woman doing taijiquan


According to physical fitness experts, the best exercises consist of slow, continuous and rhythmic movements. Examples of these are walking and swimming. They also emphasize what they call forced breathing, which exercises the diaphragm and increases blood flow.

With its flowing and rhythmic movements and its emphasis on breathing, Taijiquan fits the bill perfectly. Taijiquan is a form of shadow boxing. It was created by a martial arts master of the Ming Dynasty, Chen Wangting. Chen was a general and a government official of the Ming Dynasty and originally came from the town of Chenjiagou in Henan Province. Chen had studied Wushu and after the Ming Dynasty was overthrown by the Qing, he returned to his hometown and immersed himself in studying boxing.

Taijiquan calls for complete mental concentration. In fact, at the ideal level, all Taijiquan movements originate in the mind. It is believed that mental concentration can mobilize an internal energy current, which in turn guides the physical movements. In other words, the movements like lifting of an arm or bending a knee are no longer the results of conscious physical effort but the effect of mental concentration. It is both mental and physical exercise.

To a Westerner seeing Taijiquan for the first time, it may look like ballet in slow motion. It consists of a sequence of forms involving practically every part of the body and executed in a highly stylized yet natural manner. You stand straight but not stiff. You are relaxed. Your body is supple but not limp. Your movements are slow but steady, poised and powerful. The aim is to train yourself to be physically as soft as an infant, as resilient as a twig in the wind, sensitive to the slightest pressure on your body, and mentally alert.

It is believed in Taijiquan that one's physical energy originates in the feet and spread into the arms from the waist. Thus the waist plays the central role, sending energy where it is needed. Every movement of the arms calls for close coordination with the waist. This is one of the basic principles of Taijiquan, which can be applied in everyday life.

A second basic principle is synchronization of movement. Practically all movements involve every part of the body, though each movement emphasizes a specific part. The whole Taijiquan sequence unfolds in an uninterrupted continuity. There is an imperceptible pause at the end of every form, which occurs when the various parts of the body should come to a simultaneous stop.

While Taijiquan is an exercise for health, its various forms are designed for self-defense. The foremost principle is never to attack first, and when attacked, never to counter force with force but instead to make use of the attacking force to defeat the attacker. Suppose a man throws a punch at you, instead of countering it, you dodge and grab his fist, throwing him in the direction of his momentum. If he tries to retreat, throw him in the opposite direction he is headed.

Taijiquan, both as exercise and as an art of self-defense, reflects a philosophy. The standing posture and the movements symbolize a personality of straightforwardness and integrity, serenity and dignity. They indicate an individual of mental balance and emotional stability as well as physical well-being. The emphasis on suppleness and resilience points to a friendly disposition and absence of aggressiveness. The coordination and synchronization of movements illustrate a basic attitude toward one's work and responsibility, thoroughness, and diligence.

Revised June 13, 2011