Tai Chi in Action

Many people do not know that Tai Chi is based on martial arts, hand to hand combat skills. What we do is very structured and full of intent, each hand has a purpose and meaning in its movements.

This video of Wudang Tai Chi is one of the best videos I’ve watched to see the application of various forms. It would be even better if there was an English translation! Watch carefully as the teacher shows the form, then breaks apart the movements as an attacker approaches.

While Tai Chi in the United States is primarily taught for health benefits (relieving stress, toning the muscles, improving balance, lowering blood pressure, meditation in motion, etc.) when we learn the reason behind the movements and the purpose of each form, it has just that much more value. My classes are NOT intended to be self-defense classes, but just knowing the movements can add to your self-confidence and understanding. Your muscle memory may just surprise you in the moment of an attack.

World Tai Chi Day Celebration

We had 18 in total practicing together

We had 18 in total practicing together

The last Saturday in April is World Tai Chi Day. We celebrated in Lilburn’s Mountain Park Park with two teachers and their students sharing their formsets, and finishing with a tai chi sword demonstration by yours truly. We all had fun, and shared some good qi with each other! Many thanks to all who participated, Bernie Stittleburg and Diana Dice for the photography.

Finger Dexterity

Most of the hand movements in Tai Chi involve the whole hands, not individual finger motion. But that’s no reason to neglect your digits. Here’s a really cool video on finger exercises, designed in particular for musicians, but it can help us all.

Take your time, don’t try to do all the exercises fast and with lots of tension. Remember your Tai Chi training, breathe slowly and deeply, move gently at your own pace, and start with just a few if your hands are tight. Come back to this video every day for a week or two to do the whole set. Make a qigong set out of this, focusing on your energy flowing to your hands and through your fingers.

Don’t feel surprised if your fingers just don’t want to do some of the exercises. Just play with them, stay calm and enjoy a laugh at your incoordination. This too will get better in time. Be patient and just have some fun. Then when you get really good, like this guy, you can impress your friends and relatives!

Out of This World Tai Chi

Tai Chi performed in space by Chinese astronaut:
Liu Yang

Six Harmonies of Tai Chi

A teacher of Tai Chi, Huang Sheng Shyan, came up with this list of the six harmonies:

Three internal harmonies
• The heart harmonizes with the intention
• the intention harmonizes with the Chi
• the Chi harmonizes with the movement.
Three external harmonies
• The hips harmonize with the shoulders
• the elbows harmonize with the knees
• the hands harmonize with the feet.

What does this mean? Starting with the external harmonies, we are to keep our hips in line with the shoulders. This means we turn from the center of the body, so that the shoulders move with the hips and not on their own. The elbows stay in alignment with the knee; as the knee bends the elbow sinks, as the knee extends the elbow opens. You can see this very clearly in the high kicks to the corner in the Yang 24 form.

The hands harmonize with the feet, also referred to as the wrist and the ankles. This one is more in-depth, as we consider the opposing statements that “If the feet follow the hands, you will never be defeated” and “there is a connection that occurs throughout the body that starts punch from the sole of the foot to the squeeze of the palm of the hand resulting in the punch itself.” When we move we start with rooting one foot to the floor, the energy sinks from the dan tien down to the floor, and returns up that leg through the body to the extended hand. The other foot moves, with the movement of foot and hand stopping at the same time. According to a post on LinkedIn by Gene Golden, “Both the sole of the foot and the palm have the unique element of many more nerve endings than occur almost anywhere throughout the epidermis. I believe it is part of an integrated communications network that inform the body of the critical element of timing. Pressure to the earth through the sole of the foot alerts the body that it is doing something, squeeze of the fist tells the rest of the body that it is where it is going to culminate. Next the energy flows through the 6 harmonies in a synchronized flow of expanding energy and finally you have punch. How well you integrate these principles and the shorter amount of time it takes place in, determines the amount of power you will have in your punch.”

As to the internal harmonies, it can also be said that the mind leads the breath, the breath leads the blood, the blood leads the power. So we start first with our mind, our intention of how and where we want to move. Our breath, and our qi, follows the mind movement which then leads the power of the muscles to move as our mind has directed. Just a note here, the Chinese do not separate the heart and brain as we do in the West, their concept is more of a heart/brain unity which leads the intention, yi.

As we combine the harmonies of each movement into a fluid form, we realize more about our body, it’s relationship with the world around us, our mind settles down into a focused state, and our energy flows more naturally throughout our bodies, giving us more physical power and greater health.

Benefits of Tai Chi forms

Recently a friend forwarded this description of the benefits of Tai Chi forms written by Great Grand Master Kellen Chia. Grand Master Kellen Chia created the Tai Chi Society to introduce Tai Chi to Australia where he’s been teaching for 20 years. I’ve edited his list to the 24 forms that I teach, and a few qigong moves.

Tai Chi practitioners all over the world have been asking for centuries about the healing benefits that each Tai Chi posture has on the body. They want a complete list of how each Tai Chi posture treats the organs of the body. Generally, people know that Tai Chi improves one’s health, but they don’t know the full details. I now release the result of my work on how the movements of Tai Chi affect the organs of the body. Each Tai Chi posture treats a different part of the body, thus a certain organ or organs of the body. Tai Chi heals the body by improving the flow of vital energy ( Chi ) through the acupuncture meridians, eliminating the imbalances or unblocking the blockages. I have chosen to release to the general public my knowledge of these Tai Chi movements because it is these movements (forms) that are commonly practised. The list below details which organs are treated by each posture.

Grasp sparrow’s tail
Pull back
Squeeze forward
Sit back ready
Press forward
These postures benefit the large intestine; they also treat constipation.

