I practice Tai Chi, and so should you (especially you)

I’ve been practicing tai chi for about 6 years now, which is sort of unusual as I was only 38 when I started and typically such practice is targeted towards people in their 60s and up. I had already gotten a black belt in American Kenpo in my 20s, which is karate, a Japanese martial art. I wanted to do more with martial arts but I was well past the age and shape of doing a hard art. Tai chi is a Chinese martial art, and “internal” art that focuses on power from within as opposed to external strength.

My local rec center started offering tai chi, taught by a local kung fu instructor (tai chi is a form of kung fu). We met twice a week, with 1-4 students per session for many years. Eventually we got up to like 10 students, with a lot of people coming in and out of the class. The instructor had to start toning down the class to make it more senior friendly, so me and the other more serious students moved to classes at his school in the next town over.

Now the rec center class is full at 20 students per class, 2x a week. Our class at his school is smaller, but there’s a consistent group going 2x a week, and us advanced students 2x a week.

We’ve got students in their 80s. Most are in their 70s. Tiny old women and big burly old guys. People with hip replacements, knee replacements, cancer survivors, people worn down by decades of physical work. And me, the morbidly obese middle-aged lady. Tai chi is for everyone!

It’s not woo-woo to say that tai chi really delivers as an exercise. Class is only 45 minutes long but you get sweaty and sore, barely moving from your spot. It DEFINITELY improves your balance - we do a lot of work just to get your balance going before we even show you any moves. There are forms (like a kata in karate, or basically like a choreographed routine) made up of poses (like yoga but they flow into each other) and basic principles that you apply to the poses to make the form.

Memory comes in with memorizing the poses and forms, and making your body do them. They’re seemingly simple but after 6 years I am just now feeling like “Oh, I know know this stuff now.” But at the same time it’s nothing that older folks can’t grasp. Simple movements that can be perfected and made right over time.

We learn how to walk right, how to turn without busting your knees, how to get your balance, and even some self defense (it’s like, secret self defense - it IS a martial art after all!)

According to the study from the article, doing tai chi regularly can boost your cognitive scores. Doing something called “enhanced” tai chi - basically doing some brain games while doing tai chi moves - boosted scores even more.

If anyone out there in Doperland is considering getting into some sort of workout routine, I highly recommend tai chi. I’d be happy to answer questions if I can. I’m by far no expert. I’m not an instructor, but my instructor does allow me to help guide other students and teach class when he’s not there. Plus I’ve just been doing it for a long time so I should know SOMETHING.

That was an excellent and informative post!

A local lady started Tai-chi classes at the library back in January and I have been going almost weekly since then.

I’m the target demographic, old, fat, bad hip.

I can now sit down cross legged in the middle of the floor and then get back up unassisted. It’s wonderful and I will be doing Tai-chi for the rest of my life.

Damn! That’s impressive!!

I am so glad you found tai chi and it’s helping you :slight_smile: :slight_smile:

When I started tai chi in the 1970s, everybody was at least a decade younger than 38. Looks like tai chi persists with that cohort, now 50 years older.

I didn’t keep it up for several reasons, mostly because it hurt my knees too much. That the teacher cheated on his wife and moved out of state with his lover was pretty crucial as well.

I’m sure that today more options are available and are more slanted toward older, hurting practitioners. If you can find a class that accommodates your needs, by all means take advantage of it.

My instructor spends part of each class making sure we don’t blow our knees out with proper posture. I’ve found that doing the exercises my way tends to make my knees hurt, doing it her way doesn’t.

I probably wouldn’t have been thrilled by a cheating teacher either.

Thanks, it really is considering everything. It’s also improved my quality of life by allowing me to mess around in our largish back yard without worrying about falling and not being seen.

Kudos to you, ZipperJJ!

There’s an old joke in the Tai Chi community that I share with people (particularly new groups of students) once in a while:

Q: How many Tai Chi masters does it take to change a light bulb.
A: At least fourteen. The first will say, “This is how we change a light bulb…” and demonstrate what he knows is The Proper Technique. When he’s done, another master will speak up, “Ahhh! That’s very nice – but in MY style, we do it a little differently. Allow me to demonstrate…” and he will demonstrate what he teaches. Each of the other dozen masters will, in turn, offer “That’s very nice, but in MY style…” and before they have all had a turn, each of the teachers will have more differences to demonstrate, ad nauseum.

Keep this in the back of your mind as you continue reading.

I have been practicing Tai Chi for about 40 years, teaching it for about 30, and extolling on these boards (typically on IMHO, CS, or MPSIMS) the virtues of Tai Chi and other martial arts for about a decade. I’m going to subdivide your post and respond to various bits. I’m not trying to tear apart arguments, but just responding with observations and thoughts from a lot of years being involved in martial arts. My overall goal is to be supportive of your continued studies.

