Misconceptions about Tai Chi

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liangzhicheng

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Ask the average person on the street what Tai Chi is, and you'll probably get some variation of the following:

1. It's a beautiful meditative dance
2. What is Tai Chi?
3. That's like Karate, right?
4. It's a really great exercise for the elderly.

While I think most people are misinformed about martial arts in general (Gong fu and Karate are not interchangeable), Tai Chi has quite its share of misconceptions due to lack of popularity and exposure in the media (opinion). Take for instance, the Propecia(?) commercial in which there is a group of elderly students led in a slow moving exercise by an elderly Asian male. The commercial ended with a dog making a circle with its paw, practicing Tai Chi as well. Sorry folks, but that dog was not practicing Tai Chi. The purpose of this thread is to bring up misconceptions about Tai Chi, and dispel them.

1) Tai Chi is for the elderly.

While Tai Chi can certainly be beneficial for the elderly, it is not intended for sole usage by those considered old. For instance, I am 22. While this may have been old in the stone ages, it certainly isn't nowadays.

2) Tai Chi is a dance
I'll agree that a lot of "Tai Chi" out there is nothing more than a dance. However, "real" Tai Chi is not a dance. The Tai Chi sequences were designed for various reasons, including martial application. You can argue about the definition of dance, but if you're going to call Tai Chi a dance, then Kata, forms, etc. are dance as well (not true IMO). Tai Chi is shortened from Tai Chi Chuan. Chuan is literally translated as fist. Tai Chi was originally designed as a martial art.

3) Tai Chi is not effective for self defense/fighting
In most cases, developing the ability to defend oneself using Tai Chi does take longer than if the student were to study an external art. However, this does not mean that Tai Chi is not effective. If you can find it, take a look at the fight between Wu Kung Yi (Wu Style Tai Chi) and Chen Hak Fu (White Crane) in 1954 (there was also a long article about this in Qi magazine). While the bout was declared a draw due to a violation of the stipulation that no kicks were to be above the waist (knees?), it is clear that Wu Kung Yi was able to defend himself effectively against Chen Hak Fu. I've read posts asking why Tai Chi fighters don't participate in MMA fights. IMHO, a true Tai Chi stylist would not participate in these fights as he/she would not seek conflict. I agree, most "practitioners" of Tai Chi would not last in MMA, but then, there aren't that many real "pracitioners" (I know I'm not one of them).

4) Tai Chi for health/meditation only is still Tai Chi
I know I'm probably going to draw some negative comments from this...but try to hear me out. As pointed out before, Tai Chi was designed as a fighting art. As such, in order to understand the form, one must understand its applications. In order to be truly centered, one must be able to deal with incoming forces while maintaining the center. Getting physically attacked can be one of the hardest situations to keep one's center. If you never practice Tai Chi in a martial situation, you probably will not be able to keep your center if attacked, and thus are not practicing Tai Chi. Let me also state that I am NOT saying that focusing on health/meditation is wrong, but rather that neglecting the martial aspect leads to incomplete understanding. Similarly neglecting the health/meditative aspects of Tai Chi while focusing on martial application is incomplete as well.

5) Tai Chi can be learned from a book/tape
While a book/tape is sometimes necessary if there are no good instructors in your area, they cannot replace an actual instructor. A teacher will correct your form, something that books and tapes cannot do.

6) I learned Tai Chi in 2 months (6 months, 1 year, etc.)
Sorry folks, but learning one form does not mean you have learned Tai Chi. Learning Tai Chi means practicing in accordance to the fundamentals, which takes time, a lot of time. If an instructor claims they were certified after a two day seminar, let's just say that you should be a little suspicious of them.

7) Tai Chi is soooo slow.
Chen stlye is known for its explosive movements. What about the other styles? Speaking from a Wu Style perspective, the form is not only practiced slowly. The slow practice allows students time to feel the form, and practice the fundamentals. It takes real skill in order to perform the forms quickly in accordance with the fundamentals. If you can't perform the form quickly and correctly, you need to practice more. Another analogy is learning to play a piece of music. You start practicing it slowly to gain familiarity before you move on to the true speed. Unless the piece of music is supposed to be played slowly, you wouldn't keep practicing the music slowly forever.

more to come?
 

East Winds

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liangzhicheng,

Could not disagree with anything you have written.;)

Perhaps one misconception that is prevalent that needs correction though. Traditional Yang Family Taijiquan (and not that stuff that is floated as Yang Lu Chans form) erg: is full of Fa Jing. It is just not as overt as in Chen style, but believe me it is there. That is why it is so important to concentrate on end frames! The "stopping without stopping" action is the actual release of Jin and is why "Tai Cheese" can never be considered taijiquan.

