Tai chi

It’s impossible to do a search for Tai Chi. Drat those 3-letter words.

My husband has always wanted to do martial arts classes. The only ones that I think look interesting are the Tai Chi classes.

Can anyone tell me about their experiences with Tai Chi? (Or point me to a thread if you know of one.)

When I’ve seen people doing it, it doesn’t look hugely demanding, which is a plus. (My husband has health issues.)

Is it interesting? There are beginner classes starting in early October at a place about an hour away for $99/person for a six-week introduction. Does that sound reasonable? I thought it sounded pretty cheap.

Any info or feedback would be great.

I am a black belt in hapkido, but my instructor also teaches me and a few other students in yang style tai chi. (Don’t worry about the different styles, I’m just sharing my experience.) I find tai chi very interesting, mostly because I routinely practice what would generally be called a “hard” martial art (though it is a balance between soft and hard styles). Tai chi is generally considered an internal art, making it much different and an interesting physical and mental challenge.

It is not aerobically strenuous, but it is more demanding than simply gently waving one’s hands around in the air. To do tai chi well, you need good flexibility and strength, especially in your legs. But this is something that is developed over time, and lack of those attributes isn’t an instant disqualifier as it may be in other martial arts. You aren’t going to get fit and lose weight doing tai chi, but after an hours’ worth of practice, you do feel it some! And don’t be fooled: just because you see real old people doing it, doesn’t mean that they’re your typical frail old folks: quite a number of elderly practitioners are surprisingly strong and flexible for their age, probably because they’ve been doing it all their lives. Check out Youtube and you’ll see what I mean.

I’d still consider myself in the intermediate range of skill, so I’m no expert, but here’s my thoughts on who may get the most out of tai chi:

You should have great patience and be inclined towards perfecting a fewer number of things, rather than seeking to learn a greater number of things with somewhat lesser precision. Odds are that in six weeks you’d be learning only one form the whole time, so if you need excitement, changes of pace, or to mix things up to keep your interest (rather than doing the same thing over and over to perfection), tai chi might not be as rewarding.

You should commit to taking it seriously, devoting a lot of thought and brainpower to the movements, but clearing your mind in an almost meditative sort of way. The kicking I do in hapkido is rewarding because its all about speed, fast-twitch strength, and turning your brain off and letting your instincts take over. One might compare that to watching an action movie; in which case tai chi is more like reading James Joyce, because the rewards are not instant gratification, but the result of considerable and sustained effort.

Although tai chi does have some self defense applications, I’ve found that the lessons are very subtle and it takes a very, very long time to “get” the hidden applications, and probably only valuable to those who have already spent many years studying martial arts and who are seeking advanced refinements of techniques and concepts already introduced elsewhere.

So that is kind of what it is like in one person’s eyes, but someone is very well advised to take the same steps as any martial artist would give to any beginner. Meet with the instructor first, get a sense of whether the guy is actually an expert in tai chi or just picked up a few things watching a video and reading a book or two, ask to watch a class and think how you’d like to be taught by that instructor (I did a bit of tai chi when I was in China years ago, and the instructor was incredibly demanding – stretch more! reach further! deeper stance! bend down further! – which some may not expect out of a tai chi instructor), and if at all possible do a trial class.

It sounds like this may be more of a community college/rec center type of deal, so that advice may not be realistic. But $99 seems a reasonable price to me, and since it is a pretty short term commitment, I’d have less hesitancy so say why not give it a shot and see if the husband likes it, and if not, hey, it is only a hundred bucks.

Well, I can’t add to what Ravenman said, but I just wanted to give my perspective from a beginner-beginner standpoint.

I took a tai chi class over the summer from a senior citizen group and it was free. So the price was right. And thanks for reminding me. . . I think I might do that again.

As Ravenman said, it looks deceptively simple, but it’s not. It’s not strenuous, but it requires some coordination and balance. I liked it because it kept my mind busy. I had to constantly be thinking about the next move but needed to coordinate with the present move or I’d topple. It’s like a very slow dance and I could see where it could take a lifetime to learn and become proficient at. Small movements can make a big difference in how it looks and how graceful you can execute the moves.

Let us know how your husband (and you?) like it.

Some suggestions. First, especially with Google, put quotation marks around your term. You may already know about this, but I’m constantly surprised at how many don’t. Typing in tai chi will simply look for those words anywhere in a document but not necessarily together; typing in “tai chi” with the quotes looks only for those two words next to each other.

Second, it’s often one word: taichi.

Third, I’ve often actually seen it transliterated and pronounced taijiquan in China itself. Maybe try that.

Hope these help.

Use ‘tai chi’ as your search string. Note that the single quotes are important.

The bad news: Any thread with tai or chi will be returned.

The good news: Tai and chi aren’t common terms.

ETA: This is specific (mostly) to SDMB

Yes, I should have been more clear. He wants martial arts-type stuff. Tai chi looks like the only one I’m really willing to do with him. So it would be both of us.

Unless someone can suggest another art that might be suitable for someone in not-great health (him) and someone who isn’t particularly interested in self-defense (me).
Thanks for the great information, all of you. I’m sure I’ll have questions after I wake up. :slight_smile:

Myself and Mom did tai chi a couple years back.

The only males in the room were the instructor and the husband of one of the women, who decided to give it a try after seeing how much good it did her. Classes were paid for individually, at the end of the class.

The group included a woman who’s legally blind (she sees color spots but that’s it), several with joint problems (Mom for example), several who were quite overweight… myself, I couldn’t do the “running” exercises because my feet are too high and it hurt to hit the floor running shoeless. I understand those weren’t part of traditional tai chi but he’d included them because he’d found a bit of vigorous running back and forth was beneficial for most of his students.

