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Frequently asked questions

Below is a selection of questions about Tai Chi Chuan and related topics.

If you don't find the answer to your question here please e mail us with your (sensible) question and we'll do our best to answer it and include it and the answer on this page.

  • What is Tai Chi Chuan?

  • What is Chi?

  • What's the difference between Tai Chi and Tai Chi Chuan?

  • Is Tai Ji Quan the same as Tai Chi Chuan?

  • If it's a martial art does it involve fighting in class?

  • Is Tai Chi good for health?

  • What are the benefits of taking up Tai Chi Chuan

  • What are Yin and Yang and what have they got to do with Tai Chi Chuan?

  • Is the Chi in Chi Kung the same as the Chi in Tai Chi Chuan?

  • Bamboo3

    What is Tai Chi Chuan?

    Tai Chi Chuan is a Martial Art whose origins can be reliably traced back to China circa 1850, though some authors say the origins are earlier than that. It has become known more widely as an exercise system through its use of continuous circular movements and weight shifting employing bending and stretching to maintain suppleness and flexibilty as well as good control of balance, breathing and concentration (focus). This has led to it being nicknamed 'Meditation in motion' or more waggishly 'Medication in motion'. There are many aspects to Tai Chi Chuan and the syllabus is large, but the most commonly seen aspect is 'The Form'. This is an invariant sequence of movements and postures performed slowly and continuously by the players and which works through all the systems of the body gently exercising them by the use of the stretching and relaxing movements. The unique feature of Tai Chi Chuan is its use of Taoist philosophy of Yin and Yang which explains how all the movements and martial tactics can be understood and developed though the use of this concept.

    The martial side of Tai Chi Chuan is seen through an activity known as 'push hands'. There is training pushing hads which is a set of partner exercises, carried out in the training hall and which build sensitivity and responsiveness to an opponent's incoming force and the ability to cope through the technique of neutralising i.e. emptying the opponents force. There is also freestyle push hands which use of any of the push hands techniques and form applications learned in training but used in combat mode, this can be seen iin a fixed feet contest at te end of the video linked below. This goes along with learning the martial applications of The Form There are also weapons forms, classically these are the single edged sword or Sabre, the double edged sword and the spear. These are usually only taught at the more advanced levels of training. Samples of these forms can be seen in the video published on YouTube by the Toronto Academy.

    There is also a demonstration of the use of spin energy by Grandmaster Wu kwong Yu and it's relation to the form 'Single lotus kick'.

    What is Chi?

    This is a difficult question to answer without resorting to trite explanations that have been repeated and boiler plated until they appear to be true. It is not helped by the fact that there are some 29 definitions of Chi in the Oxford Chinese dictionary. Basically Chi is the unseen or non-material part of the world and is more or less synonymous with the western concept of Energy. It is what transforms matter and is itself transformed by the matter it passes through. We perceive the effects of energy or Chi on matter, but not the chi or energy itself. Where it becomes contentious is that some people will claim Chi is Vital energy and unique to living things. This concept belongs to the philosophy of vitalism which has largely been discredited by scientific investigation, but is still adhered to by various disciplines, one of which is traditional Chinese Medicine. There is no doubt that energy is required for living processes, but whether or not it is a form of energy that is specific to life is not proven and probably not provable. However as we tend to think of ourselves as comprising Mind, Body and Spirit, two of which are insubstantial i.e. unseeable, we are probably predisposed to thinking in a vitalistic way. One way of addressing the problem is that the Chi that can be felt in our bodies is part of a subjective reality that we create for ourselves possibly as a coping mechanism to explain the physical changes in the body and that the outer objective reality, not subject to the influence of mind, is the stuff of scientific investigation.

    What's the difference between Tai Chi and Tai Chi Chuan?

    The term Tai Chi (太 极) comes from the Taoist philosophy of change, and literally translates as 'Supreme Ultimate' and is part of the Taoist Canon of concepts that form the philosophy of Taoism. The term Chuan (拳) means fist or movement and in some contexts fighting or boxing. Thus Tai Chi Chuan is boxing according to (or observing) Tai Chi principles.

    Is Tai Ji Quan the same as Tai Chi Chuan?

    Yes. They are same terms but use different romanised transliterations of the same Chinese terms 太 极 拳. Tai Ji Quan is the Pinyin form for the terms and Tai Chi Chuan is the Wade Giles form for the terms.
    If it's a martial art does it involve fighting in class?

