Taiji (also known by many other spellings: Taichi, Tai Chi, T’ai Chi, T’ai Chi Ch’uan, Taiji Quan) is a member of the internal discipline of Chinese martial arts. Within Taiji are five distinct orthodox styles named after the family who developed each style. At PNMAA, we start teaching the most popular and easy-to-learn style known as Yang Style.
Yang style Taiji is a gentle, low-impact and slow-motion form of exercise, with martial arts application, and is primarily used today as a way to reduce stress, increase flexibility and muscle strength, improve balance and other health functions, and to nurture the mind-body connection. The movements are never forced, never fully extended, and free of tension. A frequent description of Taiji is “meditation in motion.” By getting in touch with our breath, we are able to free our minds and focus on ourselves thus improving mind, spirit and body.
We will also be exploring Qigong. Qigong is the study of intrinsic energy (there is no true English translation of Qi but many believe it to literally mean blood flow) and many movements of Taiji have their origins in Qigong. The two studies are linked and we will be interchanging movements of each. For instance, in learning a new movement in Taiji we may repeat it many times in order to train our muscle memory while incorporating Qigong breathing and energy focus for a deeper understanding of the movement.
Who Can Do Taiji?
Just about everyone can benefit from Qigong & Taiji, even if they are wheelchair bound. Many movements can be incorporated into sitting movements. If you have any concerns about your own health, please consult your physician for an expert determination. You are strongly cautioned if you have any dizziness or light-headedness. If you experience this during class, please notify your teacher immediately and then consult your physician.
Qi – The intrinsic energy flow in the body. Taiji is a practice to unblock channels in the body so that the flow of energy, or qi, may be maximized to its full potential.
Taiji – The study of a Chinese martial art discipline categorized as “internal” due to the focus within the movements, or spirit, as opposed to external or hard styles of martial arts (such as long fist, Southern fist, Shaolin fist, etc.)
Yin & Yang – The belief that everything exists in a perfect balance of opposites. Light-Dark, Short-Tall, Empty-Full. The concept of Yin Yang is incorporated into every movement and posture of Taiji following the opening movement (wuji).
Taolu – There is the basic definition of taolu meaning form. Frequently in the West we refer to a series of movements as a form such as the Yang Style 24 Form (meaning there are 24 distinct movements). There is another deeper meaning of taolu which we will emphasize—it also means journey. From the beginner to the most skilled Taiji practitioner, no two times through a taolu is the same, therefore, each taolu is a distinct journey that will have different destinations.
Dan tien (dantian, dan t’ian or tan tien) – Important focal points of energy in qigong, Taiji and Chinese medicine, these areas are thought to store energy and through breathing techniques one can remove bad energy and replace it with good energy. The three principal dan tiens that we will be focusing on in class is the third eye (slightly above your eyebrows in the center of your forehead), the heart, and an area that is one hand-width below your belly button.
Dan tien breathing – Our class will focus heavily on retraining your breathing patterns into the most relaxing form of breathing called dan tien breathing. Basically, we physically fill up our lungs, starting at the bottom of the lungs and working to the top, by breathing in through our nose, but we focus the breath as though we are filling up our “sea of qi” area below the belly button. The exhale is in reverse: exhaling through the nose from the top of your lungs down to the bottom of the lungs. Slow, deep and even breathing will not only make you feel more relaxed, but you will see that your movements in qigong and Taiji are more fluid, slow and even.
Wuji – Literally wuji is nothing or the point of beginning. In Taiji, wuji is a basic stance where one stands with their legs at shoulder-width apart, the upper body is relaxed with the arms slightly held away from the body, the shoulders are dropped and relaxed, the tongue is on the upper palette of the mouth and one clears the mind. “Before there was Taiji, there was wuji” (meaning before there was something, there was nothing).
Wushu – Wushu is the combination of two Chinese words: wu meaning military or martial and shu meaning arts. Some have gone as far to say that Wushu is the art of not fighting because the deeper one studies wushu (internal and external disciplines), the more one appreciates the damage or death that could result from direct conflict or fighting. This deeper appreciation encourages wushu practitioners to promote other avenues of conflict resolution through peace and understanding.
