WTCA Nominated for 2024 Community Choice Awards

Tag: taiji

Wisconsin Tai Chi Academy has been successfully nominated for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinal’s 2024 Community Choice Awards in the category of Sports and Fitness – Fitness Center/Gym.

Founder and Head Instructor, Ray Gates, said he was very grateful to all those that nominated WTCA for the awards, and looks forward to the voting round.

The voting round is open and will close on May 20th, 2024. Votes can be cast using the following link: https://jsonline.gannettcontests.com/2024-Milwaukee-Top-Choice-Communitys-Choice-Awards/gallery/437787608


Tag: taiji

It’s well known and scientifically proven that Tai Chi can make great improvements in a person’s balance. What’s less talked about is how these improvements happen: what changes does the body undergo in order for balance to be improved? One of these mechnisms involves changes to your body’s self-perception of where it is and in what position. Medically this is known as proprioception and kinesthesia.

Understanding Terms: Proprioception and Kinesthesia

Proprioception and kinesthesia are closely related, however they are different things.

Proprioception is what gives us the ability to know what our body’s position is in relation to itself and the world around us. Our bodies have specific sensory nerves called proprioceptors, which feedback information about position, movement and strain. For example, some proprioceptors can tell what angle a given joint is at, while others can tell how quickly a muscle is contracting or how much stretched it is. It is an independent system, meaning it doesn’t rely on other sensory input, like touch or vision, however if often works in conjunction with other systems.

Kinesthesia refers to your ability to perceive extent, direction and weight of movement. It is essentially how your brain processes the information being fed back to it by proprioceptors. It’s what allows you to be able to stand on one foot or hold your arms out to your sides without having to actually watch yourself lift your leg or your arms.

An example of understanding the relationship could be this: if I ask you to close your eyes and then give me a “thumbs up” at chest height, your kinesthetic sense will allow you to raise your arm in front of your chest, close your fist and stick your thumb up all without having to watch what you’re doing. It can do this because your proprioceptors are giving feedback on where your arm, hand, fingers and thumb are in space and in relation to each other and your body. Your kinesethetic sense will tell you if you are in the correct position; if not, your proprioceptors will provide the information your kinesthetic sense needs to make the necessary adjustments.

Unfortunately there are a number of things that can decrease our proprioception and kinesthesia, from injuries and diseases to the aging process. As one or both of these things deteriorate, so to does our balance, which further limits our function and potentially increases our risk of injuring ourselves.

How Does Tai Chi Help?

Clinical research has demonstrated that people who practice Tai Chi on a regular and ongoing basis are able to maintain or even improve their proprioception and kinesthesia across their lifespan. For example, a study by Li and colleagues1 showed that experienced Tai Chi practitioners demonstrated increased ground reaction forces (ie: the force exerted by the ground when you stand or move), and increased joint loading, range of movement, and torque, versus inexperienced practitioners, all of which improve neuromuscular feedback and kinesthetic sense. Similarly, Wang and colleagues2 demonstrated that long-term Tai Chi practitioners have greater postural control, as evidenced by having significantly less postural sway (the amount of involuntary movement the body makes when attempting to stand still; a greater degree of movement suggests impaired proprioception and/or kinasthetic sense) under a variety of conditions, than a non Tai Chi trained control group.

Researchers such as Chu and colleagues3 suggest a number of reasons why Tai Chi in particular helps with proprioception and kinesthesia. These include:

  1. Tai Chi’s slow, controlled movements allow time for proprioception to occur, and kinesthetic sense to interpret and make adjustments to positioning, speed, and posture; in effect it trains the neuromusculoskeletal system to interpret, adjust and learn safe movement;
  2. Tai Chi’s focus on mind-body awareness encourages development of kinesthesia through relaxation and activation of neural pathways; and
  3. Tai Chi’s ability to direct ground reaction force and torque to reduce body stiffness and sympathetic arousal to achieve effortless action.

There are other ways Tai Chi can improve balance as well, such as improving muscle strength and activity tolerance. However, Tai Chi’s ability to influence proprioception and kinesthesia, combined with it being a relatively easy and low-stress form of exercise to undertake, make it particularly effective as a means of maintaining function and reducing falls risk throughout the lifespan.

