Frequently Asked Questions
  • What is T'ai Chi Ch'uan?
    T'ai Chi Ch'uan (or, simply T'ai Chi) is both an ancient meditative Chinese health and longevity exercise system and a highly effective internal martial art. Many people associate it with the typical image of a large group of people in a park in China moving slowly in unison through a series of "dance like" movements. This public image of T'ai Chi certainly represents one aspect of the art, although the complete system encompasses much more than simply performing a series of movements.

    T'ai Chi has Taoist roots and is based on slow, continuous, gentle and flowing wave-like movements of the whole body and a calm, focused, and centered state of mind. Over the centuries, T'ai Chi, like other martial arts, has divided into various styles, such as Chen, Yang, Wu, and Sun. All the T'ai Chi styles are somewhat similar in their form and utilize the same principles. 🔝Back to Top
  • What are the origins of T'ai Chi?
    Traditionally, T'ai Chi Ch'uan was developed as a martial art and longevity exercise in China around 700 years ago. Bodhidharma, known in China as Tamo, traveled from India to China around 520 A.D. and ultimately arrived at the Shaolin Monastery. He was the 28th Buddhist patriarch in India and became the first patriarch in China. Mythology stated that he taught the Shaolin monks a series of exercises to improve their health and strength. Eventually, these exercises developed into a martial art called Shaolin ch'uan.

    The mythology says a monastery student, Chang San-feng, literally, "Chang of the three hills", was not satisfied with the teachings at the monastery and left to become a Taoist mystic. Chang San-feng had a vision that changed the conceptual view derived from the Shaolin -- dramatically distant from their "hard style" concepts to a new and different art form. Traditionally, it is thought that it was this conceptual change that eventually became what we know today as T'ai Chi Ch'uan.

    In 1894, a group of martial artists - masters of
    t'ai chi ch'uan, pa-kua chang and hsing i-ch'uan - formed an organization called "Internal Family Boxing" (Nei-chia ch'uan, Neijiquan). Those three arts are the basis for what are called "Internal Arts", while Shaolin ch'uan and its offshoots are referred to as hard-style "External Arts." The soft-style internal arts focus on the development of what is called "Internal Power", chin (jin).

    Hard stylists tend to be impressed by physical strength, deep stances and speed. They delight in using force and tension, and they often fight force with force. In training, their emphasis is on
    conditioning and muscular strength. In contrast, soft styles, such as t'ai-chi ch'uan, feature subtle moves and strive for effortless techniques. Their emphasis is on developing internal strength and not using brute force. When soft stylists do their techniques, they strive to be relaxed. It has been referred to as "the technique of no technique." They do not try to fight force with force. For example, a good t'ai-chi ch'uan master is "boneless." the practitioner relaxes and moves as if he doesn't have any bones; he strings his movements together. There are no isolated arm movements. Furthermore, his posture is straight, his head is always up and his shoulders are relaxed. Essentially, his entire body is relaxed, nimble and lively.

    As early as the 1930's,
    T'ai Chi was found to have varied and profound health benefits. In the 1960's, it was brought to the West and began to get attention in major U.S. cities. Today, it is practiced world-wide as an internal martial art, as well as a "mind-body" meditative series and health promotion exercise. For many, it is known as an effective method of stress reduction. It's impact is low intensity, low impact, suitable to people of all ages and fitness levels. Frankly, if you can walk, you can practice T'ai Chi. 🔝Back to Top
  • Are "T'ai Chi" and "Taiji" the same thing?
    Chinese write in ideagrams -- symbols that convey meaning rather than words used to convey an idea (as with Latinized systems). When Westerners have tried to put Chinese words into a form similar to Western languages, those systems have created some confusion. In the Wade-Giles system, a "T" with an apostrophe after it is pronounced like a "T" in English. When the apostrophe is NOT there, it is pronounced like a "D" (e.g., T'ai has a "T" sound, like "Tie", whereas Tao has a "D" sound, like "Dao"). Similarly, when an apostrophe follows a "Ch", it is given a hard "CH" sound, as in English (e.g., "choose"), but without the apostrophe, it is pronounced more like a soft "J" (e.g., "jelly").

    To try to counteract some of this technical confusion with the written language, a more recent system has been developed, called "Pinyin" -- and it is this system that creates the spelling "Taiji" that is closer to the pronunciation.

    By the way, that is why there has been the change from Peking (Wade-Giles) to Beijing (Pinyin).

