Tai Chi is a Chinese martial art. Its full name is Tai Chi Chuan, a Chinese phrase which can be translated as approximately meaning supreme ultimate fist. Tai Chi is a relatively new martial art, with its concrete origins sometime around 1820, although it likely existed for some time before that. It is what is known as a soft style of martial combat, putting an emphasis on relaxed muscle positions and the use of an opponent’s momentum, as contrasted with the hard styles, which emphasize muscles in a high-state of readiness, and meeting an opponent’s force with one’s own force. In addition to the martial aspects of Tai Chi, there is a great deal of stress placed on the concepts of meditative calm, and overall physical health. Indeed, for many people living in the modern world, Tai Chi is not thought of as a martial art, but rather as a system of movement and breathing meant to be therapeutic. In much the same way that yoga in the West has become divorced from its original intent, so too has Tai Chi become something quite different. In many ways, Tai Chi is a very Taoist tradition. It teaches such things as learning to move with the world – both in a literal, physical sense in terms of martial self-defense, and in a more abstract, meditative sense. Indeed, the core of Tai Chi could be described as simply learning to react appropriately to whatever is offered.
This is one reason why many in the modern world find it so valuable as a discipline. Practitioners of Tai Chi usually find that within a relatively short period of time, they are better equipped to handle stressful situations, and find themselves less prone to being caught off balance either physically or mentally. In order to cultivate this state of mind, Tai Chi practitioners focus on two main types of formal training. In the first, the student learns a number of movement poses that they undertake on their own. These poses work on steady, healthy breathing, supple posture, and a smooth movement of the body’s joints. In the second, the student works with another practitioner to understand how these forms interact with another person’s movement. These pushing hands poses help teach a sensitivity, as well as helping to improve the solo poses through a more rigorous exercise. In addition to these poses, which one often sees Western practitioners doing in isolation in public parks, or in group classes, Tai Chi also makes use of more traditional martial art techniques. Sparring takes place between two practitioners, and is similar to sparring in many other widely-known martial art forms. Tai Chi practitioners may also make use of various weapons, including the spear or staff (chang or chiang), the broadsword or sabre (tao or dao), the straight sword (chien or jien). Other weapons like the chain or fan can be used as well.