All of us got better posture, many mentioned having less pain. The instructor had this philosophy of “you must stretch, not break, your limits.” We were told to stop doing anything that was painful, but also taught not to be afraid of pain… anything new, we started it slow-and-easy enough that if it was going to hurt it didn’t HURT. If it hurt, you just moved aside and did other exercises on your own, then rejoined the group later.

While I would probably not remember which particular gestures are “monkey fighting clouds,” (if such a name exists) I learned several stretching and calming exercises which I do semi-regularly. The exercises are things you can do in any hallway or garden, you don’t need mats or any kind of props. I’ve done some of those exercises at 3am in a factory lab (it helped me wake back up).

We did some exercises where we’d start joking about karate kid, with one partner moving her hands in as if to attack the other, and this other moving hers in circles to parry. Since both partners were completely intent on staying within the “safe zones,” we were never afraid to hurt each other, something which would have scared pretty much any of us from other martial art forms.

All in all, I loved it and would like to do it again at some point.

Mr. Lissar has his black belt equivalent in Tai Chi. He’s been doing it for about four years. He also does gozu karate and kobudo, all at the same dojo. I think he’d echo everything that Ravenman said. It’s intense, but not strenuous. Different instructors will focus on different things- Mr. Lissar’s Sensei does a reasonable amount of application, push-hands (two person drills), and teaches sword and war fan as well as the unarmed stuff.

Mr. Lissar generally recommends it for its low-impact exercise and for learning focus and calmness. I thgink it’s his favourite of all the martial arts he’s done.

I tried it and found it wasn’t for me.

The main problem I had is that the movements take a surprising amount of room. I live in a condo and don’t have an empty room to do the movements properly. I guess there is a reason you see people doing it outside a lot, but that’s not practical most of the year.

I was also not comfortable with some of the woo-woo aspects of it. For example, my instructor told a story of how a spectator at one of his classes was actually thrown backwards by the ‘chi’ force generated as the class did their movements. I realize there are mental as well as physical aspects to Tai Chi, but that just sounded like bullshit.

Sounds good for you. Not sure if it’s what your husband is looking for.

I did 5 years of Kenpo Karate in the US. Generally speaking, tai chi or taijiquan is not what IMHO would call a martial art. Very few of the instructors/practioners really understand what the moves are. Essentially, these are stylized moves where there original meanings have been lost.

What I mean is I see Tai Chi people every day in the park going to work. Heck, I’ve been watching, sometimes talking with, and occaisionally playing around with some of these people for the past 25 years. If you look at the movements and what they actually mean, very few are still martial. The eye pokes have become a wave face high, a block has become a sweeping downward motion, etc.

I very occaisionally see an exception where the master has his shit together. You can spot him at 50 paces. But the rest is an exercise form far removed from a practical martial art application.

Check out Ang Lee’s Pushing Hands movie. It’s about Tai chi and life I guess. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0105652/plotsummary

Dang, I forgot about shoes.

My right foot is extremely painful if I go shoeless. I can’t even walk around barefoot, let alone do anything more twisty/turny/impacty.

This doesn’t mean that you can’t train in Tai Chi, or any other martial art. You just need to find a dojo that will allow you to train in shoes. The karate dojo I train at allows students to wear shoes if it’s medically necessary, you may be able to find a place to train in Tai Chi that will allow this as well. Talk to the instructors about it before you sign up.

Another reason to check out the class beforehand. I currently practice tai chi on a canvas mat sans shoes, but when I was in China, I did it on a concrete floor in running shoes.

Has anyone ever heard of “water style boxing”? That’s another offering of a relatively local school.

How to choose between different schools? Is there anything specific to look for, or is it just a feel?

In reading this thread, it looks like tai chi is more my style than my husband’s style. But is there another discipline that might be more “exciting” without being too strenuous?

The school I was looking at when I started this thread is here: http://www.mastermatt.com/

I will definitely contact any school in advance to ask about the shoe issue and to ask if we can observe a class.

Baguazhang (“Eight trigram palm”) is somewhere in between tai chi and kung fu. A good part of it are forms designed around the concept of sparring/fighting an invisible opponent while circling him – thus it is called “walking the circle.” I don’t want to oversimplify, but it’s kind of like tai chi at full speed. Check on Youtube for examples. The main downside is that it is pretty rare to find a real baguazhang teacher.

If you go watch a class, odds are that you’ll know pretty quickly whether it is your style or not. Some people don’t want an instructor who barks orders, others think that is good motivation. It’s good to look around the class and see the students: if it is a child-heavy class, most adults wouldn’t like that. You can also see how many senior students are there. If people stay at a school for a long time, that’s usually a good sign. You also get to hear the instructor’s pitch, so if he says unrealistic things like he’s a master of six styles of martial arts at age 35 and you can be a black belt inside 18 months, then you can thank him for his time and go elsewhere.

I’ve seen tai chi listed as a “Chinese martial art” along with Shaolin boxing, but I admit I’ve generally seen only elderly ladies practicing it here and in Hawaii, which makes it difficult for me to think of it as one, too. In your neck of the woods, I’ve noticed some relatively younger participants, and some males, too. I guess it’s because of supposed benefits like strength, balance and meditation that it’s listed as a martial art. Also seen tai chi referred to as “shadow boxing.”

There’s a cute story I’ve read about how the monk who developed tai chi was a master at Shaolin boxing but wanted something “softer”. Maybe he was getting old? Seems he was inspired by a fight he witnessed between a bird and a snake, and so many tai chi movements copy that. Possibly apocryphal.