    Don't worry, there will be no pop test...
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  • What is Ch'i Kung (Qigong)?
    Ch'i Kung (Wade Giles), also known by Qigong (Pinyin), means "energy exercise" and is a generic term representing a vast spectrum of techniques that cultivate internal energy -- Ch'i (Qi). The name is made up of two Chinese words. Ch'i (Qi) is pronounced "CHEE", and is usually translated to mean the breath, and life force, or vital energy that flows through all things in the universe. This is what is manipulated by acupuncture and acupressure, and is a foundational concept to Chinese medical physiology. The second word, Kung (gong), is pronounced "GUNG", and means accomplishment or skill that is cultivated through steady practice. Together, Ch'i Kung (Qigong) refers to cultivating energy, and is a system practiced for health maintenance, healing, and increasing vitality.

    Ch'i Kung (Qigong) originated more than 5,000 years ago in China's antiquity. Throughout most if its history, it has been kept secret within Chinese martial fraternities and monastic spiritual traditions. It is an integration of physical postures (usually, quite static), breathing techniques, and focused intentions. All Ch'i Kung (Qigong) methods involve the conscious regulation of the mind, respiration, and the posture and shape of the body-- to ultimately bring the body's vital organic functions under the regulation of the subconscous mind. Ch'i Kung (Qigong) practices can be classified as martial, medical, or spiritual. All styles have three things in common: they all involve a posture, breathing techniques, and mental focus.

    Some practices increase
    Ch'i (qi); others circulate it and use it to cleanse and heal the body; and some store it, or emit Ch'i (qi) to help heal others. 🔝Back to Top
  • Is T'ai Chi Ch'uan simply a Chinese form of Japanese Aikido?
    No, although there are dramatic similarities. Aikido was founded by the Japanese swordsman, Morihei Ueshiba, in the 1930's. It is conceptually, but not technically, the Japanese art most similar to T'ai Chi Ch'uan, and pa kua chang. After Ueshiba's death, several of his top students promoted several versions of aikido that differed subtly from each other. At one time, it was estimated that there were more than 30 to 100 different versions being practiced. The concepts were the same, but the methods ranges from practical to mystical, brutally hard to soft.

    In traditional
    aikido, as in T'ai-Chi Ch'uan, high level practitioners are relaxed and use as little brute force as possible. Ideally, the uke (attacker) receiving the technique flies through the air seemingly without knowing why. In "harder" aikido, the uke feels manipulated and controlled by the nage (thrower) as muscular force is used to make a technique work. Most aikido teachers say that if you strictly try to use muscle, then you're not in harmony (an indicator of poor technique). Highly skilled T'ai Chi Ch'uan and aikido experts can make basic applications look like magic. In reality, it is just incredibly subtle and exquisite technique.
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  • What is the purpose of learning T'ai Chi Ch'uan?
    AYC students take both yoga and T'ai Chi classes to feel more healthy, to reduce stress, to improve balance -- and sometimes, just to feel better about themselves. T'ai Chi has been shown to help some people with symptoms of arthritis. Moreover, improved balance has been reported, even in people of advanced age. This better balance provides better mobility, self-assurance and will prevent serious injury to the oldest participants. (cf., T'ai Chi Cornell Medical College & New Form of Exercise). 🔝Back to Top
  • What are the benefits of T'ai Chi practice?
    For those individuals primarily interested in improving their health, suppleness, strength, relaxation and mental calmness and focus, T'ai Chi has proven effective in this regard for hundreds of years. Through the slow movements of the forms and other subsets of practice, the T'ai Chi player focuses on correct posture, rooting, breath, flexibility, relaxation, linkage, mind/body connection, energy yielding and attachment -- while being centered, focused, and calm, yet with an “awake” state of mind. With consistent practice over time, this training results in a healthy, strong, flexible, relaxed, energized and focused mind and body.

    T'ai Chi Ch'uan also provides benefits and enjoyment to martial arts training. Its effectiveness is based on the concept of “yin and yang” which represents an every changing balance between soft, yielding, and redirecting principles and relaxed applications of force through rooted and whole body integrated movements. Since its martial effectiveness depends more on the mind and the cultivation of jing (internal power) rather than simply the body...size, strength or speed are much less an issue. This characteristic makes it an appropriate martial art for anyone to learn regardless of physical attributes. As an internal martial art, T'ai Chi develops one's ability to respond responsibly and effectively to conflict, whether internal or external, and whether physical or otherwise.