References

  1. Li, H. et al. (2023). Newly complied Tai Chi (Bafa Wubu) promotes lower extremity exercise: a preliminary cross sectional study. PeerJ 11:e15036 DOI 10.7717/peerj.15036 ↩︎
  2. Wang, D. et al. (2023). Effects of Tai Chi practice on postural sway for older people during COVID-19 pandemic. Research Square DOI 10.21203/rs.3.rs-3703201/v1 ↩︎
  3. Chu, T. J. et al. (2020). Biomechanical aspects of Tai Chi Chuan countermeasure against health threats during spaceflight. MedCrave Online Journal of Applied Bionics and Biomechanics; 4(5): 118 – 123. ↩︎

Tag: taiji

Though I might be biased, I’ve known for many years that Tai Chi makes you happier; I wouldn’t have been practicing and teaching over 20 years if it didn’t! There has been a wealth of information on the effects of Tai Chi practice on mental health, with evidence demonstrating showing that Tai Chi can improve factors such as cognitive performance, depression and anxiety.1 While these results allude to the idea that improving your mental faculties or decreasing stress and anxiety would, logically, make you happier, a number of researchers are specifically looking at the perceived happiness of Tai Chi practitioners, and finding that practicing Tai Chi can actually make you happier.

For example, Cezario and colleagues2 examined stress, anxiety and perceived happiness of older health professionals and younger pre-university students planning to enter health related courses. They used standardized measurement tools to determine pre- and post-class levels of stress, anxiety and self-perceived happiness using standardized, qualified assessment tools. Almost all participants reported an increase in their happiness after attending their Tai Chi class. The researchers reported this finding as significant because happiness is associated with positive health outcomes, such as being better able to adapt to everyday experiences, deal with social situations, and recover from adverse events. Further, their study demonstrated that age was not a factor in determining Tai Chi’s affects on perceived happiness.

Gender identity also doesn’t seem to influence Tai Chi’s ability to make a person feel happier. Studies by Galeh and colleagues3 on men, and Hatamipour and colleagues4 on women, both show that practicing Tai Chi can significantly improve happiness despite gender identity differences.

Again, while it would seem logical that improving our mental health would make us happier, researchers are also considering the direct affect that mind-body practices, such as Tai Chi, can have on happiness, as compared to other forms of treatment or exercise. For example, Osypiuk and colleagues5 have proposed that the interrelationship between body posture (like those adopted during Tai Chi) and mental state allude to the postures themselves having a significant role in the overall outcomes for psychological health, including happiness.

So if you’d like to find more happiness in your life, as well as many other health and wellness benefits, Tai Chi might be just what you need!


References

  1. Sollway, et al. (2016). An evidence map of the effect of Tai Chi on health outcomes. Systematic Reviews, 5:126 ↩︎
  2. Cezario, et al. (2023). Effect of Tai Chi on stress, anxiety and self-perceived happiness: a longitudinal intervention study. Bioscience Journal. 39, e39039. ↩︎
  3. Galah, et al. (2018). Effect of “Tai Chi” on happiness in elderly men. Iranian Journal of Nursing Research, 13:5 ↩︎
  4. Hatamipour, et al. (2019). The effect of Tai Chi Chuan exercises on happiness, sleep quality and blood pressure of elderly women. Iranian Journal of Rehabilitation Research in Nursing, 6:1 ↩︎
  5. Osypiuk, et al. (2018). Can Tai Chi and Qigong postures shape our mood? Toward an embodied cognition framework for mind-body research. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 18:12 ↩︎

Tag: taiji

Wisconsin Tai Chi Academy has launched its new Youth Scholarship Award, with two scholarships being offered for young people aged between 15 and 24 years of age in 2024.

The scholarship covers a full year’s tuition in Tai Chi and Qigong for the year of the award.

“We’ve launched this award as a way of encouraging younger people to experience the benefits of Tai Chi and Qigong, and hopefully become lifelong learners,” says WTCA’s Founder and Head Instructor, Ray Gates. “We want to dispell the myth that Tai Chi is ‘just for old people’. Younger people have a lot to gain by starting Tai Chi and Qigong early in life. I started over 20 years ago and wish I started 20 years before that!”