Tai Chi is practiced basically as a government-sponsored exercise throughout China by young and old alike. I find it unfortunate that, in most of the Western hemisphere and definitely in the USA, Tai Chi is marketed toward senior citizens. In the USA, particularly because it is perceived as a senior citizens’ activity, Tai Chi is often lampooned as an exceedingly slow dance that poorly imitates kung fu.

Another stereotype I see as unfortunate is that Tai Chi is an activity geared toward the infirm; like a consolation prize given to those who didn’t win first place, it’s the pseudo-activity that can be attempted by those not fit enough to do real martial arts. You and I (and others, no doubt) know differently, but the stereotype is there and unfortunately it affects the way the general public perceives it.

I’d love to say “anyone and everyone can do Tai Chi” but, aside from disliking such hyperbole (Ninjutsu is for everyone! Brazillian Ju Jitsu is the only one worth studying!) from any of the martial arts, I’ve quite honestly seen as a teacher that it’s not for everyone. There are some whose extant injuries or physical limitations are too severe to allow the movements. There are some who can not and will not be able to wrap their minds around some concepts or activities. There are some who just won’t be able to relax enough to get their bodies to do it. You might argue that a lot of those impediments above just take time to overcome and I’d strongly agree with you. However, there are some for whom Tai Chi is really not advisable and I don’t want to be the guy responsible for helping a student exacerbate injuries or problems via Tai Chi practice.

The biggest impediment I’ve seen for most new students is that they lack the patience to give it time and let themselves repeat, repeat, repeat until they settle-in and start becoming comfortable with the movements. And I’ll be the first to admit I’m bragging: That’s where good teachers (and teaching) comes into play. Then again, that’s true of anything that can be learned; a practitioner who is skilled (talented) at teaching the subject matter will have a tremendous influence on how well the students learn that subject matter. Furthermore, a point of pride for the best teachers is that their ability to teach well will result in students surpassing the teacher’s best performance levels. The obverse, is also true: especially skilled or talented practitioners are not necessarily the best teachers, particularly if they haven’t spent considerable time contemplating or researching why approach or method A works better/worse/just differently than approach or method B. Furthermore, one can be a skilled or talented teacher of one subject and be less competent at teaching other subjects.

I’ll heartily agree to that, with the caveat that one can get out of it only as much as one puts in.

Respectfully, if you are still sweating and sore after four or five years you are pushing yourself too hard. More below…

I’ll reiterate here what I have posted in other martial arts threads (and how I’ve responded to prospective students): Improvements to one’s balance, mental focus, alertness, posture, agility, hand-eye coordination, and cardio-vascular health are NOT intrinsic to any martial art. They are the natural results of regular exercise. Also, be very skeptical of any martial art (or other form of exercise) claiming it can cure cancers or clear up cataracts or do other miraculous stuff. We don’t believe praying to a deity from some 90-billion year old cult will cure the praying person’s cancer or poverty$ so we shouldn’t be any less skeptical about any martial art or sport or technology or food supplement.

Actually the poses are like Chi Gong. In fact, there are those who argue that Tai Chi is a variant of Chi Gong.
You’ve only been practicing for six years but you will eventually learn this stuff so I’ll throw you some secrets early:

  1. It’s tough to translate, but there’s a general terminology in English about poses/postures and forms. Forms are the compiled routines that are usually identified by the purported number of steps they contain (but it often depends who is doing the counting). The postures are the individual bits that make up the forms but the term is still misleading: Your efforts are not ONLY about where your hands and feet and joints end up; the critical issue is how you get those parts to move into position. All the subtleties of how you get from one posture to the next affects your effectiveness, thereby making your activity more like a martial art or more like a dance. The instructor’s knowledge, teaching skill & talent, and goals will combine with your skill, talent, and goals to influence the degree-of-effectiveness you will demonstrate when executing the forms.

  2. There are eight major modern branches, thirteen essential elements, hundreds of different forms (sequential routines, with and without props/tools) and – well, see the joke above. The movements are being taught to you and you are learning to perform them in particular sequences. However, it is important to understand that the patterns are a construct to make learning the individual moves not boring so that you will practice the moves over-and-over-and-over-and-over-and-over-and-over-and-over until you can, quite literally, do them properly and acurately without having to think about them. That is the value of Forms that Bruce Lee (great as he was in his own ways) did not understand. But Lee’s criticism is also valid: Forms create artificial sequences which become [can be] a trap for martial artists. The point is that you should practice the forms in order to…
    A) not get bored
    B) execute and refine the techniques and movements (with the help of a good instructor)
    C) train the muscles to perform them without the impeding delay caused by thinking about what to do next or how to appropriately respond
    …but you should NOT succumb to the false impression that any particular sequences are ‘natural’ or ‘logical’ combinations. Eventually, you will want to be able to pull the individual postures apart from the sequences and either resequence them into new forms or pull whichever seems most appropriate at-the-time in response to whatever your partner/opponent is doing at-the-time (and we’re talking about fractions-of-a-second at-the-time).

