Considered for centuries to be the cultural treasure of China, Tai Chi has now become a gift to the entire world.
Tai Chi is based upon a profound body of principles, theories and techniques. Chen style Tai Chi was created by Chen Wangting, a 17th century royal guard. Shrouded in secrecy until the early 20th century, Tai Chi is now practised widely throughout the western world.
Before the invention of firearms, the purpose and attitude of martial arts was serious, as the security of an individual, family, or community depended on it. Survival was its foremost purpose, not the health, meditative or aesthetic qualities, although practitioners did derive considerable health benefits as a by-product of the art.
Central to Chen Wangting’s boxing method was the concept of Yin and Yang, the all-encompassing notion of complementary opposites that underpins Chinese culture and philosophy to the present day. Yin and Yang represent the perpetual process of change and flux, such as night and day, female and male, decay and growth.
Within the parameters of Tai Chi, the yin and yang theory is applied in a practical way. The aim is to harmonise opposing elements until they reach a state of balance.
Perhaps the greatest innovation of Chen Wangting was the assimilation into his martial arts system of the ancient health method of daoyin (leading and guiding energy ) and tu-na (expelling and drawing energy ), in addition to Daoist theories on consciousness guiding energy.
By incorporating the practise of daoyin and tu-na into the martial exercise, Tai Chi became a holistic training system in which practitioners’ mental concentration, breathing and movements are intimately co-ordinated. This paved the way for Tai Chi’s future use as an exercise system suitable for all, regardless of age and health status.
Research has documented numerous health benefits of Tai Chi, including reduced blood pressure, better sleep, digestion and blood circulation, improved function of the immune system, release of tension, pain reduction, arthritis and osteoporosis care, promotion of self discipline and enjoyment of exercise and many more. Practising Tai Chi encourages regulated, natural breathing and a calm mind.
Changed little through the passing generations, this art draws increasing numbers of practitioners by the aesthetic nature of its movements. It combines power, grace and agility, and is a means of self expression for many.
What do I need to start - which school or teacher should I choose?
It is well worth the time to research a little before you start practising Tai Chi, as there are many teachers with varying skills and experiences.
Firstly, The development of the teacher will largely depend on the quality of the instruction they themselves received. Who is their Tai Chi teacher? Where do they learn?
If the Tai Chi teacher only attended Master classes once a year or every six months, or in some cases not at all. It would simply not be enough to try and work with and correct students postures, so their attendance at seminars and classes needs to be looked at.
If the teacher has an accomplished skilled teacher and attended regular courses, they still need to practise themselves. The skill of the teacher will be evident in their body movements and also in the movements of their students, who practise enough to become skilled.
So, if you feel after some research that the teacher is of good standard then you just need contact them or attend a lecture. To get a feel for their character, and whether you think they would be someone you could enjoy and benefit learning from.
Keith Ryan, a qualified professional tai chi teacher at Athlone and Tullamore Tai Chi schools, is providing a free talk and demo on Wednesday, May 1, at 7.30pm in St. Peter’s National School Hall, Excise Street, Athlone.
Beginners classes start on Wednesday, May 8, at 10am at 4, Bastion Street and at 7.30pm in St. Peter’s National School Hall, Excise Street, Athlone. All are welcome.
Keith is a senior student of Grandmaster Wang Hui Jun, the three times national champion of China. Keith began his training in 2006 and has successfully represented Ireland at the world international championships in China winning two silver medals. Keith has been invited by organisations to teach and lecture on tai chi, promoting mental and physical health.
Keith has just returned from an intensive training course with master Wang Hui Jun in England, where he trained alongside 25 more professional Tai Chi practitioners form around the world.