What is Taijiquan? (Tai Chi)
alternative spellings: Tai Chi, T'ai Ch'i Ch'uan, Taiji)
"Taiji" - Grand Ultimate
"Quan" - Fist
(Please note - though we prefer the more traditional Pin Yin spelling: "Taijiquan" we generally, but not always, use "Tai Chi" throughout the site because it is a more recognized spelling. For our purposes the reference to art is the same).
Taijiquan (Tai Chi) is one of the most respected practices for exercise, meditation and martial arts. The varied and exquisitely crafted "frames" or "forms" we see today in parks & practice halls all over the world originated in the seventeenth century with the Chen Family. This origin birthed other prominent family lineages: Yang, Wu Hao, Wu, and Sun, each with their own interpretations of the principles and movements.
Numerous studies in both Eastern and Western scientific frameworks show the benefits of Tai Chi. The immediate benefits of studying Tai Chi are better balance, more relaxation and fun! Long-term benefits include a stronger musculo-skeletal system with better alignment and increased bone density; an improved neurological system with greater awareness and refined hand-eye coordination; stronger immune and endocrine systems; reduced blood pressure, cardiac fitness and more energy; reduced pain from arthritis and aging processes, greater mental clarity and emotional balance; lower stress; and a deepened feeling for the interconnectedness and harmony of life.
You may have heard that Tai Chi is an "easy" exercise. This is a significant misnomer! You will be surprised at how challenging this "slow" movement system is. Like many other physical fitness exercises, Tai Chi education is a systematic approach to coordinating the body and the mind. Correct physical alignment is first and foremost, and a great deal of time is spent re-educating the body from the detrimental effects of injury, illness and life-long patterns that cause pain and dysfunction. Tai Chi is low impact, easy on the adrenals and focuses on relaxation, mental concentration and internal energy.
Tai Chi is a multilayered art form. It takes time. Like an onion, it has layers that peel and peel some more. It is learning how to train, how to practice. The philosophical and cultural underpinnings of Tai Chi may be unfamiliar to the Western trained mind. All and all, it is not always easy to grasp slowing down, being relaxed, adjusting to circumstances rather than controlling them. Getting a feel for "qi" takes time too, but learning Tai Chi is very interesting and you will be pleasantly surprised to see how quickly you can actually improve many aspects of your mind and body! No matter what shape you are in, no matter what health concerns you have, whether you have encountered Chinese thought before or not, you will most assuredly reap the rewards of balance, stress reduction, strength and awareness that Taijiquan has to offer, as long as you spend some time learning it.
Do not be intimidated by the term Martial Art when you hear it associated with Tai Chi. Over the centuries, Chen Taijiquan still maintains its martial roots but has also grown and matured with the times. You do not have to study Tai Chi for self-defense; it is highly applicable in modern society for calming the mind and defending ourselves against the ravages of the elements and time. Tai Chi may very well be unique in this regard - the principles are the same but the applications are infinite. As Grandmaster Chen Xiao Wang says, "Good Taijiquan is good for health and good for martial skill." No matter where your interests on the spectrum lay, invest your time in this art, and you will have something utterly sustainable and very beautiful to carry with you throughout your entire life.
Excellent resources for the history of Taijiquan:
The Essence of Taijiquan by David Gaffney & Davidine Sim
Chen Taijiquan: The Source of Taiji Boxing by David Gaffney & Davidine Sim
Chen: Living Taijiquan in the Classical Style
These studies are excellent indications of some of the important health benefits of Tai Chi:
Induction of Official Branch School of Chenjiagou Xue Xiao
(Chen Village School)
Chenjiagou, China, 2013
Kimberly Ivy has been studying Yang and Chen Style Taijiquan (Tai Chi) for 30 years. In 2002, she met Grandmaster Chen Xiao Wang, 19th Generation Lineage Holder of Chen Taijiquan, and never looked back. Since then, Ms. Ivy has cultivated a strong relationship with the Chen Family. She became a direct student (formal disciple, 20th Generation) of Grandmaster Chen Xiao Wang in 2006. In 2013, Embrace The Moon became the Official Washington State (Seattle) Branch of the Chenjiagou School, the original Taijiquan school from the Chen Village. Ms. Ivy is ranked 6th Duan Wei by the International WuShu Association. Embrace The Moon is one of the few schools in the country with this direct lineage and the only school in the Pacific Northwest to host the Chen family during their US visits.
Learning Taijiquan (Tai Chi)
Students who study at Embrace The Moon receive the most authentic and up-to-date training & research available. With our school you will build a good foundation from the ground up. We follow the traditional curriculum and teach with traditional methods. You will definitely learn at your own level and pace; there is no competition or rank. Take your time, challenge your thighs and your neurons. Have fun.
Tai Chi classes include several elements. We integrate gentle preparation exercises to warm up, loosen, strengthen and tone the body. We practice standing meditation to calm down, activate energy and improve posture. And we learn "Reeling Silk exercises," simple, clear movement and meditation sequences that convey the most basic elements of Tai Chi body/mind coordination. After students get a sense of the fundamentals, which in and of themselves bring rewards, learning the basic form, the Laojia Yilu ("Old Frame, First Road") is next. This form is the traditional foundation form from which all other Taijiquan paths arose. Travelers to the Chen Village will see this form practiced everywhere, from the training halls to the side of the road, to the cornfields. It is a truly rewarding study, a deep well of learning that, thanks to the efforts of the entire Chen Family and their global community of devoted practitioners, has become one of the most popular and highly respected forms in the world. The form is unparalleled in its capacity to impart to beginners of all ages & fitness levels a clear, sustainable footing for lifelong practice.
Embrace The Moon teaches the traditional foundation frame (form), the Laojia Yilu ("Old Frame, First Road"). Even in the Chen Village itself it is learned for many many years before anything else is introduced. Normally we don't say how long it will take because it is a lifelong learning process. And yet, it is natural to want to know "how long" it will take to learn the basic form. Depending on your relationship to movement, your fitness condition and how often you practice on your own, I would estimate 1 - 3 years. How long will it take to reap the benefits? The moment you walk in the door.
From there, the path is wide and open. Students wishing to develop further expertise & deepen the benefits that Tai Chi offers may continue onto more advanced work and forms in the curriculum including more technical study and applications.