Q. The tai chi form taught to me in my school has no connection to the martial art sparring exercise we do. Why is tai chi often referred to as a martial art?
A. When tai chi form is practiced without the Internal Discipline, it has very little relationship to martial arts. It becomes just a slow, relaxed dance, or, in the other extreme, a poorly executed Karate. Internal discipline teaches one how to mobilize one's powerful internal energy and deliver it efficiently. It is the foundation to fa jing (fa jin) and martial arts applications. Without it, during sparring, one has to use external muscle power not much different from those external martial arts.
How one builds this martial art foundation from Internal Discipline in Classical Tai Chi
is the subject of the DVD Vol. III Classical Tai Chi – Tao of Martial Arts Applications.
What are the health benefits of learning Tai
early Tai Chi master once wrote that the ultimate
purpose of learning Tai Chi was to live forever
in the spring season of your life. Tai Chi is
not just for longevity, but also for robustness,
even at an old age. The health benefits of Classical
Tai Chi may be viewed from several different
angles and at different levels, all of which
tie in strongly with the practice of Internal
examining the movements of very young children,
we see that their movements of arms and legs
often originate from their torso, their movements
are relaxed and without tension. As we grow older
our movements tend to concentrate on our arms,
legs and shoulders and less on our torso: also,
tension and stiffness start to creep into our
movements. Gradually, we loose touch with the
torso. We can only do simple movements such as
the popular ab exercises but cannot perform the
subtle, intricate, and powerful movements that
the torso inherently is capable of. We talk about
the dexterity of hands or feet, not knowing that
the torso can be developed to have just as much
dexterity, but think of the torso as a dull part
of the body.
stagnation in the torso sets in. We often see
the elderly walking with a shuffle—the
walking movement no longer extends into the torso.
With all the major organs and complex circulatory
system residing in the torso, it's easy to understand
the adverse effect of inaction and stagnation
of the torso on the health of the body. One may
assert that the onset of internal rigor mortis
actually precedes death!
Tai Chi may be considered as a means to return
to childhood. The Internal Discipline of the
Form movements first tunes the nervous system
in the body so that the complex and powerful
internal movements will become natural and spontaneous.
In China, a healthy and well-tuned nervous system
is considered to be paramount to a healthy body.
That is the importance of Qi, see more discussion
of Qi in the next question. Physically, the internal
movements penetrate to the deep recesses of the
torso, stimulating and invigorating the organs
and the circulation systems in the torso. Enhancement
of the function of the intestine and kidney are
immediate when tai chi is played with Internal
Discipline. Other benefits are more long term.
exercise routines, including martial arts, are long on
external movements and short on internal
movements, in other words, exercising the parts
of the body which are already over-used for an
active person while neglecting the portion of
the body which needs exercise. Worse yet, these
routines often subject the shoulder, knee, the
back and other joints with ill-conceived repetitive,
unnatural movements. No wonder many active people
eventually develop joint problems. Classical
Tai Chi, through the experience of multi-generations
of practitioners who practice from a young age
until the end of life, fully grasp the importance
of proper postures and movements to protect and
strengthening the practitioner’s joints
for long term, repetitive practice. Such considerations
are pointed out throughout the DVD set, particularly
in the segments titled “Insight into Body
Mechanics” Vol. I Tai Chi Overview, “Tai
Chi Walk” Vol. II, “Stance
of the Feet” and “Step Size” Vol.
II. These considerations are only understood
recently with current understanding of body mechanics
and often used by modern physical therapists.
Yet, it was put into rigorous practice in Classical
Tai Chi centuries ago. As a result, beginning
practitioners often cite reduced or eliminated
back pain and weakness as the first benefits
of practicing Classical Tai Chi.
the movement of pushing the arm forward, as shown
at the beginning of this site, the elbow points
downward and stays in front of the body. In this
way, the arm is solidly braced so it can deliver
the powerful internal energy to opponent without
buckling during martial art application. The
position of the elbow also protects the mid portion
of the body. From a health viewpoint, this movement
fully stretches and relaxes the upper back, tuning
and strengthening it. Those who have pain in
their upper back often find that playing the
Tai Chi form alleviates their problem. Throughout
the Tai Chi form movements, the synergy between
martial art and health is spontaneous and natural
aspect of Tai Chi has to satisfy two requirements
simultaneously; 1) it has to be useful for martial
art applications. 2) useful for health benefits.