Single whip benefits the liver and digestive tract.

Snake climbs a tree benefits the large intestine, digestive tract, stomach disorders and the full length of the vertebrae.

Lift hands benefits the liver.

Shoulder press benefits the central nervous system.

Stork spreads wings benefits the central nervous system and the full length of the vertebrae.

Brush knee and twist step benefits the heart, lower digestive tract and stomach disorders.

Sage points the way benefits the small and large intestines.

Apparent close up benefits gastric problems. (closing move in 24 form – js)

Embrace tiger return to mountain benefits gastric-intestinal functions.

Press to the northwest benefits the central nervous system.

Fist under elbow benefits the large intestine and pancreas.

Step back and repulse monkey benefits the small and large intestines, gallbladder, kidneys and spinal cord.

Stroking horse’s mane benefits the small and large intestines, gallbladder, stomach and lungs.

Strum a lute benefits digestive disorders.

Golden needle at sea bottom benefits the small intestine.

Fan through back benefits the pancreas and stomach.

Turn around and chop with fist benefits the small and large intestines, pancreas, stomach and liver.

Upper cut, step forward, parry and punch benefits the small and large intestines, pancreas, kidneys and digestive disorders.

Wave hands like cloud benefits the large intestine, pancreas, spleen and stomach.

Lifting up the heavens benefits the liver.

High pat on horse benefits the liver.

Drawing the bow right benefits the liver and stomach. (qi gong move – js)

Separation of right leg benefits the kidneys, stomach and liver.

Spin around and kick with heel benefits the kidneys and stomach.

Right heel kick benefits the kidneys and stomach.

Double wind goes through ears benefits the liver.

Step up parry and punch benefits the stomach.

Slant flying benefits the small and large intestines, pancreas, lungs and spleen.

Fair lady works at shuttles benefits the small intestine.

Snake creeps down benefits the large intestine and kidneys.

Golden cock stands on one leg benefits the stomach.

Inspection of horse’s mouth benefits the pancreas and stomach.

Step forward to seven stars benefits the small intestine.

Spin around and lotus kick benefits the kidneys and spleen.

Shoot tiger benefits the lungs. (qi gong move – js)

Just What IS Tai Chi?

Tai Chi, for me, is a mix of exercise and meditation. It is mindfulness of motion and breath, purpose of motion and stillness. All we do is based on energy flowing through the body, allowing the muscles, tendons and ligaments space to move as they should.

Class practicing a Tai Chi form

Class practicing a Tai Chi form

Based on hard martial arts applications, our movements can be defensive or offensive in nature. But done slowly, we build strength, tone the body, gain balance and understanding of what our body is doing at a particular point in time.

During many of our daily activities we move arms and legs without thought, we gesture with our hands as we speak, but we’re not totally conscious of the movements. We walk, without thought of where our weight and balance is, we’re on auto-pilot. Tai Chi helps us to be more aware of ourselves. And that helps us to be more aware of those around us also, of our surroundings, of life itself.

Here’s a video I found recently that gives another view of what is Tai Chi.


A couple of thoughts on alignment and tension come from a post by Christoph Eberhard that I found on LinkedIn. He says, “… tension hides our misalignements, our blockages, our unbalances. It is only by relaxing that we can get aware of our postural problems.” So awareness of our body, the tensions within, leads to correcting our alignments, posture and energy flow. He also states, “General awareness leads to the awareness of details.” We start by becoming aware of the overall, then we can notice the details. Are we noticing all the details around us?

When you do a form, where is your mind? Does it wander like a loose monkey, checking out objects in the room, or thinking of things to be done later? Or are you focused on the flow of energy thru the movements of the body, the balanced stepping, the harmony of arms and legs in motion? Start with the outside, then move in. Notice where the hands and feet end up. Notice the curve or straightness of joints. Notice the suppleness of movement. Notice the easy, smooth breath. Notice the calming of the mind. And see where this leads you. What are you aware of?

Tai Chi class at Austin Drive Senior Center

Showing the form "Golden Rooster stands on one leg"

Showing the form “Golden Rooster stands on one leg”

At an open house for senior citizens at the Austin Drive Community Center, I had the opportunity to present with my class some of what we do in our Tai Chi class there on Tuesday mornings. Some of the ladies in my class have been doing Tai Chi for over 20 years. The age ranges up to 88 years young! They show up every Tuesday, practice the forms with me, get their energy flowing, and go out with a smile.

Even those who can't stand can get into Tai Chi

Even those who can’t stand can get into Tai Chi

The lady who is seated is recovering from a stroke. She credits her son, who also teaches Tai Chi, with her recovery. She started doing Tai Chi in the nursing home during rehab, it helped her with both arm and leg movements, and building strength and stamina. I applaud her for her courage and determination!

Showing the Brush Knee form

Showing the Brush Knee form

After the class demo, the audience got a chance to stand up and get moving, doing some of the warm-up and qigong exercises we also include in the class.
Getting the audience participating

Getting the audience participating

Tai Chi Sword

Wudong Tai Chi Master Chen was in Atlanta this past weekend, teaching Qigong forms and the second half of the Wudang 64 form Tai Chi sword set. He had  taught the first part last March. This is a very cool martial art form, with many thrusts to the throat, between the eyes, and cuts and slices in most painful spots. Fortunately, we don’t practice to kill, but knowing the application is part of the form. And our swords are not sharp!

Master Chen is on the far right in the front, to his right is Michael Issa, who teaches class at Kaikudo in Dunwoody. Most of the class practice with Michael, and are looking forward to perfecting the second half of the form in the next few months.

Tai Chi sword class

I’m there, in the back, on the right, with the red tassel from Master Chen’s sword covering my face.