    The way in which Tai Chi chuan is taught can be somewhat different to other martial arts. We are concerned first and foremost with the achievement of robust health, because without good health you will have difficulty being an effective martial artist. So to begin with there is very little in the way of physical contact as students learn the set of movements known as The Form. Once The Form is learned it marks the end of the beginner level and the intermediate level is when the martial training really begins. Some of the forms may have had their applications demonstrated to students at the beginner level, but this is usually to explain how the form works and why it should be done in a precise way. Having said all this it basically comes down the skill and interests of the instructor i.e. whether he/she has been trained in the martial side of Tai Chi Chuan and organises the classes to have some martial content. It also depends on whether or not the student is interested in the martial side of Tai Chi Chuan. Different schools operate in different ways. It is also influenced by the mix of people in a class. A class of 20 - 40 year old men is much more likely to be interested in the Martial side of Tai Chi Chuan, than a class of 70 - 80 year olds.
    Is Tai Chi good for health?

    This is another of those questions for which the answer must always start with - 'it depends'. Most forms of exercise are good for both mental and physical health as long as life and limb are not at risk, and because exercise is usually taken in the company of others is good for what I like to call social health as well. However it depends on what is wrong with the person seeking help through the use of Tai Chi Chuan.

    Studies have shown that Tai Chi Chuan can lead to improvement in overall health and in some cases leading to an amelioration of symptoms of conditions like diabetes and Fibromyalgia. Because Tai Chi works on improving posture, balance, coordination and focus it strengthens core musculature which is key to reducing the risk of falling in the elderly, and many studies have shown that practicing Tai Chi does exactly that. So in general Tai Chi is good for one's health and well being on many levels, however some exaggerated claims are also made too. Tai Chi Chuan will not cure cancer for instance though along with other treatments it might improve the chances of survival.

    In many studies Tai Chi has been shown to be as effective as other medical treatments in aiding a patients recovery after for instance heart surgery, and certainly no worse than conventional methods. In which case it is an example of the the Hippocratic principle "first, do no harm".

    What are the benefits of taking up Tai Chi Chuan

    There are many benefits to practicing Tai Chi Chuan. One can achieve better posture, balance, coordination, focus and fitness so there is a general improvement in the sense of well being. One of the key features of practicing Tai Chi Chuan is the necessity to relax properly, this will lead to a reduction in the feelings and effects of stress.

    Besides improvements in the physical and mental well being there is also the introduction to a different culture and way of thought that feeds the mind and intellect and offers a different view of the world. Intellectual or academic interest can also be pursued by studying the history and philosophy of Tai Chi. Then there is the added benefit of learning the martial side which will teach the student how to use their Tai Chi Chuan as a form of self-defense, should it be needed. In that sense it parallels the skills in the use of language. If one doesn't have the words to express oneself then it is difficult to counter an argument. If one does not have the moves to counter an attack then one reverts to crude brute force, in which the big and powerful will prevail. However there are no guarantees because your opponent may be even more skilled than you!

    What are Yin and Yang and what have they got to do with Tai Chi Chuan

    labelled Yin Yang Diagram

    Yin and Yang are the two fundamental forces that are responsible for all the changes in the universe.

    They are symbolised in the diagram above - the 'TaiJi Tu'. Yin has attributes such as soft, cool, dark, deep, heavy, receding, downward, negative, empty, contracting, etc. depending on what you are describing whether it is matter, energy or behaviour. Yang has attributes like hot, light, expanding, high, hard, upward, outward, assertive, postive, full etc etc again depending upon what you are talking about.

    Although generally taken as a symbol of harmony and balance the Tai Ji Tu actually describes the process of change at a single event level.

    If one starts at the bottom of the diagram one can see Yin at its maximum and Yang at its minimum. If one follows the diagram round to the top one can see that Yang has increased to maximum and Yin is beginning to emerge at its minimum, before beginning to increase in size once more. At its maximum Yang transforms into Yin and vice versa. Thus reflecting the process of continual change.

    The sine wave like interface between the Yin and Yang is another description of the process of change using the wave to indicate the relative and continuous relationship between the two forces, their peak and trough, zenith and nadir, apogee and perigree, two apparent opposites that are in fact representations of the one process of change. a wave is defined as a disturbance that travels through space and matter transferring energy from one place to another, and energy moves in the same direction as the wave.

    Sine wave Waves come in many forms or shapes e.g., square waves, saw tooth waves, Triangular waves etc and all show the energy rising and falling as they progress in much the same way as indicated by the yin yang diagram The sine wave indicates the smoothness of the energy transition.

    The two small dots indicate that in the real world neither Yin nor Yang is pure but contains a small element of the other which is the so-called 'seed of change'. In physical terms this is the hardness in the softness and the softness in the hardness, an important principle when applying these ideas to movement.

    Is the Chi in Chi Kung the same as the Chi in Tai Chi Chuan?

    No. These homophones would seem to be the same, because they sound alike but if one looks at the Chinese pictograms for the two words it is easily seen that they are quite different.

    The Chi in Chi Kung also written as Qi Gong translates as breath work i.e. breathing exercises, is written thus:

    Qi in Qi Gong

    The Chi in Tai Chi Chuan also written as TaiJi Quan is written thus:

    Qi in TaiJiQuan

    For an explanation of Tai Chi Chuan (TaiJi Quan) see above.