Gates is a strong advocate for Tai Chi and Qigong classes to be inclusive and accessible to all people, and hopes this new award will open the way for young people from diverse sociodemographic backgrounds to gain the benefits of Tai Chi. “Tai Chi and Qigong are for everyone, however, we need to make it accessible to everyone, so the benefits can be experienced by all,” he said. “I actively encourage young people from all sociodemographic backgrounds to apply for these scholarships, because one day it might be you leading classes for people from your communities.”

“Plus, it’s a lot of fun!” Gates added. “And for those who are interested, it can be quite competitive. There are national competitions held regularly each year, and in 2026 Tai Chi will feature at the Youth Olympics in Senegal. It’s a great time to get involved!”

Applications for the 2024 scholarships are open from now until December 31st, 2023. More information including the scholarship guidelines and application form can be found at the WTCA website on the Youth Scholarship page.


Tag: taiji

What’s in a name? When it comes to Tai Chi, there seems to be a lot more than there should be!

Much of the general public has at least heard of Tai Chi, yet relatively few will be familiar with the term taijiquan. Yet there are numerous Masters and Instructors who will insist that taijiquan is the “real” Tai Chi, and that anything calling itself “Tai Chi” is not Tai Chi at all. Along similar lines, more and more exercises programs titled “Tai Chi” are appearing and boasting that they are faster and easier to learn than “the martial” Tai Chi – when the truth is, these programs may emulate the forms and postures of certain Tai Chi styles, but any resemblance to Tai Chi ends there.

Confused yet? Wait til someone tells you that it’s “really T’ai Chi”. Or “Taiji”. Or “Taijiquan”. Or “T’ai Chi Ch’uan”, and that any other variation is incorrect, or not really Tai Chi.

At this point you could be forgiven for asking, “would the real Tai Chi please stand up?” And while linguistically there is an argument that these terms can mean different things, when we are talking about “Tai Chi”, we really are talking about the same thing. Yet how is anyone without background or experience in Tai Chi supposed to know this?

Hopefully this will help you understand the difference – or lack thereof.

What’s in a name?

The first step towards understanding lies in understanding that the translation of Chinese to English is, under the best of circumstances, quite challenging. There are a number of reasons for this, not the least being that Chinese uses syllables to make up words, as opposed to English words made up of individual letters. This is compounded by the fact that there are a number of different versions (dialects) of Chinese, and over time different methods used to translate Chinese to English, and this has resulted in different English transcriptions of the same words. The following table demonstrates how Tai Chi could be written using three different romanization systems:

Wade Giles (circa 19th Century)Pinyin (from 1950)Modern English (today)
T’ai Chi (originally T’ai Chi’h)TaijiTai Chi
T’ai Chi Ch’uan (originally T’ai Chi’h Ch’uan)TaijiquanTai Chi Chuan
Table 1: Comparison of written translations

The important thing to realize is that regardless of the system used, the meaning is the same: Tai Chi is Taiji is T’ai Chi.

Is there a difference between Tai Chi and Taijiquan?

Again, in linguistic terms, there is a difference in translation between Tai Chi (Taiji) and Tai Chi Chuan (Taijiquan). However, for the purposes of describing the martial art, I’m going to tell you that these terms are one and the same. Here’s why.

First, understand that taijiquan IS a martial art. When you see a group of 80-year olds practicing their Tai Chi in the park, they are performing the martial art taijiquan. This can be a challenging concept for those not familiar with taijiquan. How can an elderly person moving so slowly be considered to be practicing a martial art, like kung fu or karate? It is because all the movements (forms) have been designed with a martial (combat) application in mind. Though taijiquan is performed slowly, there is no reason that it cannot be performed at a greater speed in order to be used for self defense. In fact, there are many taijiquan Masters who were famous for their martial abilities; one example would be Yang Luchan, the founder of Yang style taijiquan, who was so renowned for his martial prowess he became known as “Yang the Invincible”.