Classical Tai Chi accomplishes these goals superbly.
For example, playing the Tai Chi with Internal
Discipline fully utilizes the powerful core of
the body, the abdomen and the back, in its motion.
It is also a uniquely effective means of invigorating
the internal organs, circulatory systems and
What are the mental aspects of Tai Chi?
Chi, or Taiji, is known as meditation in motion
and is closely related to Qi Gong. Both meditation
and certain types of Qi Gong follow a "top-down" approach,
with the mind initiating the meditative state
or the mind initiating the Qi flow.
Chi follows more of a "bottom up" approach.
It is the movement with the Internal Discipline
that plays an important role in influencing the
mental state of the practitioner. In order to
perform the internal movements, the beginner
must focus intensely inward trying to communicate
with the long neglected nervous system in the
torso. When the student becomes a proficient
practitioner, playing the form becomes subconscious
without the need to think. The mind is clear,
except for the enjoyable sensation of internal
energy flowing and stretching at the yin and
yang junction. It is important to learn the Tai
Chi form rigorously, so this sensation can circulate
continuously in the body without break. Any fault
in the form will break the continuity of the
How long and how often should I practice?
should practice formally for at least 30 minutes
every day. One of the advantages of Tai Chi is
that it requires very little space to practice.
You can do it anywhere. You should also supplement
with informal practice. During your spare time,
like waiting in a line, you can practice lifting
and setting down your foot using Internal Discipline.
Or, you can practice the quarter- body movement
of the arm while sitting in the car. By taking
advantage of these moments for informal practice,
you can integrate Tai Chi’s internal movements
into your everyday life, improving your skills
and reaping the health benefits.
Why do you emphasize "classical" Tai
Chi; and not "Wu" Tai Chi?
to my teacher Grand Master Young Wabu, he heard
his teacher, the legendary master Wu Chian Chuan
said that Wu did not change the Yang Tai Chi
learned from the Yang’s. In fact, Wu Chian
Chuan emphatically said, "It can not be
fact is that the knowledge cycle of learning
the classical Tai Chi to understand its eventual
consequences is very long. To learn the Tai Chi
form takes several years to be proficient. To
test the effectiveness of what has been learned
in actual martial art application takes another
few years. To confirm what the health implications
are, especially during older age, requires a
human generation. Here we have the classical
Tai Chi with its numerous components meticulously
optimized to satisfy both the requirements of
martial art application and health benefits.
It must be a multi-generation effort. When Wu
Chian Chuan taught my teacher, Tai Chi was already
in such an advanced state. One can fully appreciate
what he said, "It can not be changed".
four internal movements shown at the beginning
of this web site seem complicated and difficult
to learn. How can I learn the entire
long form within a reasonable time?
instructional DVD makes the learning process
easier. It explains the intent of the movement,
both for health or martial art purposes, helping
you to understand why a move has to be executed
in certain way. The instruction emphasizes the
consistencies and common thread among different
moves throughout the lessons. You may be able
to grasp the essentials of a movement before
you can actually perform the move correctly and
you can work toward perfecting the move at your
the body is accustomed to several internal moves,
it becomes easier to learn other moves. After
all, the goal of learning Tai Chi in such rigorous
way is to achieve eventual freedom in ones movement,
as any movement will naturally and instinctively
following the principle of Tai Chi.
do not want to minimize the time and effort required
to learn Classical Tai Chi, but beginners and
advanced students alike can see immediate benefits
and cherish the enjoyable sensations from internal
movements. Although the path of learning may
be long and challenging, it is stimulating and
rewarding all the way.