training for Life
Column by Grandmaster Doc-Fai Wong
November 2008 Issue

Should Tai Chi Be Practiced Softly and Slowly?

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Tai chi chuan is only one of over 200 systems of kung fu. In China, the people only discuss internal or external kung fu. No one mentions soft styles or hard styles. Normally when the Chinese speak of the soft styles of kung fu, they mean the chin-na or joint locking types of martial arts. Therefore, tai chi chuan is not thought of as a soft style of kung fu. Most of the martial artists who have seen tai chi practiced slowly and in a relaxed manner labeled it a soft martial art. Nowadays, you will see that most of the tai chi chuan practitioners are practicing softly and slowly, only the Chen style has some fast and powerful movements. Why is most of the tai chi practiced slowly and softly? There are three good reasons:

1. Most of the people learn tai chi for health, not as a martial art.
2. While practicing slowly one can learn the movements correctly and keep the mind calm.
3. It is easier to keep one's muscles relaxed while practicing tai chi slowly .

Tai chi means Supreme Ultimate. Some people erroneously call the tai chi symbol by the name Yin and Yang. Its true that the Yin and Yang are inside of the tai chi symbol, but yin and yang are not tai chi. They are the children of tai chi. In Chinese philosophy, Wu chi produced Tai Chi, Tai Chi produced Yin and Yang. Chuan means fist (style) or hand form. Therefore, tai chi chuan is the fist style using the theory of the tai chi symbol as the philosophy behind its unique fighting concepts. Since tai chi chuan is a martial art, it should have soft movements and hard movements as well. Tai chi is practiced slowly and can be practiced fast also. Because tai chi chuan is based on the theory of yin and yang, it can be practiced relaxed and it can also be practiced tense (or with the muscles engaged). The above statements usually cause disagreements with many tai chi experts and teachers. Some may say "no no no, tai chi chuan is always practiced relaxed, maybe fast, but never tensed." Let me explain this to you. As I mentioned before, yin and yang are the children of tai chi. Relaxation and tension relate to yin and yang. For tai chi chuan beginners, most of the students are already tense, therefore they must learn how to relax. When the muscles are totally relaxed, the qi (chi) can flow better and the internal strength is much stronger. If you are a practitioner of tai chi for its health benefits only and do not intend to learn tai chi as a martial art then there is no need for you to learn the fast or tense part of tai chi training. However, if you want to learn tai chi as a complete fighting system you must learn how to connect your body and use your intention to focus on the power for striking. After you are truly able to totally relax your muscle, you can practice the tai chi form faster. You must learn how to release fa jing. Fa means to emit and jing means force or strength. To emit tai chi internal power, you need to learn how to relax your muscles in the right area and you need to understand how to tense your muscles with the correct timing. However, most people do not know how to relax when it is time to relax and do not know when to engage the muscles when it is time to strike. In this case, you will not be able to release the full power of the tai chi techniques.

To learn tai chi chuan as a fighting art, you need to have a teacher who truly learned from the direct lineage of the tai chi system. The teacher must truly have the knowledge of internal fighting. Otherwise, when you try to practice wrong with stiff and tense strength, it will not only damage your health, you may also be injured during a fight. A true tai chi master can guide you to success in health and self defense.

Doc-Fai Wong writes a bi-monthly column for Inside Kung-Fu.

November 2008 Inside Kung-Fu