  3. As you’ve probably observed by now, there are some teachers who instruct students to perform the movements like they are dance steps and some who teach it as a martial art. As the Yang style was popularized in the USA (not coincidentally during the counterculture & psychedelia fads) the health & meditative aspects were emphasized more than the combative elements. By then, even the Chinese had learned boxers* can’t withstand bullets. But combat < --spectrum-- > dance is not a very accurate representation, either. I believe a complex combat technique can be performed with finesse, timing, grace, and effectivess, making something like my flying spinning back kick a deadly thing of beauty; I don’t believe a complex dance movement (even in something as stunning as classical ballet) can be effective in combat, even if executed perfectly – though I’d be delighted to be proven wrong. I do, however, believe martial arts techniques can infuse elements of dance (and vice versa) to spice up a performance. Add some extra grace and balance to a lotus kick and finish with a flourish; the form won’t be harmed by the addition if the practitioner knows how to distinguish function from flash. Add a focus-point to an innocent thrust of the arm and a dance move can become an attack; most observers won’t notice and only the dancer will know how effectively it may work. Naturally, the performer must obey the instructor, whose instructions will be based on his/her intended goals.

By now you should be able to think, “I’m going to do the ____ Form from start to finish.” and then turn your brain off and let the body do its thing.
Start with the easiest form you know – or just the first period of the easiest form you know.
It won’t be perfect but you should be able to perform all of it, moving smoothly from posture to posture without forgetting one and without hesitating between movements.
That’s the meditative aspect of this exercise that is often referred to as moving meditation – relax, turn your brain off, and let your body do what it’s supposed to do.

I’ve only been doing this stuff for 45 years so I laugh when someone suggests I’m a Master. On the other hand, I’m nerdy and obsessive/compulsive enough to have contemplated and analyzed the body-mechanics of this stuff so that I can teach it well and I’ve developed some effective teaching methods. Different instructors will have different points of emphasis (see the joke way up above) and my emphasis has been different from what my two instructors focussed on. My methods start with simple circular movements from Chi Gong exercises and I remind beginners that they are the same simple exercises that are taught to kindergarteners to help them learn basic coordination and body momvement. I then get the class to use parts and recombinations of those basic circular movements when walking forward and backward. This is a bit non-traditional, mixing the marching drills of the hard-style karate that I learned with the essential Chi Gong & calisthenic movements from the earlier warm-up exercises. During those marches I emphasize joint alignment and balance. We shift gears and learn to move left and right while (again) emphasizing balance and joint alignment, then reintroduce the hand movements from the marches – this time in a different sequence. By the time we’re done with that, the students have learned (without realizing it) the Basic 8 form. Then I tell them what and why it is (as well as why some call it a 10 Form) and we repeat a few times. Whenever there are first-time students (90% of the time) we go through these same phases. If I have only experienced students (i.e. no first-timers) we do less and less Chi Gong in the beginning (depending on the experience of the newest ‘veteran’ attending that day) and we focus more and more on fine-tuning the form at the end. Eventually, we move to a 20-step form I’ve invented, the Universal 24 Form, the Yang Short Form, the Yang Long form, and the Competition 42 form. It’s been too long for me to remember the Chen form, but I don’t currently have students ready to learn that one yet.

I teach Tai Chi as a martial art and assure students that I’m not expecting any of them to go out and challenge muggers or bank robbers. The point, for me, is that I can more easily describe to students which way their body parts should move and where they should end up in relation to their own body or an imaginary opponent’s body. The end result is that, regardless of height or width or proportions, each student executing the action correctly will end up facing the right direction with their weight distributed properly and their joints bending at the correct angles.

Last, but not least, a bit of humor for you.
When I was in Japan I mentioned to my employer that I did a few martial arts. In Japan it’s known as Tai Ji Quan (due to various Chinese ↔ Japanese linguistic issues). That would sometimes come up in conversations with the English students at the school and some would try to make small-talk by asking, “So…you play Tai Ji Quan?”
And I knew enough not to be offended and my responses would be kind and conversational.
But my first thoughts to stifle were always an infurated “PLAY? It’s not PLAY; I’ve been struggling to get it right for YEARS!”


$Okay, so maybe that’s a bit too much of an assumption but, like, you don’t do y—Are you serious!!! REALLY??! :roll_eyes:
*There’s a joke buried in there, but I’ll leave it to Diligent Dopers to figure it out.