In recent times, and especially today, taijiquan is sought out more for its health benefits than its martial applications. In line with this, the “quan” – meaning “fist” – part is often dropped, resulting in taiji, or its more popular English term, Tai Chi. This does not mean that the martial aspect is not there; rather it demonstrates that the focus of Tai Chi training has become health and well-being rather than self defense. Any Tai Chi Master or Instructor should both know and be apply to explain and demonstrate the martial applications of the forms that they are teaching. Otherwise, one has to question whether what is being taught is in fact Tai Chi.

When is Tai Chi not Taijiquan?

Hopefully you can see that when are talking about Tai Chi, we are actually talking about taijiquan, and that they are one and the same thing. Today, Tai Chi is the popularized name and the one most people will recognize. Put “Tai Chi” into Google, you will get about 240 million hits. Put “taiji” into the same search, you’ll get less than 10% of that (and “taijiquan” will get about 20% of “taiji”). This is why a number of Masters and Instructors like myself are pushing for “Tai Chi” to be used as standard nomenclature so that the general public does not have to be confused by a variety of different names or terms.

However, there are an increasing number of exercise programs that are claiming to be modifed, or simplified forms of Tai Chi, or claim to be only for health, or specific health conditions, without any of the martial aspect included. These programs have often been developed based on real Tai Chi forms, however have had much of the background and fundamental principles that are essential to Tai Chi stripped out of them, to the point where, to the trained eye, they no longer resemble Tai Chi. Further, there are so-called “Tai Chi Instructors” who using the name and concept to promote their activities – often with accompanying claims that their programs are easier, quicker, better for specific demographic groups than “traditional” Tai Chi – who are actually teaching, at best a form of qigong, and at worst, a form of low-impact aerobic exercise. They rely on the fact that the general public does not know the difference, but will recognize the name “Tai Chi” and see it as a desirable form of exercise.

Let’s be clear: while these programs may actually be beneficial to one’s health and well-being, if they do not contain all the elements that make Tai Chi what it is (not just the martial aspect but the underlying theory and philosophy, as well as the techniques themselves), then they are not Tai Chi, and should not be called by this name.

I hope this helps clarify what Tai Chi is, and perhaps equally important, what it isn’t.


Tag: taiji

Wisconsin Tai Chi Academy student, Benedetta Bonacci, has tied for equal first place in the Yang Senior Group Female section of the 2023 US Challenge, hosted by the United States Wushu Academy (USWA) in Lanham, Maryland.

Benedetta Bonacci (center, dark blue) with other medal winning competitors and officials.

Benedetta presented the Beijing 24 Forms (also known as Yang 24 Forms or Yang Short Form) and received an overall score of 8.76, which was the top score received by another competitor in the same group. Her score also qualifies her to join the USA Wushu Kungfu Federation’s (USAWKF) team and potentially compete at the International Wushu Federation’s (IWUF) World Kungfu Championships to be held in Emeishan, Sichuan, China in 2025.

“This is an outstanding result for Benedetta and I’m sure I speak for everyone associated with Wisconsin Tai Chi Academy when I say we’re all very proud of her achievement,” said Founder and Head Instructor, Ray Gates. “This was her first attempt at competition level Tai Chi and she worked very hard to get this result. She deserves this result.”

Having been a State and National Tai Chi competition winner in Australia in past years, Ray hopes this student’s success will inspire others to try competition. “It really encourages you to develop your Tai Chi to a higher standard, and it’s just great fun,” he said. “I would love to see more of my students get involved, and it would be great to one day have Wisconsin Tai Chi Academy represented in a team event at competition. Who knows? Maybe one day we’ll have some of our students performing Tai Chi at the Olympics.”

The IWUF continues to promote wushu for inclusion as an Olympic sport, and has successfully petitioned for the inclusion of wushu in the 2026 Youth Olympic Games in Dakar, Senegal. They see this as a pivotal step in seeing wushu included in the modern Olympic Games.

Wisconsin Tai Chi Academy congratulates all competitors at the US Challenge and looks forward to future competitions.


Tag: taiji

I’m just going to come straight out and say it: you cannot learn Tai Chi from a video or a book.

Before you consider arguing with me, let me qualify that statement.

