For about 18 months now, I've been taking Tai Chi classes. Yep, that's right, Tai Chi: that slow moving, serene, "breath-a-lot thing" that you've probably seen on TV and read about in countless types of media. It's often said that the art form of Tai Chi can "enhance your fitness" and become an almost therapeutic relaxation method, even prevent you from falling ill so often and improve your memory. But then there all these other things I've found have improved within my life since starting, which don't always get the exposure they deserve. So I'm here to set things straight, and reveal to you the secret, dazzling underbelly of true Tai Chi, and the seriously amazing effects it can evoke.
The movement of Tai Chi is all about control through fluidity, and being able to sustain a usually slow pace through the "Form". This "Form" consists of a set of moves (in mine, known as The White Crane Form, there are 65), which all have a potential for martial application. Where I train, students are drip fed the moves, allowing only a new move to be learnt once the previous has been fully understood and executed.
This long process can often be frustrating, practicing over and over the same set of moves before another can be given. But this creates patience. A sturdy amount of it too. When you're going through the Form, one's choice to take it steady means it often will take a while to get through the entire set, and so to stay cool and determined with that, you have to be patient; there's no other choice. When this occurs on a weekly basis, you truly begin to build up that core control of time that can be transferred to almost everything else in your lifestyle.
Although Tai Chi is considered a soft-style martial art, it doesn't mean that its application for self-defence is any less lethal than that of its sister art, Kung Fu. Just take a look at this video, and then try and tell me that Tai Chi is just for old people and self-proclaimed hippies:
Whilst it would take an incredibly experienced student to pull off the level of martial prowess demonstrated in this video, those with even the base skills of Tai Chi can and will feel the affects it has on stance, reflex and retaliation in the face of physical adversity. Just the other day I found myself at odds with a significantly larger guy at school, as he held a plastic ruler carved crudely at the end to mimic the aesthetic of a knife. (Don't worry, it wasn't anything serious, he was just joking around for the most part.) So as he feints a lunge at me, I find myself grabbing his forth-right arm, and going into a move reminiscent of one known as "Cross to The Stretch". Next thing I know, his head's recoiling from my outstretched palm that somehow found its way to his face, giving him a sharp smack on the nose.
Although he was surprised I was capable of such resistance, he luckily accepted my apologies and wasn't that bothered over it (he's hard skinned, let's say), so just shrugged it off and walked away. But the point I'm trying to make is that without my Tai Chi knowledge, there was no way that whole encounter would have gone the way it did. The reaction I had was a subconscious reflex, embedded within me simply by the 16 or so moves I know and the year and a half of Tai Chi lessons.
To be honest, I didn't even know myself that I was capable of such self defence, but that just goes to show how much Tai Chi does for you behind closed doors. And it's not just defence these newly found reflexes could come in handy, as things like catching, landing and stopping could all be improved by the form. So ultimately, Tai Chi could one day save your life, and you wouldn't even know it until it happened...
(Disclaimer: Tai Chi not actual form of life insurance)
When practising Tai Chi and its forms, you're often encouraged to go into the "Thousand Yard Stare", detaching yourself from everything else around you, yet still being fully aware of their movements. It's an odd concept, but an easy one once you get the hang of it. The process of this creates a link between you and your motions, allowing an intense focus to take hold. Your eyes remain coldly on that far point in the distance, yet your mind - now clear of distractions - moves your limbs in a poetic fashion, layering that muscle memory deep into the brain's excesses. As this happens, there should be silence all around, with nothing but the tip-tap of that essential foot work to accompany the steely resolve of someone thinking and living solely within those Tai Chi movements.
Besides making you feel undeniably mystical, the Thousand Yard Stare can be applied in other life-situations that require focusing a huge deal on physicality and even mentality. For me, I try this before and after exam papers, when I've got a few minutes either side of the test. When you get into that rock-solid frame of mind, nearly anything seems possible. Matched with the necessary "Breath in through your nose and out through your mouth", this aspect of Tai Chi can bring a shed-load of focus into whatever it is you need doing. Unless it's the Force: believe me when I say that Tai Chi does not give you Jedi powers. Stupid internet rumours...
4. Rhythm, Grace and Balance
People often forget that "Martial Art" is a two word phrase, and that that second word is just as important as the first. When you see someone performing Tai Chi, regardless of the style, you can't deny its strangely hypnotic attractiveness. The slow lull of timed movements like a stream rolling smoothly down its course is what makes Tai Chi so unique; what makes it an art. And this lends the participant an entire skill set of wonder...
|Just your average Tai Chi student.|
5. People Will Think You're Awesome
Whenever I get round to telling people that I do Tai Chi, there's always this underlying smugness about it, because people are usually surprised; followed by impressed. At least that's the way it seems when their eye-brows peak and their eyes widen, mouth opening to say something like "Really? Cool.", and then bow down to your utter epicness. Okay, so maybe the bowing happens metaphorically, but the fact remains (despite no independent studies to say so): Tai Chi sounds awesome.
An interesting and culturally varied activity like this has the power to turn people's perceptions from boring office worker to sophisticated zen master; naive teenager to mature and cultured young adult; fitness meat-head to calm and focused health enthusiast. Then there's a shroud of mystery around this Asian phenomenon, that acquaintances find fascinating - like an ancient, deadly secret that only Tai Chi students know.
Socially, this can give great benefits. It's a topic that sparks talking points (What? Where? Why? Is That...? I used to do... etc), gives another dimension to character and generally puts you in a light that makes you seem more down to earth, more approachable, more diverse. Slap Tai Chi on a good CV, and employers can see (if they're worth their salt) that you've got a level-headed work ethic, a sturdy determination and a edgy personality that'll be great for the chosen job.
Plus you'll look like a bad-ass. So if all else fails, there's still that...
If this piece has you interested in Tai Chi, and you want to find out where to learn, simply google Tai Chi + your local area and see what comes up. You'd be surprised at how popular and common it really is. And if that local area happens to be Horsham (UK) or its outlying areas (West Sussex), why not try White Crane Academy and see me there!