Kung Fu – You might be familiar with this term and you might think that this is what Chinese martial arts is called. However, this is incorrect. When Bruce Lee first came to the United States, he was asked what his fighting style was. Through a translation error, it was thought that Chinese martial arts was called kung fu when in fact the term kung fu refers to an individual who is exceptional and renowned for their practice and this could be in any field: cooking, writing, painting, martial arts, etc. So, to say, for instance, that Bruce Lee’s wushu was kung fu would be entirely accurate as he was one of the best Chinese martial arts practitioners in history. It is also proper to say that Wolfgang Puck is kung fu in cooking based on his extensive culinary popularity and success.
This misnomer is still used today, even by respected martial arts schools, because of the history of not knowing the correct terminology (kung fu) is still more common among Westerners than knowing the correct terminology (wushu).
We will start each class with balancing, breathing, and a gentle qigong warm-up. From there we will explore the basic arm shapes, proper posture, breathing and relaxation techniques, and basic footwork steps.
As we get deeper into our studies of Yang Style Taiji, movements will be incorporated together into short drills that you will be able to practice at home. These drills will be the foundation of learning many different taolus.
Towards the end of our class time we will do a cool-down qigong to help you feel refreshed and energized. After class I encourage everyone to drink lots of water right away.
I encourage everyone to try to spend at least 5 to 10 minutes a day reviewing at least one thing you have learned in class. That may be as basic as just standing in wuji and breathing. As simple as it sounds, this daily routine will strengthen your understanding and appreciation of Taiji.
Your home practice will help you to remember movements taught in class. Remember, these movements at first will seem very foreign and only through repeated practiced (muscle memory building) will the movements become second nature. This is an amazing place to strive for because once you can stop thinking and analyzing the movements in your head (brain activity) and just let your muscle memory take over, then your mind is free to truly experience the meditative qualities of Qigong and Taiji!
How to Dress
Wearing loose, comfortable-fitting clothing is ideal for practicing Taiji and Qigong. Your footwear is also very important. Because the movements of Taiji are likened to a tree where our feet are visualized to be deeply rooted into the soil, our bodies the trunk of the tree and our expressive arms are the branches, it is important that your feet “feel” the ground or floor you are standing on. I would suggest thin-soled tennis shoes that aren’t elevated in the back (popular for jogging) or that don’t have the huge wedge-like wings on the inside and outside of the heel area. Chinese martial arts shoes and Chinese slippers are also acceptable. If you have been prescribed orthotic shoes or implants, please wear these as your doctor has suggested.
A note on sock-feet or bare-feet: Please do not do Taiji in your socks. Our floors are slippery and the risk of slipping and falling is greater when one wears socks. Regarding bare-feet, obviously eliminating the shoes altogether would put your feet in direct contact with the ground/floor/Earth, however, it is possible to pull one of the many ligaments or tendons in our feet. There is also the factor of coldness. Because our toes, like our fingers, are furthest from the heart, they tend to be colder and could become injured. So, please wear good-fitting, comfortable shoes and socks.
PNMAA was founded in 2014 by Jeannette Shea, a Skagit County resident since 1989 and a Taiji practitioner since May, 2007. She practices Yang style Taiji, Yang style sword (a double-edged straight sword known as a jian) and Taiji fan. Jeannette studied with a Taiji world champion instructor in 2013-2014, she competed at two prestigious Taiji competitions in 2015 (CMAT & Tiger Claw Elite) where she earned medals in every event earning 4 gold medals and two bronze medals, and she qualified for the grand championship at Tiger Claw. Jeannette currently teaches all Wushu classes, including external styles (long fist, Southern fist & Shaolin fist).
I am here to answer any questions or concerns you may have about class. You can contact me in person, by phone/text at 360-630-1472, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. We also have a Facebook page that I frequently updated, just search “PNMAA.” Our website is www.pnmaa.com.
Thank you for your interest in our program! –Jeannette