Learning Tai Chi is unlike learning many other forms of exercise, or many other skills for that matter. In fact, to say that you “learn Tai Chi” might not even be an accurate statement. A similar concept might be learning a language; you can learn the words and their meanings, phrases and correct grammar, pronunciation and sentence structure, but to become proficient or fluent in that language, you need to immerse yourself in it with other fluent or native speakers. Only in this way do you discover the nuances that go with using language that simply learning the words and phrases cannot give you. You have to experience it, and the only way to truly experience it is with someone else who is more proficient than you.

It is the same with Tai Chi. Tai Chi is more than just performing a slow exercise. It is more than just choreography. It is something you have to feel and experience. It’s something you need to be guided towards, yet discover for yourself. To do that, you need someone to guide you. To help you understand not just what you’re supposed to do, but how it should feel. You need someone to help you know what to look for.

What you need to learn Tai Chi is: feedback.

Even the best book or video, by the most expert Master, with the most detailed instructions and hundreds of images for you to compare yourself to cannot give you any feedback on your performance. Without having someone in person to guide you, you can’t know whether you need to (for example) sink a little deeper, relax more, extend more, direct your focus, or any one of numerous other adjustments that you might need to make. Even if you are able to copy the Instructor’s movements exactly like they show you, at best you are imitating Tai Chi, not performing it.

That isn’t to say that books and videos are without value. In my own practice I have (and continue to) read many books and watch many videos to help deepen my understanding and overall development of Tai Chi. I also make videos available to my students and encourage them to read from books on a recommended reading list I maintain. The difference is, I use these resources to supplement my learning and instruction, not substitute for it. These resources are there to enhance and expand knowledge and understanding of Tai Chi. The learning occurs in the class, with the Instructor. At best, a book or video can only show you what the path looks like. Only the Instructor can tell you if you are on the right path, and if not, help guide you towards it.

If you are interested in Tai Chi, by all means pick up a book or watch a video and discover what it is all about. However, if you want to learn Tai Chi, find an Instructor and attend classes, as well as reading the book and watching the video.


Tag: taiji

Much is often said about the benefits Tai Chi has for a person’s physical health: strength, balance, coordination, even specific physical ailments such as arthritis and blood pressure. Yet Tai Chi also has many benefits for your mental and emotional health and well being.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO)1., as many as 1 in 8 people around the world – 970 million people – are diagnosed as having some form of mental health issue. In the US alone, 4% of the population suffer from a serious mental illness such as major depression, bipolar disorder or schizophrenia2.. The global impact of mental health is staggering: from an economic standpoint alone it is estimated that the cost of mental health-related issues – not just in terms of medical care but flow on effects, such as lost wages, etc. – is about $5 trillion USD annually, and rising3.. Clearly, any intervention that can have a positive impact on mental health and reduce the burden to individuals, families, and the broader community can only be beneficial.

There has been a great deal of research into the benefits Tai Chi can have on mental and emotional well being. across a variety of populations. Many of these studies have found that Tai Chi can:

  • reduce levels of stress, anxiety and depression, both in terms of self-reporting and physiological responses, for example, reduced presence of cortisol (a stress hormone) in saliva4.;
  • improve sleep quality, as indicated by standardized, evidence-based tests such as the Pittsburg Sleep Quality Index (PSQI)5.;
  • improve quality of life, as indicated by standardized, evidence-based tests such as Health Related Quality of Life (HRQOL)6.

A number of studies further indicate that Tai Chi may be more effective than other forms of exercise in terms of the overall and lasting benefits to mental and emotional well being.

Though it would seem obvious that the slow movements, calm disposition and subsequent relaxed state a person finds themself in when practicing Tai Chi would produce these results, researchers are investigating the specific physiological effects that Tai Chi has on the body that would account for these changes. One theory is that Tai Chi encourages the production of chemical mediators such as serotonin and dopamine, which in turn releases the body’s natural opioids (endorphins), in much the same way as certain forms of moderate intensity exercise have been demonstrated to do (eg: the “runner’s high”)7. The caveat being that Tai Chi is very much a lower intensity form of exercise, and therefore may be more accessible to the average person.

