teaching your brain to link parts of your body in a set sequence, and then remembering to breathe!
- Improved balance; in Tai Chi, you always have both feet on the ground when transferring weight, so you learn to be aware of controlling balance.
- Improved posture; something I am more aware of than the students. I often see them becoming more upright after only a couple of lessons.
- More aware of their body; from linking body and mind.
- More relaxed; they tell me they relax as soon as I turn on my music. It’s like a trigger to the brain as it knows what is coming up.
- Finally, fun, friendship and socialisation; I always encourage this side of a lesson.
15. Can those who do other intense forms of exercises, such as at the gym, also practice Tai chi?
There is no conflict. In fact, improved balance and coordination will help any other form of exercise.
16. Is there any cross-section of people for whom the exercise is not recommended?
A very interesting question! This will depend on the teacher you choose and the type of Tai Chi they teach. I’ll outline what I teach as an example of what people of varying abilities can look out for.
I have both Chair Tai Chi and “Stand-up” Tai Chi classes. I have also done voluntary Chair classes in local nursing homes for the last ten years.
Firstly the traditional “stand-up” classes. Yes, they are more suited to people who don’t have any mobility issues. Even so, I have had people with balance issues in classes who have a chair or walking frame nearby, which they hold on to if they feel “wonky”. Not ideal, though.
Then the chair classes. I have had chair classes with blind people (through Guide Dogs Associations), with people who use walkers for mobility and balance, with high care people in nursing homes, and with people in mental care areas in nursing homes. All have said they have really enjoyed and benefited from the exercises.
So to answer the question, Tai Chi will suit almost anyone as long as you find the type of class that fits your requirements.
Hope this helps and leads to you taking up Tai Chi.
Cheers, Peter Castle
Edited by love4wellness | Images: canva.com & Peter Castle | Lavanya is the co-founder, love4wellness.com