POSTED ON: Monday 18th July 2022

The secret to understanding tai chi classes.

The secret to understanding tai chi classes.
What does a regular tai chi class look like? Here I take look at the nuts and bolts of a typical lesson format for those who are new to tai chi, and for those wanting take time to understand the logic and progression of my teaching methods.

Warm up exercises.
All of my classes start with loosening and stretching exercises, also called Fang Song Gong. Their purpose is to fully prepare the body for tai chi training. Most people don’t realise how ‘stiff’ or awkward their bodies have become over the years.
Originally a complete martial arts self defence system, tai chi is now widely regarded as a great way to alleviate and combat the effects of life mentally and physically. So, when we start out with our loosening exercises, we are inviting body and mind to start letting go of the stresses and strains of life, and to tune into our bodies. We gradually progress through the body, moving and rotating the wrists, elbows etc, until the whole body has released unwanted tensions, is warmed up, and the joints are relaxed, open and ready to train.

Qigong breathing exercises.
From the warm-ups, we progress to simplified qigong breathing exercises. This is where we start to move the whole body in a fully coordinated way, combining the mind, breath, body and consciousness together.
Raising the hands aloft during inhalation, lowering the hands during exhalation is a typical simple qigong exercise.
The movement of the hands should be smooth, continuous and without hesitation, in fact a reflection of the breath.

Silk reeling energy.
Next are silk reeling energy exercises which are considered to be the foundation training methods that help students to master the three dimensional movement patterns that are intrinsic to Chen Style Tai Chi.
A key aspect of silk reeling energy exercises is that they are simple and repeated multiple times, often for quite long periods of time.
It is within this extended time frame that the body can learn to relax more fully, and the mind-body can sense and understand the transmission of movement in a spiral-like motion from the ground, through the feet, spiralling up through the body and into the hands.
At the physical level, silk reeling energy movements will strengthen the legs, assist in opening and relaxing the hips, and improve the mobility of the joints of the body. Energetically, when performed correctly, Qi energy will be transmitted smoothly both throughout the meridians and the whole body at the same time.

Taolu – forms training.
This is the next part of a standard class. This where we start to apply the knowledge gained from the loosening warm ups and silk reeling energy exercises to a structured sequence of movements, most commonly called the ‘form’. In the Chen Family Style Tai Chi forms, there are two key long form sequences, the ‘Old Frame’ (74 postures) and the ‘New Frame’ (83 postures), each having two routines, one is more steadfast with occasional use of explosive power, called fajing, or energy release, the second routine contains many movements where explosive power is called upon continuously.

When considering the complementary opposites of Yin and Yang, then the two routines represent a more complete picture of tai chi and overall balance, where the slow steady flowing movements of the first routine are complemented by the rapid, explosive and powerful movements of the second routine.
The genius, and global appeal of tai chi is its ability to cater for all levels of interest for physical exercise and fitness. Whether a gentler, slower routine, which appeals to a certain group, or the hard, fast explosive routines appealing to more athletic, physically demanding students, tai chi has got it covered.
Different tai chi masters have also responded to the modern ways and have adapted some of the longer forms, making them shorter, for those who don’t have either enough time or space to practice, making tai chi even more accessible. Examples are the 18 Short Form created by Grandmaster Chen Zhenglei, and the 11 & 8 Short Forms created by Grandmaster Liming Yue.

So here you have it, the standard structure and content of a typical class as taught by me. I endeavour to create the best learning outcomes for students, and this can mean that the class format will alter, sometimes to look really closely at specific posture and movement details, either in response to a students’ question, or where I can see that intervention is required to help students gain a better insight into elements of the form.

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