Another theory is the prefrontal cortex hypothesis proposed by Yao and colleagues8. The basis of this theory is as follows: one of the main functions of the prefrontal cortex of the brain is to regulate our emotional behaviours and responses through its connections to other parts of the brain – it is sometimes referred to as the “immune system of mental health”. Functional MRI studies have demonstrated changes in the prefrontal cortex of the brain of Tai Chi practitioners compared with control groups, which enhances the function and response of the prefrontal cortex, similar to that seen in studies involving meditation and aerobic exercise. Though Yao and colleagues admit that more specific research is required to prove/disprove this theory, the supporting evidence looks promising.

While clinical research supports the evidence that Tai Chi practice is beneficial for mental health, it generally only reflects the approach from the view of the Western medical model. Increasingly research is being conducted to support the Eastern concepts of health and the role this affect this might have on mental and emotional well being. For example, in their book, The Tao of Trauma, authors Duncan and Kain explain the relationship between polyvagal theory – the theory that our behavioural state is regulated by the autonomic nervous system primarily through the vagus nerve – and Five Element Theory of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), as a means of understanding how our biological systems respond to our environment and how, if this response is interrupted or not allowed to run its full cycle, the system becomes imbalanced and the result is a traumatic response, such as anxiety and other mental health conditions9.. Within this model, Tai Chi would be seen to be a means of restoring and rebalancing the flow of qi within the body, thereby potentially allowing our system to complete the interrupted cycle and return the system to its normal resting or ready state – like hitting a reset button for the heart and mind. Though there is little clinical evidence to support this theory, more research into this area is being conducted.

Whatever the underlying reasons, it seems there is no doubt that regular Tai Chi practice can have great benefits to a person’s mental and emotional well being. The best way to determine if it can have these benefits for you is to try for yourself.

References

  1. World Health Organization: https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/mental-disorders, accessed 6/13/2023
  2. Center for Disease Control: https://www.cdc.gov/mentalhealth/learn/index.htm, accessed 6/13/2023
  3. Harvard University T. H. Chan School of Public Health: https://chds.hsph.harvard.edu/quantifying-the-global-cost-of-mental-disorders/, accessed 6/13/2023
  4. Esch, T. et al. (2007). Mind/body techniques for physiological and psychological stress reduction: Stress management via Tai Chi training – a pilot study. Medical Science Monitor, 13(11): 488-497.
  5. Zhu, D. et al. (2018). Long-term effects of Tai Chi intervention on sleep and mental health of female individuals with dependence on amphetamine-type stimulants. Frontiers in Psychology, 9: 1476-87.
  6. Sprod, L. et al. (2011). Health-related quality of life and biomarkers in breast cancer survivors participating in tai chi chuan. Journal of Cancer Survivorship, 6: 146-154.
  7. Zhang, L. et al. (2012). A review focused on the psychological effectiveness of Tai Chi on different populations. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 2012: 1-9.
  8. Yao, Y. et al. (2021). The effect of Tai Chi Chuan on emotional health: potential mechanisms and prefrontal cortext hypothesis. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 2021: 1-12.
  9. Duncan, A. D. and Kain, K. L. (2019). The Tao of Trauma: A Practitioner’s Guide for Integrating Five Element Theory and Trauma Treatment. North Atlantic Books.

Tag: taiji

If you put the words, “Tai Chi” into a search engine, you’ll get a thousands of different results from different schools, organizations and instructors saying they teach “Tai Chi”. To someone unfamiliar with Tai Chi, it might seem you’re spoiled for choice: they all teach the same thing, so just pick one, right?

Well, it’s not that simple. For starters, there are many different styles of Tai Chi, and finding the right style – the right introduction to Tai Chi – for you can be a challenge. However, even more than that, these days there are many programs calling themselves “Tai Chi” that may, in some ways, resemble Tai Chi, but are in fact not.

So how is the newcomer to Tai Chi supposed to know the difference? Below is a guide to recognizing whether the “Tai Chi” you’re doing is ‘traditional’ or ‘non-traditional’.

What’s in a name?

The name, “Tai Chi” can be confusing, even in some instances misleading, as it seems to have become a catch-all moniker for any form of exercise that is performed slowly. So the first question you should ask is: what is it you’re actually doing?

