||Dr. Boon Hung HONG
Tai Chi Master in charge of Integrated Yang Tai Chi Association of Australia
Tai-Chi literally translates as 'the grand ultimate'. It was created as an ultimate martial art to counteract the all-powerful Shaolin martial arts. It is said that Tai-Chi was created more than 800 years ago by a Taoist, Master Zhang Sanfong, who himself was an expert in Shaolin martial arts. Master Zhang created Tai-Chi after he witnessed a fierce fight between a snake and a crane in his backyard, where the cunning snake twisted and hissed, avoiding the powerful speedy strikes from the crane's beak. Much like the snake, Tai-Chi utilizes soft, twisting and resilient forces to conquer the powerful speedy strikes of Shaolin, which resembles the crane's beak.
Initially, Tai-Chi was passed on secretly from one master to selected disciples. About 300 years ago, during the late Ming or early Qing dynasties, General Chen Wanting, a garrison commander in Wenxian county, Henan Province, created Chen style Tai-Chi. He passed on the art only to his sons and grandsons. Later on, Yang Luchan (1799-1872) of Hebei Province learned the art of Tai-Chi from Chen Chang-Him (1771-1843), a descendent of Chen Wanting, and devised his own Yang Style Tai-Chi of today. In 1852 Yang Luchan brought Tai-Chi with him to Beijing. Later on Wu Jianquan (1870-1942) a disciple of Yang Luchan's son created his own Wu Style Tai-Chi. Today we have Chen, Yang, Wu, Wo and Soon styles of Tai-Chi.
The Tai-Chi martial art consists of a set of floor exercises, pushing hands, qigong (a system of Taoist deep breathing exercises) and skills in weaponry. Its practice is in contrast to the speedy and jerky movements of the Shaolin style of martial arts. From a physiological point of view, Tai-Chi can indeed help to improve and regulate the function of various body systems in the following ways:
a. Improving the Cardiovascular System
Tai-Chi floor exercises consists of a set of slow continuous flowing movements. It is often referred to as 'swimming on land'. Body posture and balance are maintained throughout the whole set of exercises. Upper and lower limb movements are coordinated and relaxed according to the flow of power. There are no sudden jerking movements. This enables the heart to beat at a constant and steady rate, which, by improving blood circulation to vital organs, encourages cellular metabolism. Cardiac muscle itself also receives a constant blood flow and oxygen supply, thus improving its function. Theoretically Tai-Chi is an excellent exercise for sufferers of ischaemic heart disease. It has been shown that blood pressure drops slightly during Tai-Chi floor exercises.
b. Increasing the Vital Capacity of the Lungs and Improving the Digestive System
Tai-Chi Qigong is a system of deep breathing exercises coordinated with limb movements. Diaphragmatic muscles contract and relax in conjunction with abdominal muscles in order to transfer power or Qi or Jin from the foot to the palm or finger tips when striking an opponent. After completion of the whole set of Tai-Chi floor exercises, one would perspire profusely with a warm feeling in the palms. Yet respiratory rate remains normal and controlled without the puffing or shortness of breath experienced in other forms of strenuous exercise. Over time, practice of Qigong improves lung function by increasing the vital capacity. Tai-Chi is therefore beneficial for asthma and COPD sufferers.
During this slow exercise, the diaphragm descends simultaneously with the relaxation of abdominal wall muscles, leading to movement of the abdominal viscera. Theoretically this should improve digestion. One should not practise Tai-Chi after a big meal.
c. Improving Lumbar Back and Reducing Falls
From a fighting science point of view, Tai-Chi utilizes circular movements to deflect powerful oncoming forces and uses tangential forces to strike back. The complete set of floor exercises and pushing hand techniques are meant to train the practitioner to fight with this ability. Tai-Chi is about skill rather than brute force. To achieve this, one must drop the shoulders and elbows, maintain correct head and neck posture, relax and contract lumbar muscles in conjunction with hip joint movements, and use the mind to guide these movements. Good head and neck posture helps to strengthen the trapezius muscle at the back of the neck, and erector spinalis muscles of the back. This practice of smooth movements and good posture certainly helps people with chronic lower back pain and neck pain.
In addition, as Tai-Chi is a weight-bearing exercise, prolonged practice leads to increased bone density. In conjunction with this, improved proprioception and control of muscles required for balance significantly reduces the risk of accidental falls, and therefore reduces ones chances of fracturing their hips in old age.
d. Mood and Well-being
During the practice of Tai-Chi, the mind should remain clear and focused solely on the movements, akin to 'meditation in motion'. One should achieve relaxation, contentment and a warm inner feeling after Tai-Chi. The practitioner should also experience an improvement in mood and relief of tension.
Prolonged and correct practice is required to achieve all of the beneficial effects of Tai-Chi.
- Dr. Boon Hung Hong
Tai Chi Master in charge of the Association
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