When you first investigate tai chi as well as what to learn and how to learn, you may wonder how to get the most out of your tai chi class and feel like you have learned skills that are meaningful to you. Even when you might not remember every move in the right order for a while, tai chi will give you many skills that help with your physical fitness, postural and movement goals.
After having taught tai chi for 14 years, I have been enhancing our classes and how we teach tai chi in order to help people gain a more in-depth understanding at every level and facet of the learning experience. Whether you are starting with a high level of fitness or you are working at getting fit, you will gain improved understanding of posture and positioning which will protect your body from over extending, remain more solidly grounded even while moving and using postures which do not over stress your weight bearing joints such as hips, knees and ankles.
If you do feel these joints are stressed even after learning how to align your posture, you may have a variety of tight muscles and / or adhered connective tissues which is preventing you from accomplishing your full range of motion in a pain-free way. Tai Chi can help stretch and strengthen muscles through slow repeated motions while encouraging your joints to move more easily.
Why People Want to Learn Tai Chi
Everyone has their own personal goal or reasons for learning tai chi. Based on what I have learned from my students over the years, here are some of their goals for wanting to learn tai chi.
- To stay healthy by being active
- To recover from injuries, illnesses or recent surgeries
- To reduce stress or tension in their lives
- To prevent deterioration of existing health conditions
- To improve their health and to strengthen the body
- To learn a softer kind of martial art
- To learn a skill that can complement another sport or martial art
- To excel in martial arts
- To satisfy their curiosity about this sometimes mysterious art
Regardless of which goal encourages you to learn tai chi, we all have to start from the beginning with the basics. If you have not practiced tai chi previously, we will help you start by understanding the basic movement and postural concepts which you will continue to practice and master throughout the course of your tai chi journey no matter which style of tai chi you take after the introductory course.
Several core basic movements are introduced within the Tai Chi Basics class. However, a true understanding of how these movements help you remain grounded and balanced as well as their mastery typically requires that you challenge yourself through a variety of forms and weapons classes. In these classes, you will be applying and maintaining these techniques while adding a level of challenge to movements.
Learning Tai Chi Basics
A lot of people may feel that they need to choose one tai chi style over the other but this is hard to do if you have never tried tai chi before so we like to start people with a tai chi basics course. You can learn basic moves which are common to most of the tai chi styles. Even the vocabulary translates across styles so once you start learning tai chi, you can easily start with one style and translate your skills over to another style if you have the basics.
Learning the basics include learning what it means to have a good posture, how to move without causing injury, what is true relaxation, how does tai chi achieve mind/body awareness, how to harness internal strength, etc. These are important concepts for a student to understand, even if you are not able to physically execute the moves correctly at the beginning, you need to know why and what you are trying to achieve.
In our Basics class, which everyone takes when they first join our tai chi studio, we teach the core routines which also help warm up the body. These routines help people re-acquaint their access to the body’s core or dantian before working on practice routines for your posture, balance and movement. At the end of our 3 month Basics program, people can expect to know what each movement looks like visually and be able to mirror them in a basic way.
Tai Chi Forms and Push Hands Classes
After learning basics, you will want to make a choice of taking your new found skills into an area where you can use them to continue your health and fitness journey with tai chi. There are a couple of ways to accomplish this.
Typically, people will learn a Form which is a series of movements choreographed to apply and hone the skills learned during the Tai Chi Basics classes. Typically, to learn a whole form takes 2 to 3 seasons so that students both have the time to build new muscle memory by executing movements in new combinations which will challenge their ability to maintain balance and posture while getting their brains to create new movement pathways in a fun and fulfilling way.
One of the forms that we teach is Chen Style Tai Chi which is the original and the oldest of all the tai chi styles. It is a little more demanding because it was designed for the old time warriors of the day. These warriors depend on their tai chi martial arts skills for survival and as a livelihood.
The other form we teach is Yang Style Tai Chi which is today, the most popular tai chi form practiced. It is gentler and has a more graceful appearance to all its movements. But, do not be fooled, it is still a challenging form in its own way.
Push Hands is an interactive use of open hand skills. Push Hands is typically considered a more advanced course than the Forms courses because it challenges our ability to use movements and stances learned in the forms classes. In Push Hands, we challenge ourselves to remain balanced when approached by another person who is attempting to unbalance or throw us off our feet.
People begin to have a deeper understanding energy flow of the movement or posture and the deeper connection of how it gives us balance and strength when they start one of the Advanced classes.
In the next blog, we will discuss these Advanced courses along with where the Weapons courses help people gain an advanced understanding of their skills.