T’ai Chi Ch’uan
(“grand ultimate fist”)
T’ai chi ch’uan (taijiquan) is “meditation in motion”, literally “grand ultimate fist”— it is an internal martial art, combining meditative postures with movements that have martial applications.
Developed by monks in China over eight centuries ago to promote physical fitness together with meditation, t’ai chi ch’uan is highly effective in reducing stress; it also teaches nonviolent techniques for resolving conflicts within the self and between the self and others. It strengthens bones and joints, improves balance and posture, benefits the immune system, and fosters the development of willpower, grace and humor.
It is both physical exercise and meditation. Recent studies have shown that t’ai chi ch’uan reduces osteoporosis. It is one of the only exercises which teaches how to bear all the body weight on one leg at a time, which promotes increased calcium deposits in the pelvic bones and femur.
By learning how to move with balanced relaxation rather than muscle tension, from one leg to the other with all one’s weight, the t’ai chi ch’uan player experiences the flow of qi through the limbs in the body, finds their center of gravity within the spine, and experiences the sense of being rooted to the ground through the feet. These physical experiences carry over into all aspects of life, both physical and emotional.
The t’ai chi ch’uan player becomes stronger yet more relaxed, confident in their surroundings, and balanced in attitude as well as on one’s feet. It also provides a sense of strength that has relaxation and heightened awareness as its foundation, rather than simple muscular vigor. The adage, “use four ounces to move a thousand pounds” captures the essence of t’ai chi ch’uan as a martial art: it provides the ability to use a minimum of one’s own qi to move an opponent, and capitalizes on using the opponent’s qi against them.
Not all t’ai chi ch’uan instructors in the US are familiar with either Chinese medicine or martial arts applications of the movements in their form. While their movements may be beautiful and graceful to watch, and will to some degree move qi in the body because the movements themselves are designed to do this, understanding how the movements are applied (even if one chooses not to engage in sparring) will help the player direct the qi flow through the limbs appropriately, magnifying the benefits and inner power t’ai chi ch’uan practice can bring. There are many different styles (most named after their family of origin), and each style has several different sets: short set, long set, family set. Additionally, many styles are taught not only empty hand, but also with sword, stick, or fan. The use of all of these objects is to help the player focus their qi by extending it into an inanimate object. Some classes may also offer ‘push hands’, a form of sparring which teaches relaxation together with perception of another’s intention, force, and qi.
Some martial artists may want to practice up to one hour daily; however, a mere 10 minutes of t’ai chi ch’uan practice a day is beneficial for most people who choose this exercise as a part of their health regimen, or as a form of meditation. The advantage of learning t’ai chi ch’uan over other forms of exercise is that, once the form has been learned, it can be done anywhere, at any time; a teacher to follow is not required for basic practice; no special equipment is needed; and, being gentle movement, it enhances the physical ability of practitioners of any age.
Isabeau Vollhardt, L.Ac., studied Kuang Ping style with Marjorie Jackson in Burbank, CA from 1987-1991, Yang short style with Grandmaster Carl Totton at the Taoist Institute in Burbank in 1986, and qi gong with Tan Quach at Samra University in 1994, Chinese Philosophy was also part of her BA in Philosophy received from the University of Washington in Seattle in 1980.