Bill Cartmell, Instructor
Cell: (480) 518-3055
What is Tai Chi?
Tai Chi Chuan (Taijiquan) is a healing/martial art that combines martial arts movements with Chi-energy circulation,
breathing and stretching techniques. It utilizes the ancient philosophy of Yin-Yang and the Five Element theories for its
foundation and to establish its training principles.
The training of Tai Chi includes the integration of mind, Chi, and body. The focus on Chi circulation was initially used
for the purpose of increasing the internal strength of the physical body for combat. The same techniques that were
capable of developing internal power for combat, also proved to be effective as life prolonging, healing and rejuvenating
exercises. These health benefits are the primary contributions that led to the popularity of Tai Chi today.
Tai Chi is often translated as “ultimate energy” and Tai Chi Chuan as the “grand” or “great energy fist.”
Chi is a widely used word in China that has many meanings. Basically, chi means energy and in terms of Tai Chi
Chuan, it commonly refers to intrinsic energy that flows through the body, often in association with the flow of blood.
Everyone has chi, when they die it leaves the body. There is Yin chi and Yang chi.
In general terms, Chi is often referred to as air, gas and vapor, or the breath. It can also mean spirit, character or
influence and bearing. When a person has a certain style in what they do, it is said they have a particular kind of chi. An
artist, such as a calligrapher, is said to express a certain kind of chi in his work.
There are many different kinds of chi. We are born with what is called Original Chi, which we get from our parents.
This is the Chi that resides primarily in our Dan Tian. The Chi that we accumulate during our daily life comes from air we
breathe and food we eat. It is said to be Cultivated Chi. Since the Original Chi tends to be used up, it is important to
replenish it. This can be done with breathing exercises such as Qigong, meditation, and Tai Chi forms.
In Tai Chi Chuan, some of the goals are to increase the amount of Chi, to improve the quality of Chi, to ensure that
it flows freely and is not blocked. The goal is also to achieve a balanced Yin and Yang Chi.
Chi can be experienced in many ways. Most commonly, it is through warmth in the hands and feet or an itchy feeling
in the hands. At different times in one’s practice, it is felt in different ways. But the goal in Tai Chi Chuan is not to feel the
Chi, but to make sure it is not blocked and to be able to direct it by one’s intention.
It is commonly said that one should sink the Chi to the Dan Tian, which is an energy center in the lower abdomen.
One of the reasons for this is so the energy cannot get stuck in the upper torso or the head.
Because of the need to deal with intellectual and emotional problems in daily life, the Chi rises to the head and does
not circulate freely through the rest of the body. This produces an imbalance that can produce fatigue, anger,
depression, and conflict.
Sinking the Chi helps to reassert the healthy flow of Chi through the meridians, or pathways, that is the basis for
acupuncture treatments. In Tai Chi Chuan, one of the goals is to be able to gather the Chi in the Dan Tian and from
there distribute it to the legs and the rest of the body during practice of the form and self-defense applications, as well
as during daily life.
At higher levels, Chi is transmuted into Shen, or spirit. And for health and in the martial arts, it is used to produce
Jin, or internal strength. Chi, itself, is said to come from Jing, or the generative energy. Together, the Jing, Chi, and
Shen are sometimes referred to as the Three Treasures.
The process of working with the Chi involves a mindfulness that helps to amplify the Chi and the development of
intention that can guide your effort and the Chi, itself.
Many people are unaware that Tai Chi is actually a martial art, yet it is extremely effective for combat, from the
viewpoint of technique as well as force. It is a concise, comprehensive fighting system that covers all four of the main
categories of attack – hitting, kicking, throwing and grappling.
In other arts, mechanical strength and speed are necessary in sparring. The mechanics and psychology of Tai Chi
are totally different. Because the basic combat strategy is to flow with one’s opponent’s movements rather than going
against them, a Tai Chi practitioner must be relaxed and calm in combat in order to use his skills and techniques
effectively. As the striking force is derived from internal energy flow and not by mechanical momentum, one can exert
force to the point of contact.
In the internal force training of Tai Chi, the force developed is usually versatile and capable of varied uses. If you
enhance your mind power through meditation and your intrinsic energy through Qigong practice, you can not only
develop a clear mind to observe your opponent’s moves calmly and be able to channel your intrinsic energy to your
palms or legs for powerful strikes, but also increase your mental focus and clarity of thought, as well as facilitating
harmonious energy flow for better physical and emotional health.