Reviewer: Miss Cai
A holistic exercise that fully embraces mind, body and spirit, Tai Chi Chuan is similar to Yoga and it was many, many years ago when I first learnt Tai Chi (also known as Taiji) with my father… but some memories will always stick.
Moving gracefully with awareness, focused movement preceding stillness paired with the soul of your breath, along with the careful placement of steps in an elegant display of footwork; slow actions seemingly languid and predictable only to be broken by a sudden burst of energy in quick jumps and the loud stamping of your foot… Chen style Taiji, recognised as a form of martial arts, differs greatly from the more commonly practised Yang style, popularised by Asian elderly for its many health benefits.
Taiji Chuan is closely related to meditation. There is breath work involved, and it helps improve the general circulation of energy with the body and helps fight against inflammation of the lymph nodes and other glands, which TCM (traditional Chinese medication) believes that in-balance of the organs would cause illness to attach the human body.
From what I was taught, the pugilistic movements of the Chen style was the original form of Taiji (like how Ashtanga is to Yoga), with the modern Yang style being adopted to suit modern bodies (exactly like other forms of Yoga today). There is no one way that is the best way, people should simple take up whichever method suits their bodies best.
I can understand why the Yang style of Taiji is the most commonly practiced, compared to the other main schools: Wu, Hao and the original Chen. It is more accessible, less complicated, with a lesser degree of training injuries.
Find Peace with Tai Chi from the popular Teach Yourself series of books, serves as an excellent introduction for the laymen and is written by a practitioner. I could not find videos of the author teaching classes online, but here is essentially how a good Taiji instructor would guide you:
Granted, neither a book or video will allow you to master the art. Anyone who is keen to be a student of the craft ought to get a real teacher but like the excellent video above, this book serves as a well-meaning guide that allows revision after your Taiji class.
If you’re really pressed for time and are unable to do the complete routine, there are “short cuts” allowing you a 10 minute, 5 minute, and even a 1 minute Taiji quick fix! I personally would not recommend that (like why drink instant coffee when you can have the good stuff?), but I suppose if you have a big presentation to do and only have a short moment to get in the zone before you leave your office, some relaxation to improve your stressful state of mind is far better than none at all 🙂
Much care has been taken in drawing out illustrations with accompanying descriptions of the moves in the book, with a composite illustration of the sequence put together at the very end. That would be very helpful especially when you want to refer to a specific step or description of a series of moves.
Robert Parry also takes time to discuss the similarities and differences between Taiji and its allied practice of Qi Gong (also spelt Chi Kung). It was quite an interesting read about Lao Tze (writer of the Tao Te Ching) with a sprinkling of Chinese alchemy at the end. If you are like me, with a keen interest in understanding the mythology and philosophy behind the yin-yang symbol so closely acquainted with the East, this book may just whet your appetite.
If you’re keen in finding out more about Taiji before committing to regular classes, I’d recommend this simple 214 page book 🙂 It’s a quick read and easy to refer to for the 37 forms. There are good reminders and sound advice in there too, like what a good diet should consist of and a helpful Q&A (“Questions in class”) like what time is best to do Taiji… perfect really, for the typical stressed out modern city dweller looking to keep fit and stay happy!
Two thumbs up 🙂 Available at all good bookstores in Singapore.
Here’s my scribbled, highlighted, well-loved personal copy!