Tai Chi, also Taijiquan, is a holistic and integrative system for the cultivation of health, well-being, and longevity. Originating in China, and rooted in the ancient Taoist system of knowledge and wisdom, it is based on the principles of yin and yang.
Tai Chi contains a set of specific movements designed to develop and refine a more natural and relaxed state of moving and being. The movements are low impact, and conform to the natural bio-mechanics of the body. Key elements of Tai Chi include relaxation and sensitivity; development of intelligent strength; improving psychomotor control and postural alignment; harmonisation of movement with breath; and balance of body and mind. It incorporates physical, mental, and mindfulness elements in a single unified practice, making it a complete practice for body, mind and spirit. Relaxing yet invigorating, it leaves the practitioner feeling calm and balanced, yet energised, alert and powerful.
Taijiquan was originally developed as a highly effective martial art and can still be practiced as such, although in modern times it is mostly practiced for its health benefits.
Qi or Chi Gong roughly translates as working with life energy or vital force. As such it is a very broad term and includes a multitude of breath, energy and movement practices originating in China. Taijiquan is one of these, and may well be the most sophisticated and refined.
Chen style is the oldest and original form of Taijiquan, from which all other major styles have derived. In its current form it was developed from around 1600AD using ancient systems of Chinese knowledge, by the Chen family in Chen village (Chenjiagou), Henan province, China. The Chen family used their martial art system to defend their village and livelihoods.
Chen style is a dynamic system, with soft and flowing movements complimented with harder explosive movements. Thus yin and yang are in balance. Like iron wrapped in cotton, the movements are soft on the outside, but hard and powerful on the inside. This means the practice is an excellent whole-body workout.
Chen style Tai Chi represents a unique and exquisite achievement of the meditative, healing, and martial traditions of ancient China. It is arguably the most profound, refined and effective health and well-being system that is currently known, as well as perhaps the most complete and powerful martial art.
a personal perspective
Taijiquan is many things to many people. In my own life, I would describe it as an inner journey to integrate and harmonise the mind, body and spirit. It is a deep and profound exploration of the human condition.
My journey in Tai Chi has felt more like a process of discovery than one of learning in the usual sense. It's as if the principles of Tai Chi are already in my body, lying dormant and waiting to be uncovered. As such, it is as much a process of unlearning as learning. Letting go of tension, holding, rigidity; both physical and mental, so that the principles can start to express themselves.
This is why Taijiquan is at the same time so uniquely challenging and rewarding. It is easy to graft some new knowledge on top of one's existing psychosomatic structure. But much more challenging is to change in a fundamental way the relationship between the body and the mind.
The rewards are great as well though. Old unconscious patterns of movement and behaviour will slowly be changed. A person will become more supple and responsive, less rigid and re-active; physically, mentally, and emotionally. Breaking out of habitual patterns and discovering new ways of being.
As a system Tai Chi beautifully elegant and wonderfully simple, yet extremely challenging. The further I travel, the simpler it feels, and the more unified I feel. Looking back along the path it all seems rather obvious, and I cannot remember how I could ever not have 'got' it. That is the beauty of learning it; that I am bringing myself back to a place that feels so natural, right, and easy that I cannot imagine ever having not been there.
I teach authentic Chen style Taijiquan as taught in the birthplace of Tai Chi: Chen village (Chenjiagou). The syllabus consists of four main aspects.
silk reeling (Chan Si Gong)
Developed during the second half of the 20th century, the silk reeling exercises are a distillation of the essential movement principles contained within Lao Jia Yi Lu. They are a focused way to learn the fundamental principles of Taijiquan.
pushing hands (Tui Shou)
Once a basic level of proficiency in the core principles of Taijiquan is achieved in solo practice, the next stage is to incorporate practice with another person. This practice of 'pushing hands' continues to train the fundamental movement principles, while further developing kinesthetic sensitivity.
foundation form (Lao Jia Yi Lu)
The first form of the old frame is the foundation of Chen Tai Chi practice. Consisting of 72 movements/postures, it is used to teach the body to move in a more natural and relaxed way, to improve proprioception, and to incorporate specific bio-mechanical movement principles into the body
standing meditation (Zhan Zhuang)
A common element within all internal arts, standing meditation is excellent for developing postural awareness, deepening the breathing, and relaxing and integrating the body. It is also essential for increasing sensitivity to the inner feelings of the body.
traditional syllabus from the birthplace of taiji
Beyond these four aspects, there are also other forms, including weapons forms. These include old frame second form (Lao Jia Er Lu), new frame first and second forms (Xin Jia Yi Lu and Xin Jia Er Lu), sword, sabre, halberd, spear. While learning new forms can be fun, it is much better to go deep in a single form than shallow in a few.
There are also some shorter Chen Tai Chi forms for people with less time to practice. These were developed in the late 20th century and include the 18 Short Form created by Grandmaster Chen Zheng Lei and the 19 form from Grandmaster Chen Xiao Wang.
an offering to the Google gods
Boundless Sky offers Tai Chi classes in Greenwich and Lewisham. Learning Tai Chi can be a great way for people in south London, especially in Lewisham or Greenwich, to get stronger, fitter and more flexible. Greenwich Tai Chi lessons can improve balance, posture, and coordination, as well as reducing stress and increasing mindfulness for anybody who lives in and around south London. Boundless Sky also offers meditation classes in Greenwich, but not in Lewisham.
Greenwich and Deptford are in the boroughs of Greenwich and Lewisham respectively. They are both in south London zone 2 so are very central and easy to access. Greenwich is two stops from London Bridge, and is also close to Canary Wharf, Lewisham, and Lee, as well as and other south London areas. It is also easily accessed from Canary Wharf on the DLR. Deptford, in the borough of Lewisham, is very close to London Bridge, Brockley, New Cross, Surrey Quays, and Canada Water.
Boundless Sky also offers Osho active meditation classes in south London, especially in New Cross, Deptford and Greenwich. Osho developed his active meditation methodology to help modern people experience the meditative state of mindfulness more quickly and easily. Tai Chi works in a smiliar way, utilising the feelings of to the body to enable an easier path to meditation. So active meditation and Tai Chi are two examples of embodied mindfulness practices and are integrative wellness systems. They help to integrate and unify the mind and body, and bring us back to a state of balance and harmony with ourselves and the world around us.
For anyone who is interested, the best thing to do it to try a meditation or Tai Chi class in Greenwich, Deptford, or Lewisham, whichever is closer. This is because Tai Chi and active meditation sessions are experiential rather than intellectual and so cannot be approached through the mind. The Tai Chi and meditation classes are suitable for all and can contribute to a healthier and happier life.