The grand ultimate martial skill - Taiji
Take a look at tourist brochures from predominantly Chinese regions like Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, and of course, China. Chances are, you will find postcard perfect pictures of people practicing Taiji. In the face of great proliferations of new sports and the immense popularity of extreme sports promising adrenaline and speed, Taiji has proven to possess exceptional staying power. What has this traditional sport, with its slowness as the most well known characteristic, to offer health enthusiasts actually?
A sport of grace and strength
It is easy to think that there is no sweat to doing Taiji. The pace is so slow, the moves so genteel, how can there be any exertion when you practice? Can you even be seen as exercising when Taiji does not seem to place any physical demands on you? Well, don't be taken in by the slow executions of Taiji and think that this gentle sport is only for the elderly with weakened athletic abilities!
Firstly, Taiji can be literally translated to mean the "grand ultimate" martial art. You can get a hint of the high prestige Taiji holds in the field of martial skills. The term Taiji actually describes various forms of practicing. Beginners and experts alike can train with boxing, the bare-fisted movements known as Taiji quan most commonly seen executed. Alternatively, those looking for variations can pick up the sword, sabre and spear.
Taiji consists of many sets of movements (known as tao lu) to be memorized and understood. The art can be practiced by individuals or in groups, where the synchronized movements are often a great sight to behold. Also, Taiji execution can take on a more combative nature with "pushing hands" (or tui shou), where a pair of practitioners spars with each other.
Learning the moves
There is no one true blue method of Taiji. Enthusiasts can train under the handful of schools of Taiji surviving today, with Chen, Wu, Sun and Yang being the most popular. But all share the common root of placing emphasis on the careful cultivation of qi, your inner energy, when practicing.
Qi is fluid as it flows in your body from organ to organ. Both external and internal factors can influence the movements of qi The main purpose, and biggest benefit, of Taiji executions is to attain a harmonious balance of your qi. Taiji teaches you to achieve a harmony in body, spirit and mind, which in turn translates to both physical and mental wellness.
Hence, the most important thing when doing Taiji is the focused attention on maintaining a calm and peaceful frame of mind. Allowing your thoughts to stray and rushing into things are all detrimental to keeping balanced. The mind is the most powerful tool at work when practicing Taiji, as the focused concentration on your physical moves is the basis of all learning.
And like any other martial skill, you need to start from the basics of hand, legs and body movements. After memorising the moves, it is time to master the art of flowing the steps with grace, strength and balance. The committed pupil attempts a higher level of learning by striving to understand the reasons behind each move - you don't glide your hands in the air just because your instructor tells you to!
Taiji shares the same fundamental characteristics found in other adrenaline-charged martial arts forms. It trains you physically, cultivates the mind with the focus on calmness and concentration, works as a form of self-defence, and lastly, is a moving art form of great aesthetic value.
Taiji's many merits
Because of the inherent gentle nature of the sport, Taiji is an excellent choice for older people seeking a good workout without the muscle tear and wear. In accordance to the same theory, Taiji is suitable for those recuperating from serious sports injuries too. It is terrific for building up your physique while you take a break from other punishing routines.
Best of all, Taiji is a great exercise regime that works the whole body as your upper torso moves gently, yet strongly, with your legs in controlled strokes. There is immense concentration on maintaining continuous movements with no sudden and jarring moves to interrupt the flow and control. In fact, the slower you execute your strokes in Taiji, the more demanding it is! Taiji thus differs from other martial arts forms which concentrate on lightning reflexes.
And in line with the focus, your mind is trained to retreat from your everyday stress. With the concentration coupled with regulated breathing, Taiji is similar to meditation with movement. Hence, the sport is finding increasing supporters among the young, who seek a de-stressing and healthy activity after being stretched by daily schedules.
There is also the absolute freedom to practise Taiji in any pocket of space you can find. There is a saying that goes, "you can practise Taiji on a platform of sleeping bulls". Thus your bedroom, study room, office and yard will serve well as practise platforms. And Taiji is a sport that does not burn a hole in your pocket. Other than paying for Taiji instruction, a comfortable set of sports clothing is all the investment you need to make as a beginner. After mastering the moves, you can practise daily without additional costs!
Picking up the sport
Gentle yet strong, slow yet deliberated, Taiji is indeed a traditional sport that has lots to offer in training both mind and body. If you are interested in finding out more about the sport in Singapore, the Singapore National Wushu Federation is a good place to start. (Tel: 65-743-9026). Alternatively, the Singapore Sports Council (Tel: 65-1800-348-4222), in line with its Learn-To-Play Scheme, and many community centres offer courses too. For more information on Taiji in your home country, surf online! Whether Asian, American or European, you are sure to find a Taiji centre near home!