What Tai Chi consists of?
Though in most schools training includes only the form and some energy exercises (Chi Kung), the complete Tai Chi Chuan training (independently of style) has 5 components. The existence of these components guarantees (not absolutely though) that the Tai Chi Chuan that is taught in this school is complete.
The form is a series of movements, a large chorography that is performed in slow motion. It consists of complete schemes that pertain to both self-defense and attack. These kinetic schemes have a cyclical, harmonious flow. The goal of the form is to train and strengthen the body in complex defensive and offensive techniques, to teach balance, to relax the nervous system, to establish good health and sharp memory etc.
Most people recognize Tai Chi Chuan by the movements of the Form. In most schools, the Form is the main object of training. Each style has its own special form.
Β) Pushing Hands
These very important exercises are practiced in pairs. Practitioners refine their perception, as they improve their awareness of their partner, as well as their reflexes and sensitivity. Also, these exercises improve the student’s ability to nullify his opponent’s power, “leading it to void”. This is achieved when the practitioner sticks his hands on his partner and “hears” his intentions through touch.
Pushing Hands can be static or moving and free, and are considered the bridge that unites the Form with fighting applications. This training constitutes the basis for the beginning of martial training and competence in other, more complex exercises, as through Pushing Hands the student learns fighting techniques, joint locks, footwork etc. Now there are Games that contain only Pushing Hands. These Games are not obligatory for all Tai Chi practitioners – only those who wish may participate.
C) Fighting applications
The form can be broken down in separate techniques, which, combined with footwork and other techniques that are not present in the form, may be connected with fighting applications that constitute powerful self-defense movements. The training in fighting applications is complete when the student gains the ability to participate in free sparring (according to the school’s rules, and with the proper gear). In free sparring are allowed all sorts of blows (not only blows with hands and feet), joint-locks and throws. However, the quality and the techniques of Tai Chi Chuan are maintained. Some Tai Chi Chuan schools also include competition techniques, as some students participate in full contact tournaments (San Da).
D) Training in Weapons
Traditional schools of Tai Chi Chuan include training in three basic weapons: broadsword, sword and spear. There are separate forms for each weapon, which are performed with rapid motion. These forms improve dramatically one’s physical fitness, and they have their own fighting applications and Pushing Hands (in this case, the practitioner’s hands are supposed to hold the respective weapon). Some schools contain forms of other weapons too, like knife, fan etc.
E) Chi Kung – Nei Kung
Tai Chi Chuan is by itself powerful energy work. Still, many schools include in their training Chi Kung (or Nei Kung) exercises. The goal of these techniques is the development of internal power. Many people practice Chi Kung as a complete system of exercise for good health or along with other systems of exercise.
Chi Kung usually combines physical movement or stillness with breathing exercises and concentration. It includes simple techniques that promote health, as well as complex and demanding techniques. The latter not only promote good health, but also strengthen the body and increase the practitioner’s effectiveness in full contact sparring.