Taijiquan (tie-gee-chwan – sometimes also spelt Tai Chi Chuan or T’ai Chi Ch’uan) is the traditional form of what today is often shortened to Tai Chi (T’ai Chi, or Taiji). Taijiquan is a martial art: all the movements (forms) within a sequence have martial applications for self-defence. Some schools/instructors still make a point of referring to what they teach as Taijiquan (as opposed to Tai Chi) in order to emphasize they are teaching traditional Tai Chi, as opposed to non-traditional alternatives. However, many schools now use the simplified English name, “Tai Chi”, because it is more recognizable and identifiable to the broader public, and because many people seek out Tai Chi for its health benefits as opposed to its martial applications.

There are some who argue that Tai Chi and Taijiquan are two different things. This is at best, inaccurate, and at worst, misleading. If you are learning Tai Chi from a traditional sense (see below), you are actually learning Taijiquan.

What is Traditional Tai Chi?

Let’s make one thing clear straight away: at of the time of writing, there is no formal classification (that I am aware of) of “traditional” Tai Chi. I am using the term “traditional” as a way of contrasting Tai Chi with other forms of exercise that may be based on Tai Chi, but are not necessarily Tai Chi (this contrast will, I hope, become clearer as you read on).

With that in mind, traditional Tai Chi, regardless of style, follows the instruction, principles, theory and philosophy of Taijiquan. It is a martial art, whether the instruction or practice specifically focus on the martial aspect, or not. If the instruction does not focus on the martial aspect, the instructor should at least understand and be able to convey to students the martial application to help them understand why forms are performed a certain way. Many known Masters of Tai Chi have argued that if the martial aspect is disregarded, it is no longer Tai Chi*.

However, Tai Chi is much more than a system of self-defence. The principles of Tai Chi are derived from Taoist philosophy, which also forms the basis of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). To fully understand the relationship between Tao, TCM and Tai Chi is a discussion far beyond the scope of this article; however two main concepts which are present in Tai Chi practice is the idea of qi (chee – also spelled chi), a lifeforce energy that provides the underlying basis of our health (or lack thereof), and the idea of contrasting but complementary universal forces, Yin and Yang, the balance of which also helps us maintain good health – for that matter helps bring about the natural order of the universe. (Please note: this is an exceedingly simplified explanation of these two concepts and you are encouraged to read about these concepts further in order to understand their significance). This is where the idea of Tai Chi having health benefits beyond simple physical exercise came about: because Tai Chi focuses on understanding and developing these energies, a person can use Tai Chi to help maintain optimal health and increase their lifespan, amongst other benefits.

In line with this, there are many theories and principles that have been developed by Masters over the years – often referred to as the Tai Chi Classics – that guide the Tai Chi student to develop their understanding and practice – and thereby gain the benefit – of Tai Chi. It can be said that these particular principles and theories are what differentiates Tai Chi from other styles of martial arts. Again, it has been argued that anyone practicing Tai Chi who is not also striving to understand and follow the teachings of the Classics is not really performing Tai Chi. My own Master would often comment, “it’s good kung fu, but it’s not Tai Chi.”

Although this is a simplified and brief outline of what traditional Tai Chi is, what should be apparent is that traditional Tai Chi is not just a form of ‘slow exercise’ (in fact, there are many forms and styles of Tai Chi that use rapid or explosive movements), or a ‘moving meditation’. There are many facets to understanding and practicing Tai Chi, and for the committed student of Tai Chi there is always more to learn and develop.

What is Non-Traditional Tai Chi?

Again, understand that at the time of writing, there is no formal classification (that I’m aware of) of “non-traditional Tai Chi”; it is simply a term I’m using to differentiate between traditional Tai Chi and other “Tai Chi” practices.

At the risk of stating the obvious, a simply explanation of non-traditional Tai Chi would be anything that isn’t traditional Tai Chi. However, if you don’t have any experience with traditional Tai Chi, how could you be expected to know the difference?

