Tai Chi Basics

The Greeting

The method of the Chinese salute – right fist and left palm, has a long traditional and cultural history, and is used to show respect, gratitude and honour to you and to others. It is not a hierarchical trait but a way to show equality between people. The salute had a practical application. Martial artists were always very cautious in the old days, and a handshake was considered either too threatening or an invitation to fight. Warriors would try to avoid contact with unscrupulous people, leery of surprise attacks. Many grappling techniques begin from a handshake.

The salute is quite symbolic. The fist shows martial ability - the School and its students are pledging to cultivate the martial arts in a friendly environment.  The open hand thumb is bent out of humility and the hand covers the fist to show civility or friendliness.

The feet are together and the posture is erect.  The eyes are focused on the person being saluted.  The attitude of participant and instructor is one of mutual respect.

Each class will commence with the salute.  If you are late to class, enter quietly, acknowledge the instructor with the salute and join the group.

Terminology

  • Qi (or Chi):  ‘life force’ or ‘energy’– the flow of energy that sustains human beings.  It flows through meridians, which need to be aligned and without obstruction.

  • Dantian (dan tien, dantien, tan t’tien):  The lower dantian is the body’s centre of gravity.  It is situated just below and behind the navel. There are two other dantians – the ‘third eye’, which is situated on the forehead, between the eyes, and the middle dantian, which is at the centre of the chest.  The dantians are considered the ‘energy gates’.

  • Qi Gong – means ‘energy work’ and includes exercise that develop Qi.  They also have a calming effect on the mind and body. The Shibashi and Ba Duan Jin are qigong sets.

  • Tai Chi  (Taiji)– means ‘supreme ultimate’ and is based on Yin and Yang, the 2 opposite forces.

  • Tai Chi Chuan –  means ‘supreme ultimate fist’ and is the combat form of Tai Chi.

Pressure Points

Pressure points are a point on the surface of the body sensitive to pressure. They are derived from the meridian points in Traditional Chinese Medicine and Indian Ayurveda and Siddha medicine. In the field of martial arts, they and refer to an area on the human body that may produce significant pain or other effects when manipulated in a specific manner. In tai chi, pressure points are used (through massage or focus) to cultivate energy (qi) flow throughout the body.

  • Bai Hui (bai wei) –  literally means ‘the meeting of the hundreds’ and is the pressure point at the top of the head –  it means ‘a place where all the energies of our body converge and meet.’ Specifically, it is located on the midline of the head, in line with the apex of the ears, at the crown. The ‘meeting of the hundreds,’ or ‘hundred convergences’ refer to the convergence of the six yang channels and the governing vessel. Also converging at this point are the numerous bones of the skull.

  • Ming Men – ‘gate of life’ is located on the vertebrae at the horizontal alignment with the navel. When the Gate of Life is open, it provides free access to the Fire element and there is vitality, sparkle and zest for life. If the gate begins to close, this energy begins to deplete and wain. Ming men is a point for revitalisation. It can reconnect us with our essence, raise us to a new level of consciousness, and support the achievement of our highest potential. It is a point that helps us connect us with our original nature. Lying on the spine ming men revitalises Kidney Qi and supports the Water Element. If there is timidity, it offers courage; if there is forgetfulness and disorientation, it clears the consciousness; if there is depression or emotional withdrawal, it coaxes the person to reengage with the world. In people who have experienced a chronic, debilitating illness, this point is usually empty and needs considerable attention to persuade it to open. However it has the power to reconnect with the jing or essence and restore a person to health and vitality, a capacity reflected in its alternate name, Palace of Essence. For more information go to Five Element Acupressure.

  • Lao Gong – the pressure point at the centre of the palms (believed to emit and absorb qi) ‘Lao’ means labour or toil and ‘Gong means palace, so the point name is often translated as ‘palace of toil’ or ‘palace of labor.’ It is the eighth point of the heart master channel and is stimulated to ease anxiety and clear inflammation. It is located where the tip of the middle finger touches the palm when a fist is made. This is a key point for healing work and qi gong practice, and is stimulated to ease anxiety and clear inflammation.

  • The Bubbling Springs is a balance, weight, and energetic gate located in the sole of the foot, slightly in front of the arch and centred from side to side. “The importance of this point in Tai Chi practice is multi-faceted. In terms of a postural and balance guide, the idea is that when the weight falls properly on this point one has aligned the weight of the upper body correctly in respect to the base of the lower body. The feeling of this correct alignment is that the foot, even of a weight bearing leg, should be soft and relaxed. It’s interesting to note that most of our muscular usage (some tests say as much as 80%) is compensation for poor balance. So as our balance and posture improve, we become more efficient in our muscular use, not only conserving energy, but also freeing the body to move which is a prime contributor to the strength element in Tai Chi. The awareness of the desired feeling of the foot being soft and relaxed is one of the most important indicators of this correct body relationship.

    On the energetic level, the Bubbling Spring represents the gate that either permits or inhibits the “Earth Qi” from rising up and entering the body. Once again the prime factor here is balance. If the balance is good, the foot relaxes and the energy is permitted to flow into the body. If the balance is poor and the foot is tense, then the energy is blocked. This actually describes a very important aspect of Tai Chi both as a martial art and a health tool. The importance of Qi or vitality is understood in all aspects of the practice, but the quality that ultimately determines how much Chi one accesses is not force or effort or desire, but balance.

    The Bubbling Well is our earth connection where we establish that quality referred to a having “root”. So in many respects, this is the foundation of our practice and must be given much consideration and emphasis.” from The Tai Chi Effect

General Principles of Tai Chi

  • Movements flow

  • The end of one movement is the beginning of the next

  • Each movement has a meaning, purpose an intent

  • Each posture must end before the transition to the next

  • Movements appear to be in slow motion, but are executed with some resistance (as if under water) – it is known as ‘intent’

  • Movements originate from the lower dantian

  • The head should remain at the same level – ie, bobbing up and down should be avoided

  • When ‘shifting weight’ avoid dropping the hip.  Shifting weight should originate from the lower dantian.

  • When one part moves, all parts move

  • The body works as one, with movements of a posture finishing together

Tai Chi Stances

There are 3 main stances in Tai Chi:  

Bow Stance

  • Split stance, with 70% weight on the front leg.  Knee must not come further forward than the toes.  Front foot faces front, back foot, at 45 degree angle.  Feet are shoulder width apart.

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Horse Riding  Stance

  • Legs are wide, knees bent and back straight, tailbone tucked in. Weight is distributed evenly through the legs.  Feet face forward.

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Empty Stance

  • One foot forward, knee bent.  90% of weight is on the back leg, 10% on the front.  Hips remain parallel to floor, not dipping.

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