Vital energy according to traditional chinese medicine is the life force that flows through the organs and systems in our body. It is said that practicing tai chi not only improves the flow of vital energy, it also stretches and strengthens the muscles of the body and provides a 25 – 30 minute moving meditation needed to relax and rest our minds each day.
Widespread adoption of tai chi as an exercise throughout China is a form of proactive healthcare by improving and maintaining each person’s vital energy. Improving our vital energy improves our resiliency to aging and enhances our body’s ability to recover from injury.
Yang Style Tai Chi is the most widely practiced style of tai chi in the world today. It ranks second in terms of seniority after Chen Style. The required stances are wide and low, however individuals can adjust to a higher, narrower stance based on their own ability. Movements are big and mostly linear, and the pace is consistently slow throughout the entire form. The soft, graceful, and fluid movements of the style is why tai chi is commonly referred to as “Moving Meditation”.
The power of Yang Style Tai Chi is hidden within and not expressed externally like in Chen Style. But all tai chi movements, regardless of fast or slow, must be driven by the centre core (“dantien”), and this requires concentration of the mind and body. Hence calling it moving meditation is a very apt term.
Yang Style Tai Chi is suitable for many people, for example:
- You are a complete beginner and want to start learning tai chi
- You have an injury and need a slow, low impact exercise to help the recovery
- You want to meditate to calm your mind but cannot do it sitting quietly
- You want to improve your balance to prevent falls
- You want an exercise that does not require lying on the ground, equipment or special attire, so you can do it anywhere, anytime
The prerequisite to learning Yang Style Tai Chi is the Tai Chi Basics training course. It takes 2 terms of training courses (Levels 1, 2) to complete learning all 85 moves of the form.
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Chen Style Tai Chi is the oldest and the original tai chi form. It is the most dynamic of all the styles with a combination of soft and power movements, a tempo with varying speeds of slow, fast and very fast, and techniques that include kicks, punches and jumps. The required stances are wide and low, and movements are big and spiral-like. The low and wide stances strengthens the lower body, the intricate spiral movements improves coordination, the varied pace and explosive moves builds core and upper body strength. Overall it provides the most cardio and physical workout among all the styles.
Chen Style Tai Chi is suitable for those who have already learned Yang Style Tai Chi, or are interested in the martial arts aspect of tai chi. It is also suitable for someone looking for a more energetic and challenging form of tai chi. Chen Style Tai Chi makes an excellent complement to other martial arts or sports.
The prerequisite to starting Chen Style training is the Tai Chi Basics course. The Chen Style First Routine is challenging to learn and will require 3 terms of training courses (Levels 1, 2 & 3) to complete learning all 83 moves of the form.
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Wu Style Tai Chi is the second most popular style of tai chi practiced in the world today. It uses a medium stance, and its movements are smaller and more compact than those used in Yang style.
Wu style tai chi is unique in its emphasis on the extension of the body by leaning forward and backward rather than remaining centered, as one does in the other styles of tai chi. The back leg serves as a counterbalance, allowing for added extension without losing balance. The unique posture and stance is especially good for strengthening the lower back and core.
The prerequisite to learning Wu Style Tai Chi is the Tai Chi Basics training course. It takes 3 terms of training courses (Levels 1, 2, 3) to complete learning all 89 moves of the form.
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Cannon Fist is another tai chi form from the Chen family style. It is also referred to as the Chen Style Second Routine to differentiate it from the Chen Style First Routine. It has the same unique combination of soft vs power movements and varying speeds just like the First Routine. However it has more emphasis on speed and power, techniques are more direct and simpler, with more jumps, punches and kicks. It provides even more cardio and physical workout than the First Routine. We recommend learning Cannon Fist after you have taken at least one term of Chen Style Tai Chi training. (Read more about Cannon Fist…)
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As with any martial arts, training includes both forms and sparring. Forms are for solo practice, while sparring requires contact with a partner. Push Hands is therefore the sparring component of Tai Chi. It involves 2 persons in constant contact with each other, each person moving to unbalance the other person. Strikes and joint locks are not allowed, thus making it a fairly safe training method compared to other forms of sparring.
There are 2 types of push hands: Fixed format and Free format.
- In fixed format push hands, the sequence of the movements are fixed, so both parties know what the other person will be doing and reacts accordingly. This type of practice allows one to pay close attention to our own posture, balance and movements that must follow principles learned in the forms, in the presence of external pressure.
- In free format push hands, each person can move freely with the objective of maintaining one’s balance while unbalancing your opponent. This type of push hands is typically what you will see in a competition.
Push hands training is where you understand why the principles practiced in the forms are so important. For example, when the principle of relax and sink are applied correctly, you become very stable, not easily moved by your sparring partner. You also realize the importance of intention “yi”, the direction of your intention can have a dramatic impact on how easily you can move your opponent. This is just a few examples of the benefits of push hands training. Push hands training complements your forms training, it helps to identify the areas of your training that may be lacking. So when you practice the forms, you can focus on these areas to improve.
The prerequisite is to have taken the Basics training course first. You can then start push hands concurrently with forms training.
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For some, weapons make an interesting addition to the forms practice. For others, just the thought of holding a weapon can be intimidating. In modern times, wielding a weapon like a sword, sabre or staff seems pointless, so why do we still practice tai chi weapons?
A weapon represents an extension of our arms. To be able to move a weapon in one’s hand with grace and fluidity, requires focus of your intention “yi” beyond the physical body. Flaws in our movements, posture or balance are exaggerated 2-3 times when we hold a weapon. Weapons training is therefore a tool to help us identify and expose areas that need improvement. It also requires a much more intense use of “yi” that sometimes can make you feel more exhausted mentally than physically.
Traditional Tai Chi weapons include Sword, Sabre, Spear and Long Pole. Other types of apparatus have been added in recent years like the Fan.
Depending on the type of weapon, learning a Tai Chi weapons form can take between 1 to 3 terms. The prerequisite to learning a weapons form is to first learn the hand form. It does not matter which style of tai chi you learn, as long as you have some training in a tai chi form.
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COMBINE PRACTICE with Training
Complement your training with Health & Fitness classes, more practice will enhance your experience and progress your skills at a faster pace.