You have made some very good points and I look forward to this discussion continuing.

regards

Alistair Sutherland
 
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liangzhicheng

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East Winds,

Thank you for bringing the Traditional Yang perspective to this thread! I think it's important that people understand the differences between the various styles, while still remembering that it is all still Tai Chi. Well, at least the styles that adhere to Tai Chi principles ;)
 
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Taiji fan

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What do you mean taiji is not a dance! sacrilege! You obviously have no idea...... :rofl:

I learned Tai Chi in 2 months (6 months, 1 year, etc.)
Sorry folks, but learning one form does not mean you have learned Tai Chi. Learning Tai Chi means practising in accordance to the fundamentals, which takes time, a lot of time. If an instructor claims they were certified after a two day seminar, let's just say that you should be a little suspicious of them.
:rofl: reminds me of an ex student of mine.....she informed me after 2 years of 10 week block classes that she had mastered the form and is now teaching, she can't understand why her students are not able to learn the form, she doesn't even consider that she doesn't actually know the fundamental basics so how can she teach them!!


but rather that neglecting the martial aspect leads to incomplete understanding. Similarly neglecting the health/meditative aspects of Tai Chi while focusing on martial application is incomplete as well.
you obviously have a great teacher either that or you were just born with a great deal of foresight and good attitude.
 
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liangzhicheng

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What do you mean taiji is not a dance! sacrilege! You obviously have no idea......
You're right, what was I thinking? Time to go ask my neighbor's dog how to do the Tai Chi 2 form. :asian:

you obviously have a great teacher either that or you were just born with a great deal of foresight and good attitude.

I'm very thankful that I found my Sifu, very thankful indeed. As for my seeming to have foresight and a good attitude...well, let me assure you that I only have seeds of those which I try to nurture with Tai Chi :)

Any more misconceptions to add to the list?

As always, thank you for your comments!
 
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Taiji fan

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Any more misconceptions to add to the list?
well to be honest I think you just about covered the lot...except this one.....a student of mine who is catholic was at a service and the congregation was ordered by the priest...some 83 year old....that they were under no circumstances to participate in the evils of yoga, reiki or tai chi....so I guess the point is tai chi is a sinnful pastime as well....:rolleyes: :rofl:
 

East Winds

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Perhaps I might be allowed to bring forward another misconception.

That there is somehow a difference between Taiji for health and taiji as a martial art!:soapbox: Anyone who teaches taiji for health but ignores the martial aspect is probably teaching dance or Tai Cheese:p There is no difference. Taiji is a martial art. No ifs or buts. You do not have to learn it as a martial art (i.e. you do not need to pratice applications with a partner) but the form that is taught, needs to teach the use of energies (jins) and correct body structure that defines a martial application, or it becomes just another useless aerobic exercise (albeit unlike normal aerobics, it dosn't make you go deaf:D ). (Why do these people need to have loud music and amplified instructions to believe that they are exercising efficiently):erg:

I'll get off my soap box now. But in passing I saw an instructor profile in a reputable Taiji magazine that made me want to scream:confused: If ever I saw new age taijicheese complete with bare feet and tie dyed pants, this was it. The quicker these charlatans are rooted out the better it will be for Taiji in general.

Best wishes

Alistair Sutherland
 

arnisador

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A related misconception is that Tai Chi is intended a companion art for students of Kung Fu--a "helper art" that improves one's Kung Fu but could not stand in its stead as a stand-alone self-defense art.
 

Ender

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Originally posted by liangzhicheng

7) Tai Chi is soooo slow.
Chen stlye is known for its explosive movements. What about the other styles? Speaking from a Wu Style perspective, the form is not only practiced slowly. The slow practice allows students time to feel the form, and practice the fundamentals. It takes real skill in order to perform the forms quickly in accordance with the fundamentals. If you can't perform the form quickly and correctly, you need to practice more. Another analogy is learning to play a piece of music. You start practicing it slowly to gain familiarity before you move on to the true speed. Unless the piece of music is supposed to be played slowly, you wouldn't keep practicing the music slowly forever.

more to come? [/B]

And here I thought it was for slow moving muggers..*G...I'm just having some fun with ya.....actually I would like to sudy it sometime..that and yoga...and akido..etc...sigh..guess i want too much.....
 

Randy Strausbaugh

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Originally posted by Ender
And here I thought it was for slow moving muggers..*G...I'm just having some fun with ya.....actually I would like to sudy it sometime..that and yoga...and akido..etc...sigh..guess i want too much.....
I know what you mean. So many arts, so little time.
 
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Taiji fan

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another misconception is that taiji people are all spiritual and in harmony with everything.....Taijiquan has produced some of the worst politics and biggest egos going. There are plenty of things masquerading as taiji and they are promoted by 'little empire builders' an woe betide anyone who tries to promote the genuine stuff.........:(
 
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Kevin

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Hello everyone,

I have just recently been thinking about taking a tai chi class. I am 29, I studied USA GoJu for about 3 years and loved it. Unfortunetly I had to quit for about 10 years. I am ready to start up again but this time I want to study a kung fu style. I tried a style here where I live but it turned out to be a commercial style and they only wanted my money and kept saying the more I gave the more secrets I'd learn... well ... that isnt what I wanted, so I kept looking and found a guy who just opened a taichi school here.

I am really thinking about taking taichi, but I was just wondering exactly what tai chi is and what it can offer me, I mean I have heard a lot about the health benefits. I know I can just ask the school here, but I would like to get some information from more than one person.

thank you,
 

arnisador

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There's lots of discussion of that in this forum and I hope you're poking through old threads! Tai Chi's health benefits are well-established, alebit perhaps oversold.

As to what it can offer, it depends on the school--possibly just low-impact exercise and possibly viable self-defense. It really varies from school to school!
 
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liangzhicheng

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Hi Kevin,

As arnisador said, there's a lot of information in the old posts here. Having said that, what are you looking to get out of studying Tai Chi? Yes, Tai Chi is great for health. However, it is a martial art, and I don't think that one can get all the health benefits if it is never trained as one. However, finding a teacher that will teach the martial side and actually knows something about it is hard. In general, I'd stay away from instructors who claim to have learned many styles. Tai Chi, like any complete system, contains a vast amount of information. Studying it for three years (or even ten), does not make you a master, so you can guess how much they know if they learned Tai Chi from a seminar or tape. There are five main families of Tai Chi: Chen, Yang, Wu, Wu/hao, and Sun. If you can find someone who still trains with one of the families, this would be ideal. Note, however, that lineage is not always a good indicator, and sometimes claims of lineage are false. There are more threads on MartialTalk that discuss how to find a good teacher.

I have to agree with Arnisador that what can be offered varies with the school. Ask or observe how the class is run. Is the atmosphere social and focused on feeling good, or are the students there to train (fun is still allowed ;))? A note, while Tai Chi can be used for self defense, don't expect to be able to do so in six months. It takes time for your body to adjust, and your mind to change. Good luck in your search :asian:
 
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Kevin

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Thanks for all the replies,

The school I am interested in teaches yang style, and then later on you learn chen. He also teaches chin na, push hands and qi gong. I am hoping that means that he teaches the martial side of tai chi. I am new to this and dont really know what the differences are in yang, or chen or push hand and all that.

thanks again.
 
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Karasu Tengu

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: Originally posted by liangzhicheng

7) Tai Chi is soooo slow.
Chen stlye is known for its explosive movements. What about the other styles? Speaking from a Wu Style perspective, the form is not only practiced slowly. The slow practice allows students time to feel the form, and practice the fundamentals. It takes real skill in order to perform the forms quickly in accordance with the fundamentals. If you can't perform the form quickly and correctly, you need to practice more. Another analogy is learning to play a piece of music. You start practicing it slowly to gain familiarity before you move on to the true speed. Unless the piece of music is supposed to be played slowly, you wouldn't keep practicing the music slowly forever.

more to come? [/B]

Perfect practice make Perfect. Perfectly awful practice make...well you know.

If you understand the reason for practicing Tai Chi slowly then you will have a better understanding of its martial application. Real speed, power and energy come through relaxation, which comes from proper breathing, proper posture, footwork etc. It is through this relaxation that one may be explosive when necessary and in that instant your movement is Perfect! Then there's fa jing.

Playing music too fast is makes nothing but noise.
 

arnisador

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Do people in China also have these misconceptions? A lot of people seem to do it for health there too!
 

Randy Strausbaugh

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That's not really surprising as the Chinese are a pragmatic people. An aware person will get into few fights in their lifetime, but health is a daily concern. If people just want to stay limber and balanced, they may opt to deemphasize or disregard the martial aspect of Taiji. They will not get the full health benefits, but that's between them and their instructor. It's sort of like our "executive boxing" classes where the participants go through the workout but never enter the ring. Is it really boxing? Opinions vary.
 

7starmantis

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I dont think its deemphasizing the martial aspect of taichi to study and practice it for health reasons. the action of studying and practicing it is good for overall health, this doesn' t mean you can't use it for self-defense, but maybe your goal is simply better health. To be able to use taichi for self defense takes so many years of training, I can however see why people focus on the health benefits. In our culture, not many have the patience to study that long and hard for the true benefits. Its sad really.

7sm
 

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