Non-traditional Tai Chi is often, at best, a ‘filtered’ form of Tai Chi. Often, the martial aspect will be entirely disregarded because it is only being practiced for “health benefits”. Instead, the focus will be on slow and gentle movements. In some instances the sequences or forms themselves may be modified from the original in order to make their instruction “more accessible”. The underlying theory and philosophy will often be ignored (assuming it is even known by the instructor), or only referred to in a casual or off-hand way; a historical reference or quirk, as opposed to a guide or instruction.

This is not to say that non-traditional Tai Chi is not beneficial: in fact the opposite is often true. Any form of exercise can have benefit to people, if it is performed safely and effectively. What is at question is: is it really Tai Chi if it is missing many of the essential elements of traditional Tai Chi? Should it even be able to be called “Tai Chi”? This is something that increasingly being debated as more and more non-traditional Tai Chi schools and instructors commercialize “Tai Chi”.

As a general guide to determining whether a program is non-traditional Tai Chi, you should be aware of the following:

  • use of the terms, “modified”, “variation of” or “based on” when referring to the type of Tai Chi that is being taught, or “combined with” where the exercise claims to combine Tai Chi with some other form of exercise (yoga and pilates are common). I would also caution against claims of the instructor’s “own style”;
  • encouraged use of adaptive equipment, such as walkers or chairs, to facilitate a student’s ability to perform the exercises (while very useful to enable participation in exercise, this is more suited to Qigong practice than Tai Chi);
  • specificity of what the Tai Chi is “for” – eg: “Tai Chi for [insert health or medical condition]” (traditional Tai Chi is beneficial for many health and medical conditions and there is no variation that specifically targets one over the other) – or modification of the actual name – eg: “Tai Chair” (see above) or “Aquatic Tai Chi”; and
  • instructor qualifications, especially those who have become instructors by doing a course as opposed to engaging in traditional Tai Chi instruction – be especially aware of anyone offering to qualify you as an instructor by taking a “weekend” or “two week” course (traditional Tai Chi instructors have often devoted years, if not their life, to learning Tai Chi and have been specifically selected – often graded and/or certified – by their instructor/Master to teach).

Traditional or Non-Traditional: Which One to Choose?

The only way to answer this question is to ask yourself: why are you interested in learning Tai Chi?

If you are interested in finding a light, easy form of exercise that you can attend either regularly or semi-regularly, similar to a light aerobics or stretching class, where you can turn up and follow along with the instructor without the need to have a deeper understanding of what you’re doing or why you’re doing it, you would probably benefit from joining a non-traditional Tai Chi class or program.

If, however, you are wanting something deeper, something that requires you to learn, and practice, and think about, that can have far-reaching benefits for all aspects of your health – not just physical – that presents a constant challenge that enables you to continuously develop and grow over your lifespan, you would do well to seek out a traditional Tai Chi school or instructor.

For further guidance to finding a suitable Tai Chi instructor I recommend one of my previous articles: Six Tips Before You Start Tai Chi Class.

* examples include but are not limited to: Wong Kiew Kit, Dr Yang Jwing-Ming, Waysun Liao, and Yang Cheng-Fu. Discussion of this can be found in many of their own respective publications.


Tag: taiji

Wisconsin Tai Chi Academy is please to announce that its Founder/Head Instructor, Ray Gates, has successfully joined the USA Wushu-Kungfu Federation (USAWKF).

USAWKF is the official US representative to the International Wushu Federation (IWUF), currently composed of 146 member nations worldwide. Their mission is to organize the sport of wushu and extend its joy and benefits to the American people. They are primarily involved in developing and organizing regional and national competitions and events for Wushu and Kungfu styles, including Taijiquan, and maintain a national ranking system, for both adults and juniors. They also manage the US Wushu Team, which represents the US at international competitions.

“Having previously been a competitor at State and National levels in Australia, I can tell you that participating in competition is not only a great way to develop your Tai Chi skills, but an enjoyable way to explore the many different styles and teaching methods of Tai Chi, and meet lots of great people who share your passion and interest in Tai Chi,” said Founder/Head Instructor, Ray Gates. “It would be wonderful to see WTCA students representing themselves and our school at competition. And if wushu is eventually accepted as an Olympic sport, perhaps one day a WTCA student will represent the US Wushu Team at the Olympic level.”