    Up to a point, there is a direct relationship between how long a student takes lessons and his skill level. Previous training and innate talent is also a major factor. Some experts claim that the time spent in the art does not necessarily correlate to skill. This is because there are many people who practice T'ai Chi Ch'uan all their lives and do not show any kung-fu skill. But they still will get the health and exercise benefits from doing the exercise. Nevertheless, learning T'ai Chi Ch'uan is a systematic process, and there is a correlation between skill and the amount of time spent studying correctly in a structured class. 🔝Back to Top
  • Is T'ai Chi Ch'uan considered an aerobic exercise?
    Technically, T'ai Chi is a low-to-moderate intensity aerobic exercise. You won't huff-n-puff, but you may work up a sweat! Researchers at John's Hopkins University in Baltimore and others have done a number of studies of aerobic capacity and blood pressure responses of T'ai Chi students practicing Yang style. These results, presented to the American College of Sports Medicine, have shown it to be a "Low Intensity" form of aerobic exercise. 🔝Back to Top
  • Will T'ai Chi Ch'uan help me to improve my balance?
    Yes, a number of research studies, including a major study done by the National Institutes of Health, showed significant improvement in balance, 47.5% less falls, and found it superior to other exercises. It is not unusual that our students remark how much better their balance is, just after a few sessions. 🔝Back to Top
  • How long will it take me to learn T'ai Chi Ch'uan?
    It depends on your dedication. Usually, students feel a certain proficiency after about six months of classes, but you move at your own speed. Different people show different levels of body awareness and kinetic memory (the ability to remember a sequence of moves). Within the first few weeks, you will begin to feel comfortable with the first moves of the form and comfortable with the fundamentals. It is expected that you will practice in between classes. Our goal is to enable you to feel comfortable enough with the form that you can practice on your own. The most important thing is to keep practicing on a regular basis.

    According to Grandmaster Cheng Man-ch'ing, there are three basic faults in studying T'ai Chi Ch'uan:
    lack of perseverance, greediness, and haste. All three lead to mindless and sloppy learning.

    When doing the form, MORE is not necessarily BETTER. Some people try to learn every form or style they come in contact with (an expression of greed). They hastily are in a rush to learn (we call these folks, "Form Collectors"). But this can cause confusion and not give them time to learn the forms correctly. It is better to take your time, learn step-by-step, and let the form become a second nature to you. This will give you time to digest what you learn.

    Let your knowledge sink in. Learn one or two new movements per week. Unless you already have the basic exercises mastered, it is best to take your time. If you are more concerned about "getting through the form", than BEING IN the form, then you need to go back and practice the basics.
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  • Are there different styles of Yang form?
    There are many high level masters who teach Yang style, though their forms may look slightly different from each other. Interestingly, there IS a major family split in Yang style, both sides claiming to have the true teaching -- Yang Zhen-do on one side and Fu family on the other (and there are other groups, too!). It is all an ego trip/economic game, and that kind of bickering is, for the most part, a waste of time. They are perfectly fine systems, as are many other versions and derivatives of Yang style (e.g., Sun and Kwang Ping styles).

    At AYC, we will explain the martial roots of the movements, and the reason behind the form -- not just, "monkey see, monkey do." You will then be equipped to understand and perform the movements with some clarity and confidence.
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  • What should I wear to T'ai Chi class?
    It is best to wear loose fitting, comfortable clothing (e.g., sweat pants and t-shirts) that do not restrict the movement of the limbs or torso. Jeans tend to be too confining.

    Most students practice barefoot or with socks in the studio. However, if you wish to wear footwear, make sure to bring flat sole shoes that are not used elsewhere (i.e., no grit from the street on the bottoms of the soles -- we're trying to preserve the beautiful floor at AYC! In other words, you must bring your
    T'ai Chi shoes with you and put them on inside.) They should have adequate support for your foot, enough toe room and freedom of movement at the ankle.

    That's it. No mat. No special stuff. Just come and enjoy!
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  • Are T'ai Chi classes at AYC suitable for beginners as well as advanced students?
    Of course! We do our best to organize our class material based upon the proficiency of the student. Foundational movements done by beginners are also practiced by advanced students but with a change in height (from middle to low and ultimately high), or a change in frame (from slow to fast and from large to small), or a change in principle emphasized (such as simply remembering the form, to focusing on the quality of posture, the quality of breath, linking breath and movement, relaxation, moving as a single unit, fluidity, centering of mind and awareness, etc.).

    T'ai Chi is a layered art form. More advanced movements consist simply of the basic foundational movements (as any beginner would perform) with the addition of more complex movements layered on top.
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