Hi, I'm in my 50s and have seen people doing Tai Chi. I think it's beautiful and looks nice and relaxing! I fancy trying it but I haven't done any other physical activity for 20 years and am worried my lack of fitness might get in the way.
Yes of course you are welcome to come and give it a go. Besides the general feel good factor of exercise, once you get a feel for Tai Chi, much of the practice is very relaxing. When done well the forms are beautiful to watch, however much effort, self discipline and patience are required to reach that level. Don't worry about your fitness, we start slowly and build up - it takes time. Some of Tai Chi is very vigorous, especially as students advance into the older forms and applications - as is the case in any martial art.
Oh, I didn't realise that Tai Chi was a martial art...
Tai Chi Chuan translates as Supreme Ultimate Fist or Supreme Ultimate Boxing. We try really hard to maintain the integrity of Tai Chi and we do have students from other martial arts such as karate, kung-fu and aikido who train with us. However many, including the more passionate, are in it for the health giving results.
Is all Tai Chi performed slowly?
No. Neither are all of the qigong forms practised slowly. The Yang Cheng-fu form is performed slowly as are other derivative forms of Yang Style Tai Chi - most notably that of the Cheng Man Ching school (as he studied under Yang Cheng-fu). Though Yang Cheng-fu's form is typically practiced with all slow movements, it can still be practiced with some explosive ones and of course the martial applications to the movements would be performed with speed. The San-Sau and Yang Lu-ch'an (Yang Style founder) forms can be practised with slow and fast movements or can be be performed with all fast movements. These forms are more martial in nature.
Do you have to be into martial arts to enjoy your classes?
No, although you will certainly learn fighting/self defence techniques as a part of your Tai Chi practice. In order to become accomplished at Tai Chi we need to practice with a variety of different training partners and follow a well rounded syllabus of exercises. All of the postures in Tai Chi have many martial applications and where it is not essential to know them all, some knowledge of the meaning of the movements is necessary to perform Tai Chi at even a basic level. Without mental intent your form is beneficial as an exercise of the body, but this alone is certainly not Tai Chi! Today Tai Chi is so often taught as only a gentle breathing exercise and much of the understanding of what Tai Chi really is has been lost. Once a Tai Chi practitioner of some twenty years experience came to a class and became angry with me. They were adamant that Tai Chi was not a martial art and told me I shouldn't be teaching it as such. My advice to those who are unsure is to go and research this for yourself and come to your own conclusions.
I'm at retirement age and want to do something that will keep me moving, would your classes be suitable for me?
We aim to maintain the integrity of each individual student and obviously we get a broad range to accommodate - some students are experienced martial artists or sports people in their twenties and others like your self are at retirement age looking for a different form of exercise. As such we encourage students to adapt exercises such as stretches or press ups in such a way as it suits the individuals physical abilities. Much of the practice is low impact (it doesn't jar joints or put huge strain on the body) and if it suits, all of the practice can be made low impact. It all depends on the individual. Obviously some younger members of the class like to train more vigorously performing low deep stretches and working up quite a sweat, but we can't train like this forever and I would encourage people to train in a way that is both beneficial but right for them. What is important is that the principles are correct, whether are postures are low and deep or a bit higher we stress correct posture, alignment and breathing which helps the internal organs, blood circulation and immune system as well as aiding in the development of one's mind and spirit: a truly holistic way to follow.
As a long term practitioner of Karate-do I was wondering if a study of Tai Chi would clash or be beneficial to my hard (external) style training?
Sensei Hirokasu Kanazawa, 10th Dan of Shotokan Karate-do, started to practise Tai Chi in his 30s and this has evidently influenced how he practices and teaches Karate-do. Many karate-do students and teachers are very tense and stiff in their movements, some because of mis-information that has been passed down as Karate-do has modernised. Tai Chi, when practised correctly will make mind and body more relaxed and so can only have a positive effect on Karate-do practice. Also a Karate-do student will be able to apply much of their knowledge as they will soon see that many of the postures from their kata are in the Tai Chi form also, although performed in a softer more fluid way. Because Karate has become a 'do' art many of the more dangerous and deadly applications, have for the most part been removed and forgotten from bunkai (applications) practice. Of course in sports karate attacks to the eyes, neck, groin and knees are not allowed and from my experience are rarely mentioned in the do-jo. When dirty fighting techniques (yes, real fights are not nice and also nothing like we see in competitions or at the movies!) are learned, they have more in common with traditional karate-jutsu and will add to your understanding of your katas and involves a lot more than the 'block and counter' approach that makes up the majority of bunkai practice today. Do-way martial artists can glean much from supplementing their training with Tai Chi. In fact, the traditional way was to learn a hard (external) system like karate or kung-fu until a high level had been reached, then to begin training in a soft (internal) system such